Apple Watch: Early impressions

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Gizmag takes a first look at the Apple Watch (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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In case you haven't heard, a smartwatch from a little fruit company in California started shipping today. Gizmag has an Apple Watch in house, along with some early thoughts (very early, mind you, as we're going to take some time before running our full Apple Watch review).

Update: No need to mess with first impressions, we've now published our full Apple Watch review.

Out of all the big new Apple products from the last 15 years – the iPod, iPhone, iPad and now the Watch – the Apple Watch makes the least striking first impression. Okay, well maybe if you've never used a smartwatch, you'll be blown away from the first moment you see notifications and voice control on your wrist, but we've already been there many times over. There were no "holy shit!" moments after strapping on the Apple Watch.

But that isn't to say this won't be a damn good smartwatch, and potentially a game-changer for wearables. And as the hours pass by in our first day with the Apple Watch, our appreciation has only grown.

First, there's an attention to detail here that we haven't yet seen in wearables. The software is a bit more complicated, with a steeper learning curve, than you might expect from Apple, but once you start getting used to the UI and navigation methods, you realize everything is placed very intuitively.

For example, "glances" (quick access cards for individual apps) live below the main clock face, just a swipe away. You check on notifications with a swipe down, just like on smartphones. Pressing the Digital Crown button is similar to the iPhone's home button: single tap to either go back or to your app home screen, double-tap to jump between your most recent app and the clock face. A long-press summons Siri. A second button below jumps to a list of frequent contacts.

The Digital Crown makes sense. While many smartwatch makers have used faux crowns as buttons, Apple is the first we've seen to let you actually wind it as a navigation tool. Twisting the crown on your main apps screen zooms in and out, so you can get a broader or closer look on the watch's tiny screen. In other areas, it replaces swiping your finger to scroll through a list or longer message.

While on most smartwatches alerts feel like a tiny motor buzzing your wrist, the Apple Watch feels like your wrist is actually being tapped. Little details like this aren't game-changers on their own, but they do add a more human element to the experience.

The build is nice-looking and polished, and keep in mind this is just one of the entry-level Sport versions we're handling. We've seen other spiffy-looking smartwatches, but Apple's real accomplishment here is making it small. Most smartwatches are still fairly bulky, but even this 42 mm Apple Watch is much smaller than any of the Android Wear or Samsung Gear watches.

The entry-level Apple Watch Sport might, at first glance, come off as "the cheap plastic one," but we don't find that to be the case. Want a cheap-feeling plastic band? Pick up the original LG G Watch. This one is far from that: while it has a rubbery feel, it doesn't feel at all flimsy or low-end. If you're put off by the price hike when you jump up to the stainless steel version, then know that you're still getting a very nice watch in the aluminum Sport.

The display looks great – not radically better than the best Android Wear and Samsung Gear displays, but still easily among the best.

There's a lot to learn and explore here, so it may be a little while until we run our full Apple Watch review. In the meantime, though, we can say that it's a strong candidate for the best wearable to date, even if it isn't blowing our minds on Day One the way the original iPhone and first-generation iPad did.

All versions of the Apple Watch are currently backordered, and only sold online at the time being. But you can reserve your place in line to order one, for US$350 or more (the 42 mm Apple Watch Sport handled in this post starts at $400).

Product page: Apple

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