Apple Watch Series 1 review: Fewer features, but better value

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New Atlas reviews the Apple Watch Series 1, a better balance of price and features(Credit: Will Shanklin/New Atlas)

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It was easy to miss in Apple's barrage of announcements earlier this month, but the Apple Watch Series 1 is actually a different product from the (now-extinct) 1st-generation Apple Watch. If only by a little. We got a Series 1 Watch in house: Read on for our quick review.

One way to look at the Apple Watch Series 1 is that it's the O.G. Apple Watch (from early 2015) with a dual core processor. Another way to look at it is that it's the new Series 2 Apple Watch without GPS, 50-m water resistance, a super-bright display or steel/ceramic options, and with a slightly thinner build.

No matter what angle you slice it from, Series 1 is Apple's familiar "$100-cheaper/last-year's-model" variant from its other product lines, applied to the Apple Watch. Only with the admission that the original's single-core processor wasn't cutting it. Molasses-slow app-load times begone: This baby is noticeably zippier than the 1st-gen Watch.

There's little to say about the Series 1 Apple Watch that we haven't already said when covering the other models, but we do think this one might hit a sweet spot for lots of customers. Running either $269 (38 mm) or $299 (42 mm) its pricing is more inline with its best Android-based rivals, like the Huawei Watch and Moto 360. And unless you're really worried about tracking your location sans phone or seeing how many calories you burn in your 200-m breaststroke, you really don't miss a lot compared to Series 2.

Of course you do lose the spiffier-looking stainless steel and ceramic options in Series 2. It's aluminum only here, with rubbery fluoroelastomer straps. But unless you have money to burn, we have a hard time recommending spending $550 or more on a smartwatch. That's approaching the money you'd spend on a new iPhone or MacBook Air. You know, things you can actually do something useful with.

Where does the Apple Watch's convenience come into play today? Well, probably more than any other type of tech product, the smartwatch's degree of usefulness is going to depend on the individual. For example, I find them pretty handy for getting urgent editing notifications, auto-unlocking my MacBook and setting timers for the french press. Niche uses, to say the least.

Others may find the step-tracking, heart-rate sensing or the new Breathe app (a guided focus on your breathing that's surprisingly useful to have on a watch) to be borderline killer features.

What the Apple Watch still lacks, a point Emily hammered home in her Series 2 review, is that universal killer app that makes the smartwatch a must-have product. Right now fitness tracking is about as close as it gets, but most of that can be replicated by your phone or a dedicated fitness tracker.

At this stage, it's looking more doubtful than ever that the Apple Watch will become a true successor in the lineage of iconic Apple mobile products: iPod, iPhone, iPad. Right now the Watch is more like a nonessential little accessory shooting off from the side of the iPhone.

If you are in the market for an Apple Watch, then we recommend going with the Series 1 model – unless you have a really good reason to buy Series 2. Meaning you have a dire need for stainless steel or ceramic, GPS, a super-bright screen or full water resistance (keeping in mind Series 1 is still rated for immersion in 1 m of water for 30 minutes). For someone like me who can take or leave a smartwatch, $300 for this 8-percent thinner Series 1 is a reasonable enough compromise – and about the max price I'd pay for the mild convenience and enjoyment it adds to my day. Anything beyond that and I'll likely be standing at the return counter within a week or two.

Apple Watch Series 1 is available now, starting at $269 for the smaller 38-mm model and $299 for the 42-mm one pictured in this review.

For more, you can hit up our more in-depth Apple Watch Series 2 review.

Product page: Apple

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