Smartwatches

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

Apple Watch Series 1 review: F...
New Atlas reviews the Apple Watch Series 1, a better balance of price and features
New Atlas reviews the Apple Watch Series 1, a better balance of price and features
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Don't expect anything new in Series 1: This is just the old Apple Watch with an updated processor
1/7
Don't expect anything new in Series 1: This is just the old Apple Watch with an updated processor
Apps screen on the Apple Watch Series 1
2/7
Apps screen on the Apple Watch Series 1
The Breathe app, which walks you through mindfulness-based breathing exercises
3/7
The Breathe app, which walks you through mindfulness-based breathing exercises
Unlike some Android watches, the Apple Watch looks more like an iPhone than a traditional timepiece
4/7
Unlike some Android watches, the Apple Watch looks more like an iPhone than a traditional timepiece
New Atlas reviews the Apple Watch Series 1, a better balance of price and features
5/7
New Atlas reviews the Apple Watch Series 1, a better balance of price and features
One of the reasons the Apple Watch is so small is because it doesn't need a large battery to handle an always-on display
6/7
One of the reasons the Apple Watch is so small is because it doesn't need a large battery to handle an always-on display
The display on Series 1 is identical to that of the obsolete 1st-gen Apple Watch
7/7
The display on Series 1 is identical to that of the obsolete 1st-gen Apple Watch

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.

Apps screen on the Apple Watch Series 1
Apps screen on the Apple Watch Series 1

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.

Unlike some Android watches, the Apple Watch looks more like an iPhone than a traditional timepiece
Unlike some Android watches, the Apple Watch looks more like an iPhone than a traditional timepiece

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.

One of the reasons the Apple Watch is so small is because it doesn't need a large battery to handle an always-on display
One of the reasons the Apple Watch is so small is because it doesn't need a large battery to handle an always-on display

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

3 comments
jati
Great review, totally agree that the Series 1 has the best value of all models. I disagree though, that the Apple Watch doesn't have a chance to become as big as the iPod as mentioned in the article. In fact: It might already be halfway there. Apple had never more than $4 bn revenue with its iPod per quarter. And it took a while to get there: The iPod crossed the $1 bn line after three years. Apple doesn't give any exact numbers for its smartwatch, but its "other" category went from $2.6 bn in the 2014 holiday quarter (before Apple Watch) to $4.35 bn in 2015. Some of that goes to the new Apple TV. But it could easily be that Apple Watch already crossed the line of $1 bn in revenue and much faster than the iPod. So...: Don't underestimate Apple Watch :D I also don't see a killer-app yet. And I'm really not sure, if there will ever be the one reason to get a smartwatch. But it could very well be an iPod-sized business for Apple.
AndyYong
Last year I really wanted to get an apple watch but the wait was over than a month. My apple watch money was well spent with a 70" 3D Sony instead (for the same price). Until this year, I thought it's time to get an apple watch, again the series 2 which I was going to get was not available at the launch date. So I went with the series 1 which I thought I would play with it for about a week and return it. A couple of days later after I got the series 1, I went back to the apple store near my house and luckily there was one series 2 available so I bought it and was going to return the series 1 the next day. I compare both of them and I really really want to keep the series 2 so bad but I ended up returning the series 2 and kept the series 1. Here're the reasons why: 1. I don't swim. 5m water resistant doesn't help me. 2. I don't walk or run (except walking my dog every morning/evening) and I don't catch the Pokemon. Built-in GPS doesn't help me. 3. The speed are identical. I thought the series 2 are faster but not at all. 4. Yes, the screen is brighter ONLY when you are in the sun. I spend most of my time in the shade and the brightness are the same. This is because both of them have the same sensor. 5. The series 1 is thinner and I feel the screen area is a little bit bigger (even though they are the same). The series 1 looks better on my wrist. 6. With a $100 saving, I bought 5 different kind of bands and a watch stand from Amazon which costs between $6.99 - $19.99 and I can't tell the different between the $49 rubber band from apple vs $6.99 rubber band from Amazon. The $19.99 one is for a premium genuine leather band which I really like. Last year I was ready to spend up to $1,000 for an apple watch which I'm glad I didn't. Now I realize that the lifespan of this kind of smart watch would be 1-2 years, so I am going to stick with the series 1 which I think I really don't need but I've got to have it! :)
mw7
As someone who wears a lot of watches and puts them through a lot of abuse, I don't think your definition of value is quite right. The stainless steel case and the sapphire crystal that comes with it on the series 2 are more than worth the upgrade in price. Trust me, I've scratched iPhone screens before quite easily (same glass on the series 1) but have never scratched the sapphire crystals on my watches and they have been slammed against all kinds of hard and sharp surfaces. Likewise, the stainless steel case will hold up much better. Lastly is water resistance. The rating for the series 1 is not even as good as a $40 Timex from Walmart. Being able to jump (fall) into a pool and not damage something that cost several $100 is important here, and you have a much better chance of having a working watch 3-5 years from now if you pony up the extra $$ now for a series 2.