While I would not call myself a Horologist, or someone who collects watches, some of my
favorite souvenirs from a trip to Walt Disney World were collectable watches. Two of my favorites are a watch celebrating the 25th anniversary of the resort (see right), and a watch
inspired by my favorite ride “Splash Mountain”.* Over time, I increasingly I found myself reaching for my phone to tell me the time, and as a result stopped wearing a watch.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve now become a “smart-Horologist”**. With the advent of “wearables”, I’ve fallen in love with watches again—both in terms of using them as well as collecting them, much to my wife’s chagrin. In today’s post for the Utility Belt, I’ll share my favorites with you.
My First Smartwatch – The Pebble
Like many “Smart Horologists”, my first foray into wearables came in the form of the Pebble smartwatch. I didn’t participate in the record setting Kickstarter campaign that put Pebble on the map, I instead purchased one out of curiosity. Much as I purchased my Walt Disney World watches because of looks, I thought the Pebble “looked” like a neat combination between a traditional watch with geek couture.
After pairing the watch with my iPhone, which was a bear of a process, I quickly realized the value wearables can deliver. Aside from telling me the time and date, the Pebble allowed me to stop my phone from “dinging” all of the time***. A gentle buzz on my wrist, followed by a quick glance, and I could either ignore a meaningless notification without disrupting those around me or excuse myself to address something critical.
The Fitness Craze – The Fitbit Flex
Along the way, I traded in my Pebble for the Fitbit Flex, a “smart pedometer” that you wear on your wrist to track how many steps you take in a day and how well you sleep at night. While this device did create a competition within our house on who could out walk the most, I missed the ability for a device on my wrist to, well…tell time. I also hated returning to my phone ringing and dinging all the time, as the Fitbit Flex had no display to show notifications.
As it turned out, I wanted a device that blended the functionality from both the Fitbit Flex and the Pebble. Thankfully the next generation of wearables eliminated the need to choose fitness over function. I’ll spare you my journey through the Samsung Gear Neo, the Moto360, the Pebble Time Steel, and the Samsung Gear S2, and skip to my current favorite.
When Apple unveiled AppleWatch****, to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. I didn’t find the functionality Apple stressed to be compelling, because through use I wanted a smart watch for three purposes:
- Tell me the date & time
- Show me notifications
- Track my fitness progress, or lack thereof.
I believe that in an effort to justify another device, Apple tried to make it’s wearable do too much. Their vision of using apps on my wrist sounds as dumb today as it did two years ago. The honeycomb User Interface (UI) isn’t really all that friendly to use, and the digital crown sounds good in theory but in practice is not. Since I prefer a round watch instead of a square one, the AppleWatch design didn’t impress me. Once you add in outlier pricing, with the least expensive AppleWatch Sport starting at $350, and the AppleWatch had plenty going against it.
With all of the negativity above, I still planned on purchasing one but before I could, Lady Luck found me. I won a contest at Avaya for participating in Social Media, and as a result was awarded an AppleWatch. After setting it up, the watch definitely lived up to my concerns from above. While I used it, I struggled to make it fit into my use. There were some nice additions, such as the ability to respond to text messages using my voice, but the complex UI outweighed those advances.
With all of those negatives, I’m sure you must be asking yourself— why do I still use the AppleWatch above all others? The answer to that question lies in two parts.
The first reason I chose AppleWatch over all others lies in software improvements Apple made to WatchOS. Starting with WatchOS2, Apple reinvented and simplified the WatchUI. While the honeycomb is still there, I now use it infrequently. WatchOS2 minimized it’s dependency on the digital crown, moved the app tray to have a dedicated button, and ported “Command Center” with a swipe up motion. This radically simplified UI makes AppleWatch much more functional. While I still don’t really use any apps on the watch, the core functionality of a wearable is now spotlighted instead of buried in a messy way.
Second, while I don’t care for the square design of AppleWatch, there is one piece of hardware innovation that I love—interchangeable watchbands. Using no tools, I can change my AppleWatch from a sporty look to a professional look in a matter of seconds. I’ve purchased watchbands from Apple directly and from third parties on Amazon, with sometimes mixed results. My personal favorite bands are the Apple Sport bands*****, a Milanese steel band, and a Stainless Steel Link band.
Do you have a smart watch? Share your experience in the comments below!
* I’m kicking myself, because I can’t find this watch now. I looked around on the internet for a photo of it for this article, and couldn’t find one. I also wanted to get the Haunted Mansion edition, but alas they ended the sale before I went back to Disneyworld.
** I’ve never read the term used elsewhere, so I’m staking claim to it! My wife says the thesaurus would just suggest nerd, but whatever. She knew what she was getting into when she married me.
*** I also will say a smartwatch stopped the buzzing on my rear end, but that seemed too personal.
**** Can I just say, this new naming convention from Apple is horrible. Number one, prefixing their brand name to every product is a touch egotistical. Second, the version names of AppleWatch are S-T-O-O-P-I-D. I mean seriously, AppleWatch Sport? OK. AppleWatch? Fine. AppleWatch Edition? What the heck does that even mean? How does that name represent Apple’s “luxury” line of watches?
***** Third party watchbands provide a solid value with a huge discount compared to their Apple counterparts. I purchased my Milanese Loop band from Amazon for $15, compared to $150 at Apple. The quality is extremely comparable and the difference is undetectable. That said, heed my advice, and don’t cheap out on the AppleWatch sport bands. My wife and daughter each purchased one from Amazon for their AppleWatches, and the materials used are radically different than their Apple counterparts. The third party sport bands collect lint and hair so quickly, they resemble a pair of my black dress slacks after the cat and dog both sat in my lap at the same time. Trust me, it’s worth the extra money to get those from Apple.