With a new form factor comes the need to deeply analyze design, and in the case of a smartwatch it really becomes more important than ever before. Like clothing, watches are deeply personal in a way that smartphones weren’t. The most immediate aspect of the Apple Watch is the size. I’ve used the Moto 360 before, and while I didn’t think it was too big for me, people with smaller wrists can look rather ridiculous wearing the Moto 360 or many other smartwatches. Even in the 42mm variant, the Apple Watch is surprisingly small for a smartwatch. The 38mm variant is definitely sized for people with smaller wrists.

Outside of height and width, the thickness of the watch is definitely a bit more than what one might expect from a regular watch, but it isn’t really all that noticeable due to the rounded curves of the casing. When looking at the display, the display’s cover glass also blends seamlessly into the metal case of the watch, which really looks impressive indoors, although the illusion is somewhat lost in strong sunlight as it becomes obvious where the display ends and the bezel begins. This really helps with analog watchfaces, but in practice I found I was never really bothered by rectangular watch displays. If anything, I’ve found round watch display to lack information density; round watch displays just aren’t pragmatic for general purpose computing.

In order to really give a sense of what the watch looks and feels like when it’s on the wrist, I’m going to start by assuming that most people will wear this watch on their left hand. This places the side button and digital crown on the right. If you read nothing else in this entire article, you should know that the digital crown is probably the best solution I’ve seen to the smartwatch input problem yet. The digital crown manages to have just the right amount of friction to the knob so input feels deliberate without being difficult. The notches that surround the crown really help with gripping the crown and improve the precision of input with the digital crown. Both the digital crown and side button have a solid, clicky action, but it’s probably not a surprise at this point given that Apple seems to consistently nail down details like button feel on their iPads and iPhones.

On the left side of the watch, the only notable interruptions are the speaker and microphone holes. As far as I can tell there’s only a single microphone hole, but it seems that Apple has some form of noise cancellation as background noise is generally well-muffled.

The top and bottom of the watch are just the attachment points for the bands of the watch, but from a design perspective this is probably one of the most crucial. The interchangeable bands work incredibly well because of just how easy it is to attach and detach bands. Attaching a band is as simple as matching with the slot and sliding it in, although it is possible to get it wrong by putting a band in upside-down. The fit and finish of both the Milanese loop and sport band that I received were both essentially perfect here, and the Milanese loop band has a glossy finish on the side that helps the band to blend in with the casing of the watch.

The bands themselves are probably the most important aspect of the Apple Watch's design. While Apple definitely hopes that users will be purchasing bands in addition to the one that comes with their watch, it's a safe bet that most users will be using the fluoroelastomer bands that ship with the Apple Watch Sport and the entry level Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition models. Because the fluoroelastomer band ships with the Sport version of the watch and has to fit every wrist size the fluoroelastomer band actually is more like one and a half bands. Included in the package is the section of the strap with the metal pin, and two pieces of different lengths with holes in them. The longer one is meant for users with larger wrists, and the smaller one for users with smaller wrists.

As for the band itself, the feel of it can be difficult to describe. When they were first revealed, my initial thought was that they would have a somewhat firm and rubbery feel. It turns out that the bands are very flexible, and also very soft. The best description I could give is that it feels similar to the soft touch back of the black Nexus 5 and Nexus 9, but much smoother and very resistant to smudges. Water also tends to roll right off of it which makes it very well suited to fitness activities. Since it's not infinitely adjustable there's always a small mismatch between the size of the band and the size of your wrist, but there's not much that can be done to solve that with a pin and tuck design.

In the case of the Milanese loop, the infinitely adjustable design has basically solved the teething issues I have with wearing most watches. The band manages to deal with the issues I’ve always had with wristbands that always seemed to be either too tight or too loose. The fabric-like pattern of the metal links also helps to distribute pressure while allowing for ventilation, so I don’t feel the need to constantly take off the watch due to trapped sweat or some similar issue. It’s also easy to clean the metal bands if they get dirty, although I suspect the leather bands will be rather difficult to deal with in this regard. There is some potential to pinch hairs, but in my experience this is pretty unlikely and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve noticed this problem in the past few months. As a result, this is probably the only watch I’ve ever worn that is consistently comfortable regardless of weather conditions. Independent of how good the wearable is from a digital logic/software standpoint, I’ve noticed that these aspects of the design are far, far more crucial than anyone seems to notice. In the case of Apple Watch, the bands are pretty much as good as it gets.

Moving past the bands, the back of the watch is somewhat unremarkable. There’s a rounded crystal that houses the heart rate LEDs and sensors, and serves as an attachment point for the MagSafe wireless charger. In practice, the only notable issue here is that the crystal seems to act as a pressure point when wearing the Watch, but it’s likely that this is done to ensure proper contact for the heart rate monitor.

Overall, Apple has pretty much nailed the design of the watch. The controls are well-executed and placed in a pragmatic position, in a way that I haven’t really seen anyone else achieve yet. The only real objection I have to the design is that the stainless steel casing seems to be a magnet for small scratches. They’re tough to see in most conditions, but with strong lighting it becomes pretty obvious that it’s pretty easy to scratch the watch casing. I suspect the only solution here is to regularly buff out scratches from the casing like most any stainless steel watch. As for the Apple Watch Sport, the 7000 series aluminum seems to hold up to daily use without any sign of scratches or chips on the casing of the watch. At 25g and 30g for the 38mm and 42mm respectively it's also lighter than the 40g and 50g masses of the stainless steel models. Since the Sport edition uses Ion-X glass like the iPhone 6 instead of the Sapphire crystal of the normal Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition, the display cover glass is much more susceptible to scratching. While I haven't encountered any scratches at this point, the sapphire glass editions will undoubtedly better stand the test of time.

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  • mjh483 - Friday, July 24, 2015 - link

    Amazing review. Really great. I think this review is a perfect blend of geeky and non-geeky explanations about why the Apple Watch exists. Simply amazing. Thank you so much.
  • bernstein - Monday, July 27, 2015 - link

    once again: amazing review! love the thinking about having to sell people on watches again.

    where among the 35+ crowd wearing a watch is still very common, in the in 30- crowd its become very uncommon...
  • alexb1 - Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - link

    OMG, are you KIDDING ME? I knew Anandtech will not be the same after it was sold off.

    Here's the deal, you FOROGT COMPLETELY about the COST of this thing... Apple Watch maybe one of the better attempts at SmartWatch, but it costs easily $700-1000 for a nicely setup one (like the reviewed item), and it does ZILCH for that $1000 without an iPhone...

    I got one through work, and used it for a couple of weeks, then forgot to charge it and went back to my regular watch and haven't looked back. It's an ACCESSORY, and as an accessory can't possibly cost $700 or so, if it was $250, it'd be a fantastic item and would have sold a lot more and they would have not had to HIDE the #of watches sold.

    Here are my Top10 biggest problems with Apple Watch:

    1. 42mm is too small, and I have a medium wrist, my index covers half the screen. It's way way too small! It should have been 42, 48 to fit on everyone's wrist, yet readable/usable
    2. 18hrs battery life is too short - It's too short in case you forgot to charge it one night (needs 2 days to be acceptable)
    3. If it can't do 2days, 18hrs battery life is not needed - They achieve 18hrs with ridicolous battery saving, making the use of the watch very challenging, like you can't look at the screen over a cpl of seconds as it will go away, like when I was biking, it was almost impossible to turn the screen and look at what time it was, had to bend the wrist in an awkward way while on the move. The battery saving should be customizable, as I rather have 14hrs of full use with longer display times than 18hrs, as I would never wear it 18hrs straight, usually after 12-14hrs, it's being charged
    3. It does NOTHING that your iPhone doesn't do
    4. Heart rate monitor works only while you are sitting still! Like seriously?
    5. If you get a lot of notifications, it becomes very very annoying, no way to make it selective
    6. It is NOT waterproof
    7. It is UGLY, UGLY, UGLY... I am sorry, I AM a watch wearer, and this thing is just a black screen on a band! Again due to the crazy battery saving, it's almost always off, so nothing on the face of the watch which is THE key for looks of a watch, and this is always black. Now, I admit, nothing else I've seen is that great either (Moto360 maybe), but coming from Apple, this thing is just ugly
    8. Apps, there's no app that does anything better on the watch than on the phone
    9. Weak processor, capabilities. We developed 6 apps for the watch, and it couldn't even render basic business charts, and installation would take minutes! We had to completely do all of the processing on the phone and just send the completed data/visuals to the watch. It's absolutely inadecuate for any serious computing, plus having a terrible SDK!
    10. Last, but not least, It's damn too expensive! I really find it hard to believe not more reviewers have taken an issue with the cost, it's absolutely ridiclously priced, and PLEASE do NOT try to compare it with hand-made Swiss watches made in small numbers or with stuff that lasts forever, this is a consumable accessory, that will be obsolete in a year, and will not work after 2-3yrs. It has a FRACTION of the functionality of an iPhone, costing almost the same (not considering contact prices).

    Overall, weakest Apple Hardware release in recent memory!
  • piasabird - Friday, July 31, 2015 - link

    Watches went out with the bathwater it seems since smartphones. If you have a phone you dont need a watch. They are dinosaurs. It is taking a step backwards.
  • clouddew - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    The review read like a magazine article with a bit of tech in the middle and the device seems to be a polished piece of unimportant kit for people looking for something to spend their money on.
    It will likely appeal to a few and seem pointless to most others.
    Me? I have a watch, its solar powered & waterproof. Guess which category I'm in? 😉
  • OFelix - Saturday, August 1, 2015 - link

    Taptic Engine > finally a good reason to learn Morse code!
  • nosirree - Tuesday, August 4, 2015 - link

    Disclaimer: current android user.

    I like watches, and own mechanical " automatic" ones alongside cheap Timex'es and even one with gps. and being a geek was always interested in smart watches.
    I've played around with this one, and the build is impressive. But it's too first version, as the battery doesn't last enough for a watch, there isn't an always on display. Sony watch v3 does have always on display but it's not very good, while it's battery lasts longer that's not enough either. The pebble does both well but the display isn't good enough, haven't seen the new one.
    So, this is too expensive for what it does in my opinion. Will keep on waiting..
  • mystilleef - Friday, August 7, 2015 - link

    Did you guys even review the Moto 360?
  • hukaite - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

    Dear,I'm confrimed that that apple watch used the X-axis LRA NOT Z-axis LRA
  • hukaite - Thursday, June 14, 2018 - link

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