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The early word on Apple Watch: It's not a must-have, but you'll want one

Caitlin McGarry | April 9, 2015
Advance reviews of the Apple Watch are here, and they offer insights into how the Watch performs in real life.

Few reviewers actually put the Watch through its fitness paces, so we still have a ton of questions about using the Watch as a fitness tracker that we'll answer when we buy our own on April 24.

The taptic engine
The Watch is designed to be discreet, so you can digest nuggets of information without having to whip out your phone to check notifications. That's why Apple designed the taptic engine, which enables the Watch to lightly tap you when notifications come in. This feature is the New York Times's Farhad Manjoo's favorite part: "The Apple Watch's most ingenious feature is its 'taptic engine,' which alerts you to different digital notifications by silently tapping out one of several distinct patterns on your wrist. As you learn the taps over time, you will begin to register some of them almost subconsciously."

Ben Bajarin of Techpinions offers a useful example of how the taptic engine's notifications can work in unexpected ways: "When walking down the street to a meeting in San Francisco, I used the Watch to guide me there. The Apple Watch has a different taptic pattern for going left and for going right. This way, I didn't need to lift my wrist to look at the display to know which way to go. The implications of these different types of notifications based on feel are unexplored territory."

The iPhone
Apple Watch relies on your iPhone to do the heavy lifting, which Bloomberg's Topolsky found problematic at times: "One of the crucial pain points I experienced was this constant, subtle battle with myself over whether to engage a notification on my watch or handle it on my phone."

But the Watch can also function minimally on its own if it finds wireless connectivity, says Yahoo's Pogue: "Here's a surprising feature that Apple hasn't said anything about previously: When the Watch is in a known WiFi hot spot, the watch can perform the most essential online functions even when your phone is completely dead, turned off, or absent. It can query Siri, for example, send and receive texts, and send/receive drawings and tap patterns to other Watch owners. That's impressive."

The performance
Relying on the iPhone to grab information means that sometimes, the Watch is slow, says The Verge's Patel: "Sometimes pulling location information and data from your iPhone over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi takes a long time. Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it's just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back. Apple tells me that upcoming software updates will address these performance issues, but for right now, they're there, and they're what I've been thinking about every morning as I get ready for work."


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