Eric Stewart: Running Off At The Mouth

A Day With the Apple Watch (Series 2)

by Eric Stewart on Dec.21, 2016, under Technology

I’d been wearing a Pebble (first the original, then a Pebble Time) for at least three years.  The Kickstarter for the Pebble 2 and Pebble Time 2 started up and I figured I’d donate and get an upgrade.  The supposed ship date of November comes and goes, and in early December the word comes down:

Pebble suspended all hardware production, would be refunding undelivered Kickstarter donations, and was being sold to Fitbit.

This made me (practically in an impulsive fit of frustration) spend a lot more money on an Apple Watch.

I had lost my original Fitbit somewhere between airport security in Las Vegas and home in Florida.  At some point, Fitbit offered me a bit of a discount on a new one.  I didn’t look too closely at their smartwatch options; I was still waiting for my Kickstarter reward.  I got another Fitbit One and had been using that along with the “health” features of my Pebble Time.

Up until very recently the Pebble app was undergoing regular updates.  But with each additional update, it seemed like the phone app was getting less and less stable.  Regularly in the morning, when trying to see what my sleep was supposedly like, the app would crash while communicating with the phone.  Next, once it did run, it didn’t seem to be doing much.  Closing and reopening (not even killing and restarting) the app seemed to get me the most recent information.

One thing I will say is that the Pebble did a really good job of figuring out when I slept without me telling it that I was.  The Fitbit requires that you either start a “timed activity” or later add a log via the Fitbit app that indicates when you supposedly slept.  From that, it would then tell you how well you slept.  But the Pebble watch and app seemed (when they finally had all of the information up to date and ran stably) to just figure it out fairly accurately on its own.

All this was stuff that I could tolerate, given that the Fitbit One ran $100 and my Kickstarter rewarded Pebble Time 2 was going to run $180.  This, compared to the Apple Watch Series 2 minimum price of $370 is a bargain (and my as-purchased price, which included Apple Care, hit $450).  My current Pebble Time runs at least four days before needed a charge, and the Fitbit seems to run significantly longer.  The new Pebble Time 2 was supposed to have a runtime of 10 days. Further, prices of the Apple Watch very greatly by size of the watch face, materials the face is made of, and band combinations:

  • Aluminum versions tend to vary mostly between $370 and $400
  • Stainless Steel jumps (which has a more scratch resistant glass for the face) up to around $650 with some bands pushing the price to beyond $1100
  • The Apple Watch Edition version, which is made of a ceramic, reaches into the $1300 range

The advertised runtime of the Apple Watch? 18 hours.  While not a nail in the coffin, it does mean that you need to put charging the watch into your daily routine: get up, charge the watch before work.  Get home from work, charge the watch before bed (if you want to get a sleep tracker app and wear it to bed).  It’s not too hard to get more than that 18 hours out of the watch, but you’ll have to take a look at your settings and companion apps and do some pruning if you want to stretch that run time.

Now, step counting.  The Fitbit I assume would be the most accurate, as being a pedometer is the Fitbit One’s primary purpose.  If that’s the case, my iPhone usually isn’t too far off, but my Pebble Time is significantly low.  My only complaint so far on the Apple Watch is that I can’t (natively) find something that would tell me my step count easily on the watch; it only tells me about “activity” in the form of calories, minutes, and some other number I haven’t figured out yet.  Where I did find steps, it was buried in several swipe menus.

This is where watch apps come in.  Apps on the Apple Watch are a little different from apps on the Pebble; you don’t really install apps to the watch.  You install them to your phone, and they may have a “watch companion app”.  And you’d be surprised how many apps have Watch companion apps.

Apps I’m Using

I’ve installed two specifically for the watch: Sleep++ and Pedometer+.  Both are free; Sleep++ will accept a $1.99 donation to allow you to remove ads.  The ads aren’t intrusive enough to “require” the donation, but after one evening with it, it seems like it’s a quality app, so in a bit I’ll probably drop the two bits.

Pedometer+ provides you with very little in the way of an app on your phone, but adds a “complication” that’s available to a watch face, along with the watch app.  The number doesn’t update live on the complication as far as I can tell, but it does add one, and it does update from time to time.  Compared to my Fitbit right this second, the Watch’s pedometer is reading quite a bit short (like 1400 compared to 1900), but at least the Watch and the iPhone are reporting the same number.  This may be because I’m not an arm swinger when I walk, while the Fitbit resides in my pocket.  Mind you, the Fitbit is pretty much meant to be a pedometer.  It’s too early to tell if I’m going to ditch my Fitbit completely (I am leaning that way), but one place I’m already thinking it’s going to get ditched from is sleep monitoring.  Also, since it’s possible (even with information shared between them) that the Apple Watch and iPhone can have different step counts, it can be a little exasperating to deal with seemingly conflicting results.  The Watch Pedometer+ app will tell you about the step count on the watch specifically; the app on the iPhone pulls the information from the Health app, which takes in potentially many sources of information (for me, mainly the Watch and the iPhone itself, but some non-Fitbit pedometers can share the data from them with Health).

The Sleep++ analysis of the previous night on the iPhone

Sleep++ installs a watch app that you can tell it when you’re going to sleep, and tell it when you’re waking up, and it will look at the movement data of your watch during that time to figure out if you were awake, restless, or asleep.  The results inside the Sleep++ app on the phone look very similar to what you’d get from the Pebble Time or Fitbit, and only the Pebble would “automatically” determine if you were asleep or awake, so having to consciously tell the device you were going to sleep or waking up is no big deal.  And, unlike the Fitbit, the Pebble and Sleep++ would dump the data into Apple’s Health app.  The only downside to that is the display of the information in the Health app isn’t all that detailed.

One thing to keep an eye on though: some watch apps use more power than others, so it may just be worth it to go the Watch app on the phone and let it know which apps on the phone are allowed to install their companion app (if they have one).  Remove anything you don’t think you’ll need.

Watch Faces

One thing (0ther than battery life) the Pebble has over everyone is the multitude of watch faces available.  Thing is, I never did find one that seemed like it suited me.  I’m a minimalist, but I also like to have all of the information I’d like in one place.  There’s one in the Apple Watch called “Modular”.  It has five spots on the watch face where you can choose different “Compilations”.  Compilations include things like “Date”, “Weather”, “Weather Conditions”, app specific/provided, “Appointments”, “Battery”, app launchers (like one that will go to iMessage on the watch), “Next Alarm”, and so on.  Depending on the size of the spot in Modular, it will be either just an icon, or perhaps something with a little more verbage (like “Weather Conditions” can be either a symbol of what’s going on outside, or in the larger spot, a textual description with the icon).  The beauty of all of this is that you can set up different layouts of Modular as separate watch faces, and you switch between watch faces with a swipe.  Compilations are by no means unique to the Modular watch face; it’s just that the Modular watch face has more spots for Compilations.

There are other watch faces to choose from, depending on what suits your needs.  For the most part, I stick with three versions of “Modular”, a rarely used version of “Activity Digital”.

Oh, and of course, Mickey and Minnie:

Who wouldn’t want that?!

Odds And Ends

Am I happy with the purchase?  Oh yes.  It’s more than I would want to spend on a watch, and unless there’s functionality you really really need, I’d tell you to save your money and buy a regular watch!  But for me, I get a lot of notifications, and not having to pull out my phone to get some idea as to what the notification is about is handy to me.  And since it’s part of the Apple ecosystem, using it to reply to messages is a lot easier than how Pebble does it.  The interface (especially with the touch screen on the watch face) is fairly intuitive.  The watch does Apple Pay, so you don’t have to use your phone.

The alarm woke me up this morning, though I think if I turned the vibration down, it may not have woken me up.

Watch bands, while not by any means “standard”, are easy to switch out on the Apple Watch (easier, in fact, than a standard watch band would be).  In fact, as a Christmas present my wife found a “Milanese loop” off of Amazon for less than $15 and I switched out the plastic band my Watch came with in less than a minute.  To get the Milanese Loop band as part of an Apple Watch would have required buying a “Stainless Steel” version of the Watch and would have run $750.

More battery life would be welcome, of course.  But Sleep++ brought the phone from 99% to 97% this morning, so I can’t complain there.  Turning off movement detection (where if you raise your arm to look at the watch it automatically comes on … which is subject to mistakenly thinking you were looking at the watch) and requiring a button press to activate the face is probably good idea to extend the battery life – remember, running a screen is still a device’s biggest user of battery life.  I won’t know for sure how the battery situation works out for me until I’ve had it a few days and stop playing with it as much as I do most of my new toys, so “A Day With” is pretty much the worst time for me to truly comment on how well the battery works.

One issue with the Pebble is that, while the apps are installed directly on the watch (and not considered a companion to an app on the iPhone), it doesn’t seem to handle being away from the iPhone for an extended period all that well.  In my case, on rare occasions, it was enough to stop notifications from appearing on the watch when I got close enough to the iPhone – I’d have to reestablish the communication by resetting Bluetooth on (usually both) the phone or the watch.  The Apple Watch appears to be designed to handle extended separations well; there’s media indicating that you can go on extended exercise sessions (say, bike riding or running) without the phone, and as long as you let the watch know to track your activity, it will save the data and send it to the phone when you return to it.

It’s by no means a replacement for a smartphone.  But it is a very decent companion to an iPhone, and it’s easy to see why Pebble, one of the first smartwatches to the market, had to sell their intellectual property to Fitbit, especially since the quality of the phone app was beginning to reach questionable levels for me.  Will Fitbit make a decent smartwatch in the long run?  Maybe … but I don’t see myself switching away from the Apple Watch any time soon.

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