I've been the proud owner of an Apple Watch Sport for the last few months and this is a chance to look back and consider its strengths and weaknesses as a watch for an outdoors enthusiast.
I admit that I have fully bought in to the Apple eco system over the last few years. I'm typing this post on my iMac and, if somebody was to call me now, all hell would break loose. My iMac, iPad and iPhone would all spring noisily in to life, vying for the opportunity to take the call. Nowadays, though, they would also be challenged for the moment in the limelight by the Apple Watch. So, I've no excuse for not answering the phone anymore.
But what was it I was looking for in an Apple Watch? Well, the fitness tracking was a big pull, along with the notifications, maps, calendar and, I suppose, the general geekiness of it. It is, in my eyes, a beautiful design.
I chose the Apple Watch Sport in silver anodised aluminium, which comes with a lightweight elastomer band, Having chosen to go with the Sport as opposed to the more expensive stainless steel Apple Watch (and the eye wateringly more expensive 18-karat gold cased Edition), the only other choice was the size, 38mm or 42mm. My wrist is around 190mm and the 42mm was definitely the right choice.
Just in case you haven't already noticed - I'm a left hander who wears my watch on my wright wrist so, in comparison with most pictures of the Watch, this might look like it is upside down. It works well for me with the crown on the left, so I'll stick to it!
This is a quick review of my own experience with the Watch, rather than a technical guide.
There are many reviews of the Watch's technical details, tricks and glitches, but I want to focus on how suitable the gadget is for an outdoors enthusiast. Can it really be the ultimate fitness tracker, health checker, motivator, navigator and personal assistant rolled into one?
Let's find out.
One of the nice features of the recently updated operating system is the ability to use your own imported photos as watch faces. I'm sure the little nuthatch would be honoured if he saw it.
The Watch will alert you to emails, texts and incoming calls. You can answer calls on it, which probably appeals to Star Trek aficionados of a certain age. You can also dictate responses if you choose.
But the first thing I wanted to do was to test the Watch's abilities as a fitness tracker. All concerns over the battery life were soon put to one side. I charge the Watch overnight and I've never had any issues regarding battery life. It tends to end the day with around 40% to 50% charge remaining.
When you first open the Workout app, the Watch advises you to accumulate 20 minutes of outdoor exercise whilst carrying the iPhone with you in order to improve accuracy. I did this, but still find that the distance recording, when compared with apps which use GPS tracking, is not accurate at all. A 20 mile route recorded on a GPS tracker such as Strava will occasionally be stated as 22 miles or so on the Watch. So I wouldn't recommend relying on its distance recording for serious training, without the use of a 3rd party app, see below.
The inbuilt Workout app can be used to record various types of activity, including the ones relevant to me; outdoor walking and cycling. When using the app to record your activity, the Watch will regularly record your heart rate, which is certainly a useful feature. It will also record distances and calories burnt, as well as presenting various glittering, rotating awards for achievements and targets hit.
Wearers can also attempt to fill the 3 coloured rings each day, which record Movement, Exercise and Stand time. Expect constant reminders (which can be switched off!) if you're spending your day without the requisite activity. You'll receive a couple of gentle taps on the wrist telling you to stand up for a couple of minutes if you've been sitting down too long.
As a motivation tool, it works quite well. The corresponding Activity app on the phone keeps a record of daily activities and shows how well the activity rings were completed.
Here's a few examples of the screen display.
Where the Watch excels on a hike, is when it is used with a 3rd party app, such as MotionX-GPS. This is a great app on the iPhone, which maps and records various statistics of your routes. The app can be controlled on the Watch, providing your phone is nearby which works really well.
This is the way that I record and log all my hikes nowadays and it really does work smoothly. A glance at your wrist will bring you a wealth of information; distance, speed, bearing, ascent, co-ordinates and, if the mobile signal permits, a map of your location. No more need to get the phone out from underneath layers of waterproofs or from the depths of your backpack to check on your progress.
And more good news for exercise buffs is that the Strava app works similarly on the watch, enabling you to control the recording of cycle routes or runs without getting the phone out of the ludicrously tight lycra that you are no doubt wearing.
Another bonus of having the Watch on my wrist has been its ability to act as a remote control for the iPhone camera. You can prop the phone somewhere within bluetooth range, check the shot on the watch face and even control the shutter on the Watch's touchscreen.
It works superbly and saves the 10 second scramble to beat the iPhone's timer. Here's an example of a Watch controlled picture, taken during our recent blog adventure in Monsal Dale. , just to give you an idea of a workable distance.
So would I recommend the Apple Watch? For all the uses outlined above, not to mention the ability to control music from your phone, check the weather forecast, receive news updates, converse with Siri, set reminders and alarms just by talking to the Watch and even using it to pay for a coffee where shops permit Apple Pay, the answer is a resounding yes.
I'd be interested to know how others have found life with the Watch. Feel free to add a comment below or in the Forum.
Mark Sweeney is a hiker, mountain-biker, picture-taker and keen coffee drinker, living on the doorstep of the Peak District's finest walks