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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 10:19 pm | Partly Cloudy 57º


Tam Hunt and Olivia Daria: Series 3 Apple Watch — Reducing or Increasing Electronic Co-Dependency?

We are both first-time Apple Watch users. We each have a Series 3 GPS-only (no cellular) basic edition. After using the devices for a few months, we have some insights to offer.

First, the take-home: This device can be a game-changer for certain kinds of people. We were most interested in the fitness activity tracking features of the Apple Watch. This is why we bought the GPS version rather than the cellular version that can function as a phone without having WiFi or your phone connected. We didn’t want constant connectivity or the additional cellular bill.

We’ve been able to, ironically, reduce our dependence on electronic devices, at least a little, by downsizing to a very small advanced device on our wrist rather than always having to worry about where our phones are. So even though we added a device to our repertoire of screens and required chargers, we both feel like we’re less tethered to our phones because of the Watch, which is basically a little phone attached to your wrist. And it doubles as a remote control for your phone, which we’ll discuss more below.

Why get an Apple Watch?

There are a number of different “use cases” for the Apple Watch. For some, it’s simply a fashion accessory, and it does look good as a modern design piece of eye candy on your wrist. For others, it’s an important medical information monitor for heart health information, and before long probably other data types also. For others, the sports and activity tracking is the most important feature.

We’ll focus on the activity tracking, since that was our main motivation in getting our Watches. We’re training for a triathlon, and it’s good to have reliable data when training. We decided to get the Series 3 version of the Watch because the water resistance has advanced to a point where it’s ready for open water swimming and even scuba diving in shallow depths (we haven’t tried this yet), and because battery life and speed have improved with each model.

Tam has found his Watch, the 42 mm version, lasts as long as three days without a charge. Olive, with the 38 mm version, generally charges hers every day. Sometimes hers won’t even last a full day without a recharge. It’s not clear at this point whether her Watch is deficient and/or if Tam just got lucky with his Watch. The battery is somewhat larger in the 42 mm version, so it makes sense that it would last longer; but it's not clear why there's such a big discrepancy in our case between the two devices. Obviously, charging requirements will depend on how much you use your Watch.

Activity tracking with the Watch

We’re both training for the Lavaman triathlon on the Big Island of Hawai’i, a short triathlon, and we’re also both interested in fitness and health more generally. Given Apple’s recent emphasis on activity tracking for the Watch, it made sense for us to give the Watch a shot. While we can run and bike with the iPhone and track distances, routes, calories, etc. (using Strava mostly), it’s not practical to bring the phone into the water for swimming, and there’s even some concern about the phone getting rain-wet, since the phone’s water resistance is far less robust than that of the Watch. The phone is also much heavier and bulkier.

It seems that GPS tracking of water activity needs some work. Although we swim the same distances together, Olive’s Watch will severely under-calculate the total distance compared with Tam’s watch. While GPS is never perfect, even when running or biking, to be miles off under the same conditions is not a good sign.

Otherwise, the activity tracking apps on the Watch work really well. The native app (Activity Tracker) interface is simple and easy to use. Watch apps are usually stripped down versions of phone apps, with big buttons. We use the native Activity Tracker for swim tracking but Strava for run and bike tracking since Strava doesn’t include swimming.

FYI, if you suffer from presbyopia (a failing ability to focus up-close), as Tam does, you may have a hard time seeing the screen on your wrist because to hold it at an angle that makes sense you need to hold it fairly close to your face. Tam gets by for now by contorting the Watch at weird angles, but in a year or two he’ll probably need to either get Lasik eye surgery or wear reading glasses just to read the Watch.

The activities you log go directly to your iPhone Activity app, and you can view them all there in more detail and with greater ease than you can on the Watch. You can view only your current workout on the Watch, but that’s fine. The Watch is not made for browsing like the phone is. The screen is just too small.

Other Watch use cases

Another major use case for the Watch is as a remote control for the iPhone. At least two aspects were pretty useful for us. There’s a Now Playing app on the Watch that allows you to play either music or other media on the Watch or to control your iPhone’s playlist. We found it really useful for playing stuff from our phone in the car, which saved us from having to get our phone out of our pocket or purse. Instead, we can just turn our wrist, hit the Now Playing button on the Watch screen and then hit play. Or you can achieve the same thing with Siri.

Siri is quite good on the Watch, and it activates by turning your wrist to light the screen and then saying, “Hey Siri,” just like you do on your phone. You can dictate texts or emails using Siri, along with numerous other commands. There isn’t a mini keyboard on the Watch, so you have to use Siri or a letter by letter “scribble” function.

The second remote control function on the Watch that’s kind of cool is the camera function that allows you to control the iPhone camera from your Watch, even if your phone camera isn’t opened.

Another use case is — surprise — using the Watch as a watch. That is, to tell time. This is pretty handy because just like a normal watch you simply turn your wrist and look at the time. Very handy …

The last use case we’ll mention is more traditional smartphone functions such as texts, phone calls and emails. Texting is actually quite good on the Watch. You get notified as a text comes in, turn your wrist and the text pops up. If you want to respond with a text you can use Siri to dictate or you can use emojis or a number of phrase options that pop up below the incoming text, like “thanks,” “sure,” “no problem,” “when?” etc. These options are context sensitive and change based on the incoming text. You can also use the letter by letter scribble mentioned earlier.

Phone calls also work quite well. You can answer calls directly from your Watch even if you don’t have the cellular version, as long as you’re connected to WiFi or to your phone. The microphone is quite good on the phone, and you can have a normal conversation in quiet spaces even with the Watch at your waist. If there’s some background noise, you may need to lift the Watch near your mouth to be heard and to hear the other person. The sound quality of the call is pretty good. For calling in louder spaces, you’ll need bluetooth headphones (there’s no headphone jack).

You can check email on the Watch but can’t compose emails.

Charging is done with a proprietary charger that cups the back of the Watch. Yes, it means worrying about yet another type of charger to keep on your desk or to travel with. Tam bought a backup power supply for traveling that includes both a lightning charger and the Watch charger in the same device, so this issue hasn’t been too inconvenient.

In sum, we both like a lot of what the Watch does. And yet it’s one more electronic taskmaster to disconnect us from a more natural and authentic way of being in the world. Both of us enjoy taking off our Watches for a day or two a week to fully disconnect. It feels strangely liberating to be just a human with zero electronic enhancements. Paradoxically, wearing the Watch and then taking it off makes that feeling more poignant and focused.

— Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Hawaii. Olivia Daria is a writer and blogger from Hawaii.

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