But -- at least for now -- it doesn't feel like a killer reason to join up with the Apple mobile universe if you haven't already.
That's not to say I wasn't impressed. This is actually my second time wearing the Apple Watch, having gotten a brief demo of the device last fall. At that time, I wasn't actually allowed to touch it, only to wear it. The prototype devices were not fully functional. Now that Apple is just a month away from shipping its watch, however, this time I was encouraged to explore as much of the watch as I could.
The watch is well made, even with the white plastic sport band that was paired with the high-end face. Other smartwatches I've tried have felt a little clunky, but Apple clearly applied its much-touted craftsmanship to this device. Straps in leather and other materials also felt high-quality, which is important for Apple as it straddles the line between tech product and jewelry.
In short, the Apple Watch feels expensive. Which is good, because it is really expensive.
Even at its lowest price of $349 for the 38mm aluminum sport watch, that's still a lot to pay for what is essentially a smartphone accessory. The mid-tier of watch, which is made of stainless steel, can get as expensive as $1,099. And, of course, the Edition starts at $10,000 and can reach $17,000 depending on the band you choose.
The difference in material dictates the difference in price -- match to your budget and aesthetic. But apart from the metal you're dealing with, the basic designs of the watches are essentially the same. The Apple Watch has basically two buttons: a long, flat button that takes you quickly to your favorite contacts, and the "digital crown" knob above it, which acts as your main tool for navigating the menu. The touchscreen is the main way to interact with the watch, and I would recommend keeping a cloth on hand to keep it free of fingerprints. You can also choose from a variety of digital watch faces, from the traditional to the modern, and decide how busy or clean you want the watch face to look.
Apple also promises an average of 18 hours of battery life, which should get you through the day but not much further. That's not ideal, but at least you shouldn't lose access to your wallet or your e-mail in the course of a normal day. Just remember that you'll have to plug your watch in every night, as you do your phone. Think of it as a throwback to when you had to wind your wristwatch.
While the watch face looked a little big for my taste -- I tried the smaller, 38 mm face -- it felt less bulky than any other smartwatches I tried, and fairly light. I could imagine that I would forget I was wearing it when I wasn't using it, which is sort of what you want from a watch anyway. If you're interested in more than one look, you can buy multiple bands to match your style.
Looks, of course, aren't everything. And Apple has delivered on its promised features.
Dictation was good and clear, even in a noisy room. Navigation was pretty smooth, with none of the noticeable lag that many people noticed in the demos from last fall. Even a feature that lets you look at your entire iPhoto library at once and zoom in on individual pictures worked seamlessly. Apple's own messaging apps worked well with the watch, even if they were a bit gimmicky. The ability to send doodles, heartbeats or animated emoticons to each other is cute, but by no means necessary.
You'll need your phone nearby to use the most convenient features such as Apple Pay or Maps, but one could see how it would be nice to not have to fumble with getting anything out of your purse or pocket. I didn't get to try a call in the noisy demo room, but the phone does let you receive calls via your wrist -- something you would probably only do for short calls anyway.
Apple has also taken pains to lay down a lot of partnerships for the watch so that it feels legitimately useful out of the box. It can act as your room key, thanks to a partnership with Starwood hotels. You can call an Uber. You can use Apple's own apps to measure how long you've been standing or sitting that day. And onstage, Apple executive Kevin Lynch showed off a livestream of video from his home -- probably the most video you'd want to watch on such a small screen, but useful nevertheless.
So should you buy it?
The Apple Watch does offer conveniences that would make life easier, and keep you from reaching into your pocket so often for your phone -- something that certainly feels rude, even though we're well into the smartphone era. It is nice to get those notifications on your wrist to help you better understand when you need to take a call or answer a message, or when you can let something slide for a bit. For exercise enthusiasts sick of fumbling with apps on their smartphones to track their workouts, it's also probably nice to be able to tap something on your wrist.
It's a nice thing to have. But it doesn't feel totally necessary, which is probably what Apple needs to market it much beyond its devoted base of users. If you have the money and you want it, you'll get a solid product that works well and will make your life more convenient. But if you're on the fence about wearables, then it's probably best to keep stashing your cash away until you make up your mind.