It had been many years since I had worn a watch. The last time that I could remember wearing one was back in college, and I stopped wearing it when I started carrying a pocketable PDA or cellphone.
On my desk in Paris, circa 1995: a PowerBook 180, an Apple Newton MessagePad and an analog watch. On my desk in 2015: a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 6 Plus and an Apple Watch.
Prior to ordering and receiving my Apple Watch, I had been wearing a Basis B1 Band1 for the past 9 months. The Basis was on my wrist through my transformation from dad-bod to beach bod, tracking my steps, calories, resting heart rate, and sleep activity. It worked passively, meaning I didn’t have to tell the Basis what I was doing — running, walking, biking or sleeping — for it to work. Alas, it could not detect when I was doing pull-ups! Knowing that Apple was going to come out with a watch was another reason why I wore the Basis; I wanted to reacquaint myself with wearing a watch.
Body and Design
The Apple Watch is slimmer than the Basis B1 Band.
As you uffan see in the photos, the Apple Watch is thinner than the Basis. While it’s much thicker than my old analog watch, the Apple Watch actually smaller than I thought it would be (from looking at the Apple Watch webpage or watching the commercials). The Sport band is also more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time than the Basis. I found the metal buckle of the Basis annoying when it would bang against the table when trying to work. I often ended up just taking off the watch during the workday. The Sport Band also makes a noise when I place my wrists on the table to start typing, but it’s less annoying than the Basis. The fluroelastomer material in the Sport Band makes the Apple Watch more pleasant to wear throughout the day.
I find it easier to put on when I placed the band with the loop closure on the bottom rather than the top.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that I have swapped the position of the bands on my Apple Watch. I found it difficult to put it on each morning the original way the bands were oriented, so I removed the top band and installed it on the bottom. Now, when I put it on, I use my thumb to hold the free band in place; my other fingers grasp the band with the adjustment holes and pin and tuck it securely to my wrist2. While I find this much easier, your mileage may vary. I also tested rotating the Apple Watch 180 degrees so that the Digital Crown was in the bottom-left position, but I ultimately switched to back. It’s good that Apple allows this level of customization in the Apple Watch’s Settings > General > Orientation panel.
Finally, I didn’t like wearing the Basis Watch on my wrist when I was dressed in my Wool & Prince button-down shirt. The height of the watch made it difficult to fit under the cuff the left sleeve, a problem that doesn’t exist with my Apple Watch. My minimalist uniform project also informed my choice of the space gray Apple Watch with the black sport band. If a red sports band was available, I’d buy one!
The Basis B1 has much better battery life than the Apple Watch. I routinely can get five or more days of usage out of the Basis before having to recharge it. Admittedly, the Basis is doing a lot less than the Apple Watch, but I was quite pleased with not having to charge it every night. The increased battery life of the Basis is critical because I used it to record my sleep patterns. I would wear the Basis to sleep, and it would track how many times I woke up, my amount of REM, Light, and Deep sleep I would have. It would then tabulate all this data on the Web and give me a daily and weekly Sleep Score.
The Apple Watch, like my iPhone, requires nightly charging and does not track sleep patterns. Ultimately, it would be great if the Apple Watch would last days or weeks without needing to be recharged, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. I usually have between 20-40% of battery life left in the evening before I go to bed; one night, I got down to 3% battery life with just one more hour left to complete my Stand goal; fortunately, I made it and was able to complete all the Activity circles for the day!
It’s all on the wrist. The Apple Watch and the Basis B1 Band.
Activity Tracking and the Gamification of Fitness
One thing that I liked with the Basis was its clever game mechanic call Habits. As I wore the Basis passively throughout the day, I would get points for the number of steps per day, the time I would go to sleep or wake up, how many calories I would burn in a day, or how long I wore the watch. As I collected more points, I unlocked additional Habits to track. A few months ago, I gathered enough points to unlock every Habit. It was at that point, however, that my motivation for wearing the watch waned, and I stopped wearing it in the month before the Apple Watch arrived.
I’ve been diligent at completing the three rings each and every day since getting my Apple Watch.
The Activity app for the Apple Watch also lets users collect achievements for fitness tasks. Here’s the list of current achievements in the Activity app. Checkmarks denote the ones I’ve unlocked thus far:
- ✓ First Running Workout: Awarded on your first run with the Workout app.
- ✓ First Walking Workout: Awarded on your first walk with the Workout app.
- Workout Record: Awarded after 5 calorie-based sessions with the Workout app, earn this award for the most calories burned doing your selected workout.
- ✓ 7-Workout Week: Complete at least 7 workouts of any kind in a single week with the Workout app.
- New Record: Earn this award when you set a new personal record for most calories burned in a day after your first 10 days.
- New Award: Earn this award when you set a new personal record for most minutes of exercise in a day after your first 10 days.
- ✓ Move Goal 200%: Earn this award every time you double your daily Move goal.
- ✓ Move Goal 300%: Earn this award every time you triple your daily Move goal.
- Move Goal 400%: Earn this award every time you quadruple your daily Move goal.
- ✓ New Move Goal:Earn this award for reaching a new calorie burn goal.
- ✓ Perfect Week (Exercise): Earn this award for reaching your Exercise goal every day of a single week.
- ✓ Perfect Week (Stand): Earn this award for reaching your Stand goal every day of a single week.
- ✓ Perfect Week (Move): Earn this award for reaching your Move goal every day of a single week.
- ✓ Perfect Week (All Activity): Complete all three activity goals every day of a single week.
- Perfect Month: Earn this award when you reach your Move goal every day of a single month, from the month’s first day to its last.
- ✓ Longest Move Streak: Earn this award for your longest consecutive daily Move streak.
- 100 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 100 times.
- 365 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 365 times.
- 500 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 500 times.
- 1000 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 1000 times.
Although I’ve been exercising a lot, I have not been doing it every day lately, so getting the Perfect Week achievement was a bit of a slog to get. As you can see in the screenshot above, I now have completed the Perfect Week twice. I now have my sights on the Perfect Month achievement!
The Basis B1 also gives you achievements for the following habits that you regularly maintain:
- Wear It: Wear the watch for a certain number of hours in a day.
- Consistent Bedtime: Set the time at which you fall asleep every night.
- Run Club: Run for a set number of minutes.
- Evening Lap: After 5pm, take a set number of steps.
- Let’s Ride: Bike for a set number of minutes.
- Regular Rising: Wake up at a set time each morning.
- Morning Lap: Before 12pm, take a set number of steps.
- Don’t Be A Sitter: From 9-5pm, get up every hour.
- Torch More Calories: Burn a set number of calories each day.
- Afternoon Lap: From 12-5pm, take a set number of steps.
- Move It: Be active for 1 hour.
- Step It Up: Take a set number of steps.
As I mentioned earlier, in the eight months that I wore the Basis band, I was able to accumulate enough points to unlock all of the Habits. Yet, I consistently did not complete each habit on a daily basis. Obviously, it wasn’t practical to run and bike in the same day, nor be able to go to sleep or wake up at the exact same time. Basis highlights in green which days you accomplish the goal. Progress that has yet to be completed is shown in red. Unless you’re a Basis freak, there’ll be more days when you don’t complete Habits than days that you do. This is a key difference with Apple’s Activity rings. With the Apple Watch, you see more of what you did than what you didn’t do (as with the Basis). I think this ultimately helps people maintain their motivation to keep moving, exercising, and standing day in, day out.
Fitness Accuracy of the Apple Watch
I use RunKeeper and Strava to keep track of my runs and cycling activities. In the twenty days that I’ve been using the Apple Watch, I’ve gone on fourteen runs and a handful of walks. According to Apple’s support page on calibration, the Apple Watch should have a good sense of my stride rate3 by now. Yet, I have found the Workout app to consistently underestimate the distances I’ve run compared with Strava and RunKeeper. A 3.1 mile run in Strava or RunKeeper would be interpreted as a 2.9 or 3.0 mile run by the Workout app. I’ve also found that pace as recorded by Workout is slower than both RunKeeper and Strava. Because the Watch apps for RunKeeper and Strava are not that good yet (slow to load or have usability issues), I’ll continue to use all three apps — Workout on the watch, Strava and RunKeeper on my iPhone — when I hit the trails. And, I’ll look on the bright side to Workout’s underestimation of my pace and distance; it’ll make me run faster since I’ll think I’m running too slow!
Update May 19, 2015 @ 10:00 AM: Apple released Watch OS 1.0.1, which promises to bring more accurate “distance and pace during outdoor walk and run workouts”
As for the Basis B1, I liked how I didn’t have to tell the watch what activity I was doing (run, walk, or bike). It just figured it out. On the other hand, the Basis didn’t always interpret what I was doing correctly. For instance, if I ran with the stroller, the Basis would think I did all three activities, giving me less points for running than I wanted.
Third-party Watch apps currently leave much to be desired; the majority of the ones I’ve tried are useless to me because they take so long to load. It’s easier to do what I need done from my iPhone instead of pressing the Digital Crown, swiping to the app (those tap targets are small!), waiting for it to load, and hoping that the information retrieved is of some use.
This sad state of Watch Apps can be attributed to the current limitations set forth by Apple; developers have no direct access to the watch’s accelerometer, gyroscope, Bluetooth radio, Taptic engine, microphone and speaker. This will undoubtedly improve over time, as (1) developers gain more experience with the current WatchKit SDK and (2) Apple decides to allow native applications on the Apple Watch4.
As for the built-in apps supplied by Apple, I frequently use the timer and stopwatch apps. I found dictating Messages replies using Siri to be fairly accurate as long as I’m not trying to say too much. The Camera Remote app is nice, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use it beyond demoing the feature to friends and family. It’s easier to use the Remote app to control the Apple TV over the Apple TV remote — up to the point where I get tired holding my left arm out. I’ve used Apple Pay just once, and I can see it can be even more convenient than using the iPhone. I have yet to transfer any songs or playlists to the Music app.
Is It Worth It?
I’m enjoying wearing the Apple Watch, despite its current set of limitations. As a frequent early adopter of nascent technologies, I realize and accept these limitations. Right now, I’d categorize the Apple Watch as a nice to have. It’s not essential like my iPhone or my laptop. Future Apple Watch iterations will have improved battery life, be faster at loading and running applications, and feature additional sensors. At that point, I see it becoming a must-have device for myself, my family and friends.
1 I received the Basis B1 for free at a tech conference. The B1 has been superseded by the Basis Peak.
2 It’s interesting to note that the Apple Watch’s sensors are designed to work when the watch is on top of the wrist. In my youth, I preferred to wear a watch on the inside of my wrist.
3 Other people have chimed in regarding the fitness accuracy of the Apple Watch that’s worth reading.
4 Third-party applications were initially not supported on the iPhone. Steve Jobs encouraged developers to write web applications for the iPhone instead. A native-SDK was made available a year later in 2008.