The Apple Watch reviews are in, and they’re uncharacteristically meh across the board

Now we know.
Now we know.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The first Apple Watch reviews have landed. (The watch itself goes on sale in nine countries on April 24; pre-orders begin April 10.) We’ve reviewed the reviews, pulling out the most important and interesting bits here.

The big picture: It’s nice, but not yet essential

The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch on the market, the reviewers agree. And it does some interesting things. But it’s not essential.

This is different than smartphones, which became addictive at first use and were obvious, must-own devices. It sounds like the watch still needs some work before it’s great. ”To a degree unusual for a new Apple device, the Watch is not suited for tech novices,” Farhad Manjoo writes for the New York Times.

What works

The battery seems fine! This seemed like it was going to be a concern because Apple tends to push the limits on acceptable battery life. But no review made a big deal out of it.

The “Taptic engine” seems cool. This is Apple’s new gizmo that taps you on the wrist when it wants your attention, typically for notifications. However, it can quickly become overwhelming, and needs some configuration. “Setting up all of this is a tedious—and unfortunately ongoing—chore,” Geoffrey Fowler writes for the Wall Street Journal.

Apple Pay works great. Fast and easy. “My favorite part of the entire Watch,” Nilay Patel writes for The Verge. It’s easy to see how one-touch payments and identity could become very powerful watch features.

Apple’s fitness features aren’t deep, but they’re a start. “I have no idea if this will have any lasting impact on my health, but I think Apple’s beautiful and frictionless approach to teaching people about exercise habits is a leap in the right direction,” Joshua Topolsky writes for Bloomberg. “I like Apple Watch’s regular reminders to get up and move,” Lauren Goode writes for Re/code.

What doesn’t

Speed seems to be the biggest source of tension. The watch is designed to be used for short, focused bursts of activity—seconds at a time. But it’s not quick enough. “There’s virtually nothing I can’t do faster or better with access to a laptop or a phone except perhaps check the time,” Patel writes.

Glances are more like stares. One of the main features is something called “Glances,” which are supposed to be simple bits of information from various sources. But “in practice, I found them to be clunky and overwhelmingly useless,” Topolsky writes.

iPhone handcuff. The watch’s forced connection to an iPhone seems to slow down the small selection of watch apps, especially when location is part of the equation. ”The Uber app takes so long to figure out where you are that you’re better off walking home,” Patel writes.

Apple is working on it, according to the reviews—some of this can be fixed with software. But it just sounds buggy overall—not as polished as what Apple typically ships.

Style and society

Comfort matters. You’re wearing the watch all day, even if you aren’t using it. So the way it looks and feels is important. ”It’s a supercomputer on your wrist, but it’s also a bulbous, friendly little thing, far more round than I expected,” Patel writes. “It’s also surprisingly heavy.” Both he and Topolsky seemed to favor the leather loop band. The WSJ’s Joanna Stern says the Milanese loop is comfy. But it seems a third-party watchband market will flourish, which should at least provide more choices.

When is it okay to look at your watch? This is going to be one of the things that needs to get sorted out in society. It has become obvious that it’s rude to look at your smartphone in a meeting, or at dinner. What about your wrist? “It turns out that checking your Watch over and over again is a gesture that carries a lot of cultural weight,” Patel notices. ”The Apple Watch can certainly make you a worse dinner guest,” Topolsky writes. “But it can also make you a slightly better one.”