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The Apple Watch: Full in Depth Review as a Running Watch

I think we need to get something out of the way before many of you read this. This is not a running watch. For those of you who are die-hard Garmin users and are looking for a new running watch, this is not it.  This first generation Apple Watch does not have a built in GPS.  You need to carry your iPhone with you to have a GPS Signal. With that said, it is a really amazing smart watch which makes communicating and receiving messages really convenient.  You can keep your iPhone tucked away in a pocket, backpack, purse, etc., and still receive all of your text messages or phone calls in a descrete manner. For example, when a text comes through you will feel a vibrate or tap on your wrist and the display will not light up and therefore no one will see the alert.  You then have the ability after feeling the tap to raise your wrist and activate the display to see the message. The same goes for phone calls, and emails if you choose, or pretty much any alert that you receive on your iPhone.  It’s been a really convenient way to get my messages while seeing patients during the day.  If you have no issues running with your iPhone and have been doing so in the past, then your going to love this watch. If you need to be reachable when your on a run by your child’s school, work, or whatever the reason, this will make it a breeze and you’ll never miss a call again on a run.

Unboxing:

Just to be official, I have to reveal the unboxing of this “piece of jewelry” as most blogs do.   Of course Apple provides a really cool and elegant box for the Apple Watch.  Here it is:

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Apple Watch comes with 2 bands- a small/medium and a medium/large.  I was unaware of this for 2 days before I realized there is a smaller band to change out! Changing the bands is also a breeze. Apple clearly reinvented watch bands.

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It’s really simple.  You press the button on the back of the watch, and then slide the band out.  Slide the new one in and it locks into place.

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Set up:

Setting up Apple watch out of the box is really easy and actually really cIMG_7550ool as well! After powering put the watch, you will go through a few screens and eventually see this kaleidoscope type of image that you will need to take a picture of by using the Apple Watch App on your iPhone.  This will pair Apple Watch with your iPhone.

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Once Apple Watch is paired with your iPhone, you can change the settings on your watch as well as add Apps. You will be able to change the vibration amount as well as what alerts you want to receive just to name a few.  

The Display:

First off, it’s crystal clear. Really clear.  It’s almost as if there is no glass between the face of the wIMG_7553atch and the actual image. Aside from that, one of the cool features of the Apple Watch is the fact that the display is always in standby mode until you bring the watch in position to see what time it is.  This of course is to save battery life and it tends to work really well.  Even while typing this, if I slightly turn my wrist as to see the time, it will display for 5 seconds and then turn off.

While running or working out, this feature remains and there is currently no setting to keep the display powered on.  I thought this would be and issue to see my heart rate and pace etc. during a run but it’s really not that big of a deal.  It displays rather quickly and the heart rate is constantly being measured so it displays as soon as the screen comes on.

The display is obviously a touch screen retina display, with finger scrolling and swiping back and forth.  There is also one really cool function which Apple has described as force touch.  By pressing harder on the display, more options will pop up in various apps that utilize the pressure sensitive display.

Apps:

It’s a smart watch so there’s obviously apps built just for the Apple Watch.  Since the focus of this is it’s use for running, I’ll just mention a few.   


 

Apple Watch has a native workout App that allows you to choose several options of “workouts”IMG_7630 that you could use the watch for. If you select “outdoor” run, Apple Watch will activate the GPS on your iPhone and use it to track your pace and distance.  If your phone is not with you, the watch will use the gyroscope and accelerometer to calculate your distance and pace.  Apparently, according to Apple, your Apple Watch will learn your stride the more you run with your iPhone and give you more accurate readings. I’m not sure I’ve seen any improvement thus far. I can say when I increase my pace it tends to be less accurate which would make sense (when not paired with iPhone).

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After your run is finished, you simply push down on the display and add a bit of pressure and a screen pops up giving you the option to end or pause.  If you end the workout, a summary page appears giving your stats of distance, time, average pace, and average heart rate.  If you then scroll down to the bottom you can save this to your iPhone.

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I’ve also used RunKeeper and the Nike+ Running Apps which are great tools. Run keeper worked really well for me, but the Nike+ app was way off in terms of pace and distance so I stopped using it.  Others have had good success so maybe my phone didn’t gather signal adequately or something.  Basically all that is happening is your watch is now becoming the user interface to interact with your iPhone. Your iPhone is then communicating with your watch and displaying the results on it. So, if your someone who always runs with your iPhone, you’ll love Apple Watch because you can put your iPhone in a waist pack and never have to reach for it or worry about dropping it.

If you have a pair of Bluetooth Headphones, you can listen to music that is stored on you iPhone but using the interface on the Apple Watch. You can also leave your iPhone at home and store songs on your Apple Watch which has an internal memory of 8gb.  It’s really easy to put songs on the watch.  You simply use the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and sync a playlist to the watch.  Your Apple Watch does need to be on the charger for songs to transfer.

There are many other apps available, too many to mention.  Something that I have actually enjoyed is being able to get MLB score updates from my favorite teams. It’s kinda cool to not have to pull out your iPhone to check the score and be able to nonchalantly check who’s winning.

Accuracy of the GPS:

If you are not aware, there is no internal GPS built into the watch.  You need to have your iPhone with you while running with the watch in order to capture the GPS functionality from the iPhone (currently Apple Watch does not work with other smart phones).  My first run of 4.5 miles was uneventful in that it appeared to track and provide a decent reading of my miles.  You get a tap from the watch at each mile, and depending on the parameters you have set on the display, the total number of miles you have reached will scroll across the bottom with the tap.  Don’t worry, there’s a delay so after you feel the time you have time to glance down and see the mile alert!

I’ve compared Apple Watch to my Garmin 610 and it’s been really close but still off by about a 0.1 mile. The amount off varied by how far I ran with it. Right out of the box I did a 21 mile training run for an upcoming marathon and the accuracy was not as great as I would have expected.  My Garmin distance was 21.09 miles for 3:18:34 and the Apple watch clocked 20.36 miles for 3:18:32.  That’s a pretty significance difference I would think for a serious runner.  I had a shorter run of 3.62 miles which was exactly the same reading on both the Garmin 610 and the Apple Watch at a time of 40:22 for an easy recovery run. So I’m not sure why there was such a large discrepancy.

I think you can use it to run with, but I’m not sure this should be your primary running watch if your a serious runner.  There are benefits I can see for runners. If you’re on vacation or a business trip and you don’t want to bring your Garmin, just wear this and you’ll only need one watch. You can bring your iPhone with you or not depending on how accurate you need your distance to be.

Heart Rate Monitor:

IMG_7615This is a tough challenge to crack, and if anyone could do it you would think it would be the folks over at Apple.  They did a great job with this optical HR monitor but I’m still not sure it’s perfect.  With that said, it is still one of the best I’ve tested and used.

As with the other optical heart rate monitors, this uses 2 green LED lights to penetrate the skin and measure blood flow rate to determine the heart rate.  It’s a bit more complex than obviously.  Recent online posts have mentioned tattoos may disrupt the ability of the light to penetrate the skin.

My treadmill run showed a few different readings during the run.  It does seem that when it gets a measurement (as seen by the watch displaying “measuring“) it tends to keep it.  When it loses it (which is not that often if worn snug against your wrist) then it has a bit of a difficult time getting it back.  It seems to display at a rate of 165 when it remeasures, then it comes back to the accurate reading.  My overall average readings do tend to be accurate as it does not seem to lose the heart rate for that long.

Here’s a test on the treadmill that was a recovery run for me where I kept my HR around 120.  My average reading was 126 which I feel may have been off a bit.  I was doing some strides in this run which could have increased it but do not think the average should be this high.

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 I’ve had more time to test the Apple watch since writing these initials paragraphs and I really think the optical sensor on this Apple Watch is pretty accurate.  I’d have to say if you get it in the right spot on your wrist and keep it there, it will keep recording and stay accurate.  I have found it to read almost exactly the same as to other extremely accurate optical hear rate monitors I’ve tested – The Scosche RHYTHM band and the Mio Global Fuse. I have had average readings of the same heart rate, and others off by a beat or two which I think is great, especially considering you really need to get these devices in just the right spot to get an accurate measuring.  In having conversations with others, it seems that different wrists sizes and structure can effect the way the optical sensor gathers a reading.  I have come to the conclusion my wrist is not ideal for some optical sensors and others work really well.  I’ve talked to some who have no issues at all with them. I will say the Microsoft Band did have pretty poor reviews with the sensor they shipped.

When you aren’t running and just simply wearing the watch, the heart rate monitor will turn on and record your heart rate every 10 minutes.  It is then stored on the Health App on your iPhone to be viewed by day or on a graph.  I slept with it several nights and it recorded pretty accurately. I compared it to my Mio Global fuse on my other wrist during the same night’s sleep and they were really close.

Battery Life:

A treadmill run of one hour and 15 minutes with the HR monitor enabled drained the battery 77% when finished.  I don’t think this is too bad. It is improved from an outdoor run where I had the GPS and heart rate both enabled.  My 21 mile run with the optical heart rate sensor enabled over a period of 3 hours and 18 minutes left my battery with 33% remaining. So, as described it will get you through a marathon if it takes you four hours or more.  If you want conserve battery life during a run you can turn off the heart rate sensor. It also doesn’t drain as much when you aren’t using the GPS from your iPhone.

If I don’t use it to run, I typically only drain the battery 50-60 percent.  I don’t think this is that bad. The more I use it for texting or calling, the more it drains. After 3 weeks, I’ve never drained it completely.

Charging is simple with the magnetic connector. There’s only one way to connect it so it’s hard to screw it up. The charger has a super long cord as well.

 

Overall:

It’s an Apple product so I’m going to be a bit biased.  Many of my friends have been asking about it and waiting to hear my response.  It’s tough to give a simple response!  As a watch, it’s currently the best watch I own in terms of comfort, style, and functionality.  I haven’t worn a watch in 10 years because of my job, but more importantly because I type a lot with patient charting and the band would always rub on my computer.  The Apple Watch Sport Band rests softly on my computer and provides no irritation or rubbing against the computer.  It is really nice to be able feel a text come to you by a “tap-tap” on your wrist.  I find myself not checking my phone at all anymore because I already know if I have any text messages.  When I have time, I will respond to them through my iPhone typically.  If I’m able to, I will use Sire or send a quick emoji back or suggested text which many times are spot on.  Siri works pretty well, but there are times when I use the “hey Siri” function, and Siri doesn’t respond.  For those who are familiar with this you are supposed to be able to say, “hey Siri” and Siri should activate to hear you command or question. There are several variables which may be effecting this- background noise, distance from my iPhone, or it simply doesn’t work!  But honestly, when it does work, it works really well. UPDATE:  On May 19th, Apple issued an update to the Firmware on the Apple Watch. This update included a fix for Siri which greatly improved the functionality of it.  I noticed it immediately after the update was applied to my watch.

 

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