First reviews: You’ll love Apple Watch, but it’s gonna take some time

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The next big thing? Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

The first reactions to the Apple Watch are hot off the presses and, to be honest, they’re pretty much what I was expecting.

There are some nice revelations (battery life isn’t as bad as we feared), some areas to improve on (activating the screen carries a lag, although Apple promises it can fix it though software updates), praise for how easy it is to manage notifications, and a general sense of reviewers trying desperately to figure out what the hell a smartwatch should try and do.

And concluding that — despite being unclear about quite what that is — Apple has done it pretty well.

Check out the highlights of the early hands-on impressions from Re/Code, the Wall Street Journal, David Pogue, and the other people lucky enough to get an early review unit:

To begin with the nitpicks, Bloomberg reviewer Joshua Topolsky complains that the watch doesn’t always spring to life quite as readily as he wants it to:

“Many times while using the watch, I had to swing my wrist in an exaggerated upward motion to bring the display to life. Think about the way people normally look at their watches, then make it twice as aggressive. As a normal watch-wearer, the idea that I might look down at my wrist and not see the time was annoying. Sometimes, even if you do the arm-swing motion, the screen doesn’t turn on. Sometimes it turns on, then off. Sometimes you tap it and nothing happens.”

His review is titled, “You’ll Want [An Apple Watch], But You Don’t Need One.”

John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame echoes similar sentiments about the lag, noting that:

“I’ve worn a watch every day since I was in 7th grade, almost 30 years ago. I’m used to being able to see the time with just a glance whenever there is sufficient light. Apple Watch is somewhat frustrating in this regard. Even when Wrist Raise detection works perfectly, it takes a moment for the watch face to appear. There’s an inherent tiny amount of lag that isn’t there with a regular watch.”

Gruber concludes by noting that what is ultimately going to make Apple Watch really exciting is if everyone gets one:

“If you’re the only person you know with an Apple Watch, your timekeeping will still be precise, your activity tracking will still be accurate — but digital touch as a form of communication will be pointless. Digital touch only works, only becomes a thing, if Apple Watch becomes a thing. Digital touch is not designed for an isolated product. It is designed as a tentpole feature for a hit product with widespread appeal and adoption. The single most innovative feature of Apple Watch — the most intimate feature of the company’s most personal device — will only matter if some of the people you care most about wear one too.”

The Verge also voices the criticisms concerning occasional unresponsiveness, with Nilay Patel writing that:

“Let’s just get this out of the way: the Apple Watch, as I reviewed it for the past week and a half, is kind of slow. There’s no getting around it, no way to talk about all of its interface ideas and obvious potential and hints of genius without noting that sometimes it stutters loading notifications. Sometimes pulling location information and data from your iPhone over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi takes a long time. Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it’s just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back.”

However, while Patel is critical of some of the Apple Watch’s features, he winds up by concluding that it’s an exciting technology, that it’s still defining its role, and that none of us really know what it’ll become just yet.

“There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.”

Writing for Yahoo, David Pogue writes that:

“[T]his much is unassailable: The Apple Watch is light-years better than any of the feeble, clunky efforts that have come before it. The screen is nicer, the software is refined and bug-free, the body is real jewelry. First-time technologies await at every turn: Magnetic bands, push-to-release straps, wrist-to-wrist drawings or Morse codes, force pressing, credit-card payments from the wrist. And the symbiosis with the iPhone is graceful, out of your way, and intelligent.

But the true answer to that question is this: You don’t need one. Nobody needs a smartwatch. After all, it’s something else to buy, care for, charge every night. It’s another cable to pack and track. Your phone already serves most of its purposes. With the battery-life situation as it is, technology is just barely in place to make such a device usable at all.

In the end, therefore, the Apple Watch is, above all, a satisfying indulgence. It’s a luxury. You might buy it to bring you pleasure — and it will — much the way you might buy a really nice car, some really nice clothes, or a really nice entree.”

For Re/Code, Lauren Goode keeps the conclusion short-but-sweet:

“Smartwatches are still unproven, but Apple has made a pretty strong case for them.”

Two of the most interesting reviews, to me, were the ones which made it clear just how little the Apple Watch is suited for a “first impressions” type review. “It took three days — three long, often confusing and frustrating days — for me to fall for the Apple Watch,” writes Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times. “But once I fell, I fell hard.”

“[U]nlike previous breakthrough Apple products, the Watch’s software requires a learning curve that may deter some people. There’s a good chance it will not work perfectly for most consumers right out of the box, because it is best after you fiddle with various software settings to personalize use. Indeed, to a degree unusual for a new Apple device, the Watch is not suited for tech novices. It is designed for people who are inundated with notifications coming in through their phones, and for those who care to think about, and want to try to manage, the way the digital world intrudes on their lives.”

Manjoo ends his review by writing that, “The first Apple Watch may not be for you — but someday soon, it will change your world.”

A similar review is Geoffrey Fowler’s at the Wall Street Journal, who sums up why it’s a mistake to try and judge the Apple Watch by the standard “it’s an iPhone for your wrist” preconception with which we’ve been thinking of it:

“With the Apple Watch, smartwatches finally make sense. The measure of their success shouldn’t be how well they suck you in, but how efficiently they help you get things done. Living on your arm is part of that efficiency—as a convenient display, but also a way to measure your heart rate or pay at a cash register. This is a big idea about how we use technology, the kind of idea we expect from Apple.”

Not long to wait until April 24 when we get to make up our own minds…