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A new smartwatch has arrived

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A few (very, very quick) impressions:

  • Build quality, even on the Sport model, is unsurprisingly fantastic.
  • Setup process was fairly straightforward, though I continue to wonder how fast non-techies will take to it. Even something as simple as configuring your watch face may cause people to people stumble. Makes me wonder how many Apple Watches will be left on the default face configuration.
  • Speaking of faces: most of the built-in ones are actually pretty lame, though there are a few standouts, and you’ll probably find something you like. Solar, Astronomy, and Motion are all gorgeous, though none of them have complications, which limits their actual utility.
  • The UI seems mostly snappy, though it has the occasional Moto 360-esque hiccup. It’s smoother than I expected based on reviews, for whatever that’s worth.
  • Speaking of which – third-party app performance seems to vary, but generally are surprisingly different. From reviews, I expected a disaster, but most of the ones I care about (Wunderlist, Dark Sky, Alarm.com, Evernote) all seem perfectly usable.
  • still can’t believe there’s no Reminders app. Come on. At least I can use Wunderlist or Evernote for shopping lists, I suppose.

More impressions coming in the next few days! I’m excited to see how it holds up during a long bike ride, and if my leg is feeling better, I’ll take it out for a run soon. I’m also curious how it tracks my Just Dance “workouts”.

Watch This: 4 Weeks with the Apple Watch

Today I stumbled across this video, and thought it was pretty great:

Basically: if you’ve already used a smartwatch, and aren’t already sold on the concept, then the Apple Watch doesn’t do anything new or amazing enough to win you over. Personally, as someone who loved his Moto 360, I’m pretty excited to see Apple’s take on the same ideas.

While I know smartwatches aren’t for everyone, my experience is that people tend to only realize their usefulness after having one. What the Apple Watch could do, that other smartwatches so far haven’t, is win over otherwise-skeptical customers on brand name alone. A smartwatch is more than the sum of its parts, and I think millions of people are going to try the Apple Watch and be pleasantly surprised. In a way, the Apple Watch may very well be the best thing to happen to Android Wear since Android Wear was announced.

Today I tried on an Apple Watch

Although I’ve already pre-ordered an Apple Watch, I still wanted to try one on, just in case the experience was so underwhelming I could cancel ore-ory pre-order before I shipped. Also, I was curious what the whole “trying on” experience was like.

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  1. I showed up for my appointment around 3:15, and the store was fairly packed, although I think that’s pretty common for the Apple Store on weekends.
  2. The person helping me seemed fairly knowledgeable about the Watch, though because I’m a huge nerd he wasn’t really able to tell me anything I didn’t already know.
  3. They didn’t have the exact model I ordered – a 42mm Silver with White Sport Band – but I was able to try the 42mm Space Grey, and it felt quite nice. It’s a bit smaller than I expected, which reassured me that I’d made the correct choice in ordering a 42mm – the 38mm is just a bit too small for me. I can see how it’d be perfect for someone with smaller wrists, though – the Apple Watch may legitimately be the first smartwatch someone with smaller wrists could comfortably wear.
  4. Although it was smaller than expected, it was also thicker than I expected – not something I noticed while wearing it, but definitely something I noticed while looking at others wearing it. You won’t mistake it for anything but an Apple Watch, which is likely exactly what Apple is hoping for. Still, it’s pretty easy to imagine a substantially thinner second-generation model.
  5. The back of the Watch was notably warm, probably from charging while in the locked drawer. It’s the same sensation I remember feeling from the 360 if I put it on immediately after it finished charging.
  6. The Sport Band is surprisingly nice – it doesn’t feel like rubber at all. However, I also tried on a Stainless Steel Apple Watch with the Milanese Band, and dammit I think I’m going to end up buying a Milanese Band. It looks and feels great, and I love that it’s infinitely adjustable. Fortunately, changing straps is incredibly simple, so it’s easy to imagine swapping the Sport Band out for the Milanese after I finish my morning run.
  7. While the Stainless Steel model was certainly nicer, I’m not sure it felt $200 nicer. I might feel that way after the Ion-X glass on my Sport model gets scratched to hell and back, of course. I think a Sport model with a Milanese band would quite likely look almost-as-nice as a Stainless Steel. Hopefully bands will be cross-compatible between generations.
  8. The hands-on demo devices run a static demo loop, but part of that loop did involve the “taptic” feedback for notifications, which is very cool. Definitely a step above the vibration motors of the Pebble and the 360.

After finishing the hands-on, I tried out one of the demo stands so I could familiarize myself with the interface.

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  1. I took to the interface rather quickly, but again, since I’m a nerd, I’ve been following this stuff for awhile and already knew more-or-less how to use it, so I’m probably not the best judge as to whether or not it’s intuitive.
  2. did get lost once or twice in the interface, since the Digital Crown will sometimes act as a way to get to the app launcher and will sometimes go to the previous screen. I wasn’t able to use it long enough to figure out when it did what.
  3. The Digital Crown is actually a pretty great way to scroll through a longer message or e-mail without blocking the content.
  4. Force Touching felt a bit weird, but that could also be because I wasn’t wearing the device. It worked fine and seemed reliable, though.
  5. Apps and Glances didn’t feel particularly slow, but it’s also not connected to a phone, so it may not be a good indicator of real-world performance,
  6. The UI definitely stuttered here and there, particularly when bringing up Glances or going to the app launcher. I have to say, it felt a little un-Apple-like in that regard.
  7. I think the interface looks better in motion than in static pictures.
  8. I like the built-in watch faces and the ability to customize them. The lack of third-party watch faces is a shame, but what’s already there is pretty good and provides plenty of useful information, depending on how you configure your Complications.
  9. There’s no Reminders or Notes app that I could see, which seems like a really dumb oversight. One of my favorite Moto 360 tricks was to put my shopping list on my wrist.

Overall impressions:

  1. By-far the best smartwatch hardware I’ve personally used, at least in build quality and thoughtfulness. The ability to quickly swap out bands is killer – Apple and (I assume) third-parties are going to make an absurd amount of money selling these bands. Appearance-wise, I’d need to put it right next to a 360 to know for sure. It blows the Pebble and Pebble Steel away, of course.
  2. Watch OS is better than I thought it would be back in September, but the interface lag is unfortunate.
  3. I’m certainly not second-guessing my decision to pre-order, as I came away mostly impressed and excited by the potential. As someone who is (mostly) sold on the idea of smartwatches, it’s probably the best one I’ve used – but I don’t know if that’ll be enough to sell the idea of smartwatches to everyone else. What Apple has made is good, but I don’t know if it’s that good – at least not yet.

Five take-aways from the first Apple Watch reviews

Apple Watch reviews are out, and here are my take-aways from them:

  1. It’s a first-generation Apple product, so it’s fundamentally flawed in some notable ways, and most people should wait for the next version.
  2. It’s a first-generation Apple product, so it’s also incredibly well-made and has a huge amount of promise.
  3. No one really knows if people actually want smartwatches and what we’ll want to use them for.
  4.  I’ll probably still buy one, because I make poor choices. However, any question as to what “tier” I’ll get has been answered – it’s definitely not worth the asking price for anything better than the Sport model.
  5. The Verge’s web team is ridiculously talented.

Apple Watch Guided Tours: Dammit, I’m buying one, aren’t I?

Despite the smartwatch fatigue I experienced a month ago, I find myself getting strangely excited about Apple Watch as we get closer to release. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Apple release an entirely new product category, and while I’d generally recommend that most people wait until the 2nd generation of any Apple product before jumping in, I find myself more and more tempted to pre-order come April 10th.

I wasn’t initially sold on the interface, but today Apple released the first few in a series of guided tours, and it looks…pretty great. Like better-than-Android Wear great, which if you recall, I actually like quite a bit. Of course, demos are one thing, and I’m hoping that, in practice, Watch OS feels less more like a complete product than Android Wear, which   to me still feels somewhat like a beta, especially since Lollipop took what I’d consider a few steps back.  I’m more and more sold on the Digital Crown as well which, along with Force Touch, seems like a pretty clever way to add functionality when your screen real estate is limited.

My initial concern with Watch OS was that it was too complicated when compared to the beautiful simplicity of Android Wear, but watching these demos, it actually seems pretty straightforward.  Swipe up for Glances, which are a lot like Android Wear cards, except thankfully more persistent. Swipe down for Notifications, just like you would on any phone. Finally, press the Digital Crown to get to your apps. I find myself starting to wonder if Android Wear simplicity is actually a detriment, but it’ll be hard to say without actually using Watch OS for awhile.

This whole thing is a reminder of how the Apple Store is the biggest advantage Apple has in the smartwatch game. I think Watch OS truly shines once you’ve had someone guide you through it, and right now, there’s really no equivalent experience for any of the available Android Wear devices. It’s going to be one hell of a month, and I can’t wait to see how most people respond to what is arguably the first mainstream smartwatch.

The Galaxy S6 is going to make my life so much easier

The Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone. I never thought I’d say that about a Samsung phone, but the results are in, and my first-hand use of one today confirmed it. The screen is amazing, the build and design are first-class, the camera is fast and solid and reliable, and the software is…well, tolerable, which is a big improvement for Samsung. I can’t wait for it to come out, though not because I’ll be buying one. Rather, I’m excited because the question I get asked the most by my friends is “What smartphone should I buy?”, and now I have a very simple answer.

Do you want an iPhone? Buy an iPhone.

Do you want an Android phone? Buy the Galaxy S6.

Before the S6, this was a much more complicated answer, usually involving a great deal of back-and-forth. What carrier are you on? What features are most important to you? What compromises are you willing to make?

Those days are finally gone. Like the iPhone, the Galaxy S6 isn’t the best phone in every category, but it’s one of the best all-around packages you’re going to find, and it’s hard to go wrong with it. HTC spent three years trying to be the “iPhone of Android” – the best all-around Android device with the fewest compromises – and while they came damn close, Samsung finally tried to make a premium-feeling device and they got it in one. It doesn’t have the best software, but it’s no longer offensively bad. It doesn’t have a removal battery or SD card, but it has wireless charging, which is pretty great. It’s not the perfect phone because there is no perfect phone, but it’s a damn good fit for a lot of people.

Of course, things could become more complicated if someone has to have an SD card or has to have a removal battery, or has to have a huge (or tiny) phone, or has to have the most possible battery life, or has to have stock Android. But if you have such specific requirements, there’s usually only one or two choices anyway.  And if you don’t have any of those requirements?

Just buy the iPhone or the Galaxy S6.

The Juxtaposition of Bloodborne and Dragon Age: Inquisition

This weekend, I divided my gaming time equally between Dragon Age: Inquisition and Bloodborne. It was an unexpectedly interesting juxtaposition.

I started off with Dragon Age and while I remember enjoying it at the time, on reflection, the experience ultimately felt…hollow. Like running on a treadmill; you feel like you’re accomplishing something at the time, until it’s over and you realize you actually went nowhere. It’s as much playing a game as it is marking things off of a checklist, especially given how relatively mindless the combat is. The only time a battle in Dragon Age felt remotely as fun as a battle in Bloodborne was against a dragon, and there’s only 10 of those. So, yeah.

Meanwhile, Bloodborne kept me up until 1 in the morning, and made me wish I’d started playing it that much earlier in the weekend. Even now, as I write this, the experience of defeating the Blood-Starved Beast is fresh on my mind. I’m thinking about what I want to do next in the game, where I want to go. I’m thinking about trying different weapon combination and different approaches to the same enemy and groups of enemies. It sounds more shallow than Dragon Age, but somehow Bloodborne is the one that sticks with me after I’m done playing.

I’m just not as invested in my Dragon Age experience, and I’m not really sure why. I know where I’ll go and what I’ll probably do next, but I’m not sure I care, beyond hoping to clear more tasks off of my quest backlog. The only area where it truly excels is in the characters and storytelling, but that’s a fraction of the overall experience. The problem is that, as a game, it often fails at being fun to play. Why would you fill 95% of your game with combat encounters that aren’t even that fun to go through? Why would you have groups of enemies constantly respawn when stopping to fight them is little more than a nuisance? Bioware, for some reason, still hasn’t realized that less is more when it comes to good combat encounters. It’s also probably my fault for playing on Hard, which Bioware interprets as ‘GIVE ENEMIES MORE HITPOINTS’, because grinding through larger health bars is just the best.

So why am I still playing it?  That’s…a good question. Probably because I’m already 70 hours in, and part of my brain wants to finish off that checklist, while the other part wants to see where the stories and characters go. That’s a really depressing reason to play through something that’s supposed to be fun on its own merits, but perhaps the shallow entertainment it provides at the time is good enough.

If nothing else, maybe Dragon Age can be my safe, mindless happy place on those occasions when I rage-quit Bloodborne.

My 10 Second Review of Bloodborne

I can’t stop playing Bloodborne – well, except when the absurd 45-second load times every time I die literally stop me from playing Bloodborne.

Seriously though, I can’t stop playing it. Send help.

The Force Touch Trackpad is a fantastic new MacBook trick

Arstechnica writes, regarding the Force Touch Trackpad in the updated 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro:

The only external change to the Pro is the addition of Apple’s Force Touch Trackpad, originally developed for the Retina MacBook. To accommodate that system’s thinness, the trackpad doesn’t physically move as most current trackpads do. This isn’t something that Apple did first—Synaptics has shipped a clickless ForcePad for years—but Apple’s implementation is the first that approximates the feel of a standard trackpad. It’s also pressure sensitive and can respond differently depending on how hard you press down.

I can’t emphasize enough how true it is. I went to Best Buy yesterday to try out the Force Trackpad and it’s indistinguishable from a real click, except that you now have the option to click “deeper”. It basically adds a Z-depth to the existing multitouch trackpad paradigm and it’s super, super cool.

I wouldn’t recommend going and buying a new laptop just to have this feature, but given that Apple’s laptops already outperform competitors when it comes to trackpad functionality, this is like leapfrogging the competition before they even catch up with you. It’ll be especially great once third-party developers start playing with it.

My 10 Second Review of Vainglory

Last night, I was in the middle of  very, very close Vainglory match when, to my horror, the screen froze – my iPad’s battery had finally given out. I ran upstairs, grabbed my iPhone, launched the app…and connected directly into the same match. Despite my nearly minute-long absence from the game, my team and I managed to squeak out a victory.

It was the most memorable moment I’ve had playing a video game in a long, long time.

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