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Friday
Apr292016

Can the Apple Watch Cut it as a Usable Fitness Tracker?

In this Apple Watch review video I am not going to focus very much on the amazing Smart Watch abilities of the Apple Watch. There are tons of reviews and videos that go over all the super cool stuff the Apple Watch can do. In this review however, I will be taking a look at the Apple Watch from the perspective of a full on Activity Tracker and if it can actually stack up to the likes of the big name players in this super competitive fitness tracking technology market.

On one hand you have companies like Garmin, Fitbit, Polar, to name a few, that have really established Fitness watches that track just about any fitness dynamic you can think of, but they are not always the best option when it comes to their Smart Watch abilities and features.

And then there’s the Apple Watch, which for iPhone users is hands down the most full featured and best Smart Watch you can get to go along with your iOS Phone.

Here’s the problem, I want both of these products in one device, I want the ultimate Smart Watch combined with no compromise fitness tracking. And up until recently, neither a dedicated fitness tracker or the Apple Watch could deliver in both of these departments.

I have been on the fence about getting an Apple Watch but there have been some real deal breakers for me that where holding me back:

First off the Optical Heart Rate Monitor on the Apple Watch is simply not accurate and can not keep up with my elevated heart rate when it comes to weight training and since most of what I do is body building style workouts, then I would be short changing myself in terms of how much output or energy the Apple Watch takes into account for a weight training activity I am performing.

Second: The Apple Watch proprietary Fitness Tracking software is really limited and what I found disappointing about the built in Apple Activity App, and even the Apple Health App, is the lack of ability to share my workout details with others or even myself for that matter. I’m fairly sure this activity data is going to some Apple cloud server somewhere, yet there is no online area for me to see it on my computer using a web browser. Not even in Apple’s iCloud service?

Third: Do I want a $600 watch on my wrist while I workout? That’s a lot of investment right out in the open just waiting to get scratched up and smashed up.

Forth: One day of battery life, are you kidding me. Most fitness trackers get at least 3-4 days and some can even go weeks at a time… The Apple Watch may have a lot of power under the hood, but it sure could do with some more cardio…

Fifth: There is no GPS in the Apple Watch, OK this one is not super important to me, since I don’t really run, but I do like to go for walks and the occasional bike ride so being able to see my journey on a map and have all my distance and speed info is cool I have to admit.

Sixth: Not water proof! The Apple Watch has a rating of IPX7 (Splashes, Rain or Snow, Showering, Incidental exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes).Is the really going to be good enough?

What I like about the Apple Watch (Stuff that has been drawing me to it):

Style:
As with pretty much all Apple products, the Apple Watch is no exception when it comes to style, Apple really knows how to make a product that appeals to the masses. It has a great look and feel to it and is totally customizable so you can find just the right combination of band to go with your choice of Apple Watch Face.

Build Quality:
Again, Apple sets a whole new standard when it comes to build quality, just watch some of their videos where they show you the processes involved in the creation of an Apple Watch, starting with design elements, the high standard of materials used in their products, and the way in which each product is painstakingly machined and meticulously assembled.

Integration:
As a long time Apple user, I am well ingrained into the Apple Ecosystem, so it only makes sense for someone like me to choose an Apple Smart Watch, since I have an Apple Computer, an iPhone, Apple TV’s and many other Apple devices around my house. And yes the Apple Watch works amazing with my Apple iPhone, this part is not a big surprise.

Not Just a Gadget on my Wrist:
OK, so the Apple Watch looks cool and in a way is an extension of my iPhone but more like in a streamed down version that is always accessible… But is it simply just a cool mini iPhone on your wrist that kind of does what you iPhone can already do, but in a slower less useful way? I’m going to have to say no, sure there are lots of things I would rather do on my iPhone, but hey, my iPhone is right there in my pocket if I need it. The Apple Watch Really is all about keeping you up to date on what’s going on with your iPhone without you having to obnoxiously pull it out all the time and keep shoving your face in it. You get to decide what is iPhone worthy rather then some vibration going on in your pants. When it does come time for me to get to my email or other tasks I need to follow up on, many of them have already been dismissed and deleted by my Apple Watch leaving me more time to focus on what’s really important.

Let’s get back to those Apple Watch Deal Breakers and address them one by one!

The Apple Watch Optical Heart Rate not being accurate for activities like weight training:

The simple solution, pair your Apple Watch to a stand alone chest strap based Heart Rate monitor. This way you get all day heart rate tracking from the built in Apple optical sensor, and super accurate heart rate monitoring from the chest strap based heart rate monitor while performing high intensity workout activities. I have mine paired to a Polar H7 and it works perfect.

Apple’s built in Activity and Apple Health Software not full featured enough:

I am sure there are lots of people that find the built in Apple Watch activity software to be just fine, however I am not one of them since I like to see lots of details and I like to be able to share and access my info in multiple locations, not just on the Apple Watch or iPhone.

No problem, just don’t use the built in Apple Watch Activity App for tracking your workouts. I use a combination of Apps all from Under Armour. I have been using MyFitnessPal for a long time now to track my food nutrition and what’s nice about MyFitnessPal, is that it works with tons of other partner Apps so you can sync data from a myriad of other fitness devices and Apps and everyone stays updated with one other. This allows information like your smart scales daily weight readings to be updated to all the Apps and devices you are synced with in MyFitnessPal. And of course your fitness tracker of choice will update MyFitnessPal with your daily steps and activity which again in tern can share that info with all other paired devices and Apps.

Not only does MyFitnessPal have an Apple Watch App, but Under Armour also has some more Health and Fitness Apps that are made for the Apple Watch. One other App I use from Under Armour is called MapMyRun, which is great for tracking not only running but also walking and biking and while doing so collects GPS location from my iPhone. What about weight training? That’s where Record comes in (yet again from Under Armour). Record picks up where MapMyRun leaves off, Record is design to track pretty much any type of activity including Weight Lifting, Martial Arts, Yoga, all kinds of Sports and many many more activities. I guess you could use it to track your walking, running and biking but since Record and MapMyRun both use the same accounts and data base, it really doesn’t matter which one you record your workout with. Both Record and MapMyRun let you look at the data a little bit differently once it is recorded. And you guessed it, MyFitnessPal being an Under Armour App can see all the activity data from both Record and MapMyRun.

And by the way, all of this data is viewable in Apple Health if you want it to be, so you can also see your Record and MapMyRun workouts in the Apple Activity App and in the Apple Health App.

In terms of usable and shareable data. I am very pleased with the results I get from using Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal in conjunction with Record and MapMyRun.

My Apple Watch is way too nice and costly to workout in :(

Now I would refrain from buying the Gold Apple Watch and using it as your daily workout tracking device. Perhaps take a look at the base Sport model since it is less expensive and the most light weight version. Which by the way even the largest 42mm version for me is not too bulky or heavy. The price of the Apple Watch has dropped a bit since it first came out, I was able to buy mine for around $400 Canadian. You could even look at getting a used Apple Watch to get the price down a bit, keep in mind the Apple Watch is so much more than an activity tracker, so yes it will be be more costly than most basic Activity Trackers. So how do you keep the Apple Watch from getting all banged up? Just like your iPhone, there are tons of cases you can dress your Apple Watch up with. I have one from Speck that slips on and off super easy so I can have it on for my workouts and take it off for when I want that more dressed up look. So far my Apple Watch is holding up well and looks just like it did when I first got it :)

Will my Apple watch run out of juice before I do?

I was expecting to have to charge my Apple Watch part way though the day, but I am pleasantly surprised that I can do a full 24 hours and then some no problem even with all the notifications, tactic feedback vibration, fitness tracking and playing around I am doing with my Apple Watch. I work from a desk so I simply place my Apple Watch mid day on it’s charger for about an hour and so far I have had no need to charge my Apple Watch at any other time. You could also charge your Apple Watch each night if you are not interested in heart Rate Feedback while you are sleeping.

How can the Apple Watch be a serious Fitness Tracker without GPS?

For me this was not a big deal even from the beginning since most of my workout activity is in the gym, where GPS is not required. From the get go Apple designed the Apple Watch to work hand in hand with your iPhone so they figured having a lot of redundancies would be a waste of your money, also real-estate and energy consumption for the Apple Watch. So in the case of GPS, Apple decided to use the GPS in your iPhone as the source for any App you are using on your Apple Watch. No big deal right? I guess so unless you can’t take your iPhone with you. For me this is not a problem since even when I go for walks, runs, or do some biking, I generally always bring my iPhone with me. Worst case scenario if I forget my iPhone and only have my Apple Watch, well I can still track my walking, running, or biking activities, I just won’t get GPS data. The Apple watch will use my steps to track basic distance, and my heart rate to track more detailed energy output.

Shouldn’t all Fitness Trackers be Water Proof?

The problem with the classification of “water proof” or “water resistant” is it is not always black and white, it can be a little grey. There are all kinds of ratings within each classification and some companies like to air on the side of caution as in with the Apple Watch. Apple gives a somewhat conservative IPX7 water resistance rating but there are all kinds of videos of people swimming with their Apple Watches and even people doing water pressure testing of the Apple Watch using pressure levels way beyond the IPX7 1 meter for 30 minutes classification. You will have to decide if you want to risk swimming with your Apple Watch, but I do know if you accidentally take a swim with it, or use it in the shower you will generally be totally fine. Personally I take mine off when I shower to keep the microphone and speaker clear of water so they will work better when I need them to.

One last concern I had not mentioned so far is if the Apple Watch fitness tracking is accurate when compared to other fitness trackers. I compared the Apple watch side by side with my Garmin VivoActive which I have been using as my daily driver for the past year and overall the Apple Watch is comparable. In terms of workout activity calories, the Apple Watch does seem to credit me a bit more calories but on the other hand my daily step activity is a bit lower for the Apple watch when compared with my Garmin VivoActive, so it all kind of evens out at the end of the day. Which one is more accurate is hard to say but I am getting similar readings using a dedicated Fitness Tracker versus my Apple Watch running fitness tracking software.

OK, so that about raps up some of my personal hands on usage with the Apple Watch and does it stack up as  serious and usable Fitness Tracker. After using my Apple Watch Sport for several weeks I am happy to say I am very pleased not only with the Apple Watch as a Smart Watch, and all the cool integration I have with it in terms of accessing the information and other Apps on my iPhone. I am also a little surprised at how good of a fitness tracker the Apple Watch can be, when using some third Party Apps like Under Armour’s Record, MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal. I’m even going to ditch my Garmin VivoActive and start using my Apple Watch as my daily driver for tracking all my day to day activity, of course with a little help from Under Armour!

So in the end, when it comes to an Apple targeted Smart Watch user looking for a very usable Fitness Tracking Solution, you really can have your cake and eat it too with the Apple Watch!