A flick, a tap, a twist: Hands-on with the Apple Watch

March 10, 2015, 12:00 PM UTC
Apple Watch Edition
Courtesy of Jason Cipriani

At its Special Event in San Francisco on Monday, Apple offered more detail—including prices and shipping dates—for its highly anticipated Watch. After the keynote, it made the wearable devices available for attendees to evaluate.

Never one to shy away from tinkering with shiny—and boy, were the display models shiny—new gadgets, I stayed well past my welcome to thoroughly get a feel for Apple’s Watch.

The company (AAPL) will release three different models of the Watch—affordable Sport, mid-tier Watch, and ultra-luxe Edition—the difference among them strictly the material used for the casing.

When I picked them up, there was a slight, yet noticeable difference in their weight, due to the different materials. The Edition, which is available in 18-karat gold, is the heaviest, or so it felt. (Though it may have been the price tag weighing down my arm.) A quick check of the specifications-sheet confirmed my suspicions—the 42mm Edition weighs in at 69 grams, more than double that of the 30-gram Sport model. (For those interested, the stainless-steel Watch weights in at 50 grams.) The weight differences are not significant enough to push you to another Watch model, but they do exist.

When Apple first debuted its Watch in September, the demo area it provided was full of watches we couldn’t use. Each one ran a looping demo that showcased basic features. Those of us in attendance were left with more questions than answers.

This time, the operating system on Apple Watch was fully functional, and I made sure to use all of it when I got my paws on them. It was highly responsive, and looked fantastic on the screen. Animations lacked any stuttering or lag, something I saw on the demo units in September. Siri, the voice-prompted virtual assistant, was quick to come up, though the mic had a hard time picking up commands in my noisy environment. Zooming in and out of the Photos library was fun (and rather hypnotic).

In September, I felt confused by the user interface of the Watch. The collection of round app icons looked small—far too small for what I had come to expect from design-centric Apple. Small screen, small circles, big fingers? It didn’t feel like the usual thinking from Cupertino.

But the Apple Watch relies heavily on its so-called digital crown as a way to take pressure off the finger as a primary method of input. Now that I’ve been able to actually use it—to zoom in on a section of app icons, for example, consequently enlarging them—the experience suddenly became very Apple-like. The crown was easy to turn, with a little resistance, but not too much.

Force Touch, Apple’s new method of pressing harder on the screen to activate what equates to a right-click of sorts, will take some getting used to. Figuring out when to use it, and for what, wasn’t always clear to me. When I pressed hard on the watch face, I activated the customization menu—neat, but there’s nothing to on the device to indicate (other than tutorials provided by Apple) that there is extra functionality hidden under your fingertip.

I also struggled with the idea that pushing in on the Digital Crown acts as a back button. There’s a near-flush button positioned just adjacent to the Digital Crown, but it offers little in the form of functionality, as far as I could tell, outside of the home screen or watch face on the Watch. (A single- or double-press triggers Apple Pay or displays your favorite contacts for Apple’s cute Watch messaging app. Which, by the way, looks like a gimmick on stage but in practice comes across as a practical means of quickly communicating.) My fingertip seemed to want “back” to come in a more conventional form.

The Watch comes with 8 gigabytes of storage, Apple representatives told me. I took a sneak peak in the Settings section of the Watch and discovered that, after accounting for space requirements of the operating system, you’re left with 5.9 gigabytes of space. This leftover space is where you can store your music, photos, and Watch apps. It’s not a lot, but then again, how much music do you really need to have on your wrist? It’s more than enough for a playlist or two to power you through a workout, though persnickety long-distance runners may object.

A bit of good news for those who follow Apple rumors: Any Watch band can be used with any Watch. (So long as it’s built for the size of watch you own: A 42mm band won’t fit on a 38mm Watch, and vice-versa.) Before the event, rumors swirled that select bands would only be available for select models—a sort of economic segregation. That’s not actually the case.

So how do I feel about Apple’s next great gadget? My somewhat brief time with the Watch left me feeling excited and hopeful. It’s clear that Apple thought through every aspect of the first new product released under Tim Cook; there are small, thoughtful features throughout (such as the ability to receive alerts on your Watch when outside of Bluetooth range when both your iPhone and Watch are on the same Wi-Fi network) that demonstrate this.

Pebble and, to a lesser extent, Google’s Android Wear clearly laid the groundwork for the smart watch industry as we know it today. Apple’s offering is a big step toward its maturation, and the company is positioned to propel a budding category into another iPhone-like gold rush. Competitors know how high the bar has been set. Now, they just need to figure out how to compete.

Jason Cipriani is Fortune’s personal technology columnist and the author of its weekly “Logged In” column.

Watch more about the Apple event from Fortune:
[fortune-brightcove videoid=4101175444001]

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