I Replaced My iPhone With An Apple Watch–Here’s What’s Working, & What Isn’t

Apple Watch

Around the end of last year, when I was in the market to upgrade a three-year-old iPhone XS that was beginning to show signs of age, I got curious about the potential of being able to use an Apple Watch instead of a proper smartphone altogether. I’d never owned a smartwatch, and up until then had only thought of the device being worn by those far more into their cardiovascular health than I. With a newfound curiosity, I ventured off into the appropriate subreddit threads and watched a handful of videos by tech-tubers with similar titles to this very article.

I was impressed by what these devices – the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, in particular – could do. Frankly, though, irrespective of all their impressive functions, the idea of not having to carry a phone when going for a grocery run, or constantly being distracted by it throughout the day, was enough of a sell for me. Though hesitant at first, seeing that my carrier was offering a deal for an LTE Ultra 2 when signing a new contract was enough of a sign for me to take the plunge. Now four months into the experience of going watch-only, here’s what’s working, what isn’t, and what could be better.

Apple Watch
Apple Watch Ultra 2 with the blue Ocean Band

Works: Health & Fitness

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a line of products advertised as health and fitness companions do well when used as such. Whether it’s tracking my calories and heart rate during my basketball and weight training workouts, or keeping tabs on the number of breaths I take per minute during sleep – a feature that’s particularly important for someone like myself who has mild sleep apnea – the watch fulfills all that I would expect it to and more. Being able to get a deeper understanding of my health data on the iPad app, which syncs nearly instantaneously with the watch, is also a neat feature. It was also neat to be able to install a third-party water intake journal app and have it accessible via a widget that I could put right on the watch face.

There’s a plethora of more health features, from being able to take a surprisingly accurate and easily readable ECG test, to a simple but effective way to log your mental health in the installed journal, fall detection, and much more. Though I initially didn’t expect to be so invested in these health features, the Apple Watch has positively gamified my health tracking, making me not only more aware but encouraged to better my well-being.

Doesn’t Work: Simple Productivity

Just like how the last point shouldn’t have come as a surprise, this one should also be a no-brainer. The Apple Watch, even the Ultra variant that has a bigger display and comes equipped with the snappy S9 chip, isn’t able to do many of the simple functions my iPhone could. Sure, I can check the weather, get directions to a nearby coffee shop, and set reminders, but taking a quick note or even sending an email becomes a chore on the watch. The latter is what surprised me. Even though there is a dedicated Mail app on the watch, it’s incredibly clunky.

Firstly, even on an LTE-enabled device like mine, if my iPhone isn’t turned on at home when I’m out and about, the watch isn’t able to fetch new emails. When it does, it takes quite a while before they show up, giving me that dreaded and seemingly perpetually spinning circle for what feels like minutes. Composing emails, even when connected to an iPhone, is a bit of a chore as well. There’s no way to manually type the recipient’s address with the keyboard, with your only options being to add from your contact list or dictate an address via Siri. Though Siri works fairly well, errors will undoubtedly occur when trying to pronounce longer addresses.

Apple Watch
Mail on Apple Watch

The Notes app was something that I heavily relied on – and still do on my iPad – but is an odd omission on the watch. There’s simply no way for me to easily access my notes, or even create a new one, which was something I often did on the fly with my phone. There is a bit of a workaround where you can create a shortcut widget via the Shortcuts app and compose a new note, however, you will only be able to access said note once in the actual app on an iPad, Mac, or iPhone.

Web browsing is also something effectively unavailable on the watch. Understand I don’t plan to do extensive research on this thing, but the ability to do a quick Google search or visit a restaurant’s online menu would have been nice. Instead, I am, once again, relegated to using Siri for such things. Though he’s fine (yes, my Siri is a dude–an Irish one, in fact) for looking up the next NBA game, sometimes I want to know what movies Anthony Hopkins was doing in the 80s.

Works: Apple Pay

As an avid Apple Pay user who uses the feature daily, I am happy to report that the Apple Watch does Apple Pay very well. From its quick access, to the same satisfying rumble and jingle, to being able to access multiple cards, it’s all here and it works seamlessly.

Kinda Works: Communication

One of the biggest things I wanted to be able to do with the Ultra 2 was be able to do the thing that I feel most people do less and less of with their smartphones: make phone calls and send text messages. The latter works decently enough, my messages come through (albeit are a bit more finicky whenever my iPhone isn’t connected at home), and replying using either the Swype-enabled keyboard or Siri dictation is fairly quick and easy. Phone calls are also fine, however, unless you want folks around you to hear your conversation, a pair of Bluetooth headphones are needed. That being said, everyone I spoke to with just the watch I neither had difficulty hearing nor being heard.

When it comes to third-party apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, however, things are a little less robust. You can receive and view incoming messages (if your iPhone is connected to the internet), but can only reply to them instead of composing new ones (even within existing chats). Don’t expect to answer calls from these types of applications, either, as they aren’t natively supported on the watch.

Kinda Works: Gaming & Entertainment

Believe it or not, the Apple Watch actually has some games you can play. From classic puzzlers like 2048 to my personal favourite Arcadia, which is a collection of old-school arcade classics reminiscent of titles like Tetris, Space Invaders and Brick-Breaker. These games run and look surprisingly well, the only caveat is the way they control. Being that the watch has a small display, a lot of titles utilize the digital crown for their interactions. Most of the time, this works quite intuitively. For some games that require faster reactions, however, it can get a little frustrating and imprecise. Nevertheless, the fact that I’m even able to play games like these on my watch makes me feel like I’m using something out of Star Trek. The library of titles is still nothing to write home about, but I’m hoping developers can come up with creative ways to put some beefier gaming experiences on these devices.

Apple Watch
Never thought I’d be playing games on a watch.

Listening to podcasts and music during workouts has also been nice, though the former has been less of a hassle as the Apple Podcast watch app allows you to download and search shows directly on the watch, whereas the Music app requires you to add music via your iPhone. Music streaming services are also a hit or miss, with Amazon Prime Music being the overall better experience for me.

Reading the news was also something I wasn’t expecting to be doing as much as I do on the watch. Watch Feeds is an app where you can add your favourite sites, and it compiles all the recent stories in one easy-to-access page. The articles themselves are also surprisingly readable with how the text scales on the relatively large display on the Ultra 2.

It’s been an interesting few months with the Apple Watch Ultra 2. Though I’d be lying if I said that the device has completely replaced my iPhone, or that it wasn’t at times incredibly frustrating to accomplish even the most basic of tasks, overall I’m impressed with just how integral it has become to my everyday life. I can’t say for certain that my next smart device in the future won’t be a smartphone, but with how things are going, the Apple Watch may just have a bright future.

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