Table of Contents
- Fitness Features
- Tech Specs
- Third Party Apps
As many of you know Apple launched its new smartwatch on the 24th of April accompanied by the usual drama and hysteria. I was one of the lucky few to receive my watch on April 24th (launch day). I have been using the watch extensively for the past few weeks and am really excited and impressed by the watches fitness capabilities. So I decided to write this post to give you an idea of what nordic skiing and training with the Apple Watch could really be like.
Full disclosure the snow is mostly gone so I haven’t had a chance to ski with it yet but I have been cross training with it daily since I received the device.
As far as sports tracking and fitness features go on the apple watch, there is quite a bit to talk about. Not just what it has but also what it doesn’t have. The apple watch has a built in heart rate monitor and accelerometer. The watch itself relies upon your iPhone for a GPS connection. Though, after several phone tethered runs, the watch will learn your gate and be able to provide distance readings without an iPhone (The accuracy of which I will comment upon in the next section). The types of activity the watch will track, by default, out of the box are: Indoor Run, Outdoor Run, Indoor Cycle, Outdoor Cycle, Indoor Walk, Outdoor Walk, Elliptical, Rower, Stair Stepper, and there is an “other” category as well. Clearly nordic skiing is not listed, I will get to this serious seeming issue shortly.
Along with these fitness specific features there are other non-fitness centric features which would be on while skiing. One of these features is the watch’s ability to store music locally and play said music on bluetooth headphones or ear buds without a phone at all. So for example, today I went for a run with only my apple watch and my wireless sports ear buds.
As far as passive, all-day fitness tracking goes, the apple watch has derived a pretty unique system. Your daily actions are summarized into three categories: Move, Stand, and Exercise. These three categories are measured by caloric expenditure, standing time per hour, and time, respectively. The apple watch shows your progress in these three categories as rings which you need to fill with color to meet your daily goal. The move metric is self set, the watch will give a recommendation but you can make it whatever you want. The stand and exercise goals are non changing. The exercise goal is for you to complete thirty minutes of activity performed at or above the level of a brisk walk (this is the globally recommended amount). The stand goal asks that you be standing for at least one minute per hour in twelve separate hours of the day. Clearly the apple watch has quite bit going for it! But it definitely has some feature omissions which will turn away many serious users, whether they are right to or not.
A shot of the 38 mm apple watch alongside the Garmin forerunner 910xt. Clearly the apple watch is significantly more compact!
Tech Specs (Accuracy, Durability, etc..)
The durability of the apple watch is a little bit complicated. There are three tiers of apple watches. The apple watch sport, the apple watch, and the apple watch edition. The feature set is identical across all three tiers, but the build materials differ significantly. The apple watch sport’s body is made out 7000 series anodized aluminium, its screen out of ion-x glass, and its back out of polycarbonate. The apple watch’s body is hewn from 316L stainless steel, its screen is a sapphire crystal, and its back and crown are ceramic, specifically zirconia. The apple watch edition’s body is made from either 18 karat gold or 18 karat rose gold, the back and screen are the same as the apple watch. As far as durability goes there is a lot to consider.
Some micro scratches in the stainless steel and the band mechanism.
Lets start with the screen. Ion-x glass is a similar glass to what can be found on an iPhone, it is not particularly scratch resistant but it is light and fairly resilient to cracking. The screen on the apple watch and the apple edition are made from sapphire crystal. Sapphire is the material used by almost all high end watch makers such as rolex, omega, etc. Sapphire is the second hardest transparent material known to man, only bested by pure diamond. (In other words you can’t scratch it). There are two downside to sapphire, it is more brittle than standard glass (more prone to cracking), and it is more reflective (harder to read in sunlight).
Next the cases, the apple sport watch is made from 7000 series anodized aluminum. This is a very strong and particularly light alloy of aluminum. It has a matte finish very similar too many other apple products. This is a pretty unorthodox finish for a watch, but it is not surprising that apple would choose to go with this material. It is quite scratch resistant but it is prone to deep dings which cannot be buffed out. The casing on the apple watch is made from 316L stainless steel, a very common alloy of stainless steel in the luxury watch market, rolex does use a slightly harder alloy known as 904L. While stainless is quite prone to minor scratches because it is actually a pretty soft metal, its resistance to corrosion, and decay are unrivaled. Also any jeweler worth his salt will be able to easily buff out any shallow to medium scratches you acquire. Also worth noting, stainless is heavier than aluminum. The apple watch edition is made from solid 18 karat gold. Gold is soft, there is no getting around it, but apple has apparently developed a brand new alloy which is supposed to be significantly more resilient. Yet all of this is just based upon what we have been told, no one has taken anything sharp to their brand new apple watch edition for the sake of science (yet haha).
In my first few weeks with the apple watch (not the sport or the edition) I have to say that I am incredibly impressed with the watch’s resilience. While the casing does have numerous micro scratches this is to be expected with any polished stainless steel watch. I also have been rock climbing, mountain biking and just generally taking the thing to pretty rugged activities and it looks absolutely fantastic. The screen is still pristine, the sapphire is doing its job. This is to be expected considering that the only thing that can scratch sapphire is diamond, but it is nice to see it working in practice. The band on the watch (I have a sport band) is holding up relatively well. When you first receive the watch the band has a matte soft touch feeling to it, but that quickly wore off the outer side of mine and left behind a more standard feeling rubber. The inside did retain the soft touch feeling.
The heart rate monitor and the back of the watch.
As far as the accuracy of the apple watch goes, there are a few things worth mentioning. The watch will allow you to run sans iPhone, the distance reading in this activity type becomes more and more accurate the more you run with your phone and it learns your stride. This mode has proven to be accurate to within .1 miles for me on a run between 5 and 10 miles. This is less of an issue for nordic training because I train with my phone for a majority of the time.
Third Party Apps
One thing which really sets the Apple Watch apart from other sports watches from companies like Garmin or Polar, is the App Store. If you simply don’t like the stock Fitness app on the Apple Watch you don’t have to use it. Strava, Map My ride / run and many other fitness services have already launched companion apps for the Apple Watch. All of which are already seeing frequent improvements and updates. Something which traditional sports watches seldom see.
While the apple watch is a really compelling device there is no getting around the fact that it is very clearly a first generation product. As a fitness tracker the device is just pretty good, mostly due to the lack of third party access to the heart rate monitor and lack of detail in the first party activity app. The watch is also really expensive. You can get much better fitness tracking devices for the same amount of money or less. One of the biggest issues with using the watch as a device for nordic skiing is the fenced in nature of the first party workout app. Now you can export data to training peaks or record directly in to Strava, this is still an issue for those looking to ski with the device.
In conclusion, the apple watch is a very interesting product which has big limitations but also amazing capabilities in the context of nordic skiing and in just day to day life. And of course the feature set of the watch and the problems that it has are most certainly going to change. The apple watch appears as if it will be updated in a similar frequency as the iphone. The apple watch is not for everyone, but for those who feel it worth while, it is quite the device.