I've been wearing an Apple Watch every day for over three months. That's long enough for me to have a good sense about what I like and don't like about the watch, but I hesitate to write about it because I know that the software is going to change substantially, for the the better, when watchOS 2.0 debuts this Fall. As noted in this preview on Apple's website, we'll get faster native apps, great ways to customize complications, and many more functions (such as the ability to reply to emails) that will make the Apple Watch much better. This is likely to change what I like most about the Apple Watch, and will definitely remove some of the things that I currently don't like about the Apple Watch.
Having said that, I do feel that this is an appropriate time to write about the Apple Watch hardware. Today I want to focus on three of the six bands that Apple sells for the Apple Watch. It wouldn't surprise me if Apple introduces a new band or two for the holiday buying season, but I expect that all three of these bands will stay the same in 2015 and perhaps much longer. Hopefully these thoughts will be useful if you are getting an Apple Watch in the future, or if you currently have one band and are thinking of getting another one.
The three bands that I own are (1) Sport Band, (2) Classic Buckle, and (3) Milanese Loop. They also happen to be the first three bands listed on the watch band portion of Apple's website.
If you are looking to buy an Apple Watch, I recommend that you buy it with the Sport Band. I say this for two reasons. First, even though you are likely to also want a fancier band to wear during the day at work, you're going to definitely want a Sport Band for the reasons that I note below, so you might as well start with it. Second, it makes sense to make the Sport Band the one that you get with your Apple Watch because you can then purchase your nicer (and more expensive) band as a stand-alone accessory, which means that it is subject to Apple's standard 14 day return policy, a useful policy if you find that you don't like the fancier band after wearing it for a week or so. I can't imagine that you would ever want to return a Sport Band, which is only $49 and incredibly useful. But you might try one fancy band and then decide that you want to instead try a different fancy band.
The Sport Band is incredibly comfortable. Apple says that it is made with high-performance fluoroelastomer. I just consider it rubber (although it does sound sort of silly to call it a "rubber band"). It is a very comfortable rubber. It feels nice against your arm, and it can stretch a little to be snug without being too tight.
One big advantage of the Sport Band is that it can get wet. The Apple Watch itself is water-resistant so it can get a little wet and still be fine. Indeed, one of the Apple-recommended solutions for when dirt gets stuck in the Digital Crown is to run the watch under warm water. But if you are in a situation where the Apple Watch is going to get a little wet, you don't want to be using a leather band that doesn't stand up to water as well. This makes the Sport Band perfect if you are working out or working in the backyard in this hot summer heat (and sweating). I also use it when I give my kids a bath at night or if I'm in any other situation in which I expect to get a little wet.
The material of this band is also highly resistant to dirt, scratches, etc. If I'm just working around the house, or cutting the grass, or in any situation in which I know that I might be bumping my arms into anything, or potentially getting them dirty, the Sport Band is the perfect band to use.
I've already mentioned working out once, but it deserves mention again. For many people, one of the nicest features of the Apple Watch is that it encourages you to exercise every day. If you accept that encouragement, it will definitely be worth $49 to have a band that is perfect for exercising and sweating.
I also like the way that the Sport Band works. It has a pin that fits easily but securely into a hole, and the excess band tucks into an opening. When you buy the Sport Band you actually get three parts: the half of the band with the pin on it, plus two different sizes of the other half of the band (and you get to choose if you want a small plus a medium band, or a medium plus a large band). This helps to make sure that you have the best length for your Sport Band.
There is another advantage to this band coming in three parts. My wrist is large enough that only the large band works for me; indeed, I typically use the last hole on the large band, although sometimes I use the second-to-last hole if I want it to feel tighter. However, if the medium band fits your wrist, the third part gives you an advantage that I cannot use: there is a substantial overlap between the medium and large (and the medium and small) parts of the band, and the holes are slightly different on each. For example, if the medium band fits your wrist but one hole is just a little two tight and the next hole is just a little too lose, you may find yourself wishing that there was another hole in the middle — and there is; the overlapping holes on the large and small versions of the band are offset from the holes in the medium band.
[UPDATE 8/14/2015: Today, Apple introduced an Extra Large version of the Sport Band for folks with larger wrists. It currently only comes in black or white.] [UPDATE 12/3/2015: My review of the XL version is here.]
I know many people who like the Sport Band so much that it is the band that they use every day. And especially if you get the more casual version of the Apple Watch (the less expensive Apple Watch Sport), I completely understand this. I don't wear my Sport Band to work simply because I consider it too casual, and the fancier bands look much nicer with my Apple Watch (the mid-range model made of stainless steel). But that doesn't mean that I don't love the Sport Band. Every day when I come home from work and change out of my lawyer costume, I also switch my watch band to the Sport Band, because I know that I will be overseeing bath time and working out later that night.
You can get the Sport Band in Black, White, Pink, Blue or Green. (There are even two models of the Black band, one with a steel pin and one with a black pin that looks better with the Space Gray version of the Apple Watch.) I know that some folks consider the colors a unique advantage of the Apple Watch, the ability to spice up the look of the Apple Watch. You can even buy two Sport Bands in different colors to wear one color on one side and a complementary color on the other side. (Here is what that looks like, thanks to Serenity Caldwell of iMore.) The color is of much less importance to me. I picked the blue one, and it looks fine. I suppose it matches my blue eyes, if that is even a thing? I probably would have been just as happy with the black, white or green one; pink isn't really my color. But if you consider bright colors on your watch band as an advantage, then that's another reason that you will like the Sport Band.
The Black Classic Buckle is the one that I purchased with my Apple Watch, so I have been using it the longest. In the 1990s and early 2000s when I used to wear a watch every day, I virtually always wore a leather band, typically black but sometimes brown. So the Black Classic Buckle felt like a return to a familiar past for me. As the name says, this is the classic. It costs $149.
Apple's description of this band is: "From the renowned ECCO tannery in the Netherlands, the Dutch leather used for this band is milled to give the grain a subtle, distinctive texture. The simple closure is crafted from the same stainless steel as the case. It’s a beautiful take on a traditional band design. Available in black."
The Classic Buckle looks great, and pairs very well with the stainless steel Apple Watch. It has a subtle grain to it that gives it an interesting look without standing out too much. You can wear this one to work, to court, or to a fancy dinner and the watch band will seem right at home. But it looks just as good if you are wearing jeans or shorts.
Apple also sells a band called the Leather Loop that comes in more colors and has ridges on it, but I tend to be more conservative and those ridges seemed a little too much for me. Apple's other leather band is the Modern Buckle, which also looks nice, but note it is designed for smaller wrists and only works with the smaller, 38mm size of the Apple Watch, and thus won't be an option for most men.
I think that the Sport Band is actually a little more comfortable than the Classic Buckle, but the Classic Buckle still feels very nice, a nice medium between being soft enough to feel good but sturdy enough to be durable.
The main complaint that I have about the Classic Buckle is that the holes are sometimes not the perfect size for me. I usually prefer the second-to-last hole, but at some points during the day I find the watch slipping a little on my arm. Perhaps my wrist gets a little bigger or smaller during the day, or maybe this has something to do with temperature or sweating. So when that happens, I switch to the third-to-last hole, but then it will often feel too tight after a while so I have to switch it back. I never notice this with the Sport Band, but that is probably because the Sport Band is made of rubber so it can naturally stretch a little.
Because of the (admittedly minor) issues I had with the holes on the Classic Buckle, I found myself wishing that my watch band could be adjusted to an infinite number of sizes. You cannot do that with a band that has pre-drilled holes, but you can do exactly that with the Milanese Loop, a band that uses a magnet to close, so you make it whatever size you want. I had been eying the Milanese Loop for weeks, and for Father's Day on June 21, 2015, my kids — really, my wife — bought me this $149 band. I'm not sure that I would have ever purchased it for myself because it seemed a little too decadent to have three different bands for my Apple Watch, but I'm so glad that they did. Ever since June 21st, I've worn the Milanese Loop almost every single day, except for the rare occasions when I would switch back to the Classic Buckle just for a change of pace.
I don't really think that the picture that I took does it justice. Here is a picture from the Apple website:
As I said at the outset, what I like most about the Milanese Loop is that there are infinite size possibilities. I put it on in the morning, and if at some point during the day I feel that it is too loose or too tight, I can quickly and easily adjust it to make it the perfect amount of tightness. Thus, it can always feel like the perfect size.
Indeed, if you are someone like me who sometimes likes to fidget, it is actually fun to play with the magnet and adjust the band. I will often find myself playing with it as I am concentrating on coming up with an argument for a brief, the same way that I might sometimes click the end of a ballpoint pen or tap my fingers as I am thinking.
The band also feels amazing. Although made of stainless steel, the mesh is so fine that it actually feels like fabric. Apple has done a perfect job with the feel of this band, and if you have any doubt about how soft it feels, try one out at an Apple Store or just buy one so that you can see how it feels while you are in the 14-day return window.
I also think that this band looks very nice — passing the would-I-wear-this-to-court test — but I have to be honest that I had my doubts at first. As someone who used to always wear a leather band on a watch, I wasn't sure how a silver-colored band would look in general, let alone how it would look with my flesh tones. But not only have I grown to really like the look, I've also received complements, from men and women, on how this band looks, something that I never heard with the Classic Buckle. Style is so personal that you'll have to decide if it looks right for you, but perhaps it means something for you to learn that I had my doubts at first, but no longer do.
The color also looks perfect with the stainless steel Apple Watch. I haven't seen anyone using the Milanese Loop with the aluminum Apple Watch Sport so I'm not sure how well they match, but the stainless steel Apple Watch and the stainless steel Milanese Loop are a great match.
Speaking of color, Apple also sells the Link Bracelet band, which is made of stainless steel and thus its color is also a perfect match for the Apple Watch. That band looks incredibly nice, and I know several lawyers who love it. For me, I found it a tad heavy at 65 grams (the Milanese Loop is 33 grams) and at $449 it is considerably more expensive than the $149 Milanese Loop. Having said that, I'm sure that many of you have previously worn premium watches with a link bracelet style band, so you probably already know if that style is right for you.
[UPDATE 8/14/2015: Today, Apple introduced another unique advantage of the link bracelet for folks who have a large wrist. As reported by Abdel Ibrahim of WatchAware, you can now buy a $49 link bracelet kit that expands the size of the link bracelet to 245 mm. Previously, the Classic Buckle, which accommodates up to 215 mm, was the largest size.]
Another thing I love about the Milanese Loop is that it is incredibly thin, and I suspect that it is the thinnest of all of the bands sold by Apple. I have a few dress shirts with tighter cuffs, and my wrist with the Classic Buckle under the cuff feels a little too tight in those shirts; I have to physically push down the cuff to see the face of my Apple Watch. But I can wear those same shirts with the Milanese Loop band and I don't have that problem at all.
Note that the Milanese Loop band is always in a circle. To put on the watch, you have to slide your hand through the circle and then tighten the band. I don't find that better or worse than a traditional band, but it is something to get used to. I do, however, find that it is more of a pain to charge the Apple Watch when the Milanese Loop is attached. With the Sport Band or Classic Buckle, the watch lays flat right on top of the Apple charger. Presumably your charger is already on a flat surface, and you just set down the Apple Watch with a traditional band on top of the charger and you are done. However, with the Milanese Loop, you need to open up the circle of the band and then manually place the charger underneath the watch, between the circle of the band. This is a minor inconvenience. I usually finish up the day with the Sport Band on the watch, and because of this charging issue I keep the Sport Band on my Apple Watch when it charges at night and then swap to the Milanese Loop in the morning. (I don't use one of the third-party Apple Watch charger stands which raise the charger in the air, but that would be another way to avoid this inconvenience.) [UPDATE: I now use the Spigen Apple Watch Night Stand, which works great with any band.]
Other than the slight inconvenience when charging at night, my only other complaint about the Milanese Loop is that it sometimes catches on one of the hairs on my arm, something that never happens to me with the Classic Buckle or the Sport Band. It doesn't happen to me every day, and it's not that big of a deal, but it is worth mentioning.
One of the best hardware features of the Apple Watch is that it is incredibly easy to swap bands. I do it twice a day, and it takes less than 10 seconds to remove one band and slide on another one. Thus, Apple makes it incredibly easy to consider getting multiple bands.
After using these three different bands during the course of just over three months, I like them all, but I have favorites. During the workday, I like the Milanese Loop considerably more than the Classic Buckle, so much so that if I never wore the Classic Buckle again, I wouldn't really miss it. The Milanese Loop looks nice, feels great, and is easy to adjust to just the right size.
But whatever fancy band you buy to use at work and when dressing more nicely, it is definitely worth also spending $49 for the Sport Band (or, as I recommended above, just getting that one with the Apple Watch). It is durable, water resistant and comfortable.
If you live close to an Apple Store, then it is easy for you to see and try on these bands (and others) in person. Having said that, I found that I needed to live with each band for at least a week to figure out what I did and didn't like about each band. Hopefully my experiences will help you to find the best band — or bands — for your Apple Watch.