For my birthday this year, I got three things: A corneal abrasion (definitely not fun), a new iPhone, and a new Watch. I’m going to spare you the details on the first (which is nearly healed) and focus on the other two since they’ve been quite significant upgrades, but all of them were… excessive in one way or another.
Upgrading either of these every year would be insane, but like I noted recently, the Watch’s battery had been on its last legs for a while (Watch OS 10 exacerbated the problem), and the timing was about right for me to simultaneously move to a USB-C phone (yay!), get my XS refurbished while it’s still good (it’s physically pristine), and do away with battery anxiety–even with optimized charging, it was having trouble making it through a full day, and I recently had to charge it off my laptop in the back of an Uber to make it back home, so that was something I wanted to avoid repeating.
The iPhone 15 Pro
When I got the XS, I thought it was excessive. It was hideously expensive, much larger than the iPhone 6 form factor, and stupendously overpowered.
Five years later, I still think the same way–it is still fast, responsive and very satisfactory to use, even if it barely made the cut for iOS 17 support (we have an X in the house that is still going strong, but is now stuck on iOS 16).
Its replacement feels… Very much the same, really, and perhaps even more excessive. I was lulled by the opportunity to move to a full USB-C setup and, with a bit of luck, get back into the habit of walking around Lisbon taking photos with an even better camera, so that drove me to push the envelope a bit more and go for a Pro model.
And yes, it feels excessive indeed–again, stupendously overpowered, hideously expensive and even larger than the XS.
Wrapping it in a case doesn’t help, of course, and Apple definitely didn’t help themselves this year–I find Apple’s Finewoven cases atrocious and only slightly better than damp cardboard, so I got a cheap mushroom leather case that ticked most boxes: Snug fitting, almost invisible logo, and a wide enough USB port cutout to fit a Thunderbolt cable1.
Things I noticed so far:
- The Pro feels much thicker and heavier than the XS. I have a work-issued iPhone 11 that prepared me for that somewhat, but it’s still noticeable.
- I thought I was going to miss 3D touch, but the new iOS haptics mostly work for me. Some things feel different, but I can live with it.
- The dynamic island is… well… brilliantly implemented, but somewhat overrated.
- The Action button is OK, I guess. I haven’t gone down the customization rabbit hole (I suspect I will eventually), but overall, I’d much rather have gotten a Touch ID sensor.
- I’m not really sold on the always on display. Not because I think it might have burn-in, but because, to be honest, it’s pretty distracting to see notifications and notification digests land. Plus I’ve grown used to tapping the phone to check notifications I don’t get on my watch, so I suspect I will be turning that off in favor of battery life.
- I’ve set mine to charge to 80% for now, because I fully intend to make it last and my “normal” usage while working from home has, so far, seldom pushed the limits of what the battery can do (I might well revise this when traveling or traipsing around, but being able to explicitly opt in to battery longevity is great)2.
Application-wise, so far the most noticeable improvement is that Working Copy is much faster at committing things (yes, I use
git on my phone), which goes to show how good the XS was already.
I have not experienced any charging/overheating issues–but then again, I do not use Instagram or any of the other applications associated with those runaway issues that much (or at all), and I have a Pro, not a Pro Max (which seemed to feature more prominently in those reports).
Camera-wise, I’m still exploring. There is a lot to like, but thanks to the first item on my list above, I haven’t been outside that much.
The Watch Series 9
I went for the plain aluminum, GPS-only model, to which I added a cheap Chinese-made black Milanese loop (if you know what to look for, the fit and finish is actually pretty good, and the previous one I got for the Series 5 certainly lasted the course).
I did (briefly) consider the Ultra 2, but that would have been both too expensive and too bulky for my tastes, although I would have appreciated its extended battery life.
Things I’ve noticed so far:
- The “larger” display is pretty neat, and it makes analog watch faces look much more natural–and unlike the iPhone, I really like the always-on display for those.
- I can now use a full QWERTY keyboard when replying to messages, which is reminiscent of that neat little app that Apple “sherlocked” a while back.
- I finally have something that has a Pebble-like timeline, in the sense that the calendar has Up Next and List views that I can scroll through with the crown in exactly the way I expected them to work (part of this was already true prior to Watch OS 10, but some of the tweaks are new).
- I can spend a good portion of the day traipsing around and get in a few walking workouts without draining the battery or having to recharge it before bed (this will not last forever, but it is awesome while it does).
- The new widget view is neither an improvement over the Siri watchface nor much of a life-changing UX addition (partly because it’s not really very customizable, but at least on the Series 9 I can have more widgets than on the Series 5, which feels a bit like Apple nickel and diming us on “improvements” between hardware revisions).
- The new pinching gesture that “graduated” out of Accessibility is quite useful, but falls short in a number of weird situations–for instance, it can’t drill down into e-mail messages nor into reminder lists, which is kind of stupid.
I remember having very nice, useful gesture (wrist twist) controls in Android Wear, so I wonder why something like that wasn’t implemented yet.
But hey, it works, looks good, feels faster, and I’m happy with it overall.
Now let’s see if both of these can last me at least four years, and start saving for the next upgrade cycle…
Like Gruber, I would have preferred my case to have an open bottom (like the Apple leather case that I used with the XS), but I couldn’t find one I liked over here. Still, I have no issues swiping my thumb from the bottom, and considering my case was hilariously cheaper than any Apple alternative, I’m plenty happy. ↩︎