11 surprises I learned about the Apple Watch

Apple's new watch has some secrets and some quirks you may not know about. Here are the most interesting tidbits I've found over my time wearing one so far.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Apple Watch is a mystery device: that's because it's still not on sale, and few people have worn it yet. I've been wearing Apple's upcoming watch for a week and a half, and even after writing a whole review , I'm still discovering surprises. The Apple Watch, being something extremely new, has quite a few little tricks up its sleeve. There are also a few things you still may not now. These were some of the most interesting revelations I found.

Watch this: A guided tour of Apple Watch's beautiful clock displays

There aren't any third party watch faces (for now)

Apple's 10 watch faces are beautiful, and incredibly designed...and there aren't any more to choose from. Unlike Pebble, Samsung Gears or Google's Android Wear watches, you can't find other watchfaces to download and install. Not yet, at least, and it hasn't been revealed when or how watchfaces might be sold.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"Power reserve" mode puts your Apple Watch into an odd coma

If your Apple Watch battery gets too low, Power Reserve is there to keep your watch in a pared-down watch mode that just tells the time, nothing else, and lasts for hours. But, if you want to deactivate Power Reserve, you need to reboot the watch: it takes over a minute for the watch to start up again and regain functions.

Watch this: Apple Watch: Extremely ambitious, far from perfect

You can pay for things without Apple Pay

QR codes: remember them? Thanks to Apple's Passbook app, you can easily add QR codes via your phone and use them on the Apple Watch. I put my Starbucks card into the watch and paid for drinks, no Apple Pay required. This could be a huge help at many places that don't accept Apple Pay, or to use for airline tickets or concerts.

Watch bands can be worn and swapped across Apple Watch models (of the same size)

A fancy band can be put on an Apple Watch Sport, if you wish: the easily swappable bands work across models, as long as you have the same-sized Apple Watch. 38mm and 42mm bands fit differently. Otherwise, you're set.

Watch this: Apple Watch: How to swap bands

You can't use your watch to start and stop calls on your iPhone

Wait, can this be true? It is, weirdly: you can make and answer calls on the Apple Watch, and then hand them off to your iPhone to continue the call there...but, you can't wear headphones connected to your phone, stick your phone in your pocket and use your watch to dial. I hope an update changes that.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Other wireless phone-charging accessories don't work with Apple Watch

The few I've tried -- including those using both major charging standards, Qi and A4WP (Alliance for Wireless Power) -- don't charge the Apple Watch. You need Apple's unique magnetic inductive charge cable, or an actual Apple Watch-ready accessory, as far as I can tell.

Siri is a great shortcut through the Apple Watch's many menus

I never thought Siri would be so useful. I usually use swiping, tapping and the digital crown on the side to find what I need, but pressing and holding the crown down for Siri (or raising the watch and saying, "hey, Siri") lets you launch apps, place calls, dictate messages, or find things you may find difficult to locate. Give it a try.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some "taptic" sensations were too subtle for me, which made "Prominent Haptic" necessary

Apple's vibrational haptic sensations on Apple Watch are pretty subtle. Too subtle, maybe. I'm used to big buzzes from other smartwatches. Maybe my wrists are numb. I dialed up extra buzzing by clicking "Prominent Haptic" within the Apple Watch's sound and haptics settings, and it seems to do the trick.

You can take screenshots on the Apple Watch

Surprise! I accidentally pressed the Digital Crown and the button below it, and the screen flashed. I checked my iPhone's photo library, and there was a screenshot of the watch display. I didn't use screenshots in my review because it's more useful to see the watch and its display in a natural setting, but it'll come in handy in the future, I'm sure.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It saves a backup on your phone

If you ever unpair or reformat your Apple Watch, which wipes the data, you can restore it again using a local backup it makes on your phone. Your settings and apps get put back on again, and everything feels the same as when you last left it. I did this once, and it worked just fine.

You can pair an external Bluetooth health device to the Apple Watch

This has all sorts of potential. Apple told me you can pair an external Bluetooth heart rate monitor for an alternative to the onboard heart rate measurement in the watch itself, but could you also pair other types of devices in the future? That could make the watch a killer health and medical gadget.