The coolest things the Apple Watch can do

The coolest things the Apple Watch can do
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch because of all of the things it can do, from tracking your exercises to purchasing things to answering messages. But there’s so much it can do that finding some of the clever but less obvious features can be tricky. 

With that in mind, here are 15 of the coolest things the Apple Watch can do. And we can’t wait to try out some of the new features coming in watchOS 7.

For additional tips, tricks, and how-tos, be sure to check out our complete guide on how to use the Apple Watch.

Check yourself for Afib

(Image credit: Apple)

If you have an Apple Watch Series 5 or Apple Watch Series 4, your digital crown can do more than scroll — it can detect if you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation (Afib), a type of irregular heartbeat, using an electrical heart sensor that Apple put in the digital crown. To use it, launch the ECG (electrocardiogram) app and touch your finger to the digital crown for 30 seconds. It will alert you if you should seek medical attention. 

Get help when you fall

Using the accelerometer and gyroscope in a Series 4 or 5, the Apple Watch can detect if you’ve fallen — and call for help. To enable the feature, launch the Watch app on your iPhone, go to Emergency SOS and toggle on Fall Detection. Make sure you set up an emergency contact in the Health app on your iPhone, too. 

(Image credit: Apple)

If the watch thinks you’ve fallen, it buzzes on your wrist and sounds an alarm. You can tap “I’m Okay” on the screen or have the watch call emergency services. If you don’t move for 1 minute, it will make the call automatically and send a message to your emergency contacts. 

Find your way

(Image credit: Apple)

The Series 5 includes a magnetometer to power its Compass app, which is fun in and of itself, but it comes in really handy when you launch Maps. Maps taps into the compass to show you exactly which way you are facing. No more walking the wrong way for a few blocks when you come up out of the subway! Other apps such as Yelp and Wikiloc (for hiking and biking trails) also use the magnetometer to help you orient yourself. Caveat: if you use a watch band with a magnet, such as the Milanese or Leather Loop, it can interfere with the magnetometer and lead you astray. 

Calculate a tip (and more)

(Image credit: Apple)

WatchOS 6 brought a native calculator to Apple Watch. The Calculator app can do basic calculations — add, subtract, divide, and multiply — and it includes a handy feature for those of us who are math challenged: the Tip button. Enter the bill total and tap Tip, then select the percentage you want to leave. No more accidentally slighting an excellent server! It can also help you split a bill — just indicate how many people are sharing the cost after you’ve included the tip percentage.

If you find the buttons on the calculator too small, you can ask Siri what the tip should be without launching the Calculator app. 

Name that song

(Image credit: Apple)

How many times have you wondered what song was playing and it ended before you could get your phone out and launch Shazaam? Speed up by using your Apple Watch and Siri: Ask Apple’s voice assistant what song is playing and it will use the Watch’s microphone to listen, then display the result on the Watch’s screen. You can then add the song to your Apple Music library, too. 

Measure decibels

(Image credit: Apple)

How loud is the thumping bass coming from your neighbor’s? Now you can tell exactly with the Noise app. It measures the decibels and tells you if the noise level is safe. You can set the Apple Watch to measure sounds automatically and alert you when noise levels reach dangerous levels — you may be surprised how often you’re endangering your hearing while doing everyday things like mowing the lawn. 

Go for a swim

Got an Apple Watch Series 3, Series 4 or Series 5? Banish your natural inclination not to get your electronics wet. While the first version of the Watch was water resistant, Apple added the ability to submerge the watch up to 50 meters with the 2016 update to its smartwatch line. And that feature remains a part of the Series 3, 4 and 5 models, making them perfect for workouts at the local pool.

(Image credit: Apple)

Just remember to use the Water Lock feature to eject any extra water from the speaker opening after your workout. Water Lock kicks in automatically when you start a swimming workout, and you can unlock the screen (and clear out water) when you're done by turning the digital crown. (Keep in mind that if you take a swim in the ocean, you also probably want to rinse off the salt water with fresh water afterwards.)

Control your Apple TV

Did your remote slip between the couch cushions again? No worries: your Apple Watch can control a number of home theater devices, and it never leaves your wrist. For example, if you have an Apple TV, you can use the Apple Watch's Remote app to swipe around the set-top box's menus, start and pause playback, and more. If you've got a Logitech Harmony (the best universal remote), you can start and stop activities that you’ve set up. 

Stream music without your iPhone

You'll need an Apple Watch Series 3, 4 or 5 with LTE connectivity to pull off this feat, but it's one that will be a welcome feature if you enjoy a little music accompanying your run. Because the Series 3 model is capable of connecting to wireless networks on its own, you can stream songs without having your iPhone close at hand — ideal for working out. And you're not just limited to Apple Music and its $10-a-month streaming service. Apple also includes an app called Radio with the Apple Watch for streaming songs, or you can use Spotify, Pandora and a few other music streaming services — but you can’t save songs to the watch for offline listening unless you’re using Apple Music. 

Compete against your friends in fitness

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You can measure yourself against your friends by turning on Activity Sharing. In the Activity app on iOS, go to the Sharing tab and tap the Plus (+) icon in the top right to invite someone to share their Activity info with you. Then you'll be able to check their status in the Activity app on your Apple Watch, you'll get notifications when they complete workouts or close their rings, and vice versa.

Go running without your iPhone

(Image credit: Apple)

Speaking of working out, if you've got an Apple Watch Series 3 or later, you can finally live the dream and leave your iPhone behind when you go for a run. That's because newer Apple Watches have built-in GPS that can track your workout without needing you to lug that heavy phone around. Plus, bring along a pair of Bluetooth headphones for the ride and you can even listen to music right off your Apple Watch too. Besides Apple's own Workout app, you can take advantage of this in plenty of third-party apps like Runkeeper and Nike+ Run Club. If you have an LTE-enabled Apple Watch, you can use it to stream music, too.

Control smart home devices

Souping up your home with smart lights, smart shades, a smart thermostat, smart switches and so on and so forth can be fun, but how do you control all of it? From your Apple Watch, naturally. The built-in Home app lets you control HomeKit-compatible devices such as Philips Hue lights and Honeywell thermostats, but there are plenty of other home control apps on the market. Philips, Honeywell, and other third parties have their own apps that let you control those specific features, and there are also third-party home automation apps that let you set up routines to control disparate smart home devices — even those that aren't supported by HomeKit — like Yonomi, IFTTT, and Matthias Hochgatterer's Home app.

Unlock your Mac

Did you know your Apple Watch can save you some typing? If you've got a Mac made within the last several years, your Apple Watch can be used to unlock the screen without having to enter your password. All you need to do is enable the ability on your Mac in System Preferences > Security & Privacy by checking the box next to Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac. Now, when you wake that Mac from sleep and you're wearing your Apple Watch, it should take care of that pesky password business for you.

Order food

Ever get so hungry that even taking your phone out seems like a bridge too far? Fortunately, you can order food right from your Apple Watch, using a variety of apps. GrubHub lets you reorder recent favorites with just a couple taps or you can specifically order a pizza from Domino's or burritos from Chipotle. With your Apple Watch as your witness, you'll never go hungry again.

Talk to your car

If you've got a modern automobile, your Apple Watch may offer you ways to check on your car's status and even interact with it. Offerings from Mercedes Benz, BMW, Porsche, VW and more let you do things like lock and unlock your car's doors, honk the horn, check battery levels on electric cars, and even help you find your parked car. If you've got an older car, an aftermarket option from Viper includes an app to let you lock, unlock, and start your car remotely. It's no KITT from Knight Rider, but then again, what is?

Michael Gowan
Freelance tech writer

Michael Gowan is a freelance technology journalist covering soundbars, TVs, and wireless speakers of all kinds of shapes and sizes for Tom’s Guide. He has written hundreds of product reviews, focusing on sound quality and value to help shoppers make informed buying decisions. Micheal has written about music and consumer technology for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in publications including CNN, Wired, Men’s Journal, PC World and Macworld. When Michael’s not reviewing speakers, he’s probably listening to one anyway.