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My first month with an Apple Watch: Series 5 made me a believer

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I never thought I'd get an Apple Watch — or any wearable, really. The idea of being handcuffed to data and information felt more unbearable than helpful. Today, I stand (to hit my Apple Watch Stand goal) in front of you as a smartwatch convert. I wear an Apple Watch Series 5 every day, and now I can't believe I was so wrong. 

Yes, even though I wrote about how I was skipping the Apple Watch Series 5 back in September, I've become a superfan. What happened? Well, it's all about age and learning to love information on your wrist.

Changing my mind

After I wrote that article, the reply guys showed up, defending their wearable of choice. And for once, they were right. It didn't hurt that, as the weeks passed between Sept. 14 and my late-October birthday, my anxiety about aging crept up on me.

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Age might not be anything but a number, but knocking on the door of my 35th birthday, I wasn't (and am still not) in my ideal physical condition. And while I've been dumb enough to snack mere hours before my bedtime, I'm smart enough to realize that the older I get, the harder it will be to do something about my body. 

And then I got the chance to split the price of the watch, thanks to my parents asking what I wanted for my birthday. So, I went to work, figuring out that the 44mm Watch looked right on my wrist and that the Space Gray Aluminum case and Midnight Blue Sport Loop fit with practically everything in my wardrobe.

Fitness-tracking: Counting calories and filling rings

I took to the Apple Watch's Activity rings exactly as intended: a challenge that I had to live up to every day. The Apple Watch visualizes your physical activity (tracking your movement, exercise and standing) with three rings that fill throughout the day. Fortunately, the early default settings I found myself working toward — 790 calories for Move, 30 minutes for Exercise and 12 hours for Stand — were easily achievable, so much so that I always exceeded my Move goal by at least 30%.

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On that first day, I completed the Move and Exercise rings thanks to a lot of walking, which I had already planned to do because that night was going to center around a delicious, but caloric, night of eating at my favorite restaurant, Emily West Village (get to know their Detroit-style pizza). I have a standing desk, so filling the Stand ring wasn't an issue.

The Apple Watch is the first fitness tracker I've ever had, so I decided to supercharge my health tracking by finally doing something I had dreaded for years: counting calories. In the MyFitnessPal app, I'm logging my food and workouts to see if I'm reaching the calorie deficit I need to lose weight.

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But as much as I want to change my body, I know what I like and enjoy in life, and I don't know if I could make this change at the expense of enjoying tasty food. So, on Nov. 3, when I knew the Popeye's chicken sandwich was coming back, I went hard on exercise to increase the amount I could eat. By the time I strolled up to that chicken shack, I'd put in 35 minutes on the elliptical, more than 5 miles of walking and about 20 minutes of mixed cardio on Ring Fit Adventure, burning enough calories for a pair of those delicious sandwiches (690 calories each).

Ending the day on the right side of the caloric equation, I felt really clever. Or at least I did until I woke up the next day.

Seeing results: The Apple Watch doesn't let you slack

I started reaching my Move goal too quickly, and the Apple Watch noticed. The watch adjusted my goal from burning 790 calories to 1,460 calories.

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So I decided to walk more. I took more breaks and took the stairs more often. I was exhausted, but in a good way. Fortunately, I subscribe to a lot of podcasts and an unlimited data plan, so I've always got something to listen to for all my activities.

I don't check my weight on my scale very often, mostly because of some fear that I won't see the results I want. But when I saw my parents after they'd been away for three weeks on vacation, they immediately complimented me on my weight loss and asked how I did it. (I replied "Exercise and chicken." But the real cause was the Apple Watch.) I've lost 11 pounds since I started tracking my weight and using the Apple Watch.

Sleep tracking: just OK

I was originally hesitant about the Apple Watch because of its 18-hour battery life, which isn't long enough to track sleep without some planning. I downloaded the AutoSleep app, one of the best sleep-tracking Apple Watch apps, because I know I need a better night's sleep and $2.99 seemed like a fair price to pay to learn details I can't see on my own, and to hopefully figure out why I don't sleep enough.

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But for AutoSleep to work, I had to make sure the Apple Watch would stay charged. So I placed the wearable on its stethoscope-like charging pad whenever I didn't need it, to make sure it would last through the night. One evening, before I went to bed, I saw 29% of the Watch's battery refill in 41 minutes. I had done a pretty good job of gradually feeding power to the watch before bedtime so I could ensure AutoSleep would gather a full night's worth of data.

The results: My sleep is not great. The first night I tracked my sleep, AutoSleep recorded only 6 hours and 41 minutes of sleep, with only 3 hours and 34 minutes of that time as "quality" sleep and zero minutes of deep sleep, for an overall rating of 54%. 

The watch has made me more cognizant of what I do before I go to bed so that I'll be able to see which activities correlate with solid rest and sleepless nights. If Apple eventually decides to take a stab at built-in sleep tracking, I hope the native app offers more insight.

Apple Watch faces: curing information overload

My tech-addled brain loves data, so I immediately gravitated toward the watch's Infograph Modular face. As I use it now, it offers me one-tap access to five of the Watch complications (the micro-apps in faces) I use the most: Overcast (for podcasts), Activity, Workout, Hello Weather, and Rain. 

I give Rain the most prominent placement — the entire middle of the face — because I really value its hourly precipitation view. 

All of my favorite productivity apps — Things, Todoist and Deliveries — have Apple Watch apps, so I began managing my reminders more easily.

One night, I thought about how I could use a break from all the information. So, I sought out a less distracting face, and landed on Simple, with all complications turned off. Don't forget that, yes, Off is an option.

And as much as I loathe this phrase, the watch faces can also spark joy. The 2019 Pride face's vertical version responds to taps and spins of the Digital Crown. As I watched the rainbow-colored strings zig and zag around the watch face for the first time, I actually felt feelings that haven't worn off one month later.

The little things: timers on my wrist, finding my phone

As I was preparing a batch of my homemade cold takeout-style sesame noodles (for an office potluck — I'm not that carb crazy), I looked through the big constellation of Apple Watch apps and realized I finally had a way to make good use of the Timer app.

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Opening it, I saw that 5 minutes (the exact amount of time I boil the noodles for) was one of the preset timers, and I smiled. It's probably one of the commonly used amounts of time, but it was a great moment when technology just made things easier. 

It's super easy to set and turn off the alarm when you don't need to ask Siri (and hope it hears you right) or keep your ears open (as the Watch simply vibrates on your wrist).

I misplace things all the time, so I was happy to discover that asking Siri on the Apple Watch, "Where's my iPhone?" triggered a series of vibrations and ringtone chimes on my 11 Pro Max buried in a sofa. 

When other people are around and I don't want to look like a forgetful doofus, I just flick up from the bottom of the screen to open the Control Center, where I can tap an icon of a ringing iPhone to get the phone to vibrate. Yes, this kind of help is available from the Find My iPhone app on macOS or the iPad, but it's so much more accessible when it's right on your wrist.

Battery life: a long way to go

One night, I put my watch on its charging pad to juice it up before hitting the hay. Unfortunately, I dozed off before that happened.

The Series 5's battery life is stuck at around 18 hours, which is part of the problem. If the watch lasted longer, and supported slightly faster charging, sleep tracking would be easier.

I assume battery life is the main reason Apple hasn't released its own sleep-tracking app. If I upgrade to the hypothetical Series 6, improved battery and built-in sleep tracking will be the reasons why.

Outlook

Clearly, my concerns about the Apple Watch were a little overblown. My early weight-loss victory (I want to lose more, but this is good for one month) just one month in has made me sure the Apple Watch was a valuable purchase, if only for my health. 

If I could go back in time and tell myself to get an Apple Watch earlier, I would. I shouldn't have waited so long to get it, and I should have taken my colleague Caitlin McGarry's advice earlier about buying one; she's reviewed all of our smartwatches, and she's right way too often.

If the Apple Watch can turn skeptics like me into believers, it's obviously worth buying. I can't wait to see what Apple does with the Series 6.