All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, regardless of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn a commission for the partners.
Like many Apple products, Apple Watch it can be extremely easy to get started with – but that simplicity hides a surprising level of depth and customization. If you just got an Apple Watch, you need to do a lot to make sure you get the most out of your new wearable device. Let us guide you through this process, from initial setup to optimizing everything it can do.
Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is pair the Apple Watch with your iPhone. Even if you have a Apple Watch with cellular capability, iPhone is required to set up and manage the device. Fortunately, this process is extremely simple – once you turn on the Apple Watch, just place it near the unlocked iPhone and you’ll be prompted to set up the device. During this process, your iPhone will walk you through the initial pairing, as well as signing in with your Apple ID, assigning a password to your watch, setting things like Siri and Apple Pay, and deciding if you want to transfer your compatible apps to the watch. I recommend that this time you don’t download all your apps automatically, because the watch is much more useful when you choose it with only what need.
A few features you should definitely set up are drop detection and emergency SOS. The latter allows you to quickly make a call to local emergency services by pressing and holding the side button, while drop detection uses clock accelerometers and other sensors to therefore detect if you have spilled badly. It will automatically initiate an emergency SOS call if it detects a fall and does not detect that you are moving. Before making that call, the watch will try to get your attention through notification, vibration and audible alarm.
Fun part: setting up apps and notifications
Once you’ve laid the basics, it’s time to make the Apple Watch your own. By default, the Apple Watch mirrors all notifications that go to your phone. But I found that the Clock is much more useful with a little couriering. In iPhone Watch, you can customize notifications for all Apple first-party apps or turn them off completely. For example, the Activity notification panel allows you to choose whether you want reminders to stand every hour or notifications when your friends share activity milestones with you, and so on.
Third-party applications do not have the same granularity, but you can turn them off so as not to ping your watch. For things that aren’t particularly sensitive to time (say, updates from Google Photos or if you don’t want the Apple News app to overload your wrist), feel free to turn them off. They will still hit your iPhone, and you can always re-enable them later.
The iPhone Watch app also lets you choose which specific apps from your iPhone will be installed on your Apple Watch. I think this is more useful than just allowing the Watch to install any compatible app, because that could mean you have dozens of apps you can browse on your watch to see if they’re useful or not. Instead, I’d rather go through the list and decide if it benefits from having these apps on my wrist. In the case of apps like Google Maps or Ecobee to control my thermostat, it’s definitely yes. But things like Etsy or Bank of America don’t really make much sense on the Watch. And if you ever change your mind, you can remove the app from the Watch app or by long pressing in the network view and deleting it – just keep in mind that this will remove the app from your watch, but not from your iPhone.
However, I was surprised what some developers came up with for the Apple Watch. Take, for example, the Bear Notes app. I often use it to make grocery lists, and checklists display great on the Apple Watch. So, if there is an application on your phone that you think is necessary, try it on the Clock.
Another part of the Apple Watch experience that is occasionally overlooked are the faces of the watch. Since this is literally what you’ll see every time you raise your wrist, I think it’s worth finding ones that suit your personal style. While it has no third-party faces, the Apple Watch has more than 30 built-in options that are infinitely customizable. We’re talking about a huge variety of colors, different fonts and styles of dials, complications (small pieces of information like time, date, or music controls), and more. You can have a simple digital time display with nothing else, or an info dense face with eight different complications or anything in between.
You can set new faces directly on the watch – but as with most detailed features, it’s easier to do on the iPhone. The facial gallery shows each available face, along with several examples of how they can be customized. You can use them as a starting point to create your own creations. Once you’ve selected your favorites, you can easily go through them on the Clock itself when you want to mix things up. If you press your face for a long time, you can also edit it directly on your watch, which is handy when you just want to quickly change the color to match your clothes better.
If you’re using the Apple Watch Series 5, 6, or 7, you can also decide if you want to activate the always-on screen. You can find this option in the settings app, under “Display and brightness”. If you need maximum battery life, turn this off, but most people will probably prefer it. The new watches can still be used all day while using the feature constantly on, but when your watch gets a little old and the battery performance deteriorates, you may want to learn to live without it.
One of Apple Watch’s biggest selling points is its fitness tracking features. Whether you exercise regularly or not, the watch will track your steps and activity level and use that data to track your daily movements through three rings that encourage you to close. The “movement” ring shows how many active calories you burn per day, the “exercise” ring monitors activity at or above brisk walking, and the “standing” ring monitors whether you get up and move for a minute or two. every hour of the day.
When you set up your Apple Watch, it will suggest daily goals for each of them, and the Activity app (or the Fitness app on your iPhone) will show how close you are to achieving them. If you’ve never used an Apple Watch before, it’s okay to continue with the default settings – you’ll get a summary of how you did it each week and they’ll even suggest you increase your Move number if you easily surpass that. Exercise and standing options are set at 30 minutes per day and 12 hours per day, but they can also be adjusted.
For added motivation, the Fitness app allows you to connect with other friends who use the Apple Watch and see how far they are progressing relative to their three rings. Of course, you can use this information to make fun of them for their couch-potato habits, but you can also challenge them to informal competitions. You earn points based on the percentage you close each of your rings each day, and the person with the most points wins after a week. It’s pretty casual, but it’s also a fun way to stay motivated.
If you want to track a specific workout, such as running, walking, or weight training, do so in the “workout” app. There you will find many different types of workouts that Watch can track. However, if you already have a favorite way to track exercise on your phone, chances are you can find it for your Apple Watch as well. Nike Run Club, MapMyRun, Peloton and others have Watch apps that allow you to monitor your workout using a wearable sensor. Also, many apps can now connect to the Health app on your iPhone. It’s a database of all your activities and exercise data from your watch, so you can easily sync your exercise data from there to the service you choose. As with most things Apple Watch, you only need a little gaming to see what works best for you.
One of my favorite things about the Apple Watch is that it can stream music and podcasts – not just from Apple services but others like Spotify and Pandora. You’ll need a cell-capable watch to stream music without a phone, but the good news is that Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora allow you to store music directly on the watch. Whether you opt for a mobile model or not, there is a way to listen to ringtones and leave your phone.
If you are an Apple Music user, you will manage downloaded music via the Watch app on your iPhone. Open it and go to the “Music” section and you’ll see a big button to add songs to the clock. There’s also a setting that will automatically download albums and playlists you’ve recently listened to – turn it on and you’ll always have music on your wrist.
It’s also easy to select specific albums or playlists that you want to save. Just press the big plus button and you will see your Apple Music library. From there just go to what you want, press another plus button and it will be downloaded to your watch. Note that music is only transferred when your watch is charging, so you will need to remove it from your wrist to sync.
If you’re using Spotify, just go to an album, playlist or podcast on your phone and tap the three-dot icon – there you’ll see the option to “download to Apple Watch”. Then, there’s a clearly marked “downloads” section on your watch where you can play offline content.
Experiment, experiment, experiment!
Like many Apple products, the Apple Watch has a lot of functionality and hidden complexity beneath the user-friendly surface. But I’ve found that the watch hides a lot of features, so it’s worth checking out the built-in Tips Tips for suggestions on what you can do. Without such a guide, you’ll probably never realize that you double-click the Apple Pay side call button or that you can display a grid of icons in a list if you want. Chances are you won’t mess something up irretrievably, so tap and swipe, scroll and dig through the settings.