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Review: Small life enhancements come with Apple Watch

FILE - In this April 10, 2015 file photo, a customer tries on an Apple Watch at an Apple Store in Hong Kong. Apple Watch won't give you revolutionary lifestyle changes. Rather, you get a collection of small enhancements that add up, along with conversation starters with friends and strangers. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Apple Watch isn’t so much a lifestyle revolution as it is a collection of small enhancements that add up.

Apple’s smartwatch has a wider range of apps than rival watches from Samsung, Motorola and others. In my few weeks with one, I’ve been following my favorite baseball team more closely. I’ve walked to places without staring at a phone screen for directions. I’ve stepped away from my desk more often — despite my annoyance at the watch for nagging me to move.

You’ll find ways to use it if you decide to spend $349 or more on one, though that isn’t saying you absolutely need one. Think of it as a Swiss Army knife with a collection of tools that don’t seem necessary — until you find yourself using them.

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INFORMATION SNACKING

Notifications are central to the watch experience, whether that’s a new message, breaking news or a score change involving the New York Mets. In some cases, I can dictate a reply or select a pre-written response. The current temperature appears on my chosen watch face with Mickey Mouse. I glance at the watch throughout the day, but I need the phone for anything deep.

Though I like not having to constantly pull out my phone, I have to resist feeling that everything’s urgent. When the watch dinged during a massage, I held out for just a few seconds before the temptation to check took over. It was easier to resist with the phone in the backpack. It’s a tricky balance getting the watch to enhance your life, rather than take it over.

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PASSES AND PAYMENTS

With Apple Pay on iPhones, I’m able to leave my wallet in my pocket to pay at several chains, including McDonald’s and Whole Foods. With the watch, I’m able to leave my phone in the pocket, too.

The watch can also generate barcodes for Starbucks’ payment card, Fandango movie tickets and boarding passes for some airlines. I don’t have to fish for paper or a phone while carrying luggage or popcorn. But if the merchant’s scanner isn’t hand-held or adjustable, you might have to twist your wrist to align the barcode with the scanner. Wrists might not fit at all under scanners designed for paper.

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STAYING HEALTHY … AND BEING LAZY

Apple Watch tracks calories burned and minutes of exercise. It also pushes you to stand up and move around throughout the day. Three colorful rings display your progress, turning fitness into a game. Apps from outside parties offer additional features, such as the route you ran.

All three pulse readings during an emergency-room visit Tuesday matched the watch’s (Tattoos can disrupt the heart monitor, though). A quick tap with Apple Pay paid for my cab there.

I was worried that promised battery life is just 18 hours, given that I tax the watch with heavy exercise. But I haven’t had problems as long as I charge it overnight. It doesn’t track sleep, as other devices do.

Offsetting the health benefits: I can control video on Apple TV instead of getting up to grab the physical remote. I can also control the phone’s camera for selfies. Parents with kids can set timers remotely for Nick Jr. and PBS Kids — and end arguments over screen time and bedtime.

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EXPECTATIONS RAISED

In many cases, I need to assemble features from multiple apps. For walking and driving directions, Apple’s Maps taps my wrist when it’s time to turn. But it doesn’t do transit. Citymapper does, but lacks turn-by-turn navigation to get to the subway. It’s back to Apple Maps for that.

There is no Facebook or any Google apps yet, though you get notifications that normally go to the phone. Facebook’s Instagram is available and lets you like photos, but limits commenting to 24 emoticons.

I’m continually learning about new apps, including Evernote for dictating reminders and other notes. It’ll take time for app developers to write the capabilities and for me to discover them. It’ll also take time to fully get used to all the gestures and controls, though I was much better at it after a few days.

I have to remind myself that the Apple Watch is a first-generation product that’s giving me a lot I didn’t have before. With other smartwatches, I’m happy just to get basic functionality. Apple Watch is good at the basics, so I’m now demanding more.

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