Apple Watch Series 3


Did Apple Watch help me to relax more? The verdict

Photo: Cochrane Lay

Can wearable tech really help you switch off more? Sam Baker roadtests one for a week to find out

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By Sam Baker on

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I admit I approached this challenge with more than a slight degree of cynicism, all stemming from the rock-solid conviction that I "need" my phone and that I can't do my job without it. Also, in what world does adding more tech to your life reduce your dependence on it? Even I, who live and die by my iPhone, couldn't make that one stack up.

But, it turns out, I was wrong. Where, before, I have tried – and failed – to go cold turkey on my phone, it turned out that, as with alcohol, information moderation was the answer. If my iPhone is a supermarket, then Apple Watch is the local shop, only stocked with necessities. By filtering out the choice, the noise, the babble of apps clamouring for my attention, I was able to put the phone down – not just for minutes, but for hours.

So, of course, on day one, I made the mistake of setting up my Apple Watch as a direct replica of my iPhone. Alongside the Breathe app to remind me to literally take a breath every few hours, I installed the Pillow app to monitor my sleep and remind me to have some, along with every one of my phone apps that worked on Apple Watch. The whole process was surprisingly quick and easy.

After 24 hours, I turned more than half of them off again. If only I’d listened to the instructions, I would have remembered that the whole point of Apple Watch is to edit out the flotsam and jetsam of your day and leave the less-than-urgent alerts where you can find them on your phone. By the time the first reminder to breathe went off on the train home, I almost missed it. That was when I realised where I was going wrong: the problem was the wearer, not the watch. Apple Watch was only doing what I told it to. If I told it to remind me about every single thing, then that was what it would do. If, however, I told it to remind me about only the important stuff – meetings, work emails, texts and WhatsApps – I could assume that, if my Apple Watch didn't go off, there was nothing to stress about.

Even the thought made my shoulders lower an inch or two. So I set about removing things, leaving myself only with the essentials: mail, calendar, messages, WhatsApp, Breathe, Pillow, Headspace, Workout (and weather, of course). For the purposes of this week, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and news apps all had to get lost. Thereafter, the challenge became a whole lot easier. Here's how I got on:


I've always been a bit zero tolerance on mindfulness, judging it a little bit "ding ding". I don't live in the now. I mainly live in the future, with occasional futile detours to the past (why did I do that? Why didn't I say this? You know...). As far as I was concerned, meditation was for people with too much time on their hands. But the Breathe app is designed for people like me. Maybe busy, maybe jaded, maybe just not that keen to spend too long alone with the inside of their head! But it's only one minute twice a day – how could you possibly object? I started with the default two alerts. That was easy. And pleasant. After a couple of days, I increased the alerts to three, then, by the end of the week, four. By the time I'd taken a breath twice and the train was crawling through Clapham Junction, the urge to while away the journey home the way I usually do had subsided.

The Breathe function encourages you to take a moment to relax throughout the day


To be honest, this is both one pledge and all pledges, since it turns out this is the key to relaxing more. But, to start with, I just didn't buy that using Apple Watch to monitor email and texts could reduce the amount of time I spend checking emails and texts and everything else on my phone. It just felt counter-intuitive. Shows what I know. Once I had taken off over 50 per cent of what I'd put on only 24 hours earlier, the whole process became much easier. With just the email, text and WhatsApp alerts left, plus the hourly reminders to stand up and the four-times-daily reminders to breathe, and little circular rounds of applause once I closed a ring, everything felt weirdly under control. (Let me digress for a moment to tell you about closing the rings. These are my very favourite thing about Apple Watch – red (energy burnt through movement), blue (how many times you stand up throughout the day) and green (the amount of exercise you do), the rings provide gentle motivation to step away from your computer and move a bit more. I took to these so much that I confess that, on the day I failed to close the red ring, I felt a little pang of disappointment.) To test my resolve on Thursday, I intentionally left my phone on my desk when I popped out to the gym. Admittedly, most of the way there I was fighting the urge to turn around and run back, but once I got there, I forgot all about it and I only looked for it once on the way back. The added bonus was the whole thing was over and done with even quicker, because I had Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, so I didn’t have to be connected to my phone to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.


Ah, this one was not my favourite. The way I usually deal with my mood is not to deal with it at all. If you want to freak me out, ask me how I feel. On second thoughts, please don't. But the app that measures the duration and quality of your sleep, Pillow, asks you to consider your mood when you wake up. The first couple of days, I just ticked OK – basically three out of five, the equivalent of "I'm not going to give this any thought". Day four, I noticed my mood was lifting, so I decided to do the same exercise after I'd taken a breath on the train. It wasn't foolproof – on one day, it was nearer a one than a four – but at least I noticed it and took stock.   


This pledge is why I installed the Pillow app in the first place and I'm glad I did. I read every night before bed – something the Pillow app asks you to log – and I soon realised that if I read in bed, I often turned off the light after midnight. If I don't, it's much earlier. As I get up at 6am, this doesn't even give me a fighting chance of getting enough sleep. For this week, I pledged to put down my book at 11pm and, by Friday, had got my sleep up to six hours 48 minutes on average. A revelation!


If anything is guaranteed to send tension coursing through your body, it's frantically doing battle with falling blocks as they plummet faster and faster down a tiny screen. Added to which, Tetris is completely addictive, so I can think "just one game" when I get on the train and, the next time I look up, I'm home. My neck is locked; my teeth are grinding. So, I took it off my phone. Day one, I cheated and had put it back on again before the train reached Wimbledon. Day two, my hand kept twitching for the usual screen it was on, but I held steady. Day three, I did two lots of breathing and read a book. Easy!

The key word, for me, anyway, was "control". Apple Watch didn't reduce my need for it, but what it did do was make me see that while carrying every component of my life makes me feel in control, it doesn't actually give me any control at all. It puts me at the mercy of every little thing that happens. Apple Watch helped me filter that out. I stopped carrying the world with me and started only carrying the important stuff. Basically, it’s Essentialism in a gadget. So, I will keep using Apple Watch, throughout the day, to reduce my endless phone checking. I will keep leaving my phone on my desk when I go to the gym. And I will definitely stick with the Breathe app. It's like an ally – occasionally giving you a nudge and saying, "Do you realise you haven't taken even a minute to pause and take stock today?" Why would you give that up? 

Apple Watch Series 3 is available at John Lewis, with prices starting at £329



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Photo: Cochrane Lay
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