Every built-in Apple Watch app, ranked best to worst

apple watch crown

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The apps that come with your Apple Watch run the gamut from super useful to superficial, but no matter what you think of any of them, they’re not going away. On your iPhone, you can just make a folder of the un-deletable Apple apps (looking at you, Compass and Tips), so at least they’re out of sight and out of mind. But the Apple Watch doesn’t support folders, and you can’t hide or delete any of its 20 built-in apps.

You can, however, reorder your home screen—either using the Apple Watch app for iPhone, which gives you way more real estate to work with, or by tapping-and-holding an icon on the Apple Watch’s screen until they all jiggle, and then dragging them around with your finger. You’ll want to put the ones you use the most near the center, and banish apps you’re not into out to the edges. But as you add third-party apps, those go to the edges of your app cluster too, so you may find yourself continually pushing unloved apps further out—it’s kind of a pain, to be honest.

To help you get everything sorted, we present these short reviews of every single app that shipped with the Apple Watch—and rank them best to worst. Which are your favorites, and which do you wish you could get rid of? What improvements do you think Apple should make? Sound off in the comments!

1. Music

The Music app, of course, ties in with the Music app on your iPhone. If your iPhone is in range, you can browse your iPhone’s music library by artist, album, songs, and playlists, either scrolling with your finger or by spinning the Digital Crown. (Just like a clickwheel!)

apple watch music 3up

You can keep up to 2GB of music on your Apple Watch’s 8GB of built-in storage. The default storage limit is 1GB of music, so to make room for more, visit the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then tap Music in the list of apps. Tap Playlist limit to toggle between the low (100MB/15 songs) and high (2GB/250 songs) ends. Then tap the Synced Playlist setting, and pick a playlist from your iPhone to sync to your watch’s local storage the next time your iPhone is plugged in.

The Apple Watch doesn’t have a headphone jack, and it does have a speaker, but that speaker isn’t up to playing music. Playing a song from the Music app will play it on your iPhone. You can switch to an AirPlay speaker or Bluetooth headphones by force-touching the screen in the Music app, which brings up controls for Shuffle, Repeat, Source (either the music stored on your iPhone, or only the songs saved to the Apple Watch), and AirPlay.

apple watch now playing

The Music app’s glance is a Now Playing screen that can control the music playing from the Music app—but that’s not all. If your iPhone is playing audio through another app (like Spotify, Rdio, iHeartRadio, Instacast, whatever you use), the Now Playing glance can control that too, with buttons for play/pause, forward, back, and volume.

Verdict: A I love the Music app. Scrolling through even a huge list of songs with the Apple Watch is wonderfully fun, because all it takes is a twist of the Digital Crown. It’s wonderfully tactile, reminding me of using a clickwheel iPod back in the day. In fact, I’m going to make it a point to keep more music stored locally on my iPhone (instead of streaming everything from Rdio or Soundcloud), just because navigating it with the Apple Watch is so much fun.

2. Activity

Activity is so important to the Apple Watch experience that its available as a “complication” on several watch faces—that way, all it takes is a flick of your wrist to see how much progress you’ve taken toward your goals. The Activity interface is so compelling that it’s the first in my list of glances, and I find myself tapping into the full app from the glance not because I actually need more info, but because I’m just curious to see the full set of stats.

apple watch on wrist 1 Rob Schultz

Activity shows you three concentric rings: the large red ring is for Move (a calorie-burn goal based on your general activity level, and easily adjusted with a force touch), a medium green ring for Exercise (30 minutes per day), and a small blue ring for Stand (standing up and moving around for at least one minute per hour, 12 hours out of the day). In the glance, that’s all you see, but tapping into the full app also includes separate screens for each metric, and you can swipe between them, plus scroll down to see a graph showing what times of the day you moved, exercised, or stood.

apple watch activity app 3up

The watch will prompt you to get up and move around at 50 minutes past each hour, if you didn’t already log at least a minute of activity in the hour so far. Unfortunately, I do get prompts to get up and move when I can’t, like when I’m commuting by bus—this is a little frustrating since the iPhone’s sensors can tell if I’m traveling in a vehicle. I’d love a tie-in to my calendar too. And just raising my adjustable desk from a sitting to a standing position isn’t enough to convince the watch I’m standing—you really have to move around for it to tell.

(I also tend to respond to the watch’s get-up-and-move prompts by wandering from my computer to my refrigerator—not to snack per se, just to see what’s in there—but my lack of willpower isn’t the Apple Watch’s fault. I could just as easily do a silly dance for a minute.)

Verdict: A Even with its quirks, I’ve found the Activity app much more compelling and motivating than using a Fitbit or a Jawbone UP to track my steps. The app’s gorgeous layout has me visiting multiple times per day, and a fitness app that actually makes you want to use it is already ahead of the pack.

3. Messages

Messages is outstanding on the Apple Watch for two reasons: Apple is being smart about the notifications, and more importantly, when a notification comes in, you can actually act on it. You can reply to texts right on the watch, by choosing a prewritten snippet (those are easily edited in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone) or tapping the microphone to dictate a reply to Siri.

Dictation either works really well or not at all. I’ve moved all my texting to the Apple Watch, and even when Siri doesn’t understand me occasionally (less than 10 percent of the time, I’d estimate), I still find it quicker and easier than tapping out a reply on the iPhone. You can send the messages as audio clips or as dictated text, and if you overwhelmingly prefer one or the other, you can set a default in the Apple Watch app for iPhone.

apple watch messages

The Messages app for Apple Watch has exclusive animated emoji that you can send to anyone, not just other Apple Watch users. They’re adorable, but what isn’t super clear is that you can use the Digital Crown—or smear your finger around the screen without swiping to the next page—to get different options for the animated face, heart, and hand. The standard iOS emoji are here too.

But the best part of Messages is how smart the notifications have been, at least in my experience. If my iPhone is unlocked and in use, the notification comes to my iPhone and not my Apple Watch. If the iPhone is locked, it comes to my Apple Watch. If I have Messages open on my Mac and it’s the active app (as in, I’m using it to chat with someone), the message will pop up there and leave both my iPhone and Apple Watch dark. But when I switch out of Messages into another app on my Mac, like Safari, new messages once again ping my Apple Watch. I’ve been really impressed with how seamless it is, and haven’t missed a message yet.

Verdict: A Yes, Messages could be improved—I’d love to be able to send a photo, for example, since all my favorites are stored right on the watch. But between using my own canned replies, my uncanny ability to speak in emoji, and the solid Siri performance, I’ve found Messages one of the most useful apps on the Apple Watch.

4. Clock

The Apple Watch, after all, is a watch. So being able to tell the time is pretty crucial. I love the Mickey Mouse watch face with his perfect 60-beats-per-minute toe tap, as well as the animated watch face where differently colored butterflies or flowers emerge out of the darkness. (No complications on that watch face, though, so I have to swipe up to the glances to see my Activity progress or how much battery life is left.) Here’s how to select and customize the watch faces.

apple watch clock

I also love how Apple claims the watch as the most accurate timepiece ever, but still lets you set ahead a few minutes. (Up to 59 minutes, actually.) Because what’s a watch you can’t set ahead a few minutes? Even the cheapest digital watch you got from a cereal box can do that! Of course, on the Apple Watch, it’s even better, because timed alerts and notifications (say, calendar events or the start of a baseball game) still come in at the precise right time. It’s just the clock that’s different.

apple watch more clocks

Verdict: A Apple should consider allowing watch faces designed by third-party developers, but I think they will—or at least release more of their own in the meantime. But what’s here now is great, and tweaking their colors and complications with a force-press is fun and easy.

5. Passbook and Apple Pay

I’ve used Passbook at Starbucks, and Apple Pay at Subway, Panera, Walgreens, and a vending machine. Each time it’s worked flawlessly, even easier than using my phone. On my iPhone, Passbook is only speedy for me when the passes pop up on my lock screen when I’m in the vicinity of wherever I would use that pass. If I have to unlock my phone, then find and launch Passbook, half the time I get distracted along the way by a notification on my lock screen, or an irresistable app on my home screen (cough, cough, Instagram and Twitter). Even though I have to launch Passbook on the Apple Watch manually, getting there feels faster.

apple watch apple pay Susie Ochs

The barcode Passbook put on the Apple Watch’s screen is impossibly tiny (and I have the 38mm watch), so I was worried I’d have to wave it in front of the barcode scanner forever to get it to read. Not so. And for Apple Pay, all I had to do was double-tap my watch’s button to pull up my default Apple Pay card, and then hold the face of my watch right over the credit card terminal. Beep! Done.

apple watch apple pay 3up

We’ve got more on setting up and using Apple Pay on the Apple Watch, as well as an updated list of where you can use Apple Pay, and which bank cards are supported.

Verdict: A Apple Pay is delightful as ever, and I’m excited that iPhone 5s, 5c, and 5 users can get in on the party thanks to Apple Watch.

6. Camera Remote

This one is just plain cool—a remote shutter button for your iPhone camera. It can even launch the camera app on the paired iPhone if it’s not launched already. (It even worked when my iPhone was locked.) The watch app has two buttons, a shutter button to take a shot immediately, or a button with a 3s indicator. Press that to see a 3-second countdown on the watch, followed by a burst of 10 photos taken by the iPhone. This is perfect not only for avoiding a bunch of selfies of you looking at your watch, but also for a photo of you jumping up in the air and doing karate kicks. Not that I’ve been trying that. Ahem.

apple watch camera remote

It’d be kind of cool if you could force-touch the screen to temporarily pair the app to a different iPhone, or flip the iPhone from the front camera to the back. But that latter feature is a forgiveable omission, since you’ll be setting up the shot with your iPhone anyway, propping it up on a stand and pointing it where you want. The Apple Watch app does support both cameras, you just have to switch between them on the iPhone. When you switch the Camera app on your phone into viewing mode, a message pops up on your watch saying the mode is not supported, but there’s a handy button you can press to switch back to photo mode.

Verdict: A The speed is impressive—there’s barely any shutter lag, and if you flip the iPhone from portrait to landscape mode, it’s reflected on the watch immediately too. You can even tap the Apple Watch’s screen to tell the iPhone camera where to focus. I like it and will carry my trusty iPhone tripod more faithfully now that I have this.

7. Workout

Workout hits your battery extra hard, since it keeps track of your heart rate the entire time you’re exercising. (The rest of the time, the Apple Watch checks your heart rate once every 10 minutes.) It’s geared toward cardio: the options include outdoor walk, outdoor run, outdoor cycle, indoor walk, indoor run, indoor cycle, elliptical, rower, stair stepper, and “other.” Exercises like yoga, pilates, boxing, and weight training may not be counted as “exercise” minutes toward your goal—it depends on your heart rate data. But for the cardio exercises in the menu, it works well.

apple watch workout 3up

When you start a new workout, you can choose a goal based on calorie burn elapsed time, distance (for outdoor workouts), or just go for it in open-ended mode and see how long you can last. You get a buzz as you get closer to your goal, and it’s easy to glance down at your wrist and see your progress at any time. (Tap the time at the top-right of the screen to toggle between the time of day and how long you’ve been working out.) Force-touch the screen to pause or end your workout, and be sure to scroll down the display of stats and press Save to log it in your Health database.

activity ios

If you go for a run without your iPhone, the data will sync from the watch to your iPhone’s Activity app when you get back.

We’ve got a deeper dive into both the Activity and Workout apps, and we’re planning a head-to-head showdown of its heart rate accuracy versus a dedicated chest strap.

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