Set up your new Apple Watch

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Like many Apple products, the Apple Watch can be extremely simple to use, but behind that simplicity hides a surprising level of depth and customization. If you’ve just received an Apple Watch, there’s a lot that needs to be done to ensure you get the most out of your new wearable. Let us walk you through that process, from initial setup to optimizing everything it can do.


Of course, the first thing you’ll want to do is pair your Apple Watch with your iPhone. Even if you have an Apple Watch with mobile phone, an iPhone is required to set up and manage the device. Fortunately, this process is extremely simple: after turning on the Apple Watch, simply place it near an unlocked iPhone and you’ll be prompted to set up the device. During this process, your iPhone will guide you through the initial pairing and sign in with your Apple ID, assign a passcode to your Watch, set up things like Siri and Apple Pay, and decide if you want to transfer your compatible apps to the watch. I don’t recommend transferring all your apps automatically this first time, because the Watch is much more convenient if you put it together with only what you need.

A few features that you should definitely set up are fall detection and emergency SOS. The latter lets you quickly call local emergency services by holding down the side button, while fall detection uses the watch’s accelerometers and other sensors to, well, detect if you’ve taken a serious spill. It will automatically initiate an SOS emergency call if it detects a fall and does not detect you moving. Before making a call, the Watch will do its best to get your attention with a notification, a vibration and an audible alarm.

The fun part: customizing apps and notifications


Once you’ve got the basics set, 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’ve found the watch to be much more useful with a little management. In the iPhone Watch app, you can customize or disable notifications for all of Apple’s first-party apps. For example, in the Activity app’s notification panel, you can choose whether or not you want reminders to appear every hour, or notifications when your friends share activity milestones with you, and so on.

Third-party apps don’t have the same granularity, but you can disable them so they don’t ping your Watch. For things that aren’t particularly time-sensitive (for example, Google Photos updates, or if you don’t want the Apple News app to overload your wrist), feel free to disable them. They still hit your iPhone and you can always turn them back on later.

The iPhone Watch app also lets you choose which specific apps from your iPhone are installed on the Apple Watch. I think this is more useful than just having the Watch install every compatible app, as that could mean having a few dozen apps to browse on your Watch to see if they are useful or not. Instead, I’d rather go through the list and decide if having these apps on my wrist is an advantage. In the case of apps like Google Maps or Ecobee for controlling my thermostat, it’s a definite yes. But things like Etsy or Bank of America don’t really make sense on a watch. And if you ever change your mind, you can delete an app from the Watch app or long-press it in the grid view and delete it. Note that this will remove the app from your Watch, but not from your iPhone.

That said, I was surprised at what some developers had in mind for the Apple Watch. Take the notes app Bear, for example. I often use it to create shopping lists and checklists appear great on the Apple Watch. So if there’s an app on your phone that you find essential, give it a try on the Watch.

Watch faces

Another occasionally overlooked part of the Apple Watch experience is watch faces. Since this is literally what you see every time you raise your wrist, I think it’s worth finding one that fits your personal style. While there are no third-party faces, the Apple Watch has over 30 built-in options that are endlessly customizable. We’re talking a huge variety of colors, different fonts and watch faces, complications (little bits of information like weather, date, or music controls), and much more. You can have a simple digital time display with nothing else, or an informative face with eight different complications, or anything in between.

You can set up new faces directly on the Watch, but as with most in-depth features, it’s easier to do this on the iPhone. The Face Gallery shows every available face, along with multiple examples of how they can be customized. You can use that as a starting point to make your own creations. Once you’ve put together your favorites, you can simply swipe through them on the watch itself if you want to mix things up. Long-pressing a face also allows you to edit it directly on your watch, which is useful if you want to quickly change the color to better match your outfit.

If you’re using an Apple Watch Series 5, 6, or 7, you can also decide whether to activate the always-on display. You’ll find this option in the Settings app, under ‘Display & Brightness’. If you’re looking for maximum battery life, turn this off, but most people would probably prefer this on. New watches can still be used for an entire day while using the always-on feature, but once your watch gets a little older and battery performance drops, you may want to learn to live without it.

Fitness tracking

One of the biggest selling points of Apple Watch is its fitness tracking features. Whether or not you exercise regularly, the watch tracks your steps and activity level and uses that data to track your daily movement through three rings that you must close. The “move” ring is how many active calories you burn in a day, the “exercise” ring tracks activity during or over a brisk walk, and the “stand” ring tracks whether or not you get up and minute or two moves every hour of the day.

When you set up your Apple Watch, it suggests each of these daily goals, and the Activity app (or the Fitness app on your iPhone) shows you how close you are to reaching those goals. If you’ve never used an Apple Watch, it’s fine to just use the default settings — each week you’ll get a summary of how you’ve been doing, and it’ll even suggest increasing your Move number if you easily surpass it. The exercise and standing options default to 30 minutes per day and 12 hours per day, but those are also customizable.

For added motivation, the Fitness app lets you connect with other friends who use Apple Watches and see how much progress they’re making with their three rings. Sure, you can use this information to taunt them about their couch potato habits, but you can also challenge them to casual competitions. You earn points based on the percentage you close each of your rings each day, and the person with the most points after a week wins. It’s pretty casual, but it’s also a fun way to stay motivated.

If you want to track a specific workout, such as a run, walk, or strength training session, you do that in the “workout” app. There you will find the many different types of workouts that the Watch can track. If you already have a favorite way to track exercise on your phone, chances are you can find it for the Apple Watch too. Nike Run Club, MapMyRun, Peloton and others all have Watch apps that let you track workouts using the wearable’s sensors. Also, many apps can now connect to the Health app on your iPhone. It’s a database of all your activity and training data from your watch, so you can easily sync the training data from there to your service of choice. As with most things with Apple Watch, it’s just a matter of playing around 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’s services, but others like Spotify and Pandora. You’ll need a mobile-compatible watch to stream music without your phone, but the good news is that Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora also let you store music directly on the watch. Whether you spring for the mobile model or not, there is a way to listen to tunes and leave your phone behind.

If you’re an Apple Music user, you manage downloaded music through the Watch app on your iPhone. Flip that open and go to the “Music” section and you’ll see a big button to add songs to your watch. There’s also a setting that automatically downloads albums and playlists you’ve recently listened to. Turn it on and you’ll always have some music on your wrist.

You can also easily choose specific albums or playlists to save. Just hit the big plus button and you’ll see your Apple Music library. From there, just navigate to whatever you want, press another plus button and it will download to your watch. Keep in mind that music only transfers when your watch is charging, so you’ll need to take it off your wrist to sync.

If you’re using Spotify, just navigate to an album, playlist, or podcast on your phone and tap the three-dot icon — there you’ll see an option to “download to Apple Watch.” Then on your watch there is a clearly marked ‘downloads’ section where you can play content without a connection.

Experiment, experiment, experiment!

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Like many Apple products, the Apple Watch has a lot of functionality and hidden complexity beneath its easy-to-use surface. But I’ve noticed that the watch hides a lot of features, so it’s worth checking out the built-in Tips app for suggestions on what to do. Without such a guide, you’ll probably never realize that double-clicking the side button brings up Apple Pay, or that you can list the grid of icons if you wish. Chances are you won’t screw up irrevocably, so tap and swipe and scroll and dive into the settings.

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