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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple Watch Face Off: Utility

For years I wore a Swiss Army watch with clear, readable sans-serif numbers on the face and not much else, so using the Utility face on the Apple Watch feels a bit like coming home. It’s an analog watch face with room for a few complications and a dash of color—but only a dash.

Utility animated GIF
You can choose the density of information surrounding the watch hands.

How it tells time: Large white analog hands and a highlight-colored second hand sweep over a dial that, cleverly, can be adjusted to display different levels of detail. You can choose to have it display no numbers at all, hour numbers only at the cardinal directions (3, 6, 9, 12), all the hour numbers, or all the hour numbers with a secondary ring indicating the minute positions as well.

I prefer the traditional display of all 12 numbers, but I am happy to do the minute translations in my head. Still, the ability to increase or decrease detail by spinning the Digital Crown is my favorite feature of this face, and one of the niftier features I’ve seen on the Apple Watch. This is truly an attention to detail that shows a great, er, attention to detail.

Complication areas: Four. Two rectangular blocks in the top right and left corners, a wide horizontal strip at the bottom that spans the width of the screen, and a rectangular block inside the ring of the circle next to three o’clock.

utility-complications
Utility offers four complications.

That rectangular complication is in a location where many classic watches put a date display, and in fact, that complication area can only be used for one of two options: A display of the date (which appears in the highlight color), or a display of the day and date (in which case the date is still in the highlight color, but the day is displayed in white). I prefer the latter approach, and really like the use of the highlight color on this complication.

One of the drawbacks of this complication being inside the watch circle is that, at various times of day, the watch face’s hands move over the complication and obscure it. (The same is true on an analog watch, of course.) If this drives you crazy, well, then I recommend you turn off this complication entirely. As for me, I don’t mind it—in fact, I kind of like it. It adds a little more analog flair to an unrepentantly analog face.

The two square complication spaces at the top corners can be filled with most of the expected Apple Watch complications, all of which appear in gray. Because each space is actually half the width of the screen, some complications have been designed to fill that space, while others are square in shape and stick to the corners. Complications that use the extra horizontal space are the day and date, calendar, sunrise/sunset, alarm, timer, stopwatch, and world clock. Complications that stay in the corner are weather, activity, moon phase, and battery.

The full-width complication space at the bottom is the biggest billboard on this face. You can fill it with the complete day and date (spelled out: “Monday, May 18”), the next calendar item (with its time and the first 10 characters or so of its name), the moon phase (spelled out: “Waxing Crescent”), the sunrise/sunset (with an icon, the time, and a textual countdown: “8:14pm 11hrs 35mins”), the weather (with the current temperature and text of the current conditions), stocks, activity (listing calorie count, how many minutes of daily exercise you’ve done, and how close you are to a standing goal), alarm, timer, stopwatch, battery, and world clock.

This space is all about text, and the text is gray and presented in all caps. Some of the complications seem awfully silly presented in this fashion—the battery one displays “97% BATTERY,” and does anyone want to walk around with WAXING CRESCENT at the bottom of their watch face? But others, like the calendar and stocks complications, really do take advantage of the extra space.

Other options: The Utility face comes with eight color choices for the highlight, which is used to color the second hand and, optionally, the date on the inside-the-circle day/date complication. Everything else is gray on black.

utility-final

Final verdict: The first watch I bought myself was a Casio with LCD hands, a digital watch that aped the look of an analog watch. It was ugly and impractical and I loved it. While a lot of people might look at the Apple Watch and wonder why you’d ever display analog watch hands on a digital device, I really enjoy it. I don’t need the precision of a digital watch, don’t need to know if it’s 11:47 or 11:46 or 11:45 precisely… just that it’s a quarter to noon.

I appreciate Utility’s small bursts of highlight color and the flexibility of its complications. I love the analog watch style of the day and date complication inside the circle. On the face I use every day, I have most of the complications turned off. Utility works for me as a more minimal face, but it also works as an information-dense one. It’s adaptable and beautiful. What I’m saying is, Utility has quickly settled in to be my favorite Apple Watch face. It’s a winner.

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[Get much more watch-related stuff on our Apple Watch page.]