The Apple Watch is the most anticipated new gadget in a very long time, and getting one on launch day—April 24—was extremely difficult, even if you happened to pre-order one within minutes of its availability. I was lucky enough to have not one, but two Apple Watches show up at my door.
The only problem is that one of them is fake.
On Friday, UPS dropped off a surprisingly heavy, rectangular box mid-afternoon. Inside it was a long white box, and inside that was my 38mm Apple Watch Sport. Without getting into a full review of Apple’s new smartwatch—there will be plenty of time for that in the coming days—I’ll simply say that it’s a really cool gadget and I’ve greatly enjoyed my time with it thus far.
A few hours after the arrival of the Apple Watch, my wife arrived home and brought a package in from the mailbox. It was covered in silver plastic, clear tape, and Chinese writing, and the shipping tag said it came from Bao’an, Shenzhen, China. She asked me if I had ordered “a brick of heroin,” and given the appearance of the package I couldn’t blame her. The customs slip listed the contents of the package as “iPhone case” with a declared value of $10, but that’s not what was actually inside.
After unwrapping the plastic and forcing myself through the strange, musty smell of the unmarked cardboard box, I discovered what was actually inside. It was a counterfeit Apple Watch.
The story of how I came to own this forgery isn’t particularly remarkable: In early March, just as the hype around Apple’s new wearable was reaching a fever pitch, I found a Taiwanese seller who claimed to be selling the Apple Watch for immediate shipment. There was no size option or “collection” to choose from, just four colors, so I selected one and placed an order. It cost me the equivalent of roughly $53, and while I knew the watch that eventually arrived wouldn’t be anything impressive, I was nonetheless curious about just how bad it would be. Now I know.
The copy came in a very generic box. On the front was a photo of the Apple Watch, along with the label “Smart Watch.” In the manual, which is more like a small slip of paper with some very poorly translated English on it, the watch is called “AW08,” which I can only guess is short for “Apple Watch.” Inside, the watch was crammed into a small plastic bag, and below it was a short USB charging cord and the aforementioned manual.
The watch had a large sticker on the front that mimicked the look of the actual Apple Watch, which I got a good laugh at. After removing the sticker and charging the watch—it arrived completely dead, of course—it started up with an ear-splitting beep.
The device is, as you can probably guess, not quite as advanced as the watch Apple is selling. There are no apps to speak of—the app display screen that has become a trademark of the Apple Watch is just a static image on the Chinese fake—only a set of 12 circular icons that represent typical smartwatch functions such as messaging, voice call, pedometer, phonebook, music player, and reminders.
There’s just a handful of watch faces, most of which are lifted straight from promotional imagery of the Apple Watch, like the butterfly face. Of course, on the fake watch it’s nothing more than a still photo.
As far as build quality goes, it’s very clearly just a chunk of painted plastic. The crown wiggles and doesn’t turn more than half a revolution, and the touchscreen, while quite responsive, is painfully low-resolution.
To its credit, the functions of the fake actually do work as advertised. You can take calls, make calls, send messages, get email, and even stream music from your iPhone right to the watch.
A curious bonus “feature” is that the watch basically takes over all audio from the iPhone, including keyboard clicks and screen lock sounds. As I typed out a text message on my iPhone on Friday night, the Chinese forgery was producing all the key clicks and other effects. My wife found this very amusing.
As I’ve only had it for about a half of a day, I can’t definitively speak to its longevity, but the AW08’s documentation claims a battery life of as long as 160 hours. While that’s likely a huge exaggeration, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it double or even triple the battery life of the actual Apple Watch, if only because the impostor barely does anything at all and therefore has far more modest power demands.
I’m sure this goes without saying, but I’ll be sticking with the real deal from here on out. Still, I imagine the Chinese copy will make a wonderful prank gift once Christmas rolls around.
Photos by Mike Wehner