In Praise of the Knock-Off Nylon Sport Loop
One of the hallmarks of the Apple Watch is its selection of watch bands and the ease with which they can be swapped. I got my original Apple Watch with the silicone Sport Band, and while it fit acceptably, I never loved it. When I upgraded to a Series 2 a few years later, I got it with Apple’s woven nylon buckle band, and it too was just okay. I didn’t dislike either enough to buy another band, particularly at the exorbitant prices Apple charges, which start at $49, jump quickly to $99 and, as of this year, max out at an eye-watering $539 for the Hermès Ébène Barénia Leather Single Tour Deployment Buckle. I suspect each of the accent marks adds $100 to the price.
When Tonya replaced her original Apple Watch with a Series 3, we got it with the then-new nylon Sport Loop, which adjusts perfectly to any size wrist and is less sweaty than the Sport Band during runs. I took it over since Tonya was happy with her Sport Band, and I liked it so much that when the time came to upgrade to the Series 5, I got another Sport Loop (see “Upgrading from an Apple Watch Series 2 to a Series 5,” 20 January 2020). I was a little disappointed to discover that Apple had each year introduced and then discontinued various colors, such that I’d missed out on some I preferred from previous years. I mentioned in that article that I’d seen cheap knock-offs on Amazon, but I never got around to buying any.
The main benefit of the Sport Loop is its infinite adjustability, that is, exact sizing to your wrist. With the Sport Band and woven nylon buckle band, I always had to put up with holes not being in quite the right spot. It’s breathable, is easily rinsed when it gets sweaty, dries quickly, and can’t be knocked out of adjustment once you attach the Velcro-like hook-and-loop fasteners. It may not be as elegant as leather or metal, but Apple has always made it in a variety of attractive colors. The only real downside I’ve discovered is that its hook-and-loop fasteners can lose their grip when you’re swimming if you open and close it when it’s wet. Overall, I’ve been extremely pleased with the Sport Loop bands.
Fast-forward to the present. I recently replaced my 5-year-old Garmin Forerunner 620 with a new Forerunner 645 because the battery on the 620 was starting to fail on longer runs, especially in the cold. The new Forerunner 645 came with a horrible, plasticky-feeling buckle band that was difficult to put on and seemingly impossible to fit correctly. After a minor brainstorm—“Maybe I could get a sport loop band for it?”—and a quick Amazon search, I discovered that for a mere $8.99 (now down to $6.99), I could buy a new Nylon Sport Quick Release band that worked just like Apple’s Sport Loop. That was too cheap to pass up, so I put it in my cart.
Emboldened by my success at such a bargain price, I decided to introduce Tonya to the wonders of the Sport Loop with a pretty purple band for a Valentine’s Day present (hey, it wasn’t a chainsaw!) and match it with a new red one for myself. The knock-offs I linked to in the previous article were no longer available on Amazon, nor was the company in general. I thus couldn’t get away with buying five bands for $25, but I did find a reseller called Ruiboo that sold the bands for $12.99 each. All the bands came a few days later, they were as easy to install as Apple’s versions, and Tonya and I have been using them happily ever since.
I waited too long to write this article, and just six weeks later, Ruiboo has essentially disappeared from Amazon, just like the previous knock-off reseller I had identified. I can find only a couple of resellers on Amazon with similar products now, but they seem rather sketchy, with few or no reviews. I wonder if some of these resellers exist only as long as they have a line on some stock or a connection with a particular contract manufacturer. Or Apple and Amazon are playing whack-a-mole with such companies—perhaps Apple has some intellectual property rights involved.
eBay may be a better source for these watch bands—a search on “nylon sport loop Apple Watch band” turns up over 1200 hits. The top hit is accplus, a vendor that has supposedly sold over 36,000 units and is pricing identical-looking bands at $5.29, currently on sale for $3.29 with a “buy 2, get 1 free” deal. With free shipping. Seriously.
For prices as low as $5 to $10, could these knock-off bands be as good as Apple’s $49 bands? I can speak only to the units I’ve gotten, but the simple answer is yes. The nylon band material feels the same, the parts that attach to the Apple Watch are sized perfectly and work identically, and even the plastic band end has the same squared-off cylinder design. The only difference I can discern is in the color of the little plastic hook pads that you slap down on the band to fasten it. On my old Midnight Blue band from Apple, the pads are a light purple, whereas on Tonya’s new purple band (which turned out to be nearly identical to the Midnight Blue), the pads are black. On my red band, the pads are white. Since you see the pads only when you’re fastening the band, this is the most trivial of differences.
As much as I like the Sport Loop design, once I thought of writing this article, I thought that perhaps I should see if knock-offs of other band styles might be good as well. I’ve long considered Apple’s stainless steel mesh Milanese Loop to be highly elegant, but I could never bring myself to spend $99 on a watch band. As with the Sport Loop, it took no time to find a knock-off reseller that would sell me a faux Milanese Loop for just $9.99. I wore it for a week and generally liked it. However, I’ve now switched back to the knock-off sport loop for everyday wear. I don’t have a genuine Apple Milanese Loop to compare it to, but the knock-off’s magnet wasn’t quite strong enough to resist being loosened if I caught it on clothing or some other object, so I found myself retightening it a few times during the day. It also tended to snag my arm hair on occasion. It wasn’t bad, but I’ll reserve it for dress-up occasions, if those ever become a thing again. I’d provide a link, but that reseller has disappeared from Amazon too. Spooky.
I obviously can’t speak for all knock-off band manufacturers, but I’ve now tried four knock-off bands (including the one for my Forerunner 645) and have been pleased with all of them. All while spending less than a single $49 replacement band from Apple. I’m somewhat surprised this is the case because I’m generally dubious of cheap knock-offs. You often get what you pay for, and maybe the low cost is worth the tradeoffs, or maybe it isn’t. But with these knock-off bands, I simply can’t see enough differences to justify Apple’s stratospheric markups. If a company can make money selling these things for $5, it’s hard to recommend spending ten times that to buy from Apple.
I bought a knockoff Milanese Loop for my original (“series 0”) Apple Watch, and experienced the same issues as Adam. Also, over time, it began showing serious signs of wear, with some of the black coating rubbing off, revealing the shiny metal beneath. When I got my series 4 Apple Watch, I splurged for a genuine Apple Milanese Loop. The Apple band is noticeably thicker and heavier than the knockoff, though not so heavy as to be annoying when I wear it. And its magnet is much more effective; it doesn’t slip and loosen over the course of the day. Nor has the band ever snagged my arm hair. It also has yet to show any signs of wear.
True, it is expensive, but I got a well-made, comfortable, durable band for the money.
The wife and I have the official Apple Milanese loops and they get discolored from dirt and scratches on the side where it overlaps and magnetically connects. While you can clean them you can never get rid of the scratches on the band. I went back to the sport band which is more comfortable anyway. Yes, the bands are way overpriced especially the base models.
I have upgraded my Apple Watch when each even series came out (0->2->4->6). The 2, 4, and 6 watches have all been the large aluminum gold case versions. For the Apple Watch 2, I got (either with the watch or as a secondary purchase) the brown sports band and have been using it until recently. I found that using the long version of the band at the 2nd hole was slightly too tight, while the 3rd hole was very slightly loose. So, until recently, that was what I used. However, the looseness caused the Blood Oxygen sensor to often fail. Ii’ve now switched to the ‘pink’ Sports Loop that came with the Apple Watch 4. The infinite adjustability of the band now allows me to wear the watch at a tightness that has eliminated the failure of the Blood Oxygen sensor.
Apple currently doesn’t have a sports loop with a brown , gold, or tan emphasis. I may investigate 3rd party loops.
I hesitated to buy an Apple Watch for years precisely because the bands are very expensive. Then, while upgrading my phone, I asked the fashionably attired young fellow at the SoftBank shop who had convinced me to upgrade my phone if he liked his Apple Watch. He replied without hesitation, “Now that I’ve found inexpensive bands, yes.” A tight-fisted (when it comes to bands, anyway) soulmate.
Fast forward a couple of years and I have a nice collection of bands, and have only had one failure (refunded). I don’t know if my source is a good option for the America-based TidBITers… AliExpress.
My philosophy with AliExpress is to always expect to be disappointed, so my policy is to never spend more than $15 (including shipping) and to always use a self-expiring virtual credit card.
In addition to a variety of bands (some last well, some not-so-well), I’ve bought silicon remote control covers, silicon baking mats, a keyboard case for my daughter’s Keychron keyboard and a handful of other low-risk products.
Shopping on AliExpress is more like a frenzied Hong Kong market than a stroll through a suburban Seattle Nordstrom. If you seek slight retail adventure… have a look and see for yourself.
P.S. Shipping can take days, weeks, or months. It reminds me a bit of the original Netflix — you will get something to watch someday, but when and what exactly from your list it will be remains a mystery. An “order it and forget it”‘ attitude helps. I have a note in my diary to check my AliExpress purchase history about once a month to see what might be arriving soon.
On my Apple Watch 5 I use the Sports Loop it came with, although I have a Apple Milanese Loop in reserve (from previous Apple Watches) in case I ever want to switch.
But when I got my Garmin Fenix 5+, I immediately got rid of the band it came with and bought a 3rd party band from Amazon. That band is very similar to the sports loop, and has worked very well. (A quick check has shown that the band I bought has also disappeared from Amazon in the almost 2 years since I bought it, although there is a very similar sports loop band available for the 5+ from a different company.) Much less costly than official Garmin replacement bands.
I found that the official Apple Sport Loop ends up suffering the same issues as the knock-offs in that, eventually, the velcro fails. In fact, it seems that the time to failure is about the same for both. I bought the official Apple band with a series 3 and it lasted a little over a year. I bought a 3rd party band to go on the series 4 and it lasted slightly longer, maybe 13 months. I’m on my second 3rd party band and just over a year on it and time to replace.
I went with the 3rd party ones as they had a “true” black compared to the mostly brown Apple “black”. Over time the 3rd party bands have browned as well.
I keep looking for a true black band, but have yet to find one. If anyone has a suggestion, I’d be interested.
Adam, I got the Milanese band with the original Apple Watch years ago and although I love the way it looks and how comfortable it is to wear, after using it every day for a little over a year, I was refastening it/tightening it very frequently during the day. Apparently, even Apple’s own brand has problems with the magnet fastener over time.
I’ve gotten multiple knockoff bands for my Series 3, from random sellers on Amazon and never had a bad one. Costs were mostly in the 10-15 range, which meant that I would have been comfortable dumping them if I didn’t like it or it didn’t work.
I have to agree with Adam that the knock-off nylon sports loops are the way to go. You can’t depend on the colors matching the images you see on-line, reds are mostly shades of magenta, but they work well and both I with my Series 4 and my wife and her with her Series 6 have been pleased with our $6 Chinese bands. No, we won’t spend 10 times as much so we can say they are Designed in Cupertino.
I too have bought a Faux milanese loop (black) for my 2nd gen watch. It looks great, has a nice, soft feel and the price was app. $5.00 U$. Downside: these, and as far as I can tell, all knock-offs, have “universal” attachments to the watch; in order to accommodate the different generations and models, the bar that slides into the watch may well be shorter than the item customized for your particular model (in my case the black ‘Niki’ silicon sport band). This does not affect the functionality of the band, but if you look closely, you can tell. The magnet on mine a plenti strong; however, it does affect the function of the campus app and, in my case, if the band happens to be close to my hearing aid, it sets off a switch that signals that you are using a line-phone or an over-the-ears headphone (magnetic lock). There maybe other magnet related effects in other situations.
I have bought several bands from Epic Watchbands https://www.epicwatchbands.com and have been very happy with all but their version of the Milanese Loop (the magnet wasn’t strong enough and it kept falling off). Their prices are totally affordable, highly recommend. They also have a nice silicone AirPods case cover, as well as other random accessories.
I bought my Series 2 with an Apple Milanese band. I had the same problems that you experienced with the knock-off, namely needing to readjust the fit several times a day and snagging it enough to come loose.
When I upgraded to a Series 6, I went with a Velcro sport loop and love it. It never needs adjusting, doesn’t become dislodged with a small snag or rub against some furniture.
Oddly, I tried the sport loop for a day, went back to the Milanese for a week or so as I believed it was a “better” band, then went back to the sport loop and haven’t strayed.
First of all, I had a good laugh at
“I decided to introduce Tonya to the wonders of the Sport Loop with a pretty purple band for a Valentine’s Day present (hey, it wasn’t a chainsaw!) and match it with a new red one for myself.”
So Adam gave himself a Valentine’s Day present at the same time??? Granted it’s almost a “his and hers” which is kinda cute Not to mention far better than a… chainsaw.
More seriously, Adam’s article and everyone else’s input just solved a mystery for me! A year ago January after my very elderly mother took a fall in a CVS, I gave her a cellular AW 5 not only for fall detection but also the direct dial to 911 and texts to emergency contacts complete with location — should she ever fall again.
I knew at the time she’d never go for the sports band that came with it. Not only for the less-than-perfect fit, but also the material that doesn’t breathe.
Having purchased various knock-off bands for myself previously, I carefully chose a knock-off Milanese loop from Amazon that matched her “aluminum gold” sports AW perfectly. It was also the lightest of all the watchbands I had tried, the perfect combination for my mom.
Thus she was a very happy camper from the get-go, until a few months ago when she said it was too loose, and she could no longer fasten it on her small wrist.
I was actually alarmed, thinking that she must have lost weight especially since the pandemic lockdown, not a good sign for someone of her age…
Fortunately I had some knock-off nylon sport loop bands lying around, and thought that might be a solution.
I took them over and let my mom try them, sure enough they fit — even though the end of the loop practically comes right up to the watch face on her small wrist.
I then ordered one (from eBay) in a very pretty black with red trim, which goes perfectly with her red iPhone wallet case. again!
But now thanks to Adam’s article and the input from the rest of you, I just realized that my mom had not lost weight (she sure doesn’t look it), whereas the culprit was actually the magnet on the (knock-off) Milanese loop that had lost its… attraction. #3
Got a knock off sport band $11 when I got my gen 4 watch still works well. Seller has disappeared from Amazon…
I hadn’t worn a watch in years until I got my Series 4 watch. My first favorite thing about it was the silicone band. It was so much easier to put on than the old belt style watch clasps. If I had a need for metal or fancier, I might buy a knockoff. I’ve had this for quite a while now, and still on the original band, which doesn’t even look worn. I hadn’t even considered replacing it. Probably just get a new watch at this point.
My knock off sports band broke after a year+. When I was putting it on. Close to where it attaches to the watch.
I had bought a few, so used a different one.
Hence, nowadays when I’m putting on or taking the watch off, I avoid doing so over concrete or tile floor. Which I think is a reasonable anyway, in case of butter fingers.
Apple publishes detail specs for watchbands to be compatible with Apple Watch:
https://developer.apple.com/accessories/Accessory-Design-Guidelines.pdf (see p. 62)
Interesting. Are you sure you got the right size for your watch? All the bands come in two sizes, for the 38/40mm watches and for the 42/44mm watches. All the knock-off bands I have were ordered for and fit the 38/40mm watches that we have perfectly.
Yeah, I was going for the his-and-hers approach.
Phew! Glad to hear it was just the band!
Well, that’s sensible! Companies are going to do it anyway, so at least this way they have a better chance of making something that customers will like as part of the overall Apple experience.
Not remotely my experience. All of mine have fit perfectly in that regard.
I wanted to transfer my milanese loop band from my original Apple Watch to my new one last year but not even a jeweler could remove the band from the old watch!
So, it appears that the watch band release mechanism is frozen. Since you said it was an original Apple Watch, you probably hadn’t exercised it in years.
A lesson from this is that Apple Watch owners should exercise the mechanism on a regular basis–remove the current band and reattach it, even if no replacement is being done.
My parents ran into this as well—I can’t quite remember the details, but I wasn’t able to get one mechanism to budge at all.
I had one (homemade) band that was stuck, too, sometime within the past 6 months. I ended up using a Q tip with some WD-40 on it, rubbed it around the connector and voilà !
The band had not been moved at all for probably a couple of years, so maybe, just maybe, this issue was not limited to Apple’s own (Milanese) watch band.
The release button operated but the band would not slide out. Apple never said the bands had to removed frequently or they would not work. When I get the chance I’m going to spray it with BreakFree.
An update here. The cheap knockoff nylon sport loop that I bought back in February broke yesterday, with the plastic in the loop breaking. Given how little I paid, I’m not too unhappy about this, and Tonya’s band continues to perform fine. Perhaps I applied a little too much force at times.
I’ve been using a knock off sport band since I first purchased my watch about 12 months ago. After 6 months or so it became unusable when swimming. I generally swim 4 or 5 times a week and it would come loose in the pool (stretch) and eventually fall off. For normal terrestrial wear it was fine.
About a month ago I bought 2 new ones from ebay and they’re great. Threw the old one away and happily swimming with the new band maintaining normal length. I think with age and constant exposure to water the fibres just lose a bit of elasticity but I suspect that would happen with the Apple one as well.
At $6 AUD I’m happy to buy a couple a year and it gives me an excuse to change colours and patterns so I can be a mid-sixties style guru.
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