The most popular smartwatch in the world just got a complete overhaul and along with it, our wrists got a new BFF!
Being an Apple Watch user since the first generation, I’ve grown accustomed to its quirks and its perks. For one, it has reaped visible benefits to my health, allowing me to stay fitter just by diligently closing my “rings” everyday and meeting the Move and Exercise goals consistently. Of course, Notifications are a big part of why anyone would buy any smartwatch but the Apple Watch ecosystem has grown at a more rapid rate than Android Wear, if not as many watch faces.
Design and screen: Bigger and better
Still available in two sizes, the Apple Watch has grown from 38mm and 42mm to more generous 40mm and 44mm variants for Series 4. Thankfully, Apple has retained the same lock-to-fit mechanism for the watch straps so your collection of earlier overpriced straps will perfectly fit the new Watch core without having to invest in a whole new matching set with your wardrobe. Thank Sir Jony Ive for small mercies! While the screen sizes have gone up by 30%, the overall footprint hasn’t changed much since like all things Apple in 2018, the bezels are vanishingly slim edging out the screens towards the very rounded corners of the device.
Once you wear it, what is more noticeable is the fit. Along with the larger screen (our review sample was a 44mm Space Black Stainless Steel), the slightly slimmer case fits a lot more snugly on the wrist and manages to feel even more comfortable. The difference between the S3 and S4 is less than a millimetre but it is enough to ensure that the Watch now sits closer and flatter to your wrist. For the most comfortable wearable by far, this is a major design win even before we explore the software upgrades or under-the-hood mods.
Features: Guarding your investment and heart
Some of the major modifications under the hood, quite literally, include a more accurate heart-rate monitor using electrodes in addition to the optical sensor. One electrode located in the digital crown and the other at the bottom gives you more immediate feedback on a dipping heart rate. The biggest use of this new tech is on-board ECG that is FDA-approved in the US but due to regulatory reasons, will take its time to roll out in different geographies. The back is now ceramic that is much better suited to LTE reception and as before, this will be handy if you opt for the e-SIM enabled Cellular variant. Key hardware changes include a 50% louder speaker and the shifting of the microphone to the other side, near the digital crown. I use the fitness app Seven which has a drill sergeant shouting out instruction for the 7-minute high-intensity training course and compared to the Watch S3, on the S4 sounded as if the sergeant was angrier and yelling instructions right at me! Walkie Talkie, Siri and handing-off phone calls on the Watch all get a serious boost thanks to this and is one of the most significant improvements.
One of the most endearing bits of the Apple Watch has always been the digital crown which was a nod to traditional watch design and with the Series 4, it gets a makeover with haptic feedback. The sensation itself is dynamic too, changing feedback contextually and depending on how and what you’re scrolling through. It makes for a better experience and also lends a touch of luxurious tradition with muted click sounds just like a winding mechanism. The dock button is completely flush too making for a cleaner appearance. Storage on-board is 16GB, of which 8GB is available for storing music on the device in case you're caught out in an unconnected zone.
Along with the cosmetic changes come big silicon changes too. The Series 4 now comes with a 64-bit dual-core processor that is said to be twice as fast as the chip on the S3. Its effects are felt immediately. Open content heavy apps such as CNN, Mail or even Shazam and there is response within 2-3 seconds, which is clearly a 2x improvement over the last-gen watch. Since now it also supports attachments in emails, they open in a snap too. The larger screen comes into its own while reading emails, watching photos and even messages. Every app is optimised for the larger screen with either larger buttons or larger fonts or both.
Even the new Watch faces that are optimised for the larger screen look gorgeous. The vapour, liquid metal and fire effects are mesmerising while the Breathe app now gets its own watch face that matches the graphics to a deep breathing pattern. But the Infographic watch face is the one that almost everyone will want to show off, now with up to eight complications on a single screen! Not all third-party apps are supported yet but Apple is inviting developers to make use of this functionality.
For now, you can have things like speed dial favourites with their display pictures show up on the centre of the screen so you can get to them even faster, Air Quality Index, UV levels, World Time, Walkie Talkie or a host of other native Apple apps. The OLED screen itself has gone through some changes too and now becomes more efficient without losing any of its 1000nit brightness or inky contrast. It is a joy to look at and crisp with colour even during the brightest of days.
Battery life depends on what you deem as good but for a smartwatch that packs in so much, the claimed 18hr is good enough. In fact in my two days of testing, it showed 12-20% at the end of the day after extensive use and using the workout app for 90mins.
Whether you use the Apple Watch for fitness, out on a run paired to your AirPods or just use it to unlock your MacBook, it feels like fully-baked product now. No longer is it a great concept for future technology. With ECG capability, fall-detection gyroscopes, stand-alone cellular connectivity and the louder speaker, it is a genuine stand-alone device that can replace your traditional luxury watch very rapidly based on its numerous talents. Throughout my day of use while writing this first impression, I used the Remote app on the Watch to control my Apple TV while I was walking around the room, used it to the unlock my MacBook Pro multiple times, used it to read and reply to texts while driving, used its workout app to close my rings and glanced at it innumerably to check my notifications.
It proved to be addictive in a very short span of time and that’s what the Apple Watch does - it makes every traditional watch feel dumb and if your primary reason of wearing a watch is to see time and show others how much you paid while doing it, then it serves the purpose. But for every gadgeteer, fitness freak or just a power phone user, the price tag of the Apple Watch is more than justified if you use its full breadth of abilities.
This very well maybe the most desirable Apple product this year!