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The greatest Apple product comeback story of the past few years has, without a doubt, been the Apple Watch. Launched with great fanfare four years ago, the initial version tried to do way too much with way too little, and it had confusing software to boot. Worst of all, it was unclear what the original Apple Watch was even for. No single thing stood out.
Then Apple did what Apple often does: iterated, refined, and fixed. But as much as there were software and hardware improvements to the Series 2 and Series 3, the most important refinements were to the Apple Watch’s purpose. It gained clarity. It was for fitness and notifications. Eventually, when it was ready, Apple added better connectivity.
Now, with the Series 4, Apple is iterating again. And, importantly, it’s learned how to iterate the product’s hardware and its purpose at the same time. The Series 4 has finally achieved something like the original goal of the Apple Watch. It’s not quite a do-anything computer on your wrist, but it can be different things to different people now.
With apologies to the new iPhones, the Apple Watch Series 4 was the most impressive thing Apple announced last week. After using it for the past week or so, I think it lives up to the hype.
For the first time since the original Apple Watch, the hardware has been fully redesigned, with a new body and new sizes. But it’s not a major overhaul. These still look like the Apple Watches you’re used to: they have the same rounded-corner lozenge shape, the same glass that curves around to match the body, and the same digital crown and single-button layout.
Before we get too far, we should talk pricing. This Watch is not especially cheap. The smallest, least expensive model comes with GPS and Wi-Fi and costs $399. But if you start piling on the upgrades, you can quickly jack up the price to something that feels exorbitant, especially if you’re upgrading from a Series 2 or Series 3. It’s $29 more for the larger size, $100 for LTE compatibility (plus $10 per month or so from your carrier), and the stainless steel models are $200 more (and only come with LTE). Add in Apple Care, and you can end up spending a lot — though it’s nothing like the wild “Edition” prices of yore. (Don’t even get me started on the Hermès model.)
The two new sizes are 40mm and 44mm, but they really don’t feel that much bigger on your wrist than the old sizes. I was using the 42mm Series 3 and the 44mm size is only subtly bigger, but it’s also subtly thinner. To me, it feels about the same, but I think the trade-off of size for thinness is worth it. I suspect the same will be true for people who prefer the smaller size, but my recommendation is to go to a store and try one on before buying.
I’m really happy — and impressed — that Apple managed to make existing Watch bands fully compatible with the new sizes. Even my old third-party bands fit seamlessly into the new Watch body.
Things look different when the screen turns on. The screen on the Series 4 is just incredibly good. Apple says it’s 30 percent bigger, which is one of those specs that’s easy to just sort of pass over when you read it. But 30 percent is a lot, and you absolutely notice it right away.
It’s still OLED so the blacks are truly black and blend into the watchface glass. But if you pick a full-screen watchface, you’ll see that the screen also goes closer to the edges of the Watch than before, including the rounded corners.
The overall effect makes the square display on my Series 3 look dumpy and cramped by comparison — even though, until last week, it was arguably the best smartwatch screen on the market. As John Gruber writes, “The Series 4 displays take up so much more of the face of the watches that the new 40mm watch’s display is larger than the display on the old 42mm models — the new small watch has a larger display than the old large watch.”
Beyond the size and the screen, there are a few other subtle exterior differences to note about the hardware. The rear of the Watch is now ceramic instead of metal to allow for a better wireless signal. If you spring for the LTE model, the garish red dot on the digital crown has been replaced with a much more subtle red ring.
The microphone has been moved between the two buttons so that it’s further away from the speaker to help reduce echo in calls. The speaker has been boosted to provide more volume. It really is way louder, and I haven’t heard any distortion during phone calls.
Last year’s Apple Watch had some issues with LTE at launch, though Apple fixed it up fairly quickly. This year, I haven’t had any major problems with LTE. In fact, several people I called with the Watch simply didn’t believe I wasn’t on a phone. It sounds good, and the louder speaker means you can hear it without holding the thing next to your ear.
But it does take the Watch a minute (sometimes two) to switch on LTE and get connected. That’s not radically worse than what happens when you pull your phone out of airplane mode, but on the Watch, it’s always a little less clear what’s happening and why when data is not coming in.
On the inside, there’s a faster S4 processor, a W3 chip (which is just Apple’s W2 chip with Bluetooth 5.0 support), and an accelerometer and gyroscope that are able to take samples of your movements more often (which is how Apple was able to add the new fall detection feature). Apple’s also tied haptics to the digital crown, so when you spin it, you feel little ticks that precisely correlate to what’s happening on the screen. It’s completely unnecessary but pretty neat.
Last but certainly not least: the battery size is about the same. Battery life on the Series 4 is as good or better than on the Series 3 Watch. Apple claims 18 hours of regular use or six hours of outdoor workouts. I haven’t done a six-hour outdoor workout (and I don’t plan to), but my testing shows the battery life far exceeds Apple’s own claims.
I took the Watch off the charger on Saturday morning and wandered around Oakland for four hours while disconnected from my phone. I used LTE for maps, a couple calls, and GPS for tracking my outdoor walk “workout.” I was still at 50 percent at the end of that day, and I didn’t get below 20 percent by the end of my lazy Sunday (which also involved an hour or so of GPS tracking and some LTE data).
Source: The Verge