Rapid Review: Apple Watch Series 4

Image: Supplied

The Apple Watch Series 4, which is the fifth major product version of Apple's smartwatch platform, offers a number of substantial changes over its predecessor while retaining much of what has made it the most popular smartwatch around. While it is an evolution on previous versions, it represents, perhaps, the first compelling reason for early adopters to consider an upgrade.

What Is It?

The Apple Watch Series 4 looks a lot like previous versions but a close inspection reveals a number of differences, The familiar Digital Crown and side button are in the same place but the other side looks as little different as the internal speaker has been moved. That's necessitated some new perforations in the body - but they don't compromise the watch's 50m water resistance.

The big change is with the display. Adding about a millimetre to the width and length of the watch, they have managed to eke out another 30% on the size of the display for both the 40mm and 44mm versions - up from 38mm and 42mm on the original Apple Watch design. The new display also runs at a higher resolution of 448 by 368 pixels, up from 390 by 312 for the 44mm version. There's a similar increase for the smaller 40mm version.

The entire back is now made of ceramic in order to improve wireless network performance as the internal antenna have also been rearranged.

Specifications

Size and Weight 40mm: 39.8 by 34.4 by 10.7mm. Aluminium case: 30.1g, Stainless steel case: 39.8g
44mm: 44 by 37.8 by 10.7mm. Aluminium case: 36.7g, Stainless steel case: 47.9g
Display 40mm: 394-by-324
44mm: 448-by-368
Processor Apple S4 64-bit dual-core processor
Communications Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz), W3 wireless chip, Bluetooth 5.0
Storage 16GB
Sensors Electrical heart sensor Optical heart sensor, accelerometer (up to 32 g-forces), gyroscope, barometric altimeter, GPS with GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS, ambient light sensor
Warer resistance 50m

When Apple released the original Apple Watch (the Series 0) it was an interesting product but was missing a lot of crucial features. The Series 1 and Series 2 were released together with Series 1 getting a processor boost over the original and the Series 2 getting waterproofing and integrated GPS. Those were critical inclusions and opened up the Apple Watch to bunch of interesting applications.

In parallel, watchOS underwent a number of major revisions as Apple gained a better understanding of how people could and would use the Apple Watch.

Series 3 was a relatively an evolutionary step up from the Series 2 with the option for cellular data added to the equation.

What's Good?

The Apple Watch Series 4 is an incredible piece of engineering. If you think back just a handful of years, having an always on communications device that could store plenty of music and let you communicate with your friends and family was what drove the entire smartphone industry.

The Apple Watch has more storage, faster communications and a richer set of apps than the smartphone of just a few years ago.

When you put a Series 4 Apple Watch alongside one of the previous models, the display stands out. The smaller 40mm version shows more pixels than the previous 42mm version and the additional processing power of the new S3 dual core processor means it can open applications faster and show more complications. The display on the 44mm version I've been testing is large enough for me to read email easily.

Image: Supplied

It's impossible to talk about the new Apple Watch without merging into watchOS 5 - which is already at 5.0.1 following an update that was released last week. It's fair to say the first couple of releases of watchOS were pretty ordinary but the wearable operating system has now reached a solid level of maturity.

With previous Apple Watch models, I'd settled on two watch-faces most of the time. One was a simple custom face with a digital clock and a picture of my wife. The other is the Activity Analog face that showed my daily activity and gave me quick access to two applications; Strava and Pillow (the app I use for monitoring my sleep).

I've stopped using the Activity Analog face and use the Infographic face with allows me to have up to eight complications on the display at once.

I've been a long-time Strava user but have taken Apple's Activity app for a few runs. It's a solid app now and, unless you're a super serious athlete, will satisfy your needs. As well as the usual time distance and pace, runners can now see their cadence as they run. New hiking and yoga workouts have been added and the automatic workout detection works well.

Image: Supplied

There are a heap of new features built into watchOS that the latest Apple Watch is designed to take maximum advantage of. For example the gyroscope and accelerometer array has been upgraded which allows the watch to detect if you've fallen and alert someone if you aren't able to turn the fall-alarm off. I've not enabled that feature as it warns that it can be activated if you are particularly active as doing certain exercises can activate the functions which can automatically call emergency services.

Notifications get the same treatment as they have in iOS 12, with multiple notifications from the same app now gathered together. You can also stream podcasts and, if you have other friends using an Apple Watch with watchOS 5, the Walkie Talkie app is a bit of Dick Tracy style fun. I charge my Apple Watch for between 30 and 60 minutes each day and I wear it when I sleep. Over the last week, the lowest I've seen the battery get to is 12% after well over a day between trips to a power outlet. On a full charge, unless I go for a longer run of over 60 minutes with the GPS enabled I rarely see the battery drop below 50% if I start the day on a full charge.

That's better than what Apple tells me to expect - they rate the Li-Ion batter at 18 hours - but battery life is highly dependent on how you use the device.

If you're upgrading from a previous Apple Watch, you'll be pleased to know your old straps fit the new models. So, 42mm straps are good for the 44mm Apple Watch and 38mm straps work on the 40mm model.

What's Bad?

The Apple Watch still feels a little bulky to me. Although Apple has trimmed a little of the thickness - it's now 10.7mm thick whereas the previous models were 11.4mm - it's not a svelte or elegant device. And the lack of a round-display option gives it something of a utilitarian quality.

watchOS 5 is continues to refine and improve basic tasks like managing notifications and the integrated apps are better but the app screen, filled with dozens of tiny icons is frustrating. The icons are small and often difficult to tell apart. For example, the alarm clock, stopwatch and world time are all orange and white. Unless you eyesight is excellent, they can be very tricky to distinguish. Why there isn't a simple, alphabetical list option is a mystery that can only be solved in Cupertino.

Should You Buy It

If you have an Apple Watch Series 2 or Series 3 and are happy with it, then the biggest selling point, in my view, is the larger display. If you're happy with what you have then I'd recommend hanging on for the Series 6.

If you have an original Series 0 or Series 1, before GPS and water resistance were standard features, then this is a big step up. Processor speed, the ability to run watchOS 5 and the better display add up to a substantial upgrade.

Pricing

The basic Apple Watch Series 4 and Nike + versions models with aluminium cases cost

  • 40mm: $599
  • 44mm: $649

If you want cellular data to go with the GPS and WiFi

  • 40mm: $749
  • 44mm: $799

If you prefer the stainless steel case versions with cellular data, GPS and WiFi

  • 40mm: $1049
  • 44mm: $1129

There's also the special Hermes collection which come with stainless steel cases and a variety of different, fancy bands.

For GPS and WiFi only, prices start at

  • 40mm: $1899
  • 44mm: $1979

If you want cellular data as well prices start at $2139.

Extras bands start at $79 for the elastomer styles and metal and leather straps can cost over $200. There are less expensive options from third parties that are authorised Apple partners.


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