I bought the original Apple Watch “Series 0” back in 2015, and it served me well for a year until I felt overwhelmed with receiving notifications on my wrist. (Phantom vibrations are a real thing. Look it up!)
Series 1, 2, and 3 of the smartwatch introduced welcome updates like a built-in GPS, water-resistance, and then cellular connectivity, but I’ve never felt that any of them were compelling enough to spend more cash on.
But Apple’s just-announced Apple Watch Series 4 might change my mind.
Apple kicked off its annual fall iPhone event with the new Apple Watch Series 4. Since the original Apple Watch, the smartwatch has rocketed its way to become the No. 1 watch in the world (according to Tim Cook).
He might be biased, but he’s not wrong. Despite a slow start out of the gate, the Apple Watch has destroyed the competition. Just about every consumer tech company has abandoned making new WearOS smartwatches (though that could change now that Qualcomm’s got a new smartwatch chip that might incentivize new projects) and they’ve only remained on life support thanks to fashion brands.
Samsung’s still plugging away with the Galaxy Watch. It’s got really great multi-day battery life, but it’s still fundamentally unchanged from the previous Gear S4 and Gear Sport.
For the first time, the Apple Watch Series 4 finally feels like a major leap forward for a smartwatch compared to its original.
The smartwatches now come in two new screen sizes: 40mm and 44mm — a jump up from the previous 38mm and 42mm — without any significant change to the watch case itself.
The screens are over 30 percent larger than the Series 3 and sport curved corners that blend more seamlessly with the bezel.
And the bigger screen is immediately noticeable. There are more pixels for displaying watch face complications and content. You’re just not covering as much of the display when you swipe on it, which makes you actually want to engage with stuff like notifications.
Many of the new watch faces, such as the fire and Breathe app-based faces, look more organic on the screens.
All your existing Apple Watch bands still work with the Series 4, which brings me comfort. The Series 4 is thinner and lighter than the Series 3, making it less bulbous on the wrist — another comfort.
Also, the Digital Crown is now more than just a dial for scrolling. Place your finger on it and the Apple Watch can take an electrocardiogram (ECG), which you can then provide to your doctor. It can detect if you’ve fallen and then call for emergency assistance.
I didn’t get to try any of these features, but they definitely seem super practical. I could see both of them being very useful for anyone who wants to keep closer tabs on their aging parents or grandparents.
The Apple Watch Series 4 also feels vastly more responsive. I tried the Series 3 for a few weeks, but watchOS never exactly felt really speedy. It does on Series 4.
At the end of the day — yes — the Apple Watch Series 4 is still a smartwatch. And it’s admittedly kind of pricey, starting at $399 for the non-cellular 40mm version. You still use it for the same things pitched with any of the previous versions: fielding notifications, tracking your health, making phone calls and texting, etc.
But the developments that come with the Apple Watch Series 4 make using the smartwatch an all-around nicer experience now, because the screen’s not so small that you need to squint to see anything.