Thursday, Jan 17, 2019 | Last Update : 08:28 AM IST
The Apple Watch Series 4 comes with great features but it does have its issues which are hard to ignore.
When Apple first introduced the Apple Watch way back in 2015, it wowed, but was also a major disappointment for some consumers the world over. This was a rare instance when an Apple product had polarising opinions across the board. At the time, people did not know what to exactly do with it. It had great features but woeful battery life — the potential was there for developers to add their own apps in a new product category, but the Watch was pitifully slow. The design of the first-generation Apple Watch was the only aspect which people were unanimously fond of. However, with the rest of it, people did not know what to make of it. Even though it drew a lot of flak, it did extremely well with a whopping 4.2 million units being sold in the second quarter of the year it was released.
Fast forward to 2018 — four generations later — the Watch is no longer just an accessory; but for those who own it, it’s an integral part of their daily wear. And it all actually changed with the Series 3 which propelled the Watch to be the #1 selling smartwatch in the world with analysts estimating sales of over 46 million by early 2018. This number has surely grown with more users entering the Apple ecosystem and adopting each and everything Apple dishes out. The Apple Watch is no longer just a smartwatch — it’s a fitness tracker, a device you can use to make and receive calls independent of an iPhone, you can send messages directly, you can use it to shop, you can stream music, order food and the more people use it, the more essential it gets in your daily life. But Apple hasn’t stopped here.
Being an essential device and being marketed as a one-go hand-in-hand solution. Being a wearable, Apple has understood where the Watch’s importance lies — health. The Apple Watch came with an optical heart rate sensor that provided people with enough knowledge if they needed to seek medical attention. This paved the way for the Watch’s future.
At the 2018 iPhone XS event, Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 4 and this time around it not only made a simple appearance but by far, stole the entire show! The Apple Watch was the coolest product that was announced at the event and if those of you who have been putting off purchasing the Apple Watch for whatever reason, Apple has now shown that this is the smartwatch that you don't only want, but highly needed.
No longer is the Apple Watch just a smartphone accessory — it is a wearable with advanced health sensors found in no other wearable till date. As with every product upgrade, Apple improved on its cosmetics as well as giving it a larger display and a slimmer case, while also bumping up the internal specs — faster processor power and advanced sensors. With Apple also including various health features in the Watch, they are one step closer to making it as "indispensable" as your smartphone.
Like the previous generation, Apple has introduced a GPS version and a GPS + Cellular version. The bad news is that this year’s models are a lot more expensive than the earlier Series 3. Last year, the Apple Watch Series 3 started at Rs 32,380 for the 38mm version and this year, the starting price of the 40mm variant is Rs 40,900. The price goes up by another Rs 8,000 if you’re opting for an LTE version — at Rs 49,900. So, these new Apple Watches don’t come cheap. However, this review would probably change your mind, unless you are extremely budget conscious.
Over the past few years, virtually nothing has changed with the Apple Watch, at least design-wise. It got a little slimmer and in the previous edition, it got a bit thicker. At first glance at the new Apple Watch Series 4, you can tell instantly that the design has been altered — and massively while keeping the same design language in place. For those of you who haven’t used an Apple Watch before, the redesign may not be too different; but for those of are upgrading, you will instantly notice the glaring difference. For starters, the display is a lot bigger! 30 per cent larger to be precise. While there were rumours floating around that it would be bezel-less, this isn’t the case. However, it is well-rounded, giving it a look of an edge-to-edge design, while still maintaining the same footprint as before.
The body has been shrunk down as well, making it slimmer than the previous generations and with it being lightweight, wearing it for extended periods of time is non-noticeable. In fact, most of the time while using it I failed to realise that I had such an expensive smartwatch on my wrist. The device being thinner than the last two generations make it feel very fresh and exciting.
The Digital Crown has been updated as well and this time around there isn’t that red dot that indicated it was an LTE model, but rather a minimalistic red circle to denote the same — but the Crown is upgraded too. The GPS-only models feature a barely noticeable black ring and they maintain the overall design that was found on the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only version. The Digital Crown now comes with a haptic feedback and by default, this feature is turned on. However, if you don’t fancy it, you can turn it off too. While using this Watch for over a month, the haptics emitted from the Digital Crown is a welcome touch. This is especially prevalent when you’re scrolling through the most recent apps or music list. While controlling the volume of music, the haptic response adds a nice touch, giving you the impression that that you have complete control over it.
The Apple Watch Series 4 retains the side button below the Digital Crown and this time around, Apple has improved on the design by making it flush with the side of the chassis. The functionality of this button is the same as with previous generations, but now it’s more visually appealing. The side button is used to access all your recent apps or for activating an emergency SOS. In countries, where it is accepted, it can also be used to access Apple Pay; however, on our humble shores, this payment option is yet to be rolled out. Additionally, this button is also used to power off the device, but I never ever used it.
The rear of the Watch has been upgraded and though you may not look at it very often, it’s the little things that matter and Apple ensures that these little things are all taken care off, and well. The heart rate sensor on the rear has been updated too and looks much better than previous generations. It doesn’t look as, lack for a better word, technical, but more in tune with the design scheme of a 2018 smartwatch. The materials around the heart rate sensor are made using ceramic and sapphire glass. While this may at first seem like a cosmetic decision, the reason is more thought out than you may think. The ceramic is used to allow the radio signals to pass through while the sapphire glass used to allow the employment of the radio antenna around the edge of the device. Apple says this makes it easier for the heart rate sensor to work without the wrist camouflaging it.
Apple has shifted the microphone from the left to a single minuscule hole between the Digital Crown and the side button. The reason for doing this is to obtain minimal disturbance when the two are close by. The speaker, on the left, is much louder than previous versions and it can be used for calls or for Siri. Music playback, however, takes place over Bluetooth only. The Apple Watch Series 4 is water resistant to an extent and the water eject, a feature introduced with the Apple Watch Series 2 is positioned with the speaker.
With the Apple Watch Series 4, the Cupertino-based brand has increased the overall size of their smartwatch. The 40mm is the new 38mm and the 44mm is the new 42mm — 2mm increase in the overall size of both models. And to make things pleasurable and convenient, these new watches are backwards compatible with 38mm or 42mm straps which you may happen to own if you are upgrading.
Based on the design alone, this watch is a serious step up over previous generations and it looks modern enough to look good for a few years more.
The display is by far the most noticeable difference between the Series 4 and previous Watches. Apple has eliminated the huge bezels surrounding the display and has made it almost edge-to-edge with rounded corners. When using the watch for a few days you become naturally accustomed to the larger screen. But, if you do go and wear an older Apple Watch, the previous generation devices feel dated and constricted. This is probably the feeling you get when moving from an iPhone XS to say an older iPhone 8. The older devices lack the modern appeal the newer ones do and while using the new Apple Watch, it gives you the immersive feeling like it’s a natural progression.
The new watches are slightly larger than the older ones, with their displays being 30 per cent larger. The display on the 40mm version is 394 x 324 pixels while the resolution on the 44mm version is 448 x 368 pixels. It’s hard to believe but the smaller Series 4 model, though measuring 40mm, still has a larger display than the older 42mm Series 3. This shows how much work Apple has put in to retain a similar form factor and keeping the width down to a minimum.
Apple has taken advantage of all the extra space by redesigning the interface to make the icons appear larger and crisper. This allows you to read notifications much easier, even while glancing at in harsh sunlight even though a reflection is visible. The addition of a larger display makes everything more pronounced and well illuminated even though it may not be the case. Also, the brightness on the new versions corresponds to the brightness levels on the previous Apple Watch Series 3 with a brightness rating of 1000 nits.
We can’t talk about the new display without mentioning the new watch faces. By adding a larger display Apple has now introduced a few new watch faces with the most talked about being the Infograph face. This face allows for up to eight complications running simultaneously that are easily customisable. With this face, the four centre complications appear as circles inside the analogue watch face. These four circles are customisable as well and can be used to put anything including your four favourite contacts or complications for health and so on. The outer corners feature customisable complications as well and this can include temperature, timer, activity and many more. This watch face is like a virtual dashboard on your wrist with it displaying a lot of information, yet clearly legible.
There is also the Infograph Modular watch face that comes with a digital clock for displaying the time alongside up to six other complications. The complications include a box for the date above the clock, four circles for adding different complications and a large one that dominated the centre of the screen. We prefer this one over the Infograph watch face as it doesn’t feel as congested.
Apart from the above two mentioned faces that are only limited to Series 4, Apple has introduced four full-screen watch faces with WatchOS 5 that are also available on older Apple Watches — fire, vapour, water and liquid metal. Though these are now also available on older devices, viewing them on the Series 4 is all the even special because of the larger display with rounded curves.
As is the case with every Apple Watch in existence, the aluminium versions get an Ion-X glass while the premium Stainless Steel models are fitted with a Sapphire crystal front. While the aluminium model costs a pretty penny as well, it utilises an inferior display making it very vulnerable to scuffs and scratches. During testing, I noticed that the aluminium version managed to pick up a fair amount of scratches from daily wear an in the process taking away the gleam of the Watch.
Probably the most important feature of the Apple Watch Series 4 is the way it’s designed. When we say design, we don’t mean the way it looks but rather what its designed to do. The Apple Watch Series 4 is positioned as a health device that can be worn. And if we are taking all things into consideration, then this is what wearables should truly be about. The Apple Watch of old could already track your heart and there have been reports in the past where the Watch has literally saved people’s lives. Now, with Apple understanding where the Apple Watch can truly excel as a health wearable, the brand has broadened its capabilities.
The new Series 4 comes with an electrocardiogram (ECG) feature that will be enabled first in the US via a software update and then roll it out globally in the future, based on certifications from individual country's health departments. By adding an ECG in the watch, you can quickly take an ECG on your own if you feel you need one and this information can be exported (remotely) via a PDF to your doctor. This can potentially save a lot of lives and more of a case of 'better safe than sorry'.
To take an ECG, all you need to do is start the app on your iPhone and place your finger on the Digital Crown and press it down while it completes the necessary scans. The information is then sent to the Health app on your iPhone where you can save it as a record.
The watch also features heart rate notifications which also includes one that features atrial fibrillation (AF). A notification appears when the watch notices something out of the ordinary in respect to this with your heart. So if the Watch detects an abnormal heart rate apart from the normal that it has been recording, it will immediately alarm you about the condition. This allows you to get yourself checked in time, or rather before time.
The next major health feature introduced with the Series 4 is fall detection. The accelerometer and the gyroscope detect if you have accidentally fallen forwards or backwards and then tries to measure the impact if it is unintentional. If you happen to fall and not get up with a span of time (30 seconds or so), the watch will immediately dial emergency services and share your location with your emergency service as well as send the same to your emergency contacts. This feature is automatically turned on for users who are aged 65 and over. For those who aren’t, you can easily turn it on in the Watch app. However, don’t try to mimic a fall because the watch understands if its intentional or not. This feature is also boon for those living alone or those who have physical health issues and with no caretaker around.
As is the case with the iPhone, Apple introduces a new software update that corresponds with the introduction of a new Apple Watch. When Apple launched the Series 4, WatchOS 5 was introduced. While this new OS is compatible with previous Apple Watch models, the interface has been redesigned to take advantage of the increase in the screen size of the new model.
With WatchOS 5, Apple introduced a number of interesting features chief of which being the layout appears to be bolder and this takes advantage of the 30 per cent larger area of the Series 4. With the new OS, Apple has expanded upon the number of exercises that are available and have included automatic exercise tracking as well.
Apart from this, there is a new Walkie-Talkie mode that is a cool feature where you can send short voice messages to other Apple Watch users (in your contact list - obviously) which is reminiscent of the old Dick Tracy movie. To activate this feature, all you got to do is raise the watch to your mouth, keep the ‘Talk’ button/icon on the screen pressed, speak your message, and release when you want to send it out. This is a rather cool feature to send short messages without actually initiating a call. I had a lot of fun using this feature and found it quite convenient over the traditional message or call.
The WatchOS 5 has subtle improvements over the previous version; however, you do notice the subtle upgrades such as better looking notifications and improvements in weather data like the UV index outdoors or the quality of air outside.
The Apple Watch Series 4 comes with an all-new dual-core S4 chipset and boy is this baby fast. The new SoC is built on a 64-bit architecture as opposed to the 32-bit found on the previous model. Apple claims that the new watch is 50 per cent faster than the Series 3 and this can be easily made out. In the past, the original Apple Watch had to rely almost completely on the iPhone to do virtually everything and apps would take an eternity to load. Now, the Watch has less reliance on the iPhone and loading of apps are blazing fast.
The Series 4 benefits from the butter-smooth experience of the WatchOS 5. As mentioned previously, apps open instantly and toggling through the various notifications feels similar to the experience on an iPhone — instantaneous. Apple has also improved upon the LTE capabilities with the Series 4, and with it, you get clearer calls without your iPhone near you. However, the calls are not as audible outdoors as you will find it indoors - unless you are in a quiet area. The speaker, as mentioned earlier, is louder, but not as loud too — you still have to place the Watch (your wrist) closer to your ear to understand the party on the other end. However, I should add that the audio quality is much better as compared to the Series 3/LTE with a little more bass.
Apple has upgraded the watch to include the new W3 chip with Bluetooth 5.0. This makes pairing with Bluetooth 5.0 headphones or earphones almost seamless as you can benefit from the extended range, which is about 130 feet as opposed to 10 metres earlier. However, if you do have the Apple AirPods, you cannot benefit as much as it doesn’t support Bluetooth 5.0. With the W3 chips that come with Bluetooth 5.0, you also get faster data transfers and improved power efficiency apart from lesser lag in audio transmission.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is said to deliver 18 hours of battery on a single top-up; the same that’s found on the Series 3. However, in our experience, Apple is seriously underselling this feature — while using the watch with moderate to heavy usage, I noticed that it managed to last me for almost two whole days (approx 48 hours). As per iFixit's teardown, Apple has increased the battery capacity on the new Series 4 as compared to the Series 3; however, we shouldn’t expect a drastic increase in battery life over its predecessor as the new watch features a larger display that could potentially drain the battery.
As is the case with the iPhone, battery performance will differ from user to user and one person’s heavy usage may be another’s moderate usage. Battery life depends on varying factors such as how much it is used to track workouts, streaming of music and the number of notifications that are received.
Streaming music and accessing the Walkie-Talkie feature a lot can cause a hit to the battery. While the battery life can be classified as really good, it is still advisable to keep it for a charge every night.
The Apple Watch Series 4 comes in a variety of styles and colour options and is available in two variants — GPS and GPS + Cellular. The Apple Watch Series 4 Aluminium GPS only version is priced at Rs 40,900 for the 40mm version while the 44mm Aluminium GPS variant starts at Rs 43,900. The GPS + Cellular 40mm variant start at Rs 49,900 while the 44mm GPS + Cellular version is available for Rs 42,900.
The Stainless-Steel version starts at Rs 67,900 for the 40mm model while the larger 44mm version is priced in India at Rs 71,900. Both the aforementioned models come with Sports Bands and feature GPS + Cellular connectivity. For those of you who are interested in the Stainless-Steel model with the Milanese loop band, these models will set you back by Rs 76,900 and Rs 80,900 for the 40mm and 44mm models respectively.
The Apple Watch Series 4 has wonderful features and on paper, this looks like a worthy upgrade. However, it does come with its issues. The most crippling issue with the watch is all down to its battery life. The Series 4 would be an ideal device if it manages to provide an all-week battery as then it would be able to monitor ‘sleep-tracking’ which is an essential feature of a smart wearable. As of yet, there is no official app that provides sleep tracking information and I have to rely on third-party apps to monitor this metric. If Apple was able to add this feature and issue a longer battery life, then an upgrade would be a no-brainer.
Another major qualm we have with the Series 4 is its price. The Apple Watch Series 4 is a great upgrade over the Series 3 and features such as the larger display and a multitude of health-focused features make it an alluring option. However, with its price in the region of half a lakh, we find it hard pressed to recommend spending such an exorbitant amount given that the previous, Series 3 version’s price has been slashed.
With that being said, if you do happen to own a Series 1 (estimates still state that this is the hottest selling Apple Watch till date) and are looking for an upgrade with price not being an issue, then the Series 4 is an ideal upgrade.