While September’s big Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) event was focused on the new iPhones, the real star of the show may just have been the Apple Watch Series 4.
The latest generation of the company’s industry-leading smartwatch was a true leap forward, not an incremental upgrade. Besides the usual performance improvements, for the first time since the original was released in 2015, AAPL boosted the display size. And the company also added new health features: fall detection and the ability for users to take an electrocardiogram on demand.
As our Apple Watch Series 4 review shows, this new version has the potential to not only sell a lot more people on the smartwatch idea, it is likely to trigger a lot of upgrades among existing Apple Watch owners.
A sign of just how popular this new device is: I pre-ordered an Apple Watch Series 4 and iPhone XS Max on the same day. The iPhone arrived within four business days, while the smartwatch took over three weeks.
Apple Watch Series 4 Review: Bigger Display Makes for a Better Experience
In the lead-up to September’s event, rumors were flying that Apple had increased the size of the display in the new Apple Watch by as much as 15%.
In reality, AAPL caught everyone off guard with a display area it says is over 30% larger. It uses LTPO display technology to prevent all those additional pixels from killing the battery.
That 30% increase in display area makes a huge difference to the Apple Watch experience.
The display still pops with its OLED panel and 1,000 NIT brightness. It’s not just physically larger, but there are more pixels as well: nearly 165,000 on the new 44mm version compared to almost 122,000 on the older 42mm version. That means info can be larger and easier to read, and there can be more of it; one new watch face has eight complications running! It’s also easier for those with large fingers to hit virtual buttons.
You can see in the photo below the difference between the display on the 44mm Apple Watch Series 4 (right) versus a previous generation 42mm Apple Watch (left).
Despite the physically larger displays, existing Apple Watch bands are fully compatible with the Apple Watch Series 4. That’s a big deal. Moving to a new iPhone with a different form factor than last year might mean having to shell out $50 for a new case. But some people have invested hundreds of dollars in Apple Watch bands (Hermès bands for the smartwatch can go for over $500 each). Those can still be used with the newest Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 4 Review: New Health Features
After launch, AAPL seriously boosted Apple Watch sales by focusing on the fitness market — a move not appreciated by Fitbit (NYSE:FIT) — but this time around the company is adding serous health cred. This is a move that has the potential to open a much bigger market for the Apple Watch, with health-conscious Baby Boomers a key target.
The Apple Watch Series 4 gets an upgrade to a new, second generation optical heart sensor. I can’t personally tell the difference, but Apple Watch already had the most accurate heart rate monitor and presumably this is even better.
The key new health features are fall detection and an integrated electrocardiogram (ECG). Fall detection lets a users swipe to notify emergency contacts if their smartwatch detects a fall (using the new and more sensitive accelerometer and gyroscope). There’s an option to have the Apple Watch automatically notify those contacts if it detects a fall followed by the wearer being motionless for a short period. While I wasn’t able to trigger the fall detection, other Apple Watch Series 4 review efforts have proven that the feature works, at least when the wearer falls on a hard surface.
The ECG feature uses a new electrical heart sensor to allow wearers to conduct a 30-second electrocardiogram that could detect atrial fibrillation or irregular heart beat. The ECG app needed for this feature won’t be released until later this year, so I couldn’t test it. However, it has big appeal to those worried about potential heart conditions as it can give the a heads up that something may be amiss without requiring a visit to a lab for a full-blown electrocardiogram.
Apple Watch Series 4 Review: Key Specs
- 44mm and 40mm case
- 368 x 448 pixels (44mm) and 324 x 394 pixels (40mm) OLED Force Touch display, with 1,000 nits brightness
- Dual-core, 64-bit Apple S4 processor
- 0.42-inches thick
- Apple W3 wireless chip (Bluetooth 5.0, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and optional LTE)
- Optical heart sensor, electrical heart sensor
- Barometric altimeter, accelerometer (up to 32 g-forces), gyroscope
- Water resistant to 50m
- 16GB storage
- Up to 18-hour battery life
- Ceramic and sapphire crystal back
- Stainless steel or aluminum case (Silver, Space Gray or Gold finish)
- Price starts at $399
Apple Watch Series 4 Review: The Best Smartwatch for Most iPhone Owners
The Apple Watch Series 4 makes a strong case for being the best smartwatch on the market right now. It has a combination of health and fitness features that are unmatched, the ability to run apps, and a selection of first and third party replacement watch bands that is unbeatable.
This model finally makes a strong upgrade case for owners of older Apple Watch models as well. The Series 3 added LTE, but the Series 4 with its significantly larger display, performance gains, upgraded sensors and new health features seriously improves the Apple Watch experience no matter what you’re doing — all while still supporting original watch bands and coming in slightly thinner than previous models.
Battery life may still be an issue for some (it remains at 18 hours), and it’s still impractical to wear for sleep tracking, but the biggest knock against the Apple Watch remains its lack of support for Android. Even with the LTE model you still need an iPhone, for setup if nothing else.
For iPhone owners, the Apple Watch Series 4 is the best smartwatch you can buy. For everyone else, it’s the smartwatch that sets the standard.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.