Apple has just released the latest update to the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Series 4, at its annual keynote presentation at Apple Park in Cupertino, California. Rumors have been swirling for weeks, but we can now confirm that the Series 4 includes a number of key updates and changes that should make the Apple Watch even more compelling for many people. These include new colors and materials for the Watch’s case, larger screens with slimmer bezels, and an interface that enables you to do more at a glance without shuffling through apps.
I had the chance to attend the Cupertino event this morning and to see the Series 4 in the metal just after the keynote ended, and here is a full run-down covering both all the facts and my first impressions after spending a few minutes with the latest Watch. Let’s get into it.
This is the part that inspires the most speculation in the lead-up to any Apple event. Overall, the Series 4 is very much the Apple Watch you’ve known since it was first unveiled in 2014, just … well … better. It still has the same rounded, rectangular profile, it still has the Digital Crown near the top right corner, and it still has the array of sensors inside and out.
The biggest change right off the bat is the two size options. All previous Apple Watch models came in 38mm and 42mm sizes – the Series 4 comes in 40mm and 44mm sizes instead. Despite the small bumps in length and width dimensions, the Series 4 models are actually smaller by volume than their predecessors due to a drop in thickness. The reason for upping the sizes is to make room for the new edge-to-edge displays (similar to what you got with the iPhone X last year). The two models now offer 35% and 32% more viewing area, respectively. The slimmer bezels look great and you really do notice the difference when you put these watches on your wrist (despite them not wearing substantively larger). One other thing to note is that older Apple Watch straps will still fit these new models, so you won’t have to totally restock your band collection if you choose to upgrade.
There are a few other changes you’ll notice to the hardware. One is that the side views of the case are a bit different. First off, the large red dot on the Digital Crown denoting cellular capabilities is gone in favor of a slim red ring (a great change, in my opinion, that makes for a more elegant appearance overall). Then there’s the small opening in the case, which is for an onboard microphone. Finally, there’s the lone button, which is still a physical button, not a solid state/haptic set-up. On the other side, you’ll see two small cut-outs for the speakers, which Apple says are 50% louder than those found in the Series 3.
Turn the Series 4 over and you’re greeted by a totally new caseback. This one is made entirely of sapphire glass and black ceramic, which in addition to looking really slick allows cellular and GPS signals through with less interference. Form and function both get A+ marks here.
In addition to the optical heart sensor that has been found on previous models, Apple has added an electrical heart sensor, which adds an important new feature to the watch: the ability to take an Electrocardiogram on demand. This is a first for an over-the-counter, consumer-facing device and it had to go through FDA approval (for now, this is only going to be available to U.S. customers while Apple gets approval in other countries, and it rolls out later this fall). Continuing the health and wellness theme, Apple has upped the ante on the accelerometer and gyroscope, which lets the Series 4 detect dangerous falls too.
There are going to be six styles available in each of the two sizes. Aluminum models will come in silver, gold, and Space Grey finishes (with a variety of strap options), while the stainless steel models will come in polished, Space Black, and a new polished gold color (the last of which is also available on the new iPhone X S too). Importantly, the gold steel model is available with a matching Milanese Loop band that looks really, really hot.
Partnerships with Nike and Hermès are continuing too. For Nike, there will be a few new watch faces that take advantage of the larger display, going totally full screen, as well as a new Sport Loop band that has reflective yarn woven into it for nighttime visibility. As far as Hermès is concerned, we’re getting a few new double tour straps and color blocked watch faces that change over the course of a day. These two partnerships represent two very interesting facets of Apple’s strategy with the Watch, and they must be working.
Now, what does all of this mean for battery life? Well, almost nothing. Apple is saying that you’ll still get the same all-day/18-hour battery life that you could expect from earlier models. The only real change is that you can now do continuous outdoor workouts for up to six hours without needing extra juice.
With all these hardware changes, the Series 4 is also updating the software side of things. All that extra screen real estate means watchOS’s designers needed to think of new ways to show information and new ways for users to interact with that additional info.
The star of the show is a new complication-heavy watch face that can pack up to eight complication widgets into one face, with four inside the time display and four at the corners. Other watch faces have also been updated to accommodate more of these new complication widgets, so whatever your preference is, you’ll likely be able to get more information at a glance.
There are also a bunch of other new watch faces that are meant to take advantage of the visual impact of the new display. There are fire, liquid metal, and vapor faces that shift and move, showing off the brightness and the way the edges round down into the watch’s body.
I only got a few minutes in the demo area to check-out the new Watches, but overall I’ve got to say I’m thoroughly impressed.
Most notably, the new sizes are outstanding. I was a little worried that 40mm and 44mm would push the Apple Watch into too big territory, but the opposite is true. The watches are significantly thinner (I’m still working to find out by exactly how much) and you notice it the moment you strap one on. The reduced size of the bubble for the sensors is responsible for a lot of this, which makes the entire package sit lower to the wrist, so you don’t get that space between the edges of the Watch and your wrist. The 44mm is on the large side, and it does look bigger than the 42mm on the wrist, but from a comfort standpoint I don’t see anyone complaining.
Now, the big reason for the additional size is to make room for that larger display and boy is it awesome. The colors are so vivid and for the first time I actually felt like I might want to look at pictures on this thing. The new watch faces offer a lot of opportunities to have fun with the Watch too – I particularly like the fire and vapor faces. For me, the new complications-focused faces are a little busy and dense with information, but if you’re looking for a true dashboard on your wrist I think you’ll love them.
Stay tuned, we’ll have a lot more hands-on impressions coming soon.
Availability & Pricing
The Apple Watch Series 4 will go on sale this Friday, September 14, with deliveries starting just one week later on Friday, September 21. Prices start at $399 for GPS models and $499 for cellular models.
The Apple Watch Series 3 will remain available, so if you don’t want all the latest bells and whistles you can always opt for one of those models. Prices have been reduced and now start at $279, effective immediately.
Even if you’re not upgrading your hardware, watchOS 5 will be available beginning September 17.
You can get all the details from Apple right here.
Looking Back At The Series 3
After three years of slow-and-steady iteration, Apple gave the Watch its first major hardware overhaul last year with the introduction of the Series 3. This was the first model to include onboard cellular technology, letting you use the watch for all manner of functions from making phone calls to answering emails to streaming music without needing your iPhone nearby. If you want to read more about this seismic shift in the trajectory of the Apple Watch, check out Ben’s full hands-on review (complete with video) here.
Understanding The Apple Watch
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the Apple Watch, both in terms of how it was developed and what it means for watchmaking more generally. To set the record straight, we sat down with Apple Chief Design Officer, Sir Jonathan Ive, for an exclusive interview in which he offered a number of never-before-shared details on the conception and development of the Apple Watch, how he views the product fitting into customers lives, the products deep ties to traditional watchmaking, and what opportunities still lie ahead. The full story ran in Volume 2 of the HODINKEE Magazine and you can read it right here.