I have had the pleasure of using the Apple Watch for several years. It started with the original (the Generation 1) which I actually still use as my sleep tracker and alarm clock (while my other Apple Watch gathers strength in the charger for its day ahead). I did not test the Series 1 nor the Series 2 (Generation 2) but instead jumped to the Series 3 (WiFi and Cellular) last year when it came out. And now, I have my hands on the Apple Watch Series 4, or rather it’s on my wrist. I’ve only been using the Series 4 (with WiFi and Cellular) for a week now. And I have already notice eight things that I felt compelled to write about.
Overall, I feel the Apple Watch Series 4 is a beautiful design and technological step forward, some of which I will get into in this article. Before getting the Series 4, I reached out on Twitter to find out people’s thoughts about what was announced on the features and functionality, and whether or not they would upgrade or get a new one altogether. For me, the biggest question was the “next version” upgrade – from a Series 3 to Series 4 (or iPhone X to iPhone XS/XS Max).
My initial thoughts, prior to testing the Apple Watch Series 4, was that if you were moving from a Generation 1 or Series 1 or a Series 2, the upgrade was a no-brainer. The technology and design have dramatically improved. And you can’t even use WatchOS 5 on the Generation 1 which is a shame as there are some nice, new features in WatchOS 5.
But what about an upgrade from the Series 3 to the Series 4?
From reading other media coverage as well as the Apple PR announcements, there were a couple of things that stood out. First was the fall detection and the ECG (electrocardiogram) capabilities. I believe these two features alone will be compelling enough to potentially open up some new user type, namely an older generation. (Note: I haven’t tested either of those two features, one thankfully because I haven’t had a hard fall, and ECG isn’t currently available – it will be later this year.) So, I excluded those two features from this “week in” review.
I have, however, after using the Apple Watch Series 4 for a week now, formed some positive opinions about the upgrades and enhancements. (I’m sure this list will grow over time.) My observations come after using the Series 4 in much the same way I was using the Series 3. And it was a pretty even playing field – both are the largest size available (42mm for the S3 and 44mm for the S4), and both are the WiFi and Cellular versions. And both are the Aluminum version.
So without further ado, here are the top 8 things that stood out on the Apple Watch Series 4 after just a week of usage.
#1 – The Apple Watch S4 is More Colorful
Well, I actually don’t think that more colors are being displayed. What I do believe is that with some of the new Watch S4 faces, there are definitely more colors being shown. Apple has made a conscious effort to be able to use the larger screen size quite effectively (see point #7 below).
But when it comes to getting alerts, for example, the ones that contain some sort of an image definitely pop a bit more. Since the images are larger, you get (or at least perceive) more colors, thus, in my mind, making the overall Watch face appear more colorful.
#2 – The Series 4 is Easier on the Eyes
My eyes are getting old, and after sitting in front of a computer for multiple hours a day, they tend to get quite tired out. The 44mm size of the Series 4 is actually helping me alleviate some eye strain. While the earlier versions of the Apple Watch were relatively easy on younger eyes, the Series 4, because of its larger size, also has better readability.
Text sizes are slightly larger (note, you can control the size of the text in the setting). But I kept mine at the second to smallest setting (like I had on the S3) and reading text is a lot easier, I feel. Also, depending on your text settings, you can now view more of a message on the screen than you previously could.
#3 – The Vibration and Feedback is More Refined
During the work week and at night, I usually turn on the vibration mode for notifications. On weekends, because I’m generally out and about and active, I turn on the audio notifications. But one thing that I have noticed with the Series 4 is that the vibration notifications have improved in their feel. While there is nothing wrong with previous versions of the Watch, the S4’s vibrations seem to be nicely upgraded.
Obviously, I can’t show a picture of a vibration, but I can describe it this way. If you could quantify a vibration, let’s say the Series 3 “wobbled” 3 times a second to produce the notification. Well, I feel that the vibration “wobble” in the Series 4 is much higher, like 10 times a second. It’s less of a vibration and much more of a buzz. It is just as noticeable as the S3 if not more so, and I feel offers a bit more clarity between types of vibration notifications (they do vary, by the way).
#4 – The Watch S4 Speaker is Much Louder
With the Apple Watch Series 3, I did take a handful of phone calls. There were times when I didn’t have my iPhone nearby or forgot it at home. In those cases, it was great to have the cellular connectivity, especially since the only time I take off the Apple Watch is when I put it in the charger at night (and switch to my Series 1). And while it was reasonably easy to have a full conversation using the speaker of the Series 3, if you had any noise around you, sometimes it was hard to hear.
This all has changed with the Series 4. Apple states that the speaker is 50 percent louder, which is quite a boost in my opinion. And from testing it out, I can say that calls are a lot easier to hear. This is also particularly helpful when having a conversation with Siri. You can now hear what is said quite a bit easier. And the physical design (apart from upgraded internals) helps with this. You can now see two prominent slots on the side where the audio comes from.
#5 – The Haptic Feedback Digital Crown Feels More “Physical”
This is another nuanced difference between the Apple Watch Series 4 and previous generations. I like the functionality of the Digital Crown – being able to scroll through text or settings or apps, or even slowly brightening the display when you are in a dark environment (only the S3 and S4 can do that). Didn’t know about that? See my Apple Watch tips article from earlier this year! But something was missing from the previous generations. That of a physicality.
The new Digital Crown has been completely redesigned to provide haptic feedback as you use it. Basically, if, for example, you are scrolling through your list of apps, you have tiny incremental “clicks” as you go. It feels as if you are interacting with something much more physical than in previous versions. Oh, and the Digital Crown is not just a wheel. There are 30 discrete parts to it, some of which are (will be) used for the ECG functionality. Scroll, press, or touch – that’s a lot of physical interactions with what appears to be just a scroll wheel.
#6 – The Water Clearing Tone is Much Better on the Ears
As I mentioned, I rarely take off the Series 4 (the same could be said with the Series 3). Because of the Series 4 WR50 (water resistance up to 50 meters) water rating, I leave the watch on in the shower. But, I’m always careful about turning on the “water lock” (that’s the little droplet icon in the Control Center). Turning on the water lock doesn’t magically close any of the tiny holes on the Apple Watch. What it does do is turn off the touch screen so that water hitting the screen isn’t recognized as a finger touching the screen.
But when you are finished with your water activity, and you (hopefully) engaged the water lock, you just need to twist the Digital Crown a bit to activate a sonic system to force water out of the holes (like from the speakers) on the Apple Watch. In the Series 3 (and I think the Series 2), this sound was reasonably loud as it blasted out any water droplets from the speakers. But with the Series 4, probably because of the redesigned speakers, the tones that are emitted are much, much lower, so much so, you barely notice them. This is quite a change from the previous version.
#7 – The New Multi-Complications Watch Faces are Awesome
I mentioned earlier how much more colorful the Series 4’s screen was. This is due, at least at first glance, to the new multi-complication Watch Faces that Apple released. There are two in particular: Infograph and Infograph Modular. With the Series 3, I relied on the older Modular Watch Face because of its ability to display a lot of information (it has 5 possible “complications” available to customize). A complication is essentially a tiny area on a Watch Face that can be configured to display data from an installed application.
With the Series 4 and the larger, edge-to-edge screen, you now can show 8 total complications on the Infograph and 6 on the Infograph Modular. But while the number increase is great, when you choose some of the new Apple complications (and some other 3rd party complications), the colors really pop out.
#8 – The Overall Device is Faster and More Responsive
As with any new piece of hardware, the immediate perception is that it is better – faster, more powerful, more responsive, etc. And this is true with the Apple Watch Series 4. But in all honesty, it was quite perceptible. Notifications popped up faster. Clicking on complications opened their associated apps more quickly. Siri is extremely responsive. To me, it just seemed that the S4 was always at my beck and call, ready to respond.
Technically, the Series 4 IS faster. It sports the new Apple S4 chipset which contains a 64-bit dual-core CPU as well as a new GPU (and the wireless chip for Bluetooth has been upgraded to support Bluetooth 5.0). It’s definitely quick!
And More Adventure Awaits
I’m looking forward to more weeks ahead with the Apple Watch Series 4. And while the Generation 1 felt like a companion to the iPhone, having cellular connectivity with the Series 3 and Series 4 makes the later generations of the Apple Watch much more independent. Since the battery life of the Series 4 has improved (up to 18 hours, says Apple), the Apple Watch is not really a companion device anymore.
If you have any questions about the Apple Watch Series 4, particularly about how it compares to the previous generations, please do leave a comment. I have only scraped the surface of the new and improved functionality, and with WatchOS 5 relatively new to the market and apps being upgraded to support it, I know there will be more questions and magic coming.
HTD says: The Apple Watch Series 4 takes a big step forward in terms of becoming a standalone device. With added cellular connectivity, longer battery life, better speaker, and a larger screen, it’s easy enough just to take the Series 4 on the road and leave your iPhone behind.