The Apple Watch Series 4, which was released in September, is the first major redesign since the device was first released.
The Apple Watch is likely to be a hot holiday present this year.
And the Apple Watch Series 4, which was released in September, is the first major redesign since the device was first released. It's got a bigger screen, a thinner body, and new health features like an ECG app that can take basic heart readings that can tell you you need to see a doctor.
These tweaks seem to have driven a higher level of interest in the Apple Watch Series 4. Of course, the watches also got a slight price increase, to $399 for the smaller aluminum 42 mm watch, or $429 for the larger, 44 mm watch.
So is it the right gift this year to get for your friends or family? Or do you want one for yourself?
I've been wearing the Apple Watch Series 4 since it came out in September, and my conclusion is that it really depends on who you are.
If you use Android, you don't want it — it only works with iPhones. If you're a workout warrior or concerned about your health, it's a great buy. If you're worried about digital distractions, however, I suspect the Apple Watch may only make your issues worse.
But the Apple Watch is still a marvel of engineering, and the latest version is a big step forward in terms of hardware.
Let's dive in:
The Apple Watch basically does three things: It tracks your heart and your health through a variety of sensors, it displays iPhone notifications and messages on your wrist, and it tells the time and other metrics on its watch face.
Let's start with telling the time, because even though it's an advanced computer, it's still a watch, after all.
The Apple Watch Series 4 comes with two faces that you can't get on other Apple Watches, and they're packed with "complications," or little widgets that can provide information at a glance.
I have these set up with my activity rings, the time in California, when the sunset and sunrise is, and sometimes I put on a weather complication, too.
There are also a bunch of other new, more simple faces that any Apple Watch gets with the latest software update. I usually prefer these faces, just because I don't have that much data I need at a glance.
I've been digging the left-most face recently.
You do still have to raise your arm to turn on the screen, though — the Apple Watch series 4 doesn't have an always-on mode.
The Apple Watch remains a formidable workout buddy, supporting a variety of fitness tracking, including walking, running, cycling, rowing, interval training, swimming, and yoga.
Previously, you used to have to manually start a workout on the Apple Watch. But now, the watch can use its sensors to figure out you're doing a workout, and ask you if you want to track it. It's also light enough that you forget that you're wearing it.
But I found often that the watch would say I was doing an outdoor walking workout if I was merely walking from place to place. Hey — I'm a New Yorker, and I walk fast. I have places to go. It was a little bit annoying.
But even if you don't hit the gym every day, the watch tracks how much you move, exercise, and stand in this attractive "activity ring" graph. I found that "closing my rings" was a fun daily task that motivated me to walk around a little bit more.
The Apple Watch can also record your heart rate and give you a notification if it's higher than normal. I didn't really like this feature; I know when I'm stressed or on-edge.
When the new software comes out, it will be able to identify if you might want to talk to your doctor about an irregular heartbeat and take a more professional "ECG" reading, but we haven't been able to test that yet.
The green light is the laser Apple uses to record heart rates.
The notification features annoyed me, too. I already use my iPhone way too much, and I'm easily distracted by dings and pop-ups. Now imagine your wrist vibrating when you get a text.
There are lots of ways to reduce the number of notifications you get on your Apple Watch in the app on the iPhone, but out of the box, it just mirrors the settings you have on your phone.
I ended up turning off nearly every notification on the Apple Watch except for the Health app.
I also didn't love responding to texts on my wrist, especially when they were actually pressing, so I had to take my phone out anyway. Here's an example of Apple's canned responses from a colleague who I work with on reviews.
The setup process could also be improved, especially if you have two Apple Watches. More than once, I thought the pairing process was finished before it told me that it had failed. Other times, it took hours to update the watch's software.
I don't love the charger, which comes with the Apple Watch and magnetically snaps to the back of the watch. I think the default charger should prop the watch up vertically — it can be awkward to charge lying flat, especially with some bands that are loops.
I ended up buying this vertical charger for about $10 that props the Apple Watch up vertically.
It still requires an Apple-made charger, which costs $30. Nightstand mode, as shown in the picture, is great though — dim enough that you don't hurt your eyes checking the time, as can happen with an iPhone.
Grab the charger from Amazon.
There are some aspects of the Apple Watch Series 4 that I liked a lot. First off, it felt amazing on my wrist — there are few other companies making computers this small and this wearable.
The new version is slightly thinner, and has a much bigger screen. If you can afford the extra cost, I recommend buying the Series 4 over older models.
The Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE is on the right, the Apple Watch Series 4 is on the left. Both versions are the larger, black aluminum model.
The underside of the Apple Watch Series 4 has been completely redesigned, too.
However, I never got any compliments on my Apple Watch — I suppose they're just too common. I did, however, have people notice this fancy Coach band I bought.
I used the entry-level "Sport" model, but it isn't the only Apple Watch. The stainless steel version of the Series 4 is heavier, and feels much more premium — like these gold-colored versions that can cost up to $800.
I ended up being surprised by how much I liked the Breathe app, which basically brings you through a short, guided meditation-like experience.
It uses the Watch's vibration feedback to help you focus on your breathing. It actually made me feel better when I was stressed out, and I found myself doing it all the time.
I didn't use Siri that often, but it was super handy when I needed to set a timer while I was cooking.
So, is the Apple Watch Series 4 right for you?
If you know that you want an Apple Watch, but are trying to figure out which one to buy, the answer, in my opinion, is clear: you want the Apple Watch Series 4, if you can afford it.
The Series 3 now costs $279 and the Series 4 starts at $399 from Apple.