The success of the Apple Watch is undoubted, here and now. It sells more than any smartwatch in the world, and also sells more than any other watch in the world. The sales data, over the past couple of years at least, has pegged the Watch as the best-selling watch globally every quarter. But how was Apple going to make it better? Simple—give the Watch its biggest update yet. It now has a bigger screen than before, has gotten its biggest design change update ever and is now also an even smarter health wearable with the ability to detect and notify emergency services and your family if you are the unfortunate end of a bad fall and can also be used to measure your electrocardiogram (ECG). The Apple Watch Series 4 is available in two sizes—40mm and 44mm. The prices for the 40mm aluminum Watch start at Rs40,900 for the Wi-Fi version and Rs49,900 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version. The larger 44mm Watch is priced upwards of Rs43,900 for the W-Fi version and Rs52,900 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version.
However, the users in India will not get everything in one go. And by everything, mean the highlight of the new Watch, which is the ECG feature. At present, there are regulatory approvals which need to be sought for from the regulators in India. Once those are done, Apple will roll out the ECG feature as a software update. The patient wait is going to be a big challenge for anyone who wants to buy the Watch Series 4 or upgrade from an existing Watch.
In terms of the design, there are now more curves added to the mix. It may be slightly wider than the Watch Series 3 owing to the larger display, but is also slimmer at the same time—this means that the overall density of the Watch Series 4 hasn’t increased compared with before. The rounded curves make it look slimmer still. While the Watch Series 4 has a positively imposing personality when you wear it, it doesn’t feel bulky or heavy at any time. The gold colour is a completely new addition to the mix, and in terms of the visual appearance, it is frankly gorgeous. The rear of the Watch, the part that touches your skin when you wear this, is now made of newer materials that improve the network reception on the cellular variants, the display is OLED, which means the blacks on the watchfaces merges subtly with the watchface glass and the red dot on the digital crown of the cellular variants has been replaced with a subtler red ring. The microphone now sits on the right side spine—this is better at detecting audio, which should be even more relevant if you use Siri. The new speaker placed on the left spine has a new implementation—and it is surely louder than before, with no compromise on clarity and quality of the sound.
This year’s 40mm and 44mm Watch Series 4 are larger than the 38mm and 42mm sizes earlier, Apple has ensured that the 38mm Watch straps work with the 40mm Watch Series 4 and the 42mm Watch straps work with the 44mm Watch Series 4. You wouldn’t be at best pleased if the collection of straps you have built up over time suddenly became redundant.
There are updated internals too, including the newer and faster Apple S4 processor. The difference is profound, particularly as apps load a lot faster than the Watch Series 3, which itself was no slouch. The new Watch also has a W3 chip, faster Bluetooth 5.0, an accelerometer and gyroscope which are more capable of detecting, registering and identifying different types of movements—these all combine for the fall detection feature, for instance. Apple has also added haptic feedback to the digital crown, which means when you spin it, you feel a feedback which is linked to the action you select on the Watch’s display. You probably won’t nice this at first, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
All this power might have been unnecessary had the software not been capable of utilizing it to the fullest. It is good to know that with the previous watchOS 4 update, Apple had been able to develop the software in such a way that it doesn’t need to be redesigned or reimagined from scratch to add new features—and watchOS 5 has been able to add stuff, and that too lots of it, without looking significantly different from before.
The watchfaces have been redesigned to take advantage of the larger screen and the rounded edges, and some of the options that you can select now have a lot more information than ever before—something that we have often felt was a tad limiting with the range of complications and widget options available for the previous editions of the Watch. The overall visibility and readability also improves significantly, and the design tweaks have worked out well, visually and tick off the smartness element too.
Health has always remained a big part of the Watch experience, and that gets a massive boost with watchOS 5 and Watch Series 4. Now, the way this has been updated, you don’t really need to be exercising to be relevant in terms of fitness tracking.
The highlight is the Electrocardiogram feature, commonly known as ECG. Doctors use this regularly to detect potential heart issues, and now the Watch can also do the same as well—the first consumer smartwatch to do so. The Heart Rate app, for instance, ties in closely with the ECG bit. If it detects something amiss with your heart readings compared to earlier, you’ll be notified to alert you about a potential issue with the suggestion to take an ECG on the Watch. If you are to take a test, a combination of sensors kick in, including the heart rate sensor at the back, and work together once you place your finger on the Digital Crown of the Watch to close the circuit loop. Unfortunately, Apple Watch Series 4 sold in India right now, as well as a few other countries, does not have the ECG app. The update will be rolled out once the regulatory approvals are in place.
The new Watch can also automatically detect your workout, and there are now new session detection capabilities for yoga and trekking.
Also, the Apple Watch Series 4 intermittently analyses your heart rhythms in the background and sends a notification if an irregular heart rhythm such as Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) is detected. You can configure it to send an alert if you inactive or resting heart rate goes above a threshold on the higher side or falls below a particular level on the lower side.
The Apple Watch has always been very accurate when it comes to registering and logging your movements. The additional sensors in the new Watch extends those capabilities with something called Fall Detection. The Apple Watch’s accelerometer and gyroscope learn over time about the exact body movements of the wearer, and can therefore identify when the person has taken a tumble or a hard fall. If the person wearing the Watch Series 4 does not respond to the notification on the Watch within 60 seconds of the fall being detected, the Watch determines that the person needs assistance and can notify emergency services as well as the emergency contact among friends and family. Yes, we can joke about the Watch sending you a notification that you have taken a fall and that it is now perhaps broken, but for anyone who may be alone at any point of time, this could indeed be a very critical feature—even more so for our parents perhaps, who are advancing in age and falls for people beyond a certain age can actually have grave complications.
With all this packed into the Watch Series 4’s compact footprint, you might be wondering how good the battery life might be. Apple claims about 18 hours of battery life, but as was the case before—this is a fairly conservative estimate. You can use this for as many as 3 days on a single charge, with the brightness kept its lowest.
The Apple Watch Series 4 has new hardware which makes it twice as fast as before for a lot of usage scenarios, the display is 30 percent larger, health features are even more extensive and all this comes at no compromise in terms of the battery life. Unfortunately, the Watch Series 4’s path to your wrist isn’t as simple, but we can’t really blame Apple for this—till regulatory approvals are available, the ECG app remains unavailable. Yes, it will be available in due course, but there are no timelines to go with, for the moment. The higher price tag of the new Watch is also because of that feature. The Watch Series 4 is a compelling enough to upgrade to, with the larger display and better design. But the price that you pay for this, will probably be classified as best value when the ECG app is available too. Because till then, potential customers will surely say, “the Watch Series 3 which costs lower looks good enough anyway”.