Apple Watch Series 4: A review

You'll like it a lot, so long as you understand that Apple Watch is designed to be something you don’t pay much attention to.

Apple, iOS, iPhone, Apple Watch

Some say discretion is the better part of valor, which means the discreet yet useful Apple Watch Series 4 may be the bravest thing of all.

Apple's brave little watch

What is the nature of a wristwatch?

For most of us, it’s something we wear and look at when we need the time. A smartwatch adds an indefinable number of additional features, and at their best, these don’t get in our way and are there only when we need them to be.

That’s certainly the message when it comes to one of the flagship features of the watch, Siri.

The Siri watch face is smart enough to learn what you need and provide it for you, while remaining discreet enough not to get in your way. In one glance, you can find out how active you are, check your heart rate, review your day ahead and more. You can use the watch to listen to podcasts and music, to se third-party apps, and more.

This isn’t a feature guide – I have one of those here – but it is a review of how the watch makes those tools available: discretely.

Augmented reality

The function of the device is becoming more focused as Apple and its customers learn what they need it to do. Iteration by iteration, Apple Watch expands its available capabilities.

Watch 0 was an interesting attempt at being everything, Apple Watch Series 4 is a focused attempt at being a helpful little device that helps you get things done, but only when you need it. It’s an advisor, assistant, coach, protector, communicator, credit card, airline ticket, and a map. It also tells the time.

Think about it, and it’s clear that when you use one of these things, you are already inside an augmented reality. You are a technologically augmented human.

All of this is discrete. Mostly through a glance. A tap. A word.

Design floors

When you compare all the iterations of the Apple smartwatch, the new model is a little thinner and seems more precision-tooled than previous iterations.

You really feel the extra display space (I tested the 44mm model, but have been using the largest versions since Apple Watch 0.) Text is easier to read, and the display is much more responsive than before.

You’ll also find haptic feedback is more pronounced. I find that really useful, particularly when I’m using Apple Watch to follow Maps directions: I used to miss taps when doing this before if I wasn’t paying attention.

That’s not to say everything is good.

When news of the new circular watch face broke, I know many people (some of them women) who told me they might be interested in buying one of these things if it came in a round, rather than a lozenge, design.

I fear they will be waiting for that for a while, but now Apple has figured out how to give Apple Watch a circular face and continues to invest in new manufacturing processes, it must surely only be a matter of time before it gathers round.

One thing I’m not sure about is the side button: This is more flush on the Apple Watch than before. A partially sighted friend of mine pointed out that this makes it a little harder to find — while I think finger memory gets better over time, I do fumble for the button a little when using it in the dark.

Communication center

Making calls using the eSIM inside the watch has also improved. Not only does the connection seem more stable, but you can hear what’s being said much better thanks to the louder speakers in the device.

I’ve also found the microphone to be a little more sensitive, which means I can make a call while walking in a much more relaxed fashion — I don’t need to look like Dick Tracy with my arm in front of my face while chatting to my buddy. 

I’ve had so much joy relying on only the watch to listen to music and podcasts. It’s astonishing to think that so many of the features that made the iPod (and first iPhone) so addictive are now available on my wrist — and with an Apple Music subscription, I’m carrying way more than just 1,000 songs.

Features and performance

While the first iteration Apple Watch supported apps, frequent lag when using them degenerated the user experience. Apple has put a new 64-bit processor and new sensors inside the model. This means apps open faster and perform better than they did before. 

Has the new processor and larger screen impacted battery life?

Not at all. In fact, I find my watch battery life goes much further than it did before.

I’m in the U.K., so I’ve been unable to test some of the flagship features of the new Apple Watch (no ECG for me) but have really enjoyed its capacity to identify the Workouts I do (outdoor walking, yoga, weights) and to also figure out when I stop exercising.

This was less fun when I shared this information with a friend, as I then discovered how deeply committed to avoiding workouts I actually was. They deserve congratulation for their perfect record of three challenge victories. It drove me to comfort eating.

Siri Shortcuts are going to be something. I already have shortcuts to call certain people, send messages and share locations, but these will become more useful in future — particularly if you have a lot of HomeKit equipment around your home.

Watch faces

I do think Apple needs to provide some way in which users and third-party developers can easily create, share and use their own Apple Watch faces.

I can’t really see a good reason not to permit this, even if (as seems obvious) there must be some kind of limitation around the energy required to display a particular face and/or run multiple Complications.

A third-party Apple Watch face store would be a much bigger branding and revenue generation opportunity than iMessage stickers, at least in my opinion.

What about apps?

It’s interesting to reflect on how the apps Apple has developed itself for the device provide such a good guide to how app developers should approach design for Apple Watch.

Simple, integration, cut-down user interfaces:

The very best Apple Watch apps are the ones you can open, understand, and use in just one touch and at a single-second glance. Apple Watch is not designed to devour time, but to help you manage your own time better.

There are some exceptions to this — translation and mapping apps, for example, or messaging/email packages. But as a general guide, if an app isn’t simple and intuitive or doesn’t provide information you’ll likely need in the here and now, it shouldn’t be on the watch.

Jonny’s buying advice

If you’ve got a few hundred dollars burning a hole in your pocket, use an iPhone, and like the look of the new Apple Watch, then I think you’ll enjoy it — so long as you understand that it very quickly becomes something you don’t pay much attention to.

That's not a criticism — in fact, it means the device does what it should do. You will glance at it umpteen times a day, you will use it for a growing range of tasks, it will become more and more useful, but you won’t spend anything like as much time engaging with it as you do your iPhone.

That's what it's designed for. It has been developed with the intention that your interactions with it will be frequent, but fast — and everything is faster on this model.

That improved processor means that if you already use an older model Apple Watch (pre-Series 3), then it makes sense to upgrade because app interactions are much more fluid. I’m not sure I would choose to upgrade from a Series 3 on those grounds, though the geek inside me wouldn’t be disappointed if I did.

Apple's ambitious smartwatch is deeply discreet. And that's its attraction.

Got a story? Please drop me a line via Twitter and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can tell you about new articles I publish and reports I find.

Google+? Hopefully you are already part of AppleHolic's Kool Aid Corner community, but as Google is closing its social network soon, please also follow me on Twitter and join me in testing my MeWe group, AppleHolic’s bar & grill.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon