If you’ve been on the fence about the Apple Watch, I understand where you’re coming from. Early versions were at least disappointing, if not perplexing, limited as much by hardware and software as Apple’s pricing and vision. Holdouts still ask the same question today as everyone did in 2015: If you have an iPhone, do you really need an Apple Watch, too?
For the first time, I’d submit that the answer is yes. The original Apple Watch was a sluggish dud that Apple treated as a full-priced public beta, and its Series 1, 2, and 3 sequels have been iPhone “S”-caliber tweaks that took the first form factor as far as it could go. Three years later, the Apple Watch Series 4 has arrived as the family’s first truly massive upgrade, and finally delivers an excellent end-to-end user experience, notably including health-related features that can’t be found in any iPhone.
Here are the 10 key things you need to know about the latest Apple Watch, which now comes in “40mm” and “44mm” versions starting at $399 for aluminum or $699 for stainless steel. The smaller versions were designed primarily to fit female wrists, while the larger ones come at a $30 (aluminum) or $50 (steel) premium. This year’s most expensive models are $1,499, and all part of the Apple Watch Hermès lineup.
1. Meaningfully bigger screens
Larger screens are the biggest changes to this year’s Apple Watches, and they led Apple to increase the sizes of everything from watch housings to display elements in the watchOS software. Each screen is roughly 30 percent bigger than on the prior “38mm” and “42mm” models, and features rounded corners rather than previously square ones.
- The smaller 40mm model’s screen resolution is now 324 by 394 pixels, versus the old 38mm model’s 272 by 340.
- The larger 44mm model’s screen has a 368 by 448-pixel resolution, up from the old 42mm version’s 312 by 390.
As a result, the “small” Series 4 model’s screen is actually a hint larger than the “large” Series 3 screen, with a thinner but still obvious bezel between the screen and edge of the case. Apple has kept the OLED screens’ 1,000-nit brightness and pixel density the same as last year’s models.
Thankfully, Apple actually spent the time necessary to revamp its watchOS user interface to make proper use of the larger displays — something it notably didn’t do with the new iPhone XS Max. As you can see on the image above, the larger 44mm model fits more text and better-looking UI elements on the display without shrinking font or image sizes. watchOS has looked cramped for at least two years, but on Series 4 watches, it feels far less compromised.
The most obvious way Apple is showing off the new screens is a set of new watch faces that are either exclusive to Series 4 or better on Series 4 than on prior models. Choices shared between Watches include the beautifully animated Breathe, plus filmed videos of Fire & Water, Liquid Metal, and Vapor. The latter three offer the option of a Series 4-exclusive full-screen mode in addition to a Series 1-3-compatible circle mode, really showing off the different screen sizes.
Apple has also added two new watch faces to all Series 4 watches: the circular analog Infograph, which can be customized with eight customizable complications, and the boxier digital Infograph Modular, with six complications. While neither face is beautiful, they do show just how much available screen space the new Watches have, and provide plenty of customization potential for people who need it. (Apple also added new faces that are exclusive to the latest Nike and Hermès versions of the Watch.)
There are two small issues with the new screens. First, touch sensitivity extends out to the edges of the display, but isn’t wholly reliable at the upper left corner, which sometimes requires a few taps rather than just one. Elsewhere on the screen, however, everything’s just fine, and deeper “Force Touch” presses on the display feel more effortless and responsive than before.
Second, the color rendition on the new displays doesn’t seem to be as vivid as on prior models, though this could be anything from the screen coating to a difference in the new model’s OLED display. I noticed this difference particularly on the new Fire & Water watch face, where the fire didn’t have the same orange warmth as on my prior aluminum Apple Watch. It’s not a huge problem, but I slightly preferred the colors on the prior screen.