In this fourth part of our series on smart watches, we take a careful and detailed look at Apple’s new family of smart watches – the Apple Series 4 Watch and its successor, the Series 5.
This carefully explains much of what you’d need to know in terms of what it does and how it does it and hopefully will help you understand if it might be something you’d enjoy and benefit from, with the fifth part of the series talking more about the different model options and choices.
Read more in our series on Smart Watches
- Smart Watches Prior to Apple’s Watch
- Apple’s Original Watch
- Smart Watches 2015 – 2019 : In Search of the “Killer App”
- The Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 Review
- Which Apple Watch Should You Choose
Future articles to follow shortly :
- Other Smart Watches
- Smart Watch Buying Guide
Note : This review is of the Apple Watch Series 4. Since then, Apple have replaced it with the almost identical Series 5 watch. The only differences between the two watches are some new watch face designs for the Series 5 watch and a clever feature that has the screen displaying the time dimly while in standby mode.
Everything you read here about the Series 4 watch otherwise applies identically. Even the pricing!
I love my new Apple Watch Series 4. But working out exactly why – over and above the “just because” reality of it as a wonderful new gadget is hard to express.
As soon as I opened the long white box within which the Apple Watch Series 4 was nestled, I was reminded again about how splendid Apple is when it comes to being the absolute ultimate very best at product design. The Watch is an object of beauty, a piece of high-tech art. Touching it is a delight, with the way the shaped glass wraps over the top and down the sides, and little touches like the clever way watch bands are connected to the watch body show that Apple has devoted its customary close and demanding attention to every last little detail.
But the flipside to this excellence is the unavoidable impact of Apple’s darkside. Its characteristic determination to create closed systems that they alone control, and also, their products’ sometimes weak features and functionality that one tends to overlook while admiring the appearance of whatever the product is, and all at a way-higher-than-anyone-else price point.
In the case of the Apple Watch, the biggest challenge and gratuitously closed system is that you must have a recent model iPhone to pair the watch to and with (you’ll need a model 6S or later phone to match the new version 6.0 of the WatchOS coming out in the fall, and it seems likely therefore that in a year or so, you’ll need a model 7 iPhone, and so on). You can’t even activate the watch unless you have an iPhone and Apple account to do it with.
In comparison, the other two watch operating systems – Google/Android’s Wear OS and Samsung’s Tizen OS – are reasonably platform neutral and will do most things on either an iPhone or Android phone.
The Series 4 watch is actually the fifth model of Apple Watch – the original watch was just called the Apple Watch, then confusingly the next model was called Series 1, and so on. The Series 4 model was announced on 12 September 2018 and went on sale on 22 September. Apple seems to have settled into an annual release event every September, and noting the positive sales success of both the Series 3 and Series 4 watches, there is every reason to expect a new Series 5 to be released in September 2019.
The Series 4 Watch is a good product and a great improvement over the Series 3. The Series 3 itself was a transformational improvement of the Series 0/1/2 because for the first time it allowed a watch to have its own SIM and to directly act as an independent phone and to get its own wireless data. Prior to then, the watches were restricted to either being connected through their partner phone or receiving data but not phone calls through Wi-Fi.
The most obvious and beneficial advantage of the Series 4 over the Series 3 is that it fits a larger screen on essentially the same size watch case, due to the screen going closer to the edges of the watch and having less bezel. With tiny sized screens such as all watches have, any amount of extra screen area is precious and to be treasured.
All Apple watches have come in two sizes – small and not quite so small. The Series 0 – 3 watches had screen diagonals nominally of 38mm or 42mm; the new Series 4 watch has screen diagonals nominally of 40mm or 44 mm.
This might make it seem like the new 40mm watch is midway between the earlier 38 and 42 mm watches, but in actual fact, it has more screen area and more pixels than both the 38mm and the 42mm watches. The new 44mm watch has 32% more screen area and 35% more pixels than the earlier 42mm watch.
So the smaller Series 4 watch is bigger than the larger Series 0-3 watches. Does that mean you don’t need to consider the larger Series 4 watch? We see remaining strong benefit in going for the larger Series 4 watch. It is still an extremely tiny sized screen – compare it to you phone which probably has something like ten times more screen area. The 44mm watch has 29% more screen area than the 40mm watch – that’s an appreciable and valuable difference.
Talking about value, there’s a $30 difference in cost between the two sizes of watch, but that $30 is a rare bargain in the Apple universe for all the extra screen it buys you.
Strangely the new Series 4 screens have a slightly different aspect ratio – 1.22:1 instead of 1.25:1, or if you prefer, 11:9 instead of 12:9. In addition, the earlier screens were truly rectangular, with right angle corners and every row of pixels the same. The new screens have curved corners, so you’re losing a little bit of screen area and a few pixels in those corners. The loss isn’t as great as it may seem, because typically data displayed tends to have a margin of a few pixels in from the side and down from the top, so there are often some “wasted” pixels in the corners. It is a small and probably acceptable trade-off for more space in the main area of the display, and it seems that the screen area
Traditionally the rule of thumb has been “people with smaller wrists (a polite non-sexist way of saying ‘women’) should choose the smaller watch size, people with larger wrists should choose the larger watch size. We can’t comment about what size watch a woman should choose, but we think for most men, the extra size of the 44mm watch would not look ridiculously large and the extra screen area would definitely be a plus in most cases.
This table sets out the main differences in size between the Series 0-3 and the Series 4. These are the official numbers, and we’re a bit puzzled by them because the calculated screen areas for the Series 0-3 watches come out to be much larger than the claimed areas. We don’t know why that is.
|Watch||Diagonal||Screen Area||Pixels||Aspect Ratio||PPI||Case|
|Series 0-3||38mm||563 sq mm||272 x 340 (1.25)||12:9||290||38.6×33.3×11.4mm|
|Series 0-3||42mm||740 sq mm||312 x 390 (1.25)||12:9||303||42.5×36.4×11.4|
|Series 4 & 5||40mm||759 sq mm||324 x 394 (1.22)||11:9||326||40x34x10.7mm|
|Series 4 & 5||44mm||977 sq mm||368 x 448 (1.22)||11:9||326||44x38x10.7mm|
Comparing rectangular and circular screens
Most of the other watches have a circular screen. These tend to be between about 1.2 and 1.4 inches in diameter.
In terms of absolute screen area, a 1.2″ diameter screen has 730 sq mm of area, and a 1.4″ screen has 993 sq mm. So the round screens of these two sizes are sort of comparable to the two screen sizes on an Apple Series 4 watch.
But the real magic, as any man knows, is not the size of what you have, but how you use it. A cleverly designed screen layout can make all the difference to the net amount of usable area. This can be a problem with a circular display when trying to read blocks of text. Clearly, showing a traditional circular watch face works well on a circular screen, but trying to show a typically rectangular block of text completely fails to get good use of the top and bottom parts of the screen.
If you anticipate that the major use of a smart watch is going to be reading text blocks, then two comments. The first is that a rectangular screen would be better suited. But the second point – which needs to be always kept in mind – is that if you ever want to read much text, you’re better advised shifting to your phone (or tablet or computer) rather than struggling to do so on any shape and size of watch screen.
So perhaps the circular vs rectangular screen question is a non-issue and the answer to “which is better” is “they’re both much the same for most things”.
Setting Up Your Watch
Setting up the watch is fairly straightforward in terms of pairing it with an iPhone. As of this fall, make sure your iPhone is a 6S/6S+ or later, and has all the latest upgrades on it. And, once you’ve connected your Watch to the phone and your Apple account, you’ll almost certainly need to upgrade its WatchOS to the most up-to-date version (my Watch’s OS was more than six months out of date, fresh out of the box, and I was told that upgrading to the latest version would take 11 hours – happily it didn’t take much more than “only” one hour).
You’ll be offered a chance to add a password to your Watch as part of setting it up. You’ll probably instinctively think this to be a good idea, but we’d suggest you think twice about this, depending on if you’re left or right handed and which wrist you wear your watch on. In our case, we are left handed and we wear our watch on our left wrist, and trying to type a password onto the tiny watch display with our “other” hand was close to impossible.
Only when you’ve made sure you have the latest OS (at the time of writing it is 5.2.1) should you then start loading additional apps and configuring your watch the way you want to use it.
Currently, you search for and load apps onto your watch via your iPhone. We understand that in the new WatchOS 6 you’ll be able to do some of this directly from your watch, but probably it will always be more convenient to use the larger screen real estate on your phone.
Once you’ve added such extra apps as you might wish, you can also use the iPhone Watch app to arrange their layout for how they appear on the app page of the watch. Some people find it helpful to have all apps of a particular type in a line going out from the center, or grouped together in a cluster. Others just let them go wherever they end up.
You can also create a set of your favorite eight apps which you can scroll through after pressing the button next to the wheel on the side of the watch. This feature is called the “Dock” and is managed from the iPhone app.
One other way of accessing your favorite apps might be to add “complications” to the watch face/dial you have chosen.
Watch Faces and Complications
One of the nice features of a smart watch is that it can display any imaginable type of watch face, and can change from one to another any time you wish. Anything that a designer/programmer chooses to place on the screen, in any style at all, is possible.
With a nice high-resolution screen, a digital watch face can look almost as “real” as an actual watch face on an analog phone. A nice selection of watch faces is a desirable phone feature, and while you probably can’t design your own watch face, at least in theory you should have a broad selection of different faces to choose from.
With the Google WearOS type of watch, anyone can design a watch face, meaning there are hundreds – probably thousands – of different face designs. Many/most are completely free, others cost a very small sum. One minute you can have a watch face imitating a Rolex, the next have it look like a Breitling, and the following minute, you have some garish high-tech digital display. And so on as you may wish.
But Apple, in keeping with their regrettable restrictions on so much of “their” system, do not allow external developers to design watch faces. This is crazy, because external developers are allowed to develop apps, but not watch faces.
Instead, you have 25 faces to choose from, with each face allowing some changes in terms of color and possibly the background on the face as well. This is a puzzling restriction, and seems to limit one of the features that many high-tech enthusiasts would most enjoy.
However, you should definitely make the best you can of the 25 to choose from. Choose one from the list on your iPhone, then configure its color and complication (explained next) options, and you can then save it to a short list of pre-configured faces on your phone.
Let’s now talk about “complications“.
The word “complication” is a traditional watchmaking term that refers to anything on a watch face in addition to the basic hour, minute and second hands and a dial from one to 12 (1 to 60). If you have, for example, a watch that also shows the date or a timer/stopwatch, those are termed complications.
Clearly the concept of complications is good, even though the term denotes something not so positive.
Some/many of the apps for the Watch can also show some part of themselves as a complication on the watch face. But not all can, and there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to know which do and which don’t.
Complications are a bit like widgets on an Android phone. Typically, the complication shows something useful on the face of the watch, and if you tap on that part of the watch face, the entire app which the complication is based upon is opened, giving you more information. Other complications are simply ways of quickly accessing the app – for example, a news headline complication is way too small to show headlines, but if you tap it, they then appear on your screen.
Each of the different watch face designs has areas reserved in their design where complications can appear. The style of the complication will change to suit the area it is assigned to. Some face designs allow for only a few complications, whereas the most elaborate of current designs allows up to eight.
What sorts of things might you display in complication areas?
- Current temperature
- Time in a different time zone – maybe multiple complications for multiple time zones
- Day and date
- Fitness information
- Current heart rate
- Air quality or UV index
- Daily schedule/appointments
- Battery charge state
In addition to complications like these that show data, you can also choose complications that are simply shortcuts to the apps they represent.
Getting a good set of complications onto your watch face is a key part of making your watch user-friendly and convenient. Fortunately it is easy to experiment and change complications – a long press on the watch face and then choose the “customize” option.
Learning How to Use the Watch
When I bought my “normal” analog watch it came with a Quick Start Guide and a 25 page User Manual. The Apple Watch came with – a narrow short strip of card, showing on one side three steps for how to turn the watch on, and on the other side, three panels with some information about the watch. Nothing else.
There is a ridiculous conceit among some high tech companies these days that encourages them to spurn any sort of user guide or manual. Or maybe it is just greed – an inappropriate wish to save a dollar or two in printing costs for a manual to accompany a $400 – $530 watch. Hence the rise of books bearing titles such as “The missing manual for ….”.
If there ever was a product that is complicated and confusing to understand and operate, it truly is Apple’s watch. It is massively more complicated than their phones and iPads.
For example, on the watch itself you have the following ways of controlling the watch :
- Swiping up on the watch
- Swiping down on the watch
- Swiping left on the watch
- Swiping right on the watch
- A tap on the watch face
- A short press on the watch face
- A long press on the watch face
- Touching the buttons displayed on app screens
- Scrolling the side wheel clockwise
- Scrolling the side wheel counter-clockwise
- A short tap on the side wheel
- A long tap on the side wheel
- A short tap on the button next to the side wheel
- A long tap on the button next to the side wheel
- Bringing the watch to your mouth
- Covering the display with the palm of your hand for three seconds
Each of these possible commands may have different meanings, depending on the state of the watch and the app it is running when you enter the command. For example, the wheel on the side, with the grand title of “Digital Crown” can do (at least) these various different things :
– A single press will activate the Apple Watch display if it is off.
– A single press will switch between the watch face and the apps screen.
– You can return to the apps screen when using an app with a single press.
– Slowly twist to awaken the Apple Watch display.
– Slowly twist to scroll through lists (and sometimes/usually also swipe up/down on the watch face to do this)
– Press and hold the Crown to activate Siri.
– Double tap to switch between the most recent two apps. Note that the watch face is considered an app in this context. So if you wish to switch between two other apps, first enter the Home screen, launch one, tap the digital crown to return to the home screen, launch the other, and you can now bounce between them with double clicks.
– Touch it as part of an ECG test.
Easy and intuitive, right? Definitely no need for a manual?
If you want to see what this means in real life, here’s a set of instructions from a website that explains in simple terms how to do simple things on the watch.
Unread notifications can be accessed by dragging down on the watch face from the top edge. A red dot will denote if you have anything waiting to be read. A notification can be read in full by tapping on it. To clear all unread notifications at once, Force Touch the list and tap Clear All. There is no undo.
Ugh. But wait, there’s more.
Some of the apps are fully self-contained on the watch itself. Some of them appear on the watch but also duplicate themselves on the partnered/paired iPhone. Some of them have controls or settings or data that only appears on the iPhone.
Plus also there’s the question of where on the iPhone the information appears. There’s a Watch app on the iPhone that handles some of these things, but there are also free-standing iPhone apps that also handle some or all of the interface.
So, and I’m sure I’ve not counted all possibilities, there are at least 16 different types of command, each with multiple meanings on the Watch itself, and there are at least three different places that some or all (or none) of the information from apps might appear.
Sometimes a particular action can be done several different ways. In a sense that is good, but it also adds to one’s confusion, making it harder to know what the “best” way to do something might be.
And, to explain all of this, there’s nothing. No manual at all.
One of the big justifications for a smart watch is to use it as a fitness tracker/monitor device. Such things are becoming increasingly common. Indeed, often on a Travel Insider Tour, there will be a person or persons with some type of fitness tracker device, reporting on the distance they’ve walked each day. But invariably, when these people offer up their results – which usually seem to suggest greater distances than we’d have guessed, unaided – they add that they really don’t know how accurate the data is.
So I walked a 1.5 mile circuit to compare the reality of the journey with what the watch reported.
I counted 3108 steps on the journey, but may have several times skipped or doubled up on counting a group of ten. So my count is 3108 +/- perhaps 50 or so steps.
The watch reported 2983 steps. My count was 4% higher than its count. The Watch works by detecting the movement and swings of your arm, and any error is likely to lead to a failure to detect a step rather than mistakenly thinking a step was taken when it wasn’t. This is true of most step counters, and according to various internet articles, the Apple Watches are more accurate than many other step counters.
In terms of distance, I measured the course as being 1.47 miles on Google Maps and 1.48 miles on Bing Maps. The watch, while undercounting my steps, also over-estimated the distance traveled, telling me I’d gone 1.59 miles. That is an 8% over-estimate.
As a point of minor interest, the watch also told me I’d burned 222 calories on the walk, and climbed two flights of steps. Part of it was indeed uphill, and according to Google Earth, the low point was 70 ft above sea level and the high point about 225 ft asl, which is more like 15 flights of stairs.
The distance measurement can be calculated by the watch several different ways – number of steps multiplied by an assumed length per step, or perhaps distance as measured by GPS. There is a way to calibrate the distance calculator, and I was testing without having calibrated.
I cross-checked on how the watch counts flights of stairs by going up and down flights of stairs at home. After doing seven flights of stairs, the watch told me I’d done three. I did another three flights of stairs, which the watch saw as two flights. And then another six flights of stairs which the watch saw as five.
And out of curiosity, I mowed the lawn, noting that the half hour activity apparently required 186 calories. Alas, having a glass of cold ginger beer at the end of the lawn mowing caused me to ingest 170 calories, bringing me also back to the point I was at in the first place!
As a starting point, you should honestly tell the watch your height, weight, age and gender so it has an idea about what normal parameters should apply to you for calculating step length, calorie burn, and so on.
One more thing. It is important to always make sure that your watch is snug on your wrist. If it is too loose, it won’t be as accurate in transferring your movements to its inbuilt accelerometer and gyroscope, and so won’t give the best accuracy in its results.
There are various types of fitness programs the watch can try and cajole you into undertaking, but I tried to turn as much of that pestering off as possible. For me, I found it unwelcome to be interrupted, while busy in the middle of a complicated project, by one’s watch telling me to stop and do some deep breathing, although with child-like words of encouragement designed to get me to comply.
I’ve left on the setting that reminds me at ten minutes to every hour to get up and stand for a minute if it thinks I’ve been sitting for the last hour, and I also force myself to try and comply, and indeed, not just to stand up but to walk around and go up a flight or two of stairs, and to have a drink of water at the same time. These are things that are thought to greatly help one’s general wellness and longevity, and are also things I’m guilty of often neglecting in the past.
So I’m very appreciative of some of these reminders.
Not only does the watch encourage you to do various things during the day, it also provides some graphical representations of your progress towards your daily targets, and presents information about these things both on the watch and on various apps on your connected iPhone too. We liked the three concentric circular rings that move towards completing their circles the more you exercise each day. They track calories used, minutes of exercise, and number of hours during which you’ve been standing for at least a minute.
We’re not too sure how the watch automatically measures minutes of exercise – we usually manage to complete our other two objectives each day, but the minutes of exercise measure remains woefully incomplete come midnight, most days.
A new feature on the Series 4 Watch is fall detection. As one who suffered extraordinary consequences from a bad fall, and who spends a lot of time alone, this is a feature that has great appeal.
The watch can detect what it thinks may be you falling over. If it does so, it will as you if you are okay. You can respond yes you are, but if you don’t, it will then sound an audible alarm to possibly alert other people around you and call 911. It is able to tell 911 where you are by sending GPS data to them.
This requires either a paired iPhone or else the more costly cellular watch version. The more costly version will make emergency calls even if you don’t pay for service (I tried it and spoke to a bemused lady at 911 for a while in a test call).
Fall detection is a great feature. Apple even sets it to automatically default to being enabled if you are over 65.
There are third party sleep tracking apps that can report on various aspects of your sleep, but not an official Apple app (yet). However, there’s an interesting downside to sleep tracking apps – some studies suggest that people who become very focused on tracking their sleep end up sleeping less well, due to anxiety about how well they are sleeping!
As a default setting, the watch is steadily checking your pulse rate, and keeping a record of your heart rate. It can use this to determine your at-rest heart rate and your heart-rate variability, and also monitor for excessively high or low heart rates. These measures can be crude but helpful measures of your overall heart health.
The watch determines your heart rate “non-invasively” – by simply shining a green light into your skin and detecting colors in the light reflected back based on your heart beating. You don’t feel a thing.
You can also do a simplistic ECG (which is the same as EKG – different names/abbreviations for the same thing). A “professional” ECG has five or more sensors around your chest, the watch has two – one being a contact on the back of the watch onto your wrist, and the other being a contact from a finger on your opposite hand/arm onto the wheel on the outside of the watch.
Whereas heart beat information is on a continuum from “better” down to “not so good”, ECG results are more of a “pass/fail” type of outcome, especially when simplistic like with the watch. It takes a minute or so for the test to run, and you don’t feel a thing while it is being done. At the end, you’re told if your result was deemed normal or if it showed something of concern, and there’s even a feature to email the resulting chart to (presumably) a doctor.
Apple goes to great lengths to add lots of disclaimers so you realize that it is not making any conclusive statements of your cardiac health nor predictions about the future. But it is interesting to see, and to get a sense for if you’re within the normal boundaries or if you’re slipping outside them.
All five models of Apple Watch have had similar battery life. This isn’t surprising – when you think about it, the battery life on their iPhones and iPads have been relatively unchanging, too. Apple seems to set a target battery life, and then when it is reached, rather than extend the battery life further, they’ll save money by not adding more to the battery capacity and reduce the device’s size by keeping the battery no larger than needed to reach the target battery life.
In the case of the Watch, Apple’s target is clearly to have a device that is good for a full day of usage, with the idea being to set up a usage pattern of “I’ll take the watch off every night and charge it while I sleep”. To move from that one day of usage target to a two day usage obviously requires a total doubling of battery life, which is a much bigger step than simply adding another hour or two of life to a phone or tablet, and so far, Apple has not attempted that.
The good news is the watch definitely can last a day; indeed our usage seemed to show it good for a day and a half, but never would it stretch out to two full days. Plus, if the routine of “charge the watch every night” changes to “charge the watch every two nights” you just know you’re going to forget if it is a charging or a non-charging night (although the battery level display can tell you that) and forget to charge it when you need to.
With a phone or tablet, charging the device isn’t really disruptive, because you can still use it at the same time it is charging. But a watch is designed to live on your wrist, and the way the wireless charging works with the watch, you can’t charge it while it is on your wrist. Taking the watch off your wrist, during the day, destroys the watch’s tracking of daily exercise and heart rate, and disrupts its otherwise omni-present convenience, so the watch really does demand to only be charged when you’re sleeping (but that then sacrifices its developing sleep monitoring functions).
With the watch showing a 10% remaining charge – the point at which it starts to worry and wants to shut down everything except basic time-keeping – a 30 minute charge took the watch back up to 47%, 60 minutes of charge took it to 77%, and 90 minutes took it to 98%. Ideally you’d stop charging at about the 90% point so as to extend the battery life, but this isn’t possible if you put it on the charger overnight.
Clearly, if you’re charging every day, that means after a year you’ve charged the battery 365 times and so on. Apple says it rates the Watch battery for 1000 charges with less than a 20% reduction in charge capacity, and from that suggests a typical battery life will be in the order of 2 1/2 – 3 years. They will replace the battery for a $79 fee, plus a $6.95 shipping fee to return the Watch back to you.
The wireless charging does not use the industry standard Qi type charging. You need a special charger. We suggest you should buy two or three spare charging cables to cover the times you forgot to charge your watch, or something causes it to die during the day. One for home, one for office, one for the car, and one in your travel kit of cables and connectors. There’s no need to buy official Apple cables, Amazon sells similar/identical cables for less than half the price. ($13 instead of $30.)
An interesting accessory is a holder for the watch while charging that allows it to be used as an alarm clock (while on the charger, the watch displays the time). Of course, Amazon offers plenty to choose from, but be careful when buying one. Usually they do not also include a charging cable and connector.
Other Uses for an Apple Watch
As we discussed in our article “Smart Watches 2015 – 2019 : In Search of the Killer App“, while there has been a growing appreciation of a smart watch as a useful part of one’s health and fitness regime, there is no (other) obvious “killer app” that encourages people to rush to an Apple Store and buy a smart watch.
Having now had this watch for three weeks, and having spent dozens of hours with the watch, and researching the various apps that run on it, we’re still left a bit up in the air in terms of a clear killer app, or indeed, more weakly, a good app that truly is better/easier on the watch than on a phone.
We like being able to glance at the watch and see the current weather conditions outside. On the other hand, the information offered by weather apps is not nearly as accurate as it should be. We have multiple weather apps on our watch, and they can vary by 5° (F) or more when it comes to suggesting what the current temperature it is. Probably they are all correct, but taking their data from different weather stations around the greater Seattle region.
We are perhaps not quite as joined-at-the-hip to our phone as some people are, particularly because we still have landlines as well, so we like being able to roam around the house or office and still do some simple tasks from our watch rather than needing our phone. This extends even to being able to ask Alexa to do various things, but there’s a negative element to that as well. Alexa is much slower on our watch than on an Echo device, and not quite as reliable. For example, the command “Alexa Time” took 14 seconds on our Watch and failed, but took 3 seconds with an Echo Dot. A second attempt generated the answer successfully, after a 9 second wait.
Three seconds is close to conversational. 10 – 15 seconds, and possibly with a failure, is not. If we had our phone with us, or if we were close to an Alexa device, there’s no way we’d use our watch to command Alexa.
We liked the ability to remotely view the camera on our iPhone and to “press the shutter” with our watch than with the phone. This allows for a freedom from “selfie-sticks” and also allows us to have the phone positioned further away from us than arm’s length, and to use the usually much better/higher quality rear camera to take a picture. It also means we can hold or place the camera somewhere outside the usual range of places we can hold it with our hand and still see with our eye what it is pointed at.
Talking about remotes, the watch can also be used with a Logitech Harmony Remote Hub to control the devices in your home stereo/video setup, but so too can a phone be used, and a phone has a bigger screen allowing for more remote control “buttons” to be visible.
If you have already become accustomed to using Apple Pay on your phone, then you might find using it on your watch equally or maybe even more convenient.
Watch Feature Wishlist
Never mind all the things the watch has and does. What about things we wish it had but it doesn’t have? There are indeed some missing features and capabilities, some of which future watches may likely offer, and some of which other competing smart watches already have. Sadly, a few of these are also probably features that Apple will never add.
Camera : Some other watches have a built in camera. Just the thing for even more selfies, and for video calls.
Micro-SD cards : Sadly, this will never happen, but the ability to put a 512 GB SD card into a watch would transform it into a truly useful repository for music to play.
Physical SIM cards : The eSIM card concept is very clever, but not all wireless providers support it. In particular, our lovely Google Fi service, while excellent in so many other ways, doesn’t yet offer eSIM cards.
Always On Display : This is close to a “must have” feature so that the simple time is always visible on the watch face.
Display lock : I am often inadvertently activating the display and then doing something which changes a setting without realizing it. Sooner or later, I’ll end up calling 911, no doubt. It would be great to have the display locked to prevent this.
Larger display : Ideally, the larger the display, the better. But at some point, you end up with a display that has grown to be too large and too bulky to conveniently carry on your wrist. But we don’t think we’ve reached that point yet (the major constraints to date have been battery life, but a larger display means a larger case and so a chance for more battery), with there still being some bezel that could be reduced further.
With such a tiny display to start with, even 1/10th of an inch in each dimension makes an appreciably difference in total screen size. Adding a mere 1/10th of an inch in each dimension would add 20% more area to the larger 44 mm watch. It may well be that the route to a larger screen involves going to a circular display; our earlier analog phone has about a 1.7″ diameter face, which would give about 1450 sq mm of display area – twice the area of the 40 mm watch and 50% more than the area on the 44 mm watch.
Longer battery life : The watch is quoted as having 18 hours of battery life. In reality, it has close to twice that, but it doesn’t have enough battery life to work through two full days – at some point in the second day, it will die and need to be recharged. So it needs to have 2 1/2 days of battery life to guarantee two full days between charges.
Android compatibility : Apple is in a high-stakes poker game with the market, betting that its watch is a compelling enough reason to force people to buy an iPhone. This is a game it will surely lose. Android watches now “play nice” and work well with iOS phones, Apple needs to allow the same in return.
iPhone independence : Similar to the previous point about working with an Android watch, the watch needs to work without any phone at all, or at the very least, to work with “older” iPhones as well as new ones. In my case, I’ve a perfectly good iPhone 6+ that does everything I wish it to do, and I have no need or plans to upgrade it. But within literally a week or getting a brand new $500 watch, Apple tells me that if I wish to update my brand new watch to its new improved operating system with additional capabilities and features in the fall, I’ll have to spend another best part of $1000 to buy a matching newer iPhone too. While it is possible an Apple Watch is indeed worth $500, there is no way that it is worth $1500, which is in effect what is required.
More Health Monitoring : Apple, and other manufacturers, are striving very hard to find non-invasive ways of testing blood sugar levels. This would be a great added feature. Blood oxygen level seems like it should be an easy thing to test for, and would also help in detecting sleep apnea. Companies are also trying to develop a non-invasive way of testing blood pressure, which would be an enormous new feature. Who knows what else couldn’t also be added.
There’s a lot the Apple Watch can do, and there are some more features that would be lovely to see come along in the future as well. Now in its fifth model version (but confusingly called the Series 4) Apple has made some substantial improvements over the Series 3, which in turn had significant improvements over the Series 2 and earlier units.
Are we now getting to a point where future watches will be only incrementally improved, such as has already long since happened with phones? Perhaps so. If you like the sound of the Apple Watch Series 4, maybe now is the time to take the plunge and get one.
Which leads on to the next part of our series – a look at the different options and cost implications, and also a detailed analysis as to if you should buy the Series 4 or the still available and less costly Series 3.