Apple Watch is now in its fourth generation. Announced at the Apple hardware event in September last year, alongside the Apple iPhone XS/XS Max/XR, the Apple Watch Series 4 clearly stole the show. Unlike the iPhones, it was a significant upgrade over its predecessor.
I have been using the Watch for close to two months now, since its launch in India towards the end of November 2018, and it’s safe to say that it’s easily Apple’s best smartwatch to date. The significant improvements in terms of display real estate and the smart way of presenting multiple complications, the improved battery life during workouts and powerful microphone make it a worthy upgrade.
If you are an iPhone user who has never tried out the Watch, the Series 4 is a great investment. Yes, it’s expensive, but tell me one Apple product that isn’t. If you are someone who can afford to not stay connected to the interwebs at all times, the Cellular version of the Watch (which starts at Rs 49,990 for the 40 mm and Rs 52,900 for the 44 mm variant) makes little sense, get the GPS+ Wi-Fi variant instead (starting at Rs 40,900).
After two months with the Watch, I’m convinced that this is one of Apple’s best new products. Here’s why...
Apple Watch Series 4 Build and Design: 8.5/10
One of the major upgrades to the Watch design this year has been the increase in the surface area of the watch face. The base variant is now 40 mm (instead of 38 mm) and the top end variant is 44 mm (instead of 42 mm). The watch I got to test was the 44 mm Cellular version.
At 48 g it isn’t too heavy on the wrist. It is 10.4 mm thick, which is around a millimetre thinner than Series 3. The display stretches all the way to the edges and the bezels are much thinner than those seen on the Series 3 Cellular or older watches. The larger screen is also great because you’re now presented with far more information at a glance.
The Watch is still housed in that aluminium case which is resistant to scratches and bumps. On the right-hand side, you have the digital crown and below it, a back button. The Digital Crown now gives haptic feedback, which is mild but noticeable. Also, instead of having the entire flat surface of the Digital Crown covered in red, there is only a thin circular line at the edge — making it visually different in some way from the Series 3. The speaker section is present on the other side of the Watch. The grooves for the 44 mm watch are compatible with older Watchbands.
Turn the Watch around and you will notice that its underside has a different design. This has been done to accommodate the electrocardiogram feature which needs to be activated by having your finger on the Digital Crown with the Watch worn on the wrist — this is necessary to complete the loop to measure the ECG. Sadly,this feature is not active in India yet. The green-coloured optical heart rate monitoring light is still present in the circular centre.
I’m not sure if the Series 4 is more prone to scratches or not, but all I can say for sure is that there was one noticeable scratch on the Watch face within a couple of weeks of using it. I’ve used the Series 3 for over a year and haven’t seen a single scratch on it yet. The Series 4 Watch also sports the IonX glass.
Apple Watch Series 4 Features: 8.5/10
Apple Watch Series 4 Cellular takes off from its previous iteration with minor changes in terms of the overall design. The major changes have taken place inside. The 1.78-inch display now has a resolution of 448 x 368 pixels and is 30 percent larger than it was, which lets watchOS 5 now accommodate up to eight complications at a time. The Infograph watch face seriously changes the game as far as the look of watchOS is concerned, giving you a lot more information at a glance. The display also curves around the edges.
The Watch has 16 GB of internal storage.
The Watch is powered by an Apple S4 system in package chip which houses a dual-core processor, making it, according to Apple, twice as fast as the previous generation. This new chipset powers the Infograph watch face, detects falls and measures ECG among other things. The extra power is needed since Apple has heavily tweaked the internal workings of the Series 4. I will elaborate more on this in the Performance section. The heart rate monitor, which monitors heart rate at all times, can even send you notifications if the heart rate is unnaturally high or low, which could be a sign of some heart condition.
One feature that is not talked about much is the ability to remotely trigger the camera on your iPhone using the Camera app on watchOS. This is a wonderful feature that lets you shoot remotely by firing the trigger command from the Watch display. I used it extensively while covering CES and doing piece-to-cameras without anyone’s help. Vloggers and photographers can find this feature useful as well.
Then there’s eSIM support, which lets you pair your phone’s LTE data plan with the Watch. So far, it is only supporting certain plans on Airtel and Jio.
The Watch also supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n standards, Bluetooth 5.0 LE (thanks to the W3 wireless chip inside) and has support for GPS with A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO. It also supports NFC for payments — another feature that’s not available in India.
Apple Watch Series 4 OS and Software: 7.5/10
The first thing I tried out on the Apple Watch Series 4 was the Infograph watch face. This is a watch face that takes full advantage of the extra screen real estate with its support for eight complications (or Watch features/apps). Now, in a mechanical watch, the construction and physical space inside the watch put in a lot of restrictions as to how creative you can get with complications. With a smart digital watch, you can customise things more easily. In fact, you don’t have to use all that space. You could opt for something simpler like the Utility watch face or Modular watch face which have fewer complications.
You will either love this level of customisation or find it overwhelming — too much information being presented up front. The trick lies in customising the Infograph watch face with apps that are most relevant to you. Fortunately, you can disable any of the eight complications at any time. I also like how the corners of the watch face can be customised leaving every spare portion at your disposal.
To customise, you will need to long press on the watch face and then select the complication you want to change and scroll away on the Digital Crown. My favourite watch face though was ‘Infograph Modular’. I liked how elegantly Apple has played with the rectangular and circular shapes of the complications without making a mess of it.
Walkie-Talkie is a new app that has been added in watchOS 5 and it lets you communicate with any friend who is using an Apple Watch Series 3 onwards as well. All you have to do is tap on Walkie-Talkie and select the contact you want to communicate with, hold on to the walkie-talkie icon as you talk and release to send the voice message.
Pairing my Airtel plan with my Watch was still as much of a pain as it was with the Series 3 Cellular. So be ready to make multiple calls to the Airtel helpline for this. I don’t know if Jio or the other supported operators are any better at this than Airtel, but I have an Airtel plan so that’s what I used.
Once paired with the data plan, there were absolutely no issues. The Watch indicates cellular connectivity with green dots on the top left-hand corner along with a green data signal logo, but only when the Watch is not in your iPhone’s vicinity. When the iPhone is paired with it, you will only see a greyed out data signal logo.
Apple has added support for a lot more workouts including Yoga and Boxing. It also comes with a feature whereby it will give you a notification if the sensors recognise that you have been exercising but haven’t turned on the workout mode. There were many instances when I was out on a walk and would suddenly get a buzz saying, “It looks like you’re working out” with a green button asking me if I want to “Record Outdoor Walk”. On enabling it, the Watch would show me the distance I had walked till that point and for how long. This is a neat feature.
The eSIM, which is paired with your data plan, creates a clone of your SIM on the Watch and the data functionalities are handed over to the Watch when your iPhone is out of range. You can make calls, send messages, get all your notifications, stream songs on Apple Music, stream Apple Podcasts and much more using just the Watch.
Native app support is still missing with key apps such as Instagram, Google Maps, Amazon and so on still not on the watchOS platform. With a large display, at least Instagram should really consider having a watchOS app. Due to this, you only get notifications from these apps and you can do fairly little from the Watch. Yes, you can respond to messages from iMessage or WhatsApp using voice commands or the onscreen keyboard (which is best only for single-word responses).
Apple Watch Series 4 Performance and Usability: 8/10
Apple Watch Series 4 Cellular is fast. Having used the Series 2 and Series 3 before this, I can safely say that things just run quickly on Series 4. Whether it’s switching between apps, changing complications or browsing through notifications, there’s barely any noticeable slowdown. Animations are smooth as well. The Apple S4 chip is surely delivering the goods. Sadly there is no benchmarking tool to give an empirical value on the speed and the improvement over Series 3.
The microphones have surely improved a lot as well. I could take calls while on the run and despite traffic noise around me, the person on the opposite end could hear me clearly. The speakers on the Watch obviously aren’t that good, especially when you are outdoors and you’ll have to make do with AirPods or Bluetooth headsets if the call isn’t going to be short and sweet.
Siri support ensures that you can just tell your Watch to compose messages, give you information, set alarms and so on. I used Siri extensively for looking up football or cricket scores when on the move.
The Workout feature has improved significantly. I will get into more detail in the battery section, suffice it to say that it solved one critical problem I had with the Apple Watch Series 3. The introduction of features such as cadence (no. of steps per minute) and the ability to set timer alerts during runs are good additions. Even the swimming workout records the different styles of swimming. I would’ve loved to see a heart rate training feature where the Watch nudges you if your heart rate isn’t at the limit you’ve set when you’re performing your workout (running in my case) as this feature is available on most of the fitness watches out there. Hopefully, a software update in the future could enable that. A fun feature is competing with your friends in the Activity app.
The electrocardiogram feature is not available in India as it requires the necessary approvals. Here’s what Indian medical experts have to say about the ECG function of the Apple Watch. I tried activating the Fall Detection feature, by trying to fall, but never once did it get activated which is good as you don’t want this feature getting activated randomly.
From the last two generations, the Apple Watch had always been good in the performance department. With Series 4, the added horsepower on the S4 chipset and watchOS 5 really add a lot more value to the overall offering.
Apple Watch Series 4 Battery Life: 8.5/10
With the Series 3 Cellular, I had noted that the Watch lasted for 2.5 days if used only for notifications and monitoring daily walking activity. With the Series 4 Cellular, you get roughly the same amount of usage for non-workout related use. This is because the display area has increased slightly and with things such as the Infograph watch face, you are getting a lot more data up front. This does take a toll on the battery life so don’t expect 3-4 days of use on a single charge.
The major improvement is certainly in the workout department. With the Series 3 Cellular, I could exhaust the Watch’s battery with a 20K run with Cellular mode activated and music being streamed from the Watch. With the Series 4 Cellular, I could easily go on for 30K with the Cellular mode activated. In fact, with the Cellular mode off, I was able to run a full marathon (42 km) with still around 30 percent charge remaining — and it took me 5:45 hrs to complete the marathon. For most professional runners, that’s more than enough time to do a 50k — so that claim of a six-hour workout time (under certain conditions) holds.
Apple rates the Watch at around 4 hours of battery life with cellular, GPS, music streaming all turned on. This is seriously impressive if you are into long-distance running. An ultra-marathoner friend of mine who would ditch his Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular for a Garmin Forerunner 200 series watch when going on his 50k+ runs now doesn’t need to bother doing that.
For non-runners, the Watch still offers plenty in terms of battery life. You can adjust the intensity levels of the taptic engine which gives a feedback every time you get a notification. You can also use some hacks such as forcing the Watch to operate in low power mode, which will turn off the Cellular mode by default and disable always-on heart rate monitoring, to get more battery life out of the Watch.
Thanks to the basic bundled charger, it will still take around 90 mins to fully charge the Watch.
Apple Watch Series 4 Verdict and Price in India
Just as I had concluded with the Apple Watch Series 3, I would say that you should go for the Cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 4 if, and only if, you absolutely have to be connected at all times. During the couple of months that I used the Watch, barring my running time and a couple of occasions when I went swimming, I wasn’t really away from my iPhone. Being a technology journalist, unless I am on a self-imposed digital detox, I will never be away from the phone so the Cellular variant does not really add much value for me over the non-Cellular variant. Again, if you are never going to be far from your iPhone, skip the Cellular variant.
The battery drain issue has been resolved with the Apple Watch Series 4 and with some smart choices, you can record really long workout sessions comfortably on the Watch. For fitness enthusiasts, that’s a huge plus in the Watch’s favour and probably the only reason it’s worth investing in this. If you are an iPhone user and have never bought an Apple Watch before, I’d say spend extra and get the Series 4, it’s a significant upgrade over the Series 3. Just be aware that you will be spending a bomb on this — Rs 40,900 for the base variant is still higher than most Android flagship phones. So invest wisely, and only if you intend to put the Watch to use.
Android users, sorry, there's nothing in the WearOS universe that comes remotely close to the Apple Watch. The Samsung Gear Sport is a great alternative, but that too comes with some limitations.
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