At this point in the Apple Watch’s life, the smartwatch has reached such a level of product maturity that with each subsequent release, Apple doesn’t really need to add that many new features.
Part of the reason behind this stagnation is Apple has no real competition in the smartwatch space beyond Fitbit and Samsung, removing any impetus to push the boundaries with each new Apple Watch release.
With the Apple Watch Series 7, that rule still holds. Beyond its minimized bezels, a more curved design and faster charging, the Series 7 is nearly identical to the Series 6.
That said, Apple’s new smartwatch is still a solid, albeit pricey, smartwatch as long as you’re an iPhone user, thanks to its impressive always-on display and responsive operating system that’s leagues ahead of Google’s Wear OS and its overall sleek design.
What’s actually new?
If you’ve used an Apple Watch Series 5 or Series 6, you’ll know what to expect here. Every year, Apple has increased the watch’s display size by roughly 30 percent.
With the Series 7, Apple has upped the screen size by 20 percent. To put this number into perspective, this is 50 percent larger than the Series 3, and placing the Series 7 beside the original Apple Watch or even the Series 2 makes its predecessors look positively ridiculous in comparison.
The larger display is instantly noticeable and makes interacting with the watch’s screen easier. Apple has also updated specific aspects of watchOS 8’s UI to take better advantage of the display, including Watch Faces, setting alarms, the calculator app and more. In particular, I found unlocking the Apple Watch with a passcode to be far easier with the Series 7 thanks to the bigger numbers featured on its screen.
Most importantly, the ability to text directly on the Apple Watch is now built into the Series 7 and doesn’t require a third-party app. While this isn’t a feature I’ll likely use often, texting works surprisingly well and supports swipe gestures. It’s the sort of functionality that’s great to have if you need to use it. Though Apple Watch Keyboard texting would likely work nearly as well with the Apple Watch Series 6’s or Series 5’s slightly smaller display, the feature is, unfortunately, exclusive to the Series 7.
“…all previous Watch Bands continue to work with the new version of the wearable”
There’s also the fact that watchOS 8’s most significant features, including the new redesigned mindfulness/Breathe app, Focus modes and additional workouts like Tai Chi and Pilates, are also coming to older versions of the wearable.
On the design side of things, there are a few other changes. For example, the Series 7 features softer, more rounded corners when compared to the Series 6, which is in stark contrast to the rumoured squared-off redesign that leaked before the wearable’s official reveal. This new look also includes what Apple calls a “refractive edge” that bends the light from the screen around its glass sides. This results in a more seamless look that’s similar to the curved sides featured in several Samsung devices, but it’s also very subtle and not very noticeable. Thankfully, the curved edges don’t interfere with the touchscreen and it remains just as responsive as it was with the Series 6.
Along with the rounded sides are several new aluminum colours, including ‘Midnight,’ ‘Starlight,’ ‘Green,’ ‘Blue’ and ‘Product Red.’ While some of these colours aren’t quite as ‘new’ as Apple makes them out to be — for example, Blue Aluminum doesn’t look that much different from last year — Green is the standout new hue. It’s understated but still eye-catching and, more importantly, is a throwback to the great-looking ‘Midnight Green’ iPhone 11 colour from a few years ago. The Series 7 is also available in ‘Silver,’ ‘Graphite’ and ‘Space Black’ stainless steel.
Finally, the Series 7 is available in 45mm and 41mm, respectively, compared to 44mm and 40mm with the Series 6 and all previous Apple Watches since the Series 4. The slight size increase doesn’t change the overall look much and is barely noticeable, and thankfully, all previous Watch Bands continue to work with the new version of the smartwatch.
As someone who has amassed dozens of Apple Watch bands over the years, I was relieved to hear this.
As I mentioned above, along with the Series 7’s more significant changes, several subtle updates have also been made to the smartwatch.
For example, the Series 7’s display is 70 brighter when the watch is in wrist down mode, making it easier to check the time or notifications discreetly on its always-on screen. This is a welcome upgrade, but it doesn’t change the experience of using the watch much and isn’t something I took note of often during my time with it. According to Apple, the Series 7 is also more durable than its predecessor, thanks to a crack-resistant display and IP6X dust resistance. As someone who often scratches his Apple Watch because I have it on at all times, this is good news. However, I can’t confirm Apple’s claims regarding durability because the Series 7 I have hasn’t taken a tumble — at least not yet.
Though the wearable’s battery life is still a full day, the Series 7 features 33 percent faster charging than the Series 6 as long as you use the included charging cable that comes with the smartwatch. While a minor change, given that the Apple Watch is now designed to be worn even when you’re sleeping, a quick charging top-up is surprisingly useful when your battery is running low.
Strangely, Apple calls the chip featured in the Series 7 the ‘S7 System-in-package,’ despite it offering the same speed as the Series 6. This likely comes down to the simple act of ‘#marketing.’
“…if third-party apps are what you’re after, nothing compares to the breadth Apple’s App Store offers.”
And finally, there are new Watch Faces, including the artsy ‘Contour,’ the information-filled ‘Modular Duo’ and ‘World Time.’ None of these Watch Faces are particularly useful for how I use the Apple Watch, but it’s great to see Apple continue to add new Faces every year.
Still, it’s past due for Apple to finally open Apple Watch Faces up to third-party developers, and it’s disappointing this still hasn’t happened. Hopefully, Apple adds this to the smartwatch with watchOS 9 and the inevitable Apple Watch Series 9.
The Apple Watch Series 7 includes everything the Series 6 offered, including 2.4GHz/5GHz Wi-Fi, LTE (as long as you’re paying for a plan and purchase the LTE version of the watch), the U1 chip for Ultra Wideband support, an always-on altimeter, a compass, and more importantly, access to a vibrant App Store filled with great third-party apps.
This is really where other smartwatches just still can’t compete. Fitbit’s Versa/Sense and even Samsung’s recently released Galaxy Watch 4 are valiant smartwatch efforts, but if third-party apps are what you’re after, nothing compares to the breadth that Apple’s App Store offers. With just a few touchscreen presses, major apps like Nike Run Club, Waterminder (I really need to use that more), Calm, Transit and more are instantly available directly on the watch.
It’s also worth noting that while the Apple Watch is far more independent than it ever has been before, it’s still closely tied to the iPhone when it comes to features like notifications and activity tracking. Still, it remains the best option out there for entirely untethered workouts.
Being able to put on the Series 7, connect a pair of AirPods Pro to it via Bluetooth and listen to the songs I’ve downloaded remotely to the watch from Spotify (as long as they’ve downloaded properly 👀) remains a shockingly seamless experience.
The Apple Watch Series 7 also still includes all of the health features the wearable has become known for, including ECG, blood oxygen levels, high/low heart rate notifications, sleep tracking, fall detection and emergency SOS, just like its more recent predecessors.