The Apple Watch Series 7 shows how far Apple’s wearable has come

The Apple Watch Series 7 shows how far Apple’s wearable has come

I’ve been using an Apple Watch all day, every day, for over half a decade now. But, I’m keenly aware that many of you may not even have an Apple Watch yet. So, for you, it might be about what the new Apple Watch Series 7 can do for you and your life, and if that’s finally enough for you to get one. Where, for those of you like me, it’s all about what it can do better… how it can make our lives even better.

With Series 7, that includes a bigger, more informational, more accessible screen and faster charging system in general. For time and schedule keeping, a brighter, easier-to-glance at always-on mode. For fitness and health tracking, especially the extreme kind, a more crack-resistant display, and dust-and-debris resistant casing. For notification and communication, a built-in keyboard. And, yeah, GIF/GIFs! For fashion, or just plain fun, a minor rainbow of new aluminum colors. Still starting at $400 bucks.

And it all comes together to create an experience that’s… light years beyond the original… even if it’s still not quite where I want it to be. Let me explain!

Apple Watch Series 7 — Time Keeping

You know, a millimeter here or there never sounds like much… that is until you see the difference at Apple Watch Quantum realm scale. Because Apple didn’t just increase the Watch sizes from 40 and 44mm to 41 and 45mm, they second-snapped the bezels by another 40%, increasing the usable display area by 20% over the last few models, and a whopping 50% of the original few.

As a result, you can fit either more information or bigger information on the display, and in some cases… both.

A lot of the interface has been tweaked, so some buttons and tap targets are over 12% bigger, like in Control Center and Calculator, or over 27% bigger, like on the stopwatch, making them a lot easier to hit, especially when you’re moving around or working out.

You can also see more of your messages or mail at one time, 50% more, or you can set the text size up to two increments bigger, so you can see those messages way more easily. Which is great for people with low vision, aging eyes, or in less than ideal conditions.

It’s also why I’m glad Apple has stuck with the round-rect shape. It’s not that I don’t think a circular watch wouldn’t be a slap or a spherical interface be just all shades of awesome. It’s that the Apple Watch is really as much watch as the iPhone is phone, so it’s less about clinging to old world circle or banana conventions, and more about evolving to a modern wearable and pocketable computer ideal.

Especially because of all the extra functionality those corners enable. Going without them would be like going without… your peripheral vision. Just all tunnel, all the time.

For example, Apple’s using the bigger display size for a new Modular Duo watch face, which replaces the three smaller, bottom complications of the original Modular…Uno? face with another, single width-spanning, large complication. There’s Contour, which I think is really just a wicked optically flex for the ID team’s new refractive edges, but also World Clock, where you can see 24 time zones, a whole day of time, all at once, and still have room for 4 small complications in those corners. A very literal example of plussing it on the day.

Even though the differences sound small, the increased feeling of comfort that comes from them is enormous.

I still don’t have my dream face, though. Which would be the Photo Face but with a ton of complication options on top of it. Like Modular Uno but with a wallpaper, basically. So I can finally have my Superman watch and gobs of glanceable data too. Case of scotch help me out there, watchOS 9?

Even with the bigger display, and brighter always-on mode, which I’ll get to in a minute, Apple’s using the increased overall efficiency to maintain the same 18-hours of battery life.

I know some people would love to see longer, even week-longer battery life, but every feature you add you literally pay for in battery life and all the extra battery life you add costs you in features. That’s the trade-off. So, would I trade a bigger display or brighter always-on mode for an extra hour of battery life? No. It just wouldn’t make a difference in daily use. Would I give up performance, cellular, Wi-Fi, full-on apps, real interfaces, and other features for two or three-day battery life? Hell no.

This is where I watched the Fitbit die, parappa. No.

Because I can always charge a wrist computer to keep on using it. I can’t graft on smartphone caliber features to a fitness tracker watch when I need them.

I mean, phones used to be plugged into walls and last forever, but for the increase in mobility and capability that comes from a connected pocket computer, we’ve become fine with charging our phones pretty much every night. Same for all the life-saving and improving capabilities of a connected wrist computer. Which is why I’m also 100% fine charging it every night right next to my phone.

Especially now that the Series 7 has a new 33% faster charging system. That way, if you do long workouts, multiple workouts, lots of cellular, or want to track your sleep, you can top up to 80% in just 45 minutes. A little faster even in my testing. But… you know, brand new battery with fresh install. So, to be continued…

Just for sleep tracking, you can get 8 hours in just 8 minutes. I… never sleep that long. So I never really tested it, but the couple times I tried I woke up with well over 20% left. So your sleep mileage may well vary.

Both the new charging system and the new display drivers are part of the new-ish S7 system-in-package. New-ish because the CPU itself is the same as last year’s S6 — based on dual A13 Thunder efficiency cores. And yeah, that depresses my inner silicon nerd. But the package is more than the CPU, and given the thermal envelop and battery constraints of something the size of a watch, and how far ahead Apple is, especially on wearable silicon, I wonder if they’re going to focus more on increased efficiency and post-core features going forward, much as they seem to be doing with the iPhone as well. But I’ll cover that in-depth in my upcoming scalable architecture video.

Now, for the new charging speeds, you do need the new Apple Watch Charging Cable included in the box. Older Apple Watch cables will work fine but at the older speeds. And, yeah, the new cable will also work on older watches, but also at the older speeds. That’s because the magnetic inductive puck on the watch end has stayed pretty much the same, but the back end has swapped out USB-A for USB-C, which Apple says will deliver those faster speeds with any standard USB-C adapter.

Apple Watch Series 7 — Health & Fitness

Sadly, there aren’t any new health sensors on the Apple Watch Series 7… because all the new health sensors everyone, including Apple, wants to include just aren’t ready for primetime yet. They’re the kind of stuff every startup and team swears are ever-so-close to shipping but inevitably turns out… not so much. It’s beyond frustrating, especially for the people who need them the most. But it seems like they’re going to take a while still. For now, Series 7 continues to offer compass, altimeter, heart rate, blood oxygen, and ECG.

Pilates and Tai Chi can now be tracked in the Workout app, Meditation and snow-season workouts in Fitness+ — more skiing, less shoveling — and group workouts will be coming over SharePlay later this year. Alongside the existing heart rate alerts, international emergency calling, and other safety features, fall detection also works for cyclists now, which is terrific.

Especially because Apple is improving durability for people who work out, or just plain work, under more extreme conditions. That includes better structural crack resistance for both the ion exchange glass on the aluminum models and the sapphire crystal on the steel and titanium models, thanks to 50% thicker glass on top and a flatter base on the bottom. That’s right, science! Geometry?

Also better dust, dirt, and debris resistance. IP6X to be specific. Which is great if you’re going off-road, cross-country, or you know, just got transferred to Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet. Also, same 50-meters of swim-proofing as previous models, if Atlantis, wave, water world is more your scene.

I’m pretty much constrained to long walks and Fitness+, but I’m sure excursionists like Ray Zahab are just straight-up loving this.

Apple Watch Series 7 — Notification & Communications

The peak brightness on the Apple Watch’s RGB stripe OLED display is the same as last year but the always-on mode is 70% brighter. That’s thanks to the increased efficiency of the panel and the new S7 driver.

Now, always-on was one of the biggest features for me when Apple introduced it a couple of years ago because it turned the watch into an actual usable watch for me. And this makes it just that much more… better. Because it makes the display just that much more easier to glance at, all surreptitious like, when you don’t want to be rude to the person you’re actually with at the time, either IRL or still mostly these days on Zoom.

I can pretty much see the time all the time now. And it’s another of those things that might not sound like a huge difference but if your work or just your personality depends on you being both up to date and not a complete social jerk, it’s invaluable.

If you see you’re running late, or you get a message you absolutely have to respond to, you have a couple of new options for doing just that. watchOS 8 includes a new, more capable QuickBoard where you can dictate replies, drop an emoji, even pick out a GIF/GIF now. And yes, I know the G is silent… Like on iOS and the Mac, the selection continues to be perplexingly broad and limited at the same time, but it’s enough to get your base meme on.

Unique to the Series 7 though is a full keyboard. Not full-sized, of course, but full… charactered. Now, yes, a discussion needs to be had around Apple’s decades-long, learned-helplessness-inducing capriciousness when it comes to App Store review, specifically around third-party Apple Watch keyboard rejections and appropriations here, so hit me up on Twitter if you want to be part of that. But it unsurprisingly works really well. With one exception.

You can either tap out the characters you want or use Apple’s swipe-to-type QuickPath mode. But just know that unless you want to be limited to the Friends version of Jennifer Aniston, rather than the way more based Morning Show version, you’ll need to avoid the rated G swipe system and stick to good old ducking tap-to-type. Duck. Dammit!

Still, despite the keyboard, and the new on-device photo management and extended settings options, seven series in, and we’re still not functionally closer to a truly, fully independent Apple Watch. Something the iPhone achieved in 5 versions, and I’ve been asking for in every review going back.. years now. The Apple Watch is more constrained in terms of display size, meaning interface and reporting capability, and battery size, meaning workload and run time. Maybe it’s waiting on AR for that, maybe not. But it’s clearly the endgame.

I mean, for years, the Watch has been shuttlecraft to starship iPhone, and that relationship will still be best for many more years to come. But it’ll still be even more useful and flexible when shuttlecraft Watch gets warp nacelles all its own.

Apple Watch Series 7 — Models and Pricing

The aluminum Apple Watch still starts at $400, now for the 41mm Wi-Fi only model. That jumps to $430 for the 45mm size. Add $100 to that if you want LTE capability. Plus the carrier charge, of course.

That’s the same pricing as last year, but there are some new color options this year. Space Gray has been replaced by Midnight, which is an indigo black. Silver has been replaced by Starlight, which has a slight gold tinge to it. The blue is more… bluejay… and the red, a brighter merlot. Plus, a new deep, almost iPhone 11 Pro green. Each with a few new, matching sport, solo loop, and braided loop band colors to go with them.

Also, new Nike variants in midnight and starlight, with new matching Nike bands. And graphite gold, silver, and graphite stainless steel, brushed and black titanium, and silver and black Hermes options on the way higher-end which I’ll cover in a follow-up review.

Apple Watch Series 7 — The bottom line

So, should you get an Apple Watch Series 7 or upgrade if you have a previous Apple Watch? It depends on how compelling any of the new features are to you. If you want more information on your display, or you need the accessibility the bigger display enables, it’s worth checking out. Especially if you have the much smaller display of a Series 3 or earlier.

Likewise, if you work or play under more extreme conditions and the crack or dust-resistance would be a real watch-saver, or if you’re in the services industry, or just schedule obsessed and the brighter, easier-to-glace-at always-on display would be valuable to you. Especially if you have a Series 4 or earlier without always-on at all.

Unlike iPhones in pockets, there aren’t a billion Watches on wrists yet y’all, so if you don’t have one yet, should you pick one up?

Well, we’re getting closer and closer to the platonic ideal now, and personally, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not just potentially life-saving, it’s life-changing. And that’s not hype. That’s facts. Once you get used to wearing it, you miss it instantly when you’re not. Like, as if your external cybernetics were suddenly switched off, and you lost your sixth, digital sense.

It also gets software updates for years and years like the iPhone, so the value grows year over year and is increasingly retaining that value for selling, handing down, or trading in like the iPhone.

So, my advice remains — wait as long as you can to buy, buy when you really need to, get the best you can afford, and then enjoy the hell out of it with zero regrets because they’ll always be something new and something next.

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