Apple’s made some pretty big improvements to its Watch lineup over the years, adding features such as waterproofing and 4G connectivity to its wearable (assuming you live in country that supports eSIMs, unlike South Africa). But the design of the watch itself has remained broadly the same during that time. With Series 4, Apple has overhauled the Watch with new sizes, increased screen space, a new sensor, and new rounded corners to the display. It’s a design evolution of a sort.
So, if you’ve wanted an Apple Watch but have been holding off buying one until now, the Series 4 might be the one that finally melts the last of your resolve. But what if you’ve currently got a previous-generation Watch adorning your wrist? Is it worth the upgrade? Let’s break it down in detail and decide whether it’s time to ditch the older model, or get on the Watch train if you’ve been hanging around the station.
Design — The fanciest crown of all
This is probably the biggest reason to consider upgrading to Apple Watch Series 4 — that sleek new design.
The latest watch has a bigger screen and minimal bezels, which allows it to fit more content and little widgets/complications that show things like the weather and when your next meeting is. It also allows you to see more of your pictures on the watch (though no-one does that, right?) and lets Apple get more creative with its animations for things like its Health app.
Series 4 wristables are also thinner than the previous gen, but only by 0.7mm. Apple’s shots of the new watch make it look deceptively thinner, but in the real world we’re not expecting a great amount of difference from the Watches we’ve already tried. We’d gladly have had the new devices actually get a little thicker if it meant more than the 18-hour battery life Apple’s touted since the first Watch, and which remains unchanged here.
The other major design change is that the digital crown now has haptic feedback, so you get a physical response as you scroll through lists. But again, we tend to use the touchscreen to scroll on Series 3 watches, so let’s call the haptic digital crown a “nice-to-have” rather than an essential for upgraders. The less obvious improvement to the crown is the fact that it helps your record ECGs by holding a finger to it.
All said and done, the brilliant new display and thinner design do make the the Series 4 feel like a significant upgrade over previous models, especially the first and second-gen versions.
Features — Perfect for old people
Apple spent a lot of time in its press conference playing up the health benefits of the new watch, but based on our experience of previous generation models, we don’t expect to be using them that frequently. If we’re not prone to heart disease or randomly falling, that is… at least not yet.
The big upgrade is the Series 4’s ability to record electrocardiograms, which is a really advanced feature for a smartwatch. If you have reason to worry about your heart health, then the ability to take these readings regularly and share them with your doctor might be a major reason to buy Series 4. For others, it could end up being a feature like Breathe — one you get reminded about regularly, but barely actually use.
The other major feature exclusive to Series 4, fall detection, will be a draw that depends on your personal circumstances. If you’re prone to falling over or would struggle to help yourself back up again if you did, then it’s potentially a life-saver. When the Watch detects you’ve taken a tumble it’ll suggest calling an emergency number, and if there’s no response from you for a minute it’ll call automatically. This is possible thanks to a new accelerometer and gyroscope, which could see further uses added via software updates town the line.
Power — Same, same
Whereas all the premium features on the Series 3 edition were saved for the cellular version (yep, the one we don’t get here), the Series 4 brings parity across both cellular and non-cellular models.
So, the non-cellular iteration has 16GB storage rather than 8GB, a more premium ceramic back and a wall power adaptor included in the box. Series 4 models also houses the new S4 processor, which promises double the speed of Series 3, but we’ve never found the older model a slouch when it comes to general use. Maybe WatchOS 5 will struggle on Series 3, but we wouldn’t go upgrading for speed at this stage.
Likewise, Bluetooth 5.0 is a welcome addition if you have an iPhone 8/8 Plus/X or later (meaning one of the new iPhone XSs), as the range between devices should be greater. But again, it’s a relatively negligible improvement.
Value — What happens when a new version drops?
There’s a reason Apple focussed on the design and features of Apple Watch Series 4 in its press conference — the price they announced at the end is significantly higher than that of the Series 3 when it launched.
Although we don’t have local pricing yet, converted from dollars, the starting price is around R6,000 — and that’s for the basic, 40mm aluminium model. Spec up or move up to the 44mm model and you’ll easily hit the R7,500 mark. Meanwhile, the Series 3 prices are bound to drop (we already know they’ve dropped to $279 in the US), so unless you need the new features, the previous gen could now be the one to buy. [UPDATE: The iStore’s announced local pricing, which starts at R8,000].
Given that we’re much more impressed with Apple Watch Series 4’s design improvements than we are the feature improvements, we’d suggest that you have to be able to justify the price increase to yourself based on those same terms if you’re upgrading. And if you’re just entering the Watch market? The Series 3 is looking mighty appealing.
Apple Watch Series 4 Verdict
The new Apple Watch Series 4 design is undeniably stunning, so the issue of upgrading essentially comes down to how much you like pretty things… and ECGs.
The health and safety benefits may well appeal to certain people, and the heart functions are technically very impressive, but they have less potential to impress on a day-to-day basis than the design upgrades.
Certainly the biggest thing we took from the launch of the Series 4 is that pricing on the Series 3 should start dropping soon — and although it’s the older model, it’s still very capable indeed.