When you glance quickly at the new Apple watch, you could be fooled into thinking nothing’s changed. The same design, similar performance, you think. Perhaps that’s because a radical redesign had been rumoured – though this is definitely better-looking than those rumours. But the more you use it, the more you see the differences.
The new model, Apple watch series 7, builds on what Apple has done before with this wearable: a highly personal device that is easy to use, offers mapping directions on your wrist so you don’t need to hold your phone aloft when walking in a city street at night, measuring your heart rate or if you fall down, sending you notifications and calculating how many calories that yoga class burnt.
It also works as a digital wallet, a source of music and audiobooks books, and a simple way to set reminders. Oh, and it tells the time.
How we tested
I’ve been trying out the new series 7 for a week now, and the innovations are significant. I’ve been checking that battery life really is what it’s claimed to be, judged whether the allegedly brighter display is really easy to see and checked if new elements like a keypad for typing messages is usable.
With a device you could be wearing 24 hours a day, almost, I’ve checked for comfort, robustness and long-term wearability.
Apple Watch series 7: £369, Apple.com
Case size: 41mm and 45mm
Price: 41mm from £369, 45mm from £399
Processor: Apple S7
Battery: Up to 18 hours
Dimensions: 41mm: 40.9 x 34.8 x 10.7m; 45mm: 45.08 x 38.21 x 10.7mm
Weight: 41mm: aluminium 32g, stainless steel 42.3g, titanium 37g; 45mm: aluminium 38.8g, stainless steel 51.5g, titanium 45.1g
The flat edges that some had predicted, making the watch look more like the style of the latest iPhone, are nowhere to be seen. In fact, the corners are curvier than ever, making for a smoother feel.
So, while this is still unmistakably an Apple watch, speaking the same industrial design language as the first watch released in 2015, it’s a polished evolution. For only the second time, Apple has resized the watch. The first generations came in sizes which, when you measured the case height, were 38mm and 42mm. Then from series 4 onwards, there were 40mm and 44mm watches. And now, we have 41mm and 45mm sizes. Just one millimetre, you say, how can that possibly make a difference?
In one important way, it doesn’t: all previous Apple watch bands and straps will fit the latest model, that is, the smaller series 7 is compatible with 38mm, 40mm and 41mm bands, and the larger one works with all 42mm, 44mm and 45mm straps.
But in every other way, that 1mm makes a big difference, most of all in the display, which we’ll come to in a moment. The new watch shape also makes a difference to how sturdy the watch is, with Apple claiming that this is the most durable watch yet. That’s because the front crystal is thicker than before and has a flatter base, making it less prone to cracks, Apple claims. This watch also has a rating for dust resistance for the first time (though as before you can swim in it to a depth of 50m without damaging it).
The watch comes in five colours, all slightly different from before: midnight, which is black with hints of blue, starlight which adds a gold tinge to silver, blue, product(red) and green. The green is the most intriguing colour. It’s so dark that in many lighting situations it looks like black, but then you suddenly turn it a fraction and a dark, bottle-green shade gleams.
Those colours are for the aluminium watch, though it’s also available in stainless-steel and titanium finishes, though these are more expensive.
There are several new watch faces, including a “world time” face which shows the current time and positions city names to show what time it is there. If it’s 4am in Los Angeles, well, then, it must be 8pm in Tokyo. There’s also contour which really makes the most of the new display by squashing the numerals right up against the edges of the screen.
The first Apple watch display was a square-edged rectangle in the middle of the case. Then, with series 4, the screen got bigger, with curved edges that perfectly mirrored the shape of the case – a design still seen in the current, more-affordable Apple watch SE. But now, thanks to that 1mm extra height and a shrinking of the border around the screen, there’s suddenly a much bigger display in a near-identical watch. Apple says the increase is almost 20 per cent.
It’s true that the more you use the watch, the more it becomes evident that everything is bigger and easier to read. In fact, Apple has decided the display is now big enough to include a QWERTY keypad in the messages app, for instance, something that previous watches were too small to accommodate. It works well, with the elegant QuickPath system where you swipe your finger around at speed and it works out what you’re trying to write.
The new display is also brighter when the screen is in standby mode: series 5 (£429, Amazon.co.uk) and series 6 (£399, Amazon.co.uk) have an always-on display which means you don’t have to raise your wrist to see what’s on screen, which is handy for discreetly checking the time in a meeting, say. Now, it’s easier than ever as the display is so much brighter.
What’s more, I felt it was easier to read the watch display from a more obtuse angle. The display is perhaps the biggest step forward on the new Apple Watch: sumptuous and appealing to look at.
Apple is open about the fact that the new processor has performance in line with the series 6 – instead of the big leap that’s often promised. That said, this watch is fast. Everything happens at speed, with no delays, whatever you’re doing.
The health and fitness features of series 6 (ECG measurements, alerts if your heart rate is unexpectedly high or low, blood oxygen monitoring and sleep tracking, for instance) are all on the new watch too, of course.
The new processor and the watch’s greater durability have allowed Apple to add improvements to fall detection. This is a clever innovation from a few years back, which means that if you fall down hard and don’t get up for 60 seconds, the watch will make noises and even call emergency services. Now, fall detection works if you fall off a bike as well.
Although battery life is the same as Apple has always put in its watches – essentially a full day with ease but two days at your peril – series 7 has one great improvement. That’s much faster recharging. This is useful if you want to wear your watch at night for sleep tracking. After all, if you wear it all day and all night, when can you recharge? The new watch, thanks in part to a new charging puck that comes in the box, can charge from flat to 80 per cent in 45 minutes. And if you notice the charge is low just when you’re going to bed? Apple says that just eight minutes’ charging will provide enough juice for eight hours of sleep tracking.
The verdict: Apple watch series 7
Apple watch series 7 is a subtle but powerful step up from last year’s already-excellent series 6 (£399, Amazon.co.uk). The design changes are understated but definite improvements, and the user interface has been tweaked to make the most of them – the display really gleams when you choose a favourite photo as the Watch face, for instance.
There’s peace of mind knowing that the watch is more robust than before, and that the battery will recharge faster than ever. And the Apple watch remains a remarkably advanced wearable when it comes to health and fitness metrics. If you have a series 6, then the gorgeous new display, delicately upgraded design, and improved durability should be enough to tempt you to upgrade. If you have an earlier Apple watch, or no smartwatch at all, then the temptation is hard to resist.
Apple Watch series 7
Buy now £369.00, Apple.com
For offers on smartwatches and other tech products, try our discount code pages:
If you’re looking for an accessory that tracks exercise, read our review of the best fitness trackers