Apple Watch Series 4 Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
This wearable almost finished right at the top of the group, just barely being outperformed by the Samsung Galaxy Watch, but beating both the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Samsung Gear Sport. While the Apple Watch does have a more comprehensive set of smart functions than the Galaxy, but ends up getting dragged down by it significantly inferior performance in our battery life tests. Both the Gear Sport and S3 have better battery performance than the Series 4, but not by enough to overcome the significantly more comprehensive set of smart features and functions that the Series 4 possesses. However, the Galaxy Watch is gigantic compared to the Series 4, offering a trade-off for its superior battery life.
In our quest to find a wearable that is truly worthy of your wrist, we researched dozens and dozens of different products, then picked out the most promising. We bought all of these, then compared their performance in a series of head-to-head tests, rating the smart features, fitness tracking, display, battery life, and ease of use of each smartwatch, with the results of the Series 4 in each of these five weighted metrics described below.
Ease of Use
The most important of our testing metrics — ease of use — is accountable for 30% of the total score for each smartwatch, as any piece of tech that is supposed to be worn on a daily basis and is a pain to use isn't going to be in use for very long. We compared how easy it is to charge each watch and swap wristbands, as well as how responsive the touchscreen and if there is any sort of physical interface. Additionally, we also awarded points for the level of water resistance each wearable has and if it is possible to take a screenshot of the display on the watch. The Series 4 delivered an outstanding performance, earning an 8 out of 10 and tying for the top spot.
This watch is rated for submersion up to 50 meters (ISO 22810:2010) — more than enough to wear while showering or even tracking your swim workouts. However, you probably shouldn't test this limit to the max and take it scuba diving. Additionally, any high-velocity water sports, such as water skiing or wakeboarding, can cause the integrity of the waterproofing measures of the watch to fail if it impacts the surface at a high speed.
This watch charges with a typical wireless magnetic charger that attaches to the back of the watch. We particularly appreciated that the magnet is strong enough to prevent accidentally disconnecting it most of the time and there are a variety of accessories — OEM and third-party — that allow you to charge your watch in a docking cradle.
The touchscreen on the Series 4 is highly responsive, with practically zero delay. Additionally, you also have the option of using either of the two buttons or the crown scroll to navigate through the menus, with this newest edition of the Apple Watch offering haptic feedback.
It is fairly easy to change the wristband, using a button to release the strap and then sliding it out to remove it. There are tons of different bands available, both from Apple and third-party manufacturers. We tested out the gold aluminum case with the pink sand sport loop, but have tried out the sport band in the past — we found the sport loop to be a bit more comfortable.
Finally, the Series 4 makes it a snap to take screenshots of its displays. You only need to hold down both side buttons, once the setting is enabled.
For our next group of tests, we ranked and scored the different smart features each of these purportedly smart watches possess. This accounts for 20% of the total score for each smartwatch, with the Series 4 delivering another top-notch performance, again receiving an 8 out of 10.
For this set of tests, we looked at how the mobile app compatibility of each watch, if you can answer phone calls, how easy it is to control your music, if there is a built-in GPS module, and if you can use mobile payment options with this watch. This watch worked with most of our sample set of apps, such as Uber, Messenger, Strava, IFTTT, Evernote, and Shazam. The Series 4 no longer supports the standalone Instagram app as of April 2018, but there are rumors that Spotify is currently developing an app for the Apple Watch.
This wearable does accept voice commands through Siri and will also display most push notifications from other apps, even if there isn't a dedicated standalone watchOS version of that app. You can take calls right on the watch itself — handy, if you have always wanted to live out your secret agent fantasy — and if you have the LTE version of this watch, you don't even need your phone to make or receive calls.
You can set up a payment card in Apple Pay, then use this watch to complete transactions anywhere that has an NFC or contactless payment kiosk, which are becoming more and more prevalent.
Finally, this wearable does have an integrated GPS module that can receive data from GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, or QZSS satellites, making it perfectly equipped to handle all of your navigations and fitness tracking needs.
However, before we dive into the fitness tracking abilities of this 4th-gen Apple Watch, we ranked and scored the display of this wearable against the rest of the competition. We looked at the quality of the screen, how easy it is to view in bright lighting conditions, and if you can enable an always-on or automatic backlight adjusting mode, with the Apple Watch Series 4 earning another 8 out of 10 for its stunning screen.
The Series 4 is available in two sizes — 44mm and 40mm — increasing from the 42mm and the 38mm available sizes of the Series 3. This translates to a viewing area of 977 sq. mm. for the larger size and 759 sq. mm.for the smaller size. However, the Series 4 is slightly thinner than its predecessors. The LTPO OLED Retina display is one of the highest quality screens that we have seen on these products, definitely offering one of the best images around. The backlight is also plenty bright, making it easy to read in both bright sunlight and in dim conditions.
Unfortunately, you do not have the option to enable the backlight to automatically adjust to the ambient lighting condition or set the screen to always be on.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is a fully-fledged fitness tracker, delivering another excellent performance in this group of tests — worth 20% of the total score — and earned another 8 out of 10. We looked at the accuracy of the heart rate monitor, the step counter, and stairs climbed count, as well as comparing the number of different workouts you can track with each one.
We found this smartwatch to be exceptionally accurate when it came to counting steps, only deviating from the true manual count in a mile-long walk by 11 steps in its best trial and 34 steps in its worst. However, the Series 4 was spot on at calculating the distance walked in all three of our trials.
We also found the Series 4 to be highly accurate when it comes to measuring heart rate, delivering by far one of the best performances we have seen from these products and matching our control chest strap monitor. Additionally, the Series 4 also now includes an ECG sensor, allowing it to take more comprehensive heart data, including atrial fibrillation. However, there are going to be more features that utilize this sensor released later this year.
There are tons of different workouts that this watch can track, such as outdoor and indoor walks, runs, or bike rides, as well as elliptical, rowing machine, stair stepper, HIIT workouts, hiking, yoga, and swimming (pool and open water). You also can log any other type of workout under "Other", but you do need to start the workout — the watch won't start tracking a workout automatically.
This smartwatch also offers fall detection, where it can alert the emergency medical system if you take a bad fall and can't confirm that you are OK and has some other wellness features, such as guided breathing sessions.
However, even with the improved accelerometer and gyroscope, we found that this smartwatch struggled to correctly count the number of flights of stairs climbed in our tests. We climbed three flights of stairs before it even started tracking and were overall unimpressed.
For the final round of assessments, we evaluated the battery life of the Series 4. We looked at how long the battery lasted with normal use, as well as the time it took to recharge for this metric, which is responsible for 10% of the overall score for this Apple Watch. Unfortunately, the performance of this product dropped a bit, earning it a 6 out of 10 for its just above average showing.
In our test, we were able to get two days out of the Series 4 with light to normal use, but this would be severely reduced if you are constantly using the GPS or either of the heart rate sensors. This watch also takes a decently long time to charge, hitting the 50% mark after 76 minutes and completely charging after 170 minutes or so.
While this watch is one of the best you can get, it is also one of the most expensive around, making it a hard sell as a budget pick.
Delivering an exceptional performance across the board in almost every test, we highly recommend the Series 4 if you are an iOS user and want the absolute best smartwatch you can get. It is on the more expensive side and we wish it had a bit better of a battery life, but it is hard to argue with its otherwise stellar performance.
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