complete smartwatch The category had a good Q2, as the numbers jumped 27% year over year. That, in turn, was up 20% from a year ago, despite – or perhaps due to – COVID-19 concerns. The popularity of these devices is the proverbial rising tide, with most of the big players benefiting from an overall increase in adoption.
But a name is growing up in a way that is rarely seen in the quite mature category. Last quarter, Apple Watch’s active user base crossed 100 million, According to Counterpoint Research. The company took three of the top four smartwatch spots globally with the Series 6, SE and Series 3, with Samsung managing to enter the No. 3 slot with its latest Galaxy Watch Active.
The company has seen competition at the lower end of the market, with an influx of sub-$100 devices, but in the premium and mid-range end, Apple completely dominates to the extent that top competitors like Samsung and Google are taking it. Team building for. So, what do you do when you’re Apple? You tweak. You make the screen a little bigger, you make the charger a little faster and above all, you really don’t mess with a good thing.
Some of the more bizarre rumors revolving around the health changes were proven wrong, as the company instead opted to focus on making some aesthetic changes to the device. The Series 7 is one of the biggest changes to the design of the device in several generations, and even that isn’t what one might consider a radical departure. In fact, it’s something you just can’t figure out.
If, on the other hand, you are a daily Apple Watch user, you will immediately notice the difference on your wrist. Upgrade from Series 6 to Series 7. The larger model (which we’ll focus on for the remainder of this review) rises to 1.9 inches by a 1.78-inch screen (measured diagonally, la a smartphone). This represents a 20% increase over the Series 6 and a 50% increase over the Series 3, which somehow manages to stick.
This is not a radical departure, generation after generation. And of course something like the 12% bigger buttons on the calculator isn’t enough to sell someone on an upgrade. The truth is that the nature of wearables usually prevents designers from making too many changes to the design because the product needs to fit on your body. Early smartwatches had large designs that restricted wearability among a wider group of users.
Any increase in screen size must be counteracted by a decrease in the surrounding hardware. This is achieved, in part, by thinning the bezels, to 1.7mm. The black border hasn’t completely gone away here, but it’s also noticeably thinner than on the Series 6. Despite this, the company still had to increase the overall size of the case from 40/44 mm to 41/45 mm. . As someone who has had some problems with larger smartwatch cases in the past (I’m looking at you, Samsung), I really didn’t notice any difference with the added millimeters here. It feels the same on the wrist and while wearing it to bed. I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely comfortable wearing a smartwatch to sleep, but your mileage may vary.
Along with the extra real estate comes adjustments to the UI that allow for a surprising amount of extra content – again, when dealing with sub-two-inch screens, it really becomes a game of millimeters. According to the company, apps like Messages are now able to fit in 50% more additional text than the Series 6. In other cases, where less content is needed, it means two larger font sizes have been added to the mix, so you get, say, larger buttons on the passcode screen.
However, the biggest change from day to day is the addition of a full QWERTY keyboard for text input, either by tapping or sliding between letters with QuickPath. I am amazed at how well both of them have done on the small screen. As soon as you open the application, an “Apple Watch keyboard input” notification will pop up on your connected iPhone, asking if you want to input text on iOS. In most cases, the answer is probably yes. But this option is good if, you (gasp) are going away from your phone for a while.
The new watch has a thicker display crystal, which adds some ruggedness. Watches obviously don’t give the phone that much opportunity to shatter, but I have a bad habit of twirling a little too tightly and sniffing my watch at the door jamb. Nothing has spilled yet, but there have been some close calls. It is also the first watch to add dust proofing to the existing WR50 water resistance. In IP6X, the system is completely dust-tight.
The sides of the display are more tactile, being flush with the case, which makes the display appear slightly higher when viewed from the side. The new Counter watch face, which spreads the numbers along the range, takes advantage of this, while the other two new screens — Modular Duo and World Time — use the extra real estate to jam in even more watch complexities.
One of the upshots of a larger case is its ability to fit in a larger battery. Apple won’t say whether it has actually increased capacity here, so we’ll have to wait for the inevitable teardown. It seems that the company has increased the mAh a bit to maintain the same battery life as before. Apple promises 18 hours, and really, you should be able to make it through a day without any problems, despite a large and significantly brighter (when 70% according to the company) always-on display.
I was hoping that adding legitimate sleep tracking would mean a more aggressive approach to battery life, especially with some competition lasting several days on a single charge. What we get is at least one new USB-C magnetic charger that’s 33% faster than the Series 6, giving you an 80% charge in about 45 minutes. What this practically means is a full night’s charge in less than 10 minutes. So if you are strategic about charging, you can wear it effectively day and night.
The new charger is backwards compatible with older watches, in that it will charge them at their standard speed. However, in keeping with Apple’s effort to reduce waste, the Series 7 doesn’t ship with a wall adapter. But it should work with those USB-C ones you (hopefully) have lying around. The company also has some new bands, though the 7 is also, thankfully, compatible with all the existing ones on Apple’s site.
The sensors are largely unchanged, and the Series 7 sports the same processor and LTE chip as before. 5G for the Series 8, perhaps? New colors are good. Apple shipped with Green Aluminum, which is more subtle than I anticipated. It is a deep olive colour, which is easily mistaken for a dark brown or black in some lighting conditions. If you want something that pops a little more, go with red or blue.
The Series 7 starts at $399 for the 41mm and $429 for the 45mm. Prices increase accordingly depending on the type and finish of the band. If you’ve already got the Series 6, it’s not a huge upgrade. Assuming yours is still working, maybe wait a year or two to see what the future Apple has up its sleeve in terms of health and other features. As in, there are enough Bits and Bobs to keep Apple at the top of the pack.