Six years in, it’s safe to say the Apple Watch is here to stay.
It’s also safe to say the form factor — a small communicator on your wrist operated by touch, Digital Crown, or Siri — and its function as a health and wellness device are not changing. The shape and materials may differ on future models, and the specs and sensors can only get better, but we’re very much at (or close to) the apex of the Apple Watch, much like how the iPhone has basically reached its final form with the iPhone 13 Pro.
I say this not to be alarmist or imply that it’s all downhill from here for the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch isn’t going anywhere. However, when a product is mature, like the Apple Watch is, it’s more important than ever to evaluate new versions in the context of multi-year ownership than annually.
Year-over-year, of course the Apple Watch Series 7 is a minor upgrade compared to the Series 6. People who want the latest and greatest don’t need convincing — they’ve already preordered. But if you own an Apple Watch Series 5 (or older), should you get a Series 7? I’ve got some answers.
It’s an Apple Watch
If you were expecting Apple to make the Apple Watch round or give it a camera, you’re out of touch with reality. The Apple Watch Series 7 is a revision of the same two-size smartwatch Apple has been iterating on since 2015.
Series 7 comes in small (41mm) and large (45mm). Despite being a mere millimeter taller in height than Series 4/5/6/SE, watch bands from all previous Apple Watches are compatible with the new Series 7. 38mm/40mm bands work with 41mm Series 7 and 42mm/44mm bands work with the 45mm Series 7. My official Apple stainless steel Link Bracelet for my 42mm Series 0 worked perfectly with the green aluminum 45mm Series 7 Apple loaned me. (Ugly combination, but the bands are compatible!) I’ve mostly been using the new Nike Graphic Sport Loop band (Cargo Khaki color) Apple also sent over — it pairs perfectly with the green Series 7.
Colors! There are five new colors for the aluminum Apple Watch Series 7. My green review unit reminds me of the midnight green iPhone 11 Pros; it’s a dark military green that sometimes looks black. I haven’t seen the other colors in person. Midnight is black with hints of blue, I’m told. Starlight is silver with traces of pinkish gold. Blue is a light blue. And (Product)Red is, well, a red. They look stylish enough. Colors for the stainless steel (graphite, silver, and gold) and titanium versions (space black and titanium silver) are less fun.
Apart from more rounded case corners, which I didn’t even notice until Apple pointed it out, Series 7 looks and works like an Apple Watch. There’s a Digital Crown and a Side button. If you know your way around an Apple Watch, there’s no learning curve. And if you don’t: it’s simple enough to figure out.
This year, there’s no change to performance. The Apple Watch Series 7 is powered by an S7 SiP (System in Package), which is a rebranded S6 SiP from Series 6; watchOS 8 performance is identical on Series 6 and 7. There are also no new sensors or health apps; Series 7 has all of the same health sensors and apps in Series 6 including a heart rate sensor, blood oxygen monitor, ECG app, irregular heart rhythm notifications, sleep tracking, and cycle tracking. Fitness tracking is the same, too.
For any other company, this kind of release without a bump in performance or sensors would be suicide. But because the Apple Watch 6 already was so far ahead of any other smartwatch, tech and experience-wise, Apple hitting the brakes on performance and sensors to improve other features doesn’t feel like it’s run out of ideas.
How much of an impact did the constrained global supply chain have on Series 7’s features? Was the rumored flat-edge redesign supposed to arrive this year or was it a strategic fakeout to weed out leakers? We’ll never know. There’s no point in wondering what if. This is a review for the Apple Watch Series 7 and the features it has, not vaporware.
So what are the small improvements and do they add up? There are quite a few, and yes they do. The most visible changes are the larger screens (I’ll get more in-depth in a moment). The bigger screens also mean watchOS 8 is less cramped. There’s more room for a few extra lines of text, buttons are larger and easier to tap, and there’s a new swipe-able QWERTY keyboard for text input that sometimes works and sometimes fails spectacularly. (Thankfully, the old text input, Scribble, is still an option.)
A year-old chip can go another and still leave the competition in its dust.
The always-on clock is 70 percent brighter indoors when your wrist is down and you just want to glance at the time. The front crystal ( Ion-X on the aluminum and sapphire crystal on the stainless steel and titanium models) is 50 percent thicker and less crackable. Series 7 is fully dust-resistant with an IP6X rating.
And my personal favorite: Series 7 charges 33 percent faster than Series 6. Apple says an 8-minute charge provides “8 hours of sleep tracking.” This cherry-picked stat tells you exactly the utility that Apple sees fast charging used for: a quick charge before bedtime. Here’s how fast the battery charged up whenever my review unit hit 10 percent (low battery alert flash!): 27 percent in 8 minutes, 40 percent in 16 minutes, and 75 percent in 32 minutes. The caveat is that you have to use the included magnetic charging puck to get the faster charging speed; older Apple Watch chargers will charge at slower speeds. That means if you’ve got a charging stand or Apple’s terrific 2-in-1 MagSafe Duo charger like I do, you’re stuck with slower charging. Apple declined to comment on whether an updated MagSafe Duo with faster charging puck will be released.
Frankly, I think all of these improvements in Series 7 are better than a faster chip. Better visibility and usability, improved durability, and faster charging (a bigger battery would have been nice, but alas, Apple seems fixated with 18 hours) are far more meaningful than faster performance. It’s a real testament of Apple silicon that a year-old chip can go another and still leave the competition in its dust.
The bigger screens
According to Apple, the displays on the Apple Watch Series 7 are around 20 percent larger than Series 4/5/6/SE, and over 50 percent larger than Series 0/1/2/3. Let’s crunch some numbers real quick to see how much more screen we’re really getting.
Here are the cases sizes, display sizes (diagonal), and resolutions for every generation of Apple Watch.
- 38mm: 1.33-inch display (272 x 340)
- 40mm: 1.53-inch display (312 x 390)
- 40mm: 1.54-inch display (324 x 394)
- 44mm: 1.75-inch display (368 x 448)
- 41mm: 1.69-inch display (352 x 430)
- 45mm: 1.90-inch display (396 x 484)
One thing immediately stands out: Each time Apple has increased display sizes, it has only done so after notching four models under the old ones. Series 0-3 are all the same size; Series 4-SE are identical; Series 7 bumps up the displays again. This pattern suggests larger displays (if they even can get larger) shouldn’t arrive until Series 11. I wonder if Apple will break with this cadence and release a redesigned Apple Watch case (flat edge?) in 2022 or 2023 while retaining the same two screen sizes from Series 7. Interesting food for thought...
Anyway, back to the screens. From Series 4/5/6/SE to Series 7, the screens for both the small and large models grow exactly 0.15 inches bigger. And from Series 0/1/2/3 to Series 7, the smaller model gains an extra 0.36 inches while the larger version gains 0.37 inches. Apple says there’s 40 percent less border around the displays with the bezels now measuring 1.7mm wide.
Now that you can visualize how much larger the screens are, the next question is: does a larger display make any meaningful difference using an Apple Watch? For me, coming from my Series 4, the extra 0.15-inch amounts to about two more lines of visible text in a message or email notification. I didn’t need to rotate the Digital Crown as much to read the emoji-filled messages my mom loves to send me, but two lines is also not that much more. I don’t spend that much time reading on my Apple Watch to say two more lines has changed my life.
But if you compare displays in Series 0/1/2/3 to Series 7, the jump in screen size is considerable. I pulled my OG 42mm Apple Watch out of my antique box and it’s stark how much larger the 45mm Series 7 screen is and how much more information it can display. I forgot how puny the displays on Series 3 (and earlier) are. I suspect a lot of Series 3 (and older) users upgrading will feel the benefits of a bigger screen more. Going from turning the Digital Crown a few times to read the entirety of a text message to not needing to turn it at all is one of those quality-of-life improvements and behavioral changes that adds up over time.
More than just seeing a little bit more information, it’s easier to tap on complications and buttons. I don’t have sausage fingers or anything and yet I always key in my PIN code incorrectly at least once a day. With larger tap points (buttons are just a smidge taller) on Series 7, I found taps and swipes were more accurate.
To show off the bigger displays, Series 7 comes with two new watch faces: Contour and Modular Duo. Contour pushes the numbers to the very edge of the display and it’s a neat way to highlight the “refractive edge” of the crystal. What’s the refractive edge? It’s just a fancy way of saying the crystal’s curved edges enable wider viewing angles for the display. Contour is nice and you can better see the tick marks on the Meridian watch face, but most watch faces simply don’t make use of the refractive edge. Modular Duo has room for two large-size complications; I never use this watch face, but I see a lot of people who do. I wish Apple put more effort into exclusive watch faces for Series 7.
Who should get Series 7?
The best thing about owning an Apple Watch is that there is very little pressure — outside of FOMO — to replace it with the latest model every year. Apple Watches have incredible longevity; they’re built to last years, and software updates breathe new life into them annually.
Take it from me: I’ve been wearing a stainless steel Apple Watch Series 4 since 2018. My three-year-old smartwatch doesn’t have the always-on display introduced on the Series 5, or the blood oxygen monitor from the Series 6, or the bigger screens on the new Series 7. But it still does what I want it to do: make phone calls, show messages and notifications, stream music, and most importantly, hold me accountable for staying fit.
In the week I’ve spent wearing a 44mm Apple Watch Series 7, I’m more convinced that there’s no need to upgrade unless you have an older Apple Watch that is not cutting it anymore. Emphasis on not cutting it. You can define that for yourself.
I can’t account for every purchasing variable. For simplicity, here’s who I think should and shouldn’t upgrade to Series 7. Series 0/1/2/3 users: Series 7 is a massive upgrade on every front and will last another 3-4 years. Series 4 users: It’s still a big upgrade, but I think you could stick it out for at least one more year. (That’s what I’m doing.) If you have a Series 5/6/SE, you really can sit Series 7 out unless you must have the latest and greatest. There is nothing wrong with that — there are all sorts of trade-ins to help reduce the price — but just know that the improvements will feel incremental. Android users: ha! You know the spiel: Apple Watch Series 7 isn’t for you unless you’re switching to an iPhone.
Apple Watches have incredible longevity.
New Apple Watch users (who are not on Android): Yes. Get it. Unless you’re on a tight budget and think an SE will suffice. Definitely don’t get a Series 3 at this point. Or get a Series 5 or 6 on sale from elsewhere.
Apple Watch Series 3 (and older) users: It's time to upgrade. WatchOS 8 is sluggish and barely functional on the Series 3, and not available for the Series 2 (and older). The Series 7 will be a major upgrade with faster performance and a noticeably larger, brighter, and more durable display. It's got an always-on clock, and a range of new sensors for automatic activity tracking, sleep tracking, heart monitoring (i.e. ECG and irregular heart rhythm detection), and blood oxygen monitoring.
Apple Watch Series 4 users: I'm still on a Series 4 and can feel it's on its last legs. Series 4 can still handle watchOS 8 fine and might be able to stick it out for another major update before it succumbs to old age. If yours is still in good condition and you can live without features like the always-on clock and larger displays, there's no need to get a Series 7. If yours is cracked or the battery no longer holds a charge that lasts a day, you should consider the Series 7.
Apple Watch Series 5 users: This was the first Apple Watch to come with an always-on clock. It also added a compass and more cellular bands. I don't think anyone with a Series 5 needs a Series 7. Not unless you think you'll use the blood oxygen monitor or engage with the larger screen often to justify the upgrade.
Apple Watch Series 6 users: There's no need to upgrade every year. Series 7 uses the same chip. The larger displays are nice, but unless you're reading a lot of email or texts on your wrist, your Series 6 should last a few more years.
Apple Watch SE users: The SE is a mashup between the Series 4, 5, and 6. It's basically a Series 4 sans ECG, with the Series 5's S5 chip, and with the S6's always-on altimeter. It doesn't have an always-on display. Considering the S5 is still very capable and more powerful than the S4 in Series 4, I think SE users can stick it out for another year or two unless the always-on clock and larger display are musts.
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