Apple’s latest smartwatch has hit the (preorder) shelves, sporting a slimmer frame and a bigger display. But with so much of what makes the Apple Watch great rooted in the watchOS 5 operating system compared to the device itself, some may be looking at their current Apple Watch Series 3 and wondering whether they need the upgrade.
And for those without a smartwatch at all, the decision is even more difficult. Not only is the Series 3 dropping in price now there’s a new kid in town, but Google’s Wear OS could also present a compelling challenge – especially if you like your smartwatches erring more towards ‘watch’ than towards ‘smart’.
So should you upgrade? This is all the data you need to make an informed decision:
Compared to (arguably) its biggest competition, last year’s Apple Watch, the Series 4 has a 30% larger screen on the same body, and added electrodes on its back that means you can get an electrocardiogram (ECG) at the touch of a button – that button being the digital crown on the side of the watch.
And while other smartwatches with ECG tech exist (like the Cronovo watch that launched on Kickstarter, or AliveCor’s KardiaBand for the Apple Watch in the United States) it’s rare that such technology is integrated into a mainstream product.
That crown has also received a bit of an upgrade too, as it now has haptic feedback that makes it more responsive and mechanical when scrolling through screens. Apple’s also moved the microphone to the other side of the watch, which will apparently reduce echo and improve call clarity.
It looks sleek and shiny compared to the chunkier Wear OS watches, but it’s always worth trying it out physically first before making any decisions. You’ll be swatting away notifications and popping open the fitness trackers on any smart watch you get, so you should ensure it’s comfortable before sinking your cash into it.
While design might come down to personal preference, the feature list is not. In comparison to Fitbit’s Ionic smartwatch, the Apple Watch’s LTE-enabled mode makes it better suited as a standalone smartwatch – giving it the ability to field calls, emails, and iMessages.
Apple Music means you’ll also be able to stream your tunes out and about; with the Ionic, those will have to be preloaded beforehand. That said, some WearOS watches can download music via a cellular connection too, but only using Google Play Music, a platform that the average iPhone user (and even many Android users) are unlikely to be using.
On the other hand, all those extras do take a toll on battery life. While the Ionic will last for around for days, and your average Wear OS smartwatch can survive pretty well over two, the Apple Watch Series 4 will go down after 18 hours – and that time drops to four hours with audio streaming, GPS, and LTE all enabled.
Get your sweat on
Similarly, the battle to be the best fitness tracker is still waging. Some prefer Fitbit’s app, which is simple to use and comes with a built-in community with games and challenges to spur you on, something that’s absent on the Apple Watch.
Also, if you switch between iOS and Android, you might prefer tracking that is platform agnostic. A dedicated Google Fit app currently isn’t available on iOS (although rumours suggest that it might be coming) and Apple’s suite of health apps can’t be found on Android. Fitbit, meanwhile, pops up everywhere, and those that want to have absolute choice might want to take that into consideration.
And although the Apple Watch Series 4 has piqued the post by a September announcement, Google’s Pixel 3 event is set for October, and although the rumoured Pixel Watch probably won’t be making an appearance this year, with the recent redesign of Google Fit it’s possible we might see more updates next month.
Time is money
This is possible the make-or-break for most people when it comes to buying a smartwatch. Compared to relatively cheaper models like the £245 Fitbit Ionic, the £179 Fitbit Versa, or the £250ish range of Wear OS watches, the Apple Watch can look a little staggering at nearly £400 – especially considering that the Series 3 will now be dropping to £279.
For those with money to burn, that take the XS Max in their stride, and are ready for what is simply going to be the best smartwatch for an iPhone user, then the Apple Watch Series 4 is a no-brainer.
For everyone else, the judgement call is harder: those that want something more sophisticated, a Captain Scarlet-esque wrist computer, will want to err for either the Series 4 or the Series 3 Apple Watch, depending on their budget.
Those that are fitness-focused, however, might get everything they’re looking for from Fitbit or even a Wear OS watch with the companion app for iOS (using the version of Google Fit that’s built-in), even if the ecosystem integration with regards to calendars, texts, games, and so on isn’t as streamlined compared to Apple’s new products.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is available for pre-order now, priced £399 for the GPS version and £499 for the GPS and Cellular version. General availability begins on the 21st of September.