Apple Watch Series 4 – day 1. What is it exactly?

Smart Watches, Watch Reviews

Well, I have one and it cost £429. A sum that many people say is too high and an example of the way Apple overprices its products. This particular model is the 44mm GPS version and you can go slightly lower by opting for the 40mm version at £399. Or, you can go much higher and choose the 44mm Stainless Steel Case with Milanese Loop for £849 which also offers cellular functionality, if your mobile provider is supported of course.

So, we shall ignore the Apple Watch Hermès Stainless Steel Case with Fauve Barenia Leather Single Tour Deployment Buckle at £1,499 and consider that one for those who have more than enough money to spare, people who will make up a tiny proportion of Apple Watch users. What people fail to see, however, is that the Series 4 is actually very competitively priced in the wider watch world. You get a sapphire crystal, seriously good finishing and a ceramic back which are unheard of in any watch that retails for £400. Take a look around at watches in that price bracket and only a handful will offer these materials or attention to detail, and at first thought I cannot think of one that offers both.

UPDATE: You don’t get a sapphire crystal on the front, you get one on the back only with the GPS model and so you need the stainless steel model for a sapphire front crystal, which kind of kills some of what I said above.

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As an object described as a ‘watch’ the Series 4 is exceptional value with only one aspect drilling a hole in this theory – the temporary nature of its existence. In three years time it may be that your Series 4 is slowing down and that it cannot use the latest watchOS features, and it is likely that the latest Apple Watch will force you to change on an emotional level alone. For £400 this is a big expense, but if you are prepared to not think of it as a watch it may feel acceptable. If I am honest it doesn’t to me because I am a watch guy. I wear a £1,600 Oris which some will see as extravagant, but it could be on my wrist for 25 years and keep me informed of the time every day without me ever needing to charge it or interact with it in any way apart from changing the date and adjusting the time every month.

My Oris will grow more special over time as I experience new things with it and it will never become outdated on a technical level. It is mine for as long as I want to enjoy it and to me that makes the price feel more acceptable. I recognise that the majority will feel that a watch should not cost this much and I get that, but I also cannot quite grasp the notion of spending £100’s on a watch that will last only a few years. The more I think about it, the more confused I get trying to compare and rationalise these products; £100’s on a smartphone feels fine because we are used to that, £100’s on a watch is OK because we are used to that, but a smartwatch falls somewhere in between and it may take a few more years for it to find a comfortable home in the minds of the masses, just like the smartphone did.

One thing I can admit though, as someone who really does love traditional mechanical watches, is that the smartwatch is going to do serious damage to the retail watch industry and that the below £500 watch market is in for a tough time very soon. Luxury mechanical watches will continue as they are now, but a little bit of me sees them as potentially being akin to carrying around a record player to listen to music, hipster style. None of us know the future, but it would be more than foolish to suggest that the smartwatch industry is going to do anything other than grow exponentially.

Apple’s higher-end bands put most Swiss watch companies to shame. Apple’s link bracelet is extremely nice, and features a way to add and remove links to adjust the size that requires nothing more than your thumbnail. No one else has a link bracelet like this. The whole idea of easily swappable bands and straps — using nothing more than your thumbnail — is an astounding innovation. It’s a key driver of Apple Watch’s success as a watch. People have been wearing wristwatches for over 100 years, but until Apple entered the market no company had ever thought to design a connector system that would allow for seasonal new straps and bands. It helps make Apple Watch fun for owners and helps make money for Apple.

Apple didn’t start with one band and slowly grow its lineup over time. They entered on day one with an incredible strap lineup. No one would say Apple Watch debuted as the nicest watch in the world. But you can argue it debuted with the nicest lineup of straps.

John Gruber, above, came up with an argument that makes perfect sense. Apple changed how we think of watch bands overnight because it has the power to do so, but he misses the point somewhat by confusing an Apple Watch with a mechanical watch. The latter uses traditional strap pins because that is what we have used for decades previous. They fit the ethos of a mechanical watch which is to not necessarily be the best, but which is designed to be more organic, more personal and to be more than it is in terms of its history and feel. Adding a new mechanism-based strap to a classic mechanical watch would feel like installing a Tesla dashboard screen in a Jaguar E-Type.

This is something many tech and watch reviewers do. They choose when the Apple Watch is actually a watch based on if it suits the argument or puts their preferred product in a better light.

The first 10 minutes

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One thing Apple does very well is to make that first few seconds feel good. No one makes unboxing a gadget feel better than Apple in the tech sector, and coincidentally the only companies that do match Apple are the higher end watch brands. The difference is that Apple does it at a much lower price point and this should be applauded.

With Series 4 the unboxing experience is more friendly and somewhat different than before. It would actually take some time to explain the required steps to open everything, but the fact that it all makes sense immediately is a bonus. The watch and strap come in different boxes now and there is a lovely cloth protector surrounding the watch itself when you open it.

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Everything is perfectly proportioned and it feels great throughout with only a minute passing before you are ready to plonk it on the charger and start the setup process. Scrap that, 89% battery charge already on the watch is another positive so I didn’t bother charging it. I simply pointed my iPhone at the watch face and let it do its things which thankfully only took a couple of minutes. It would appear that on launch day the latest software is already installed because otherwise I would have expected many many more minutes of setup, which has been painfully slow in the past.

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On the wrist

The Series 4 feels different than previous Apple Watches with the tiny physical changes making a big difference to how the form works. Series 4 feels more consistent and as if the footprint and depth have been designed with each in mind. Series 3 did not feel this way. It felt far too high, too small on the diagonal and that red dot on the crown was hideous- overall Series 3 was a rare misstep from the Apple design team who appear to have learned some lessons with Series 4.

It is very hard to explain what makes a watch feel right and what tiny design flaw can through it off, but this one works much better than models 0 to 3 and that is despite the fact it is square(ish). The corner curves are more prominent than before which seems to add to the sense that this is a watch, and this is enhanced further by the fuller use of the available screen dimensions.

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I am not seeing the ‘huge’ screen that some reviewers have already raved about because this does still feel like an Apple Watch, but I am sensing that it feels more practical, easier to use and that the possibilities are more wide-ranging now than they have been in the past.

Give me a couple more days and I will be back with more…

Before I come back, I should add that it does appear that the software designers are having some issues working out when too much colour in a watch face is too much.

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