WatchOS 4 review: A new direction for the Apple Watch
Earlier this month, Apple Inc. unveiled the newest WatchOS 4 operating system for the Apple Watch. The Watch Series 1 and last year’s Watch Series 2 are both capable of running the new software, along with the new Watch Series 3.
Watch Series 3 will be available in the 38mm and 42mm sizes, as were its predecessors. The price starts from Rs29,900 and you will get to choose the well-known space grey colour or the new silver and gold options, which replicate the new colour scheme of the iPhone 8 line-up. Apple has discontinued Watch Series 2, which is a tad bit perplexing, while retaining the even older Watch Series 1—perhaps the reason is the price, because the Watch Series 1 now has an official price tag of Rs21,900.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the entire Apple Watch ecosystem is the more powerful and capable WatchOS 4 software.
Design: Completely new attire
WatchOS 4 has a bunch of visual improvements to make even better use of the limited screen real estate that a smartwatch offers. Fonts are slightly tweaked, transitions are smoother and some apps now have a slightly redesigned interface.
With the new OS on board, the Watch’s button on the right-side spine has now been repurposed. Earlier, pressing this would take us to the favourite contacts page—we suspect this feature was rarely used, which kind of underutilized this button. Now, WatchOS 4 takes you to the favourite apps dock. Here, the utility of the Digital Crown dial key also increases, and you can scroll through the stacked card layout by twisting the Crown in either direction.
Very visible (and appreciated) through, be it the music app or the Activity app, is the switch to a vertically stacked card-like layout. This is neater to look at, there is a lot more data that you can scroll through and the Digital Crown comes into use more than before.
Control center: slight tweaks
What has not been given a complete overhaul, as it turns out, is the control center. You still access this by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Apple has added a Torch option for quicker access—you get the option of illuminating the Watch’s screen in bright white colour, a flashing white colour or a static red colour. This torch won’t replace your standard torch, but can easily come in handy.
Fitness: remains a priority
Apple has always stressed that the Watch (irrespective of whichever series it may be) is a handy fitness tracking tool. Paired with a heart rate sensor (which most rival Android Wear watches don’t have), the numbers that you would get from your running and other exercise routines were more accurate than what rival watches and fitness bands may be able to compile. The continued focus on fitness tracking remains key to the new software too, as one would expect. The new Heart Rate app monitors your heart rate at regular intervals. It will now show you the current heart rate, the lowest resting heart rate achieved that day and the average activity heart rate. The app will also send an alert if it detects an unusually high heart rate when you may be largely inactive, with the suggestion to perhaps get this checked out by a doctor. The Workout app also has additional information cards, and can now combine different workouts for seamless transitions. There are new watch faces too, which you can configure, to get the fitness tracking data on the watch face itself.
The WatchOS 4 will be able to make use of the barometric altimeter hardware inside the Watch Series 3. This means that for any activity that involves an incline, such as running uphill or climbing up a flight of stairs, you will now get an accurate calculation of the elevation change plus the change in heart rate at that time and thus a more accurate count of the calories burnt—as compared to running on a flat surface or running downhill.
Music: On your wrist
The WatchOS 4 Music app can now sync your favourite playlists on to the Watch. While the app curates on its own, playlists such as My New Music, My Favorites and Heavy Rotation, you can also select your own playlists from the Apple Music app. With Bluetooth on the watch, it becomes a rather neat setup to be able to either pair earphones (your AirPods will be automatically paired with the Watch) or control the playback from the wrist.
Battery life: More frugal than before (yes, surprise)
Would it be fair to assume that with all the new features, battery performance would take a hit? That isn’t entirely true. In a comparative test that we ran replicating the exact same settings (minimal brightness, Theater Mode switched on to prevent the display from lighting up every time we even slightly raise our hand, GPS not in use and only select apps sending notifications to the wrist) and usage pattern for notifications and passive background activity tracking, the Watch Series 2 lost about 9% charge after 4 hours, while Watch Series 3 lost only 6% charge in the same period. Turn up the brightness to maximum and use GPS for extended activity tracking, and you will still be able to get almost a day and a bit more of battery time.
To upgrade or wait and watch?
There is a lot to like about WatchOS 4. The changes that it brings to the table aren’t superficial, and actually do make an already excellent Watch experience even better. Then there is the doubt about whether the new OS will work well on the Watch Series 1 and Watch Series 2. For the former, we would suggest holding off on the update for the moment, because that hardware may start feeling the load of the new features and visual elements, leading to sluggish performance—that is perhaps true for any old piece of tech awaiting the latest generation software. However, the Series 2 is quite powerful in its own right, and should not have any problems with WatchOS 4 at all.