Apple Watch Series 7 review: Is the bigger display worth it?

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The Apple Watch Series 7, the tech giant’s latest offering, focuses more on upgrading the aesthetics rather than performance compared to its predecessor.

After spending a week with the Apple Watch Series 7, we’ve found that it’s inherently the same Apple Watch experience with a larger display — keeping all the features of the Series 6, so tools such as heart rate, ECGs, blood oxygen and activity tracking are all here.

Wondering if the Apple Watch Series 7 is for you? It’s time to unpack the experience from our wrist.

A larger display and fast charging

The Series 7, while not an immediate upgrade from the Series 6, it is for those with older models. Those new to Apple Watch are joining at a time where the focus is on how you interact and use the Watch.

Who this is for: If you have a Series 6, there’s not a real reason to rush out and upgrade to it. Those from a Series 5 or older will see performance improvements, the ability to take an ECG or blood oxygen level and benefit from the bigger screen. If you have a Series 3 or older, the larger display along with new communication and health features will be the biggest leap.

What you need to know: The Series 7 features a large display (20% bigger over Series 6 and 40% over Series 3) and it can charge faster. The larger display makes it easier to interact and, as a whole, the interface feels less cramped.

How this compares: In comparison to other Apple Watches, Series 7 is the most advanced with a larger always-on display, support for fast charging and health features like the ability to monitor blood oxygen along with an electrocardiogram function. The Watch SE is a good competitor, as it only lacks the zippy performance, an always-on display and a few health features. It’s more affordable at $279. Competing options from Fossil don’t offer deep integrations with iOS and Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 4 doesn’t work with the iPhone.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Even with the larger display, Apple didn’t increase the case size, so it’s not like you’re wearing a larger watch on your wrist. Instead, the bezels around the display are slimmed down to just 1.7-millimeters thick.

The increase in size is immediately noticeable — so much so that looking at the side of the Apple Watch lets you see the outer rim of the Watch Face and even make out notifications as they pop in. This is a unique charistic of the glass OLED display, as it slopes down the edges.

And the screen is a full millimeter larger in comparison to Series 6 (41mm from 40mm and 45mm from 44mm) — it’s a small difference on paper, but does let you more easily read a large section of text, see more details without scrolling and easily hit the right on-screen button. WatchOS 8 has been optimized for the new screen and the user interface as a whole or with individual apps will look a little different. Dialing a number in the phone app features much larger numbers and the same goes for the calculator. As a result, we found ourselves doing a whole lot more directly on our wrist over the past week.

The display is an Always-On Retina display which offers vibrant colors and sharp contrast points (think sharp text when reading an email). The Always-On nature allows you to look at the Watch and see the time or whatever else is on your watch face without needing to tap the screen or engage it. Apple claims the Series 7’s display is 70% brighter than the Series 6, and we did notice in side-by-side tests that the Series 7 displayed complications (widgets on the screen like weather or activity) with more clarity. Apple says they’ve tuned each watch face as well and it really is only noticeable inside. There’s no improvement when using the display outdoors.

Jacob Krol/CNN

One thing we’ve really enjoyed on the Series 7 is just how usable the full QWERTY keyboard is on your wrist. It’s easy to tap each key — so while it might look cramped, we think it’ll be a boon to those who don’t want to always switch between their watch and phone for certain tasks.

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With watchOS 7 last year, Apple rolled out Sleep Tracking which caused a bit of a power issue for some users. If you wanted to track for the whole night, you’d need to charge the Apple Watch again.

Apple is still promising “all day” battery life which equates to about 18 hours, and we’ve been hitting that day in and day out. Most days we took a few calls, tracked some workouts, monitored our heart rate and responded back to a boatload of messages.

The upgraded Apple Watch Charging Cable included with the Series 7, Apple claims, should charge the Watch from 0% to 80% in 45 minutes and to 100% in 75 minutes — which proved to be the case in our testing.

When it came to charging before sleeping or charging right after waking up, we were able to place the Series 7 for about six to seven minutes on the charger to get between 30% to 40% of battery. In most cases, if we charged for 45 minutes before bed, the watch could make it through the night and a majority of the next day. It’s impressive and essentially fixes the issue of the battery running dry with a quick charge feature.

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The Apple Watch Series 7 is nearly identical to every Apple Watch before it — with some nuanced upgrades.

Series 7 expands on durability by keeping the WR50 rating (it’s swim-proof and waterproof), but bumps the dust rating up to IP6X. This means the Apple Watch is sealed off from dust and doesn’t allow any particles inside. In our testing, wearing the Apple Watch while gardening — near dirt and water — we didn’t experience any issues.

Apple claims the display on Series 7 is their most crack-resistant and the crystal itself — for the display — is flat on the bottom which helps it stand up to drops and cracks. We didn’t fully test this with a drop test, but knocking our wrist into a bedpost, table, or countertop didn’t present us any issues.

Series 7 is also available in five colors: Midnight, Starlight, (PRODUCT)RED, blue and green. (PRODUCT)RED and blue are more vibrant over years past, while Midnight is a black injected with what seems a very dark blue. We’ll also note that Starlight isn’t silver, it’s more of a gold and silver mixed.

The Series 7 supports all of your current Apple Watch bands — you won’t need to rush out and buy all new bands.

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Now for those coming from a Series 6, we’ll save you from reading — aside from fast charging and the larger display, this is a nearly identical experience. You get the same health features and pretty similar performance.

WatchOS 8 runs swimmingly on the Series 7 — applications open quickly, it promptly illuminates the full display when you raise your wrist, dictation happens nearly in realtime and Siri is noticeably quicker at handling requests. The applications that have been optimized here — basically all the preloaded Apple ones — run well without any weird sizing bugs.

We’ll also say that viewing web pages on your wrist — while still comical — is much more useful on a bigger screen. Similarly, you can more effortlessly browse the App Store and some good news is that the QWERTY keyboard is available in any spot where you can enter text.

And as Apple typically ships, the Series 7 has two new watch faces designed for the bigger display. We’re especially fond of Modular Duo, which digitally shows the time in the top right, with three spots for complications — two large rectangular ones and a circular one in the top left. We’ve been rocking weather up top, with calendar and activity below. It lets you see a lot of bite-sized information, even with a quick glance.

While other smartwatches have added health features — like the Galaxy Watch 4 with BMI — the Apple Watch Series 7 isn’t introducing anything new. It can still measure your heart rate or blood oxygen levels, take an ECG and perform full activity tracking. It’s the Apple Watch experience users know and it performs quite well here. Tracking across all these metrics was pretty much in line with Series 6 (we wore a Series 7, 6, SE and 3 for our testing), which is expected since it’s the same sensor set across the board.

For heart rate and blood oxygen specifically, we tested with two standalone devices. As we found last year, the Series 7 was pretty close, with these standalone sensors only differing by a digit or two above or below. It was similar to comparing the Series 7 against the Galaxy Watch 4 family as well. Safe to say, it’s an accurate measurement for a smartwatch across all that the Apple Watch can track.

We’d also call out that the Series 7, like other Apple Watches, integrates closely with Fitness+, in that your activity measurements are viewable in realtime on your wrist and whatever device is streaming the workout.

And an important note: Like any other smartwatch, should never be used to diagnose. We strongly don’t recommend using those readings to make any medical diagnosis, and Apple suggests the same. When in doubt, contact a doctor.

Jacob Krol/CNN

So yes, the Apple Watch Series 7 is the best Apple Watch yet — but that’s to be expected since it replaces the Series 6 and adds in new features. The larger display here reinvigorates the experience and faster charging solves a real problem for some years. That along with the ability to take an ECG, monitor blood oxygen and be always-on with extra durability chops makes it the ultimate Apple Watch.

However, it’s also part of the strongest lineup of watches yet by Apple. The Apple Watch SE at $279 deserves a look if you can live without all the health features and the always on display. The Series 3 for $199 is still in the lineup, but shows it age with performance. We’d recommend the SE or the Series 7.

If you have a Series 6, and aren’t absolutely sold that you need a larger display, we’d say hold onto that watch for another year. Those coming from a Series 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 or even the original will see improvements across health tracking, performance, battery life and with a much larger display on Series 7.

And now that the Apple Watch has a larger display, we have to ask when we might see it become a standalone device.


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