The Apple Watch Series 4 is a very good smartwatch. It has since been eclipsed by the new Apple Watch Series 5, which is hands down the best smartwatch you can buy right now, but if you find a holiday deal on the Series 4, it’s still worth picking up. You just won’t get an always-on display or a compass. 

When the Apple Watch launched in 2015, it was more of a pricey iPhone accessory than an essential device. But then Apple realized that the watch’s placement — literally on a person’s body — gave it capabilities the phone could never have. The optical heart rate sensor enabled high heart rate alerts, giving people information they could use to seek medical treatment. The watch’s potential became clear.

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Apple doubles down on that promise with the Series 4. The newest watch ticks the usual upgrade boxes: bigger display, thinner case, faster processor, more advanced sensors. But it’s the Series 4’s health features that bring it closer to fulfilling Apple’s vision of a truly indispensable device.

Display: Bigger, brighter, exponentially better

The first thing you’ll notice about the Series 4 is its face. Apple stripped away the thick bezels surrounding the watch’s display and brought the screen nearly to the edge.

Both Series 4 models are slightly larger than their predecessors (more on that later), and their displays are more than 30 percent larger. That makes a huge difference. The 40mm model’s OLED screen is 394×324, compared to the 38mm Series 3’s 340×272 display, and the 44mm model’s is 448×368 versus the 390×312 panel in the 42mm Series 3. That’s right: The smaller Series 4’s display is bigger than the largest Series 3. This makes every interaction easier.

The display brightness hasn’t changed from Series 3 to Series 4 — both versions can hit 1,000 nits — but Apple redesigned the interface to take advantage of all the space on the newer watch’s extra-large screen. Icons are larger and more detailed. It’s easier to read notifications quickly. Even in bright sunlight, I was able to see the five running metrics displayed on-screen during a 3-mile jog without squinting. That makes it seem like the display is brighter, even when it’s technically not.

Apple introduced new watch faces with the Series 4 to take advantage of the sizable screen. The company filmed actual vapor, fire, water and liquid metal on a high-speed camera to create the new faces, and the results are stunning. These dynamic faces are also available on the Series 3, but they’re contained to the radius surrounding the dial. On the Series 4, the effects are more dramatic: flames unfurl to lick the sides of the display on one face, and vapor overtakes your wrist like fog rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge on another.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is a very good smartwatch. It has since been eclipsed by the new Apple Watch Series 5, which is hands down the best smartwatch you can buy right now, but if you find a holiday deal on the Series 4, it’s still worth picking up. You just won’t get an always-on display or a compass. 

When the Apple Watch launched in 2015, it was more of a pricey iPhone accessory than an essential device. But then Apple realized that the watch’s placement — literally on a person’s body — gave it capabilities the phone could never have. The optical heart rate sensor enabled high heart rate alerts, giving people information they could use to seek medical treatment. The watch’s potential became clear.

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PLAY SOUND

Apple doubles down on that promise with the Series 4. The newest watch ticks the usual upgrade boxes: bigger display, thinner case, faster processor, more advanced sensors. But it’s the Series 4’s health features that bring it closer to fulfilling Apple’s vision of a truly indispensable device.

It’s still not perfect. But it’s oh so close. It’s also oh so expensive: The watch starts at $399/£399 for the GPS model, and $499/£499 if you want cellular connectivity. Is it worth it? Yes. But you still don’t need LTE.

Display: Bigger, brighter, exponentially better

The first thing you’ll notice about the Series 4 is its face. Apple stripped away the thick bezels surrounding the watch’s display and brought the screen nearly to the edge.

Both Series 4 models are slightly larger than their predecessors (more on that later), and their displays are more than 30 percent larger. That makes a huge difference. The 40mm model’s OLED screen is 394×324, compared to the 38mm Series 3’s 340×272 display, and the 44mm model’s is 448×368 versus the 390×312 panel in the 42mm Series 3. That’s right: The smaller Series 4’s display is bigger than the largest Series 3. This makes every interaction easier.

The display brightness hasn’t changed from Series 3 to Series 4 — both versions can hit 1,000 nits — but Apple redesigned the interface to take advantage of all the space on the newer watch’s extra-large screen. Icons are larger and more detailed. It’s easier to read notifications quickly. Even in bright sunlight, I was able to see the five running metrics displayed on-screen during a 3-mile jog without squinting. That makes it seem like the display is brighter, even when it’s technically not.

Apple introduced new watch faces with the Series 4 to take advantage of the sizable screen. The company filmed actual vapor, fire, water and liquid metal on a high-speed camera to create the new faces, and the results are stunning. These dynamic faces are also available on the Series 3, but they’re contained to the radius surrounding the dial. On the Series 4, the effects are more dramatic: flames unfurl to lick the sides of the display on one face, and vapor overtakes your wrist like fog rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge on another.

Health: Medical advice on your wrist

The Series 4 is a significant step toward making the Apple Watch a must-have device. Apple received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for two game-changing features: an ECG app capable of taking electrocardiograms on the go, and an atrial fibrillation feature that alerts you when you experience five irregular heart rhythms. The atrial fibrillation feature will be available on any watch running watchOS 5 or later.

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