The new Apple Watch reviews are in and it seems like a good one

Time to strap one on?
Time to strap one on?
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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With barely enough time to process the deluge of iPhone Xs reviews that dropped yesterday, it seems the floodgates have once again opened and reviews for the new Apple Watch Series 4 have been published today (Sept. 19).

Unlike the new iPhone reviews, which generally agreed there wasn’t much of a difference between the iPhone Xs and last year’s X, the new $400 Apple Watch seems to have reviewers enthused. The device features a 30% larger display, a new electrocardiogram monitor (which may or may not be particularly useful for the average wearer), better battery life, and a bunch of new intelligent features.

Here’s what reviewers had to say about the device, which is available starting Sept. 21:

The watches are larger than previous generations, but that didn’t bother The Verge’s Dieter Bohn:

The two new sizes are 40mm and 44mm, but they really don’t feel that much bigger on your wrist than the old sizes. I was using the 42mm Series 3 and the 44mm size is only subtly bigger, but it’s also subtly thinner. To me, it feels about the same, but I think the trade-off of size for thinness is worth it. I suspect the same will be true for people who prefer the smaller size, but my recommendation is to go to a store and try one on before buying.

The New York Times’ Brian X. Chen agreed, adding that the bigger display made this a far easier watch to read:

The screen stretches out from one edge to the other, letting apps take up more of the watch’s face. This enlarged display makes everything on the watch look better, including text.

The extended battery life was another selling point for many reviewers, with Runner’s World’s Jeff Dengate saying the watch is “finally a great option for runners,” adding:

Another change we appreciate is an extra hour of battery life. Series 4 now will last up to six hours in outdoor workout mode—so the watch is actually useful for long runs and marathons. Of course, if you’re listening to music over Bluetooth and streaming data via a cellphone network, you’ll get less runtime. But even in those instances, the new Apple Watch will last a full hour longer than its predecessor under the same conditions.

The new watch software—available for the last few generations of the device as well—can automatically detect when you’re working out (which I’ve personally found can be a bit annoying). As TechCrunch’s Brian Heater describes it:

Roughly two-and-half minutes into my run, the watch kicks in. There’s a haptic buzz on my wrist.

“It looks like you’re working out,” the watch face reads. That’s followed by a big, yellow button, suggesting I start an indoor run. I tap the neon button and the clock starts, comping me a reasonable approximation of the time it took for the Watch to be sure what sort of activity it was detecting.

I wasn’t actually planning to test the feature on this particular run. In all the stretching/music picking/treadmill setting pre-run ritual, I’d just forgotten to set the damn thing. It feels like a small thing, but, then, most of the updates are relatively small in the grand scheme of things.

The new watch can also supposedly detect when you’ve fallen, alerting your loved ones or emergency services if you choose, which could be a boon to the aging population in countries like the US. Most of the reviewers Apple chose are younger and generally able-bodied, but they struggled to trigger the fall detector. Chen wrote:

In the name of journalism, I took several dives at home onto my mattress, a couch and a dog bed to try to get it to work.

I also headed to a rock climbing gym, where I climbed up six walls and fell onto a padded mattress onto my side and onto my back. No dice. Last, I clambered atop the gym’s tallest wall — about 17 feet high — and dropped down. When I landed, the watch vibrated and chirped. Alas, it was only a notification alerting me that someone had liked a photo on my dog’s Instagram account.

Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel had an even more dramatic experience:

Still, the watch didn’t detect a fall (or much of anything) when I fainted in a doctor’s office after sitting up too fast during an outpatient procedure.

The watch also is the first device of its kind cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration to take an electrocardiogram (EKG), a measure of the heart’s health used to detect irregular heart beats and heart attacks. Chen took a proper EKG at a doctor’s office, which involves placing multiple electrodes all over the body to get a picture of a heart’s activity. Although not painful, it’s still a rather involved process. The Apple Watch EKG isn’t quite as complicated, or as thorough:

The Apple Watch’s EKG won’t be nearly as comprehensive as the one produced by a traditional electrocardiograph, which hooks up to multiple parts of the body, like the one the cardiologist used on me. The watch is a single-lead EKG device, meaning it will record one angle of the heart’s electrical signals — enough to collect data about arrhythmia but not to diagnose a heart attack.

“I’m not recommending it for most people as anything other than just a novelty,” Ethan Weiss, the cardiologist who took Chen’s EKG, told the Times.

Some reviewers, like iMore’s Rene Ritchie, found this novelty reason enough to add the $400-and-up device to your life:

If you don’t have an Apple Watch yet, you should get one. And probably this one. Yes, it may seem expensive and extraneous if your already have an iPhone and maybe an iPad and laptop or whatever, but here’s the thing: It can save your life in a way none of that other stuff can.

And many agreed the watch’s new features were enough to justify picking up the new version, especially if you didn’t have an old one. Hodinkee’s Stephen Pulvirent wrote:

To start with a cliché, the Apple Watch Series 4 is more of an evolution than a revolution. It doesn’t have some new fundamental change that upends what we thought a smartwatch could be. But that’s okay. Instead, it makes a number of incremental changes, some that you’ll experience every time you raise your wrist and others that you might never notice, but the end result is an Apple Watch that feels like it has a clear idea of how you should be using it and how it can be helpful to you.

But not everyone was entirely moved. Looking back at his original review from over three years ago, Warzel summed up the new watch quite well:

My takeaway then: “You can see a plausible future if you squint your eyes just so. That future looks enticing and cool as hell, but it’s just. not. there. Yet.”

A little more than three years later, I largely feel the same way. I can’t seem to shake the notion that the Watch is priming us for a new kind of ambient computing behavior, where all our hardware is barely noticeable but just kind of connects to us — through wireless headphones and little sensors and gyroscopes scattered in everything from hats to glasses to our clothing.

We’re not there yet, but devices like the Apple Watch are getting us closer.