Apple Watch 4 review

The Apple Watch 4 is still one of the top smartwatches

Apple Watch 4
Image Credit: TechRadar

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There are a number of new features in watchOS 5, but it feels weird talking about them here because as a platform it's now available on all watches apart from the original.

The main feature that we're most impressed with is the fact that you can now use the Apple Watch 4 for a number of different exercises - and there's automatic exercise tracking too.

We'll get into the nuts and bolts of the fitness side of things a little later on in this review, but overall the fitness capabilities of this Watch are impressive and a genuine step forward once more.

That's not to say there aren't loads of cool new features in the new Watch software - we most love the Walkie-Talkie mode. One of our best pals was also testing the Watch and we instantly began sending them short voice messages, the way that some people don't talk but send short voice messages in a slight more confusing race.

Apple Watch 4

Raising your wrist to your mouth in order to have that conversation with a friend does feel like a real Dick Tracy moment - it feels partly ridiculous, but also quite fun - and thanks to the improved speaker and microphone placement (now separated left and right), much easier to use. 

We also remembered that we had to say 'Over' at the end of sentence, lest the airwaves get clogged with people just randomly rabbiting on. OK, nobody needs to say that, but it kinds of shows that the retro vibe is there and is something we want to fully get involved with.

The other watchOS 5 improvements are really rather minor - such as richer notifications or weather data that includes things like the UV index or air quality outside. However, as the Watch does less than your all-singing smartphone, it’s much easier to notice these little changes.

The latest big software upgrade to officially land is watchOS 5.1.2 that brought the ECG feature to those in the US plus a few other minor updates. The latest software update is now watchOS 5.3, but it's soon we'll hear about even more.

We know the Apple Watch 4 is set to be upgraded to watchOS 6 when it's officially released (likely in September 2019), which will see the introduction of an App Store on your wrist as well as features like menstrual cycle tracking and a way to monitor decibels to avoid damaging your hearing.

Design and screen

  • Much larger design
  • Screen far more usable
  • Lightweight

Apple Watch 4

If you’re going to notice something about this watch though, it’s that it looks bloomin’ different. Perhaps not to someone who has never seen an Apple Watch before, but to those who have will instantly see that the screen is bigger - 30% bigger, in fact.

While it’s nowhere near edge-to-edge as some are suggesting it is, it’s certainly a lot larger and more rounded, giving the impression of a rounder timepiece without losing the benefit of a square display.

The overall chassis is thinner too - not noticeably so over previous models, but the weight is minimal on the wrist and really is hard to notice sometimes - this is not a weighty digital timepiece.

The Digital Crown and power / multi-tasking button on the side of the Watch 4 have been improved as well - we’ve talked about the former element already in this review, but the power button also feels like it’s got a more premium click when pushed in.

The back of the Apple Watch 4 has been upgraded - still using the ceramic material to let the radio signal through, it’s been combined with sapphire glass to allow placement of the radio antenna around the edge of the watch, thus making it easier to let signal in without your wrist masking the frequency.

It looks more bulbous in truth, but because it’s gently curved and wider, it’s not something you feel on the wrist when wearing.

Apple Watch 4

Going back to the screen, and we’re really impressed with how Apple’s managed to fit so much more into the device. Sure, the sizes are 40mm and 44mm, which is a little larger than the 38mm and 42mm options previously, but the increase in screen real estate is something pretty useful.

Not only that, but as mentioned: Apple has somehow managed to make a square look more circular. Some tappable options at the bottom of the display are rounded at the corners, making everything look a bit more circular.

That extra screen real estate has allowed for some new watch faces to be created - namely the infograph display that contains eight complications of your choosing. It’s colorful indeed on the OLED screen Apple is using here, and being able to choose so many different options to tap is awesome.

We do wish that Apple would offer more digital clocks in its watch faces, as it loves the analogue hands in its new suite of options - and we certainly can’t understand why there’s no third party store for developers to make their own faces.

Here you can see a gallery of the new watch faces Apple is offering, with the elemental options like vapor, fire and water all created using a high-speed camera, and the results do look more dynamic as a result.

These will be available on the Apple Watch 3 and lower, but will be a circle rather than the full display you’re seeing here.

Back to the design and the speaker placement is certainly better - on the right and away from the microphone, that’s instantly going to lead to better audio response.

However, while we could generally be heard OK, when using the Apple Watch to make and receive voice calls you really have to be in a quiet environment to make that 50% louder speaker really work.

When asking Siri to set a timer in a hushed kitchen, she blared out ‘SURE, TEN MINUTES AND COUNTING’ and we were initially impressed with the volume.

Apple Watch 4

However, asking Siri to make a call in the car wasn’t a useful experience - even a touch of ambient noise made it impossible to hear the person on the other end, and that made the feature moot.

We even had a few issues with Siri at the start of our reviewing period, when the Watch would hear our command but decide to not take any action - but this was solved when re-pairing the Watch 4 to our phone.

Actually, we say 'solved', but like before with other models there were moments when it would still hang for no reason when asked to do simple things like check the weather.

The final thought on the design element is that it’s excellent to see that the old watch straps - designed for smaller bodies of watch - are still going to fit the new range, thus saving a whole suite of straps on the market from going to waste.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.