Technology

Apple Watch Series 7 in the test: time for a small upgrade

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Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 7 is practically indistinguishable from the Series 6 (less with a bright dial), and it doesn’t add much, but it’s still the best smartwatch you can buy. (Ars Technica may receive compensation for sales from links in this post through affiliate programs.)

One of the oldest complaints about new technology is that by the time you get it, it will be out of date. But this year Apple Watch Series 6 owners can breathe a sigh of relief as the Apple Watch Series 7 is essentially the same device with a (largely imperceptible) facelift.

2021 won’t be the year we see an Apple Watch that can measure blood pressure (no big smartwatch can do that), but it’s the year we finally get an Apple Watch that turns into little more than one Fully charges for one hour. And that means a 10 or 30 minute sprint on the charger now goes a lot further. Apple also introduced the Watch for the first time, IPX6 dust resistance, along with three new colors.

Oh, and there is a full QWERTY keyboard option for entering text.

Still, the Apple Watch remains the best-equipped and most widely used smartwatch on the market. Despite its first-class sensor array (heart rate, EKG, blood oxygen, GPS), it is still not the best fitness tracker. But Apple’s continued work on its Apple Fitness + paid fitness subscription (which requires an Apple Watch) makes a more compelling argument for the Watch’s ability to improve your health.

Stronger screen, larger display and a QWERTY keyboard

The Series 7 brings us the biggest physical change to the Apple Watch since the Series 4 was introduced. Just like the Series 4, the Series 7 enlarges the watch case to accommodate a rounder, larger display. In this case, the 7 Series is just a millimeter larger and is now offered in 41mm and 45mm options. It uses the same watch straps as the Series 4 and above. The Series 7 has 20 percent more screen area than the Series 6, but neither the screen nor the case are noticeable.

Sure, if you have a Series 6 next to a Series 7 and you’ve set a bright watch face, then you can see where the edges of the screen protrude further into the bezel than before. However, this does little to change the experience of wearing, using, or viewing your Apple Watch, especially if you’re using a black watch face.

Apple claims that this very light screen extension made it easier to introduce a full QWERTY keyboard for text entry, and the extension also allows for some slightly larger keys and three larger font sizes. But I can’t be convinced that the Series 6 is too big for a keyboard if there was one. What it is not.
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  • The larger Apple Watch Series 7 (left) and the slightly smaller Series 6 (right) are essentially indistinguishable with a black dial.

    Corey Gaskin

  • The Apple Watch Series 7 (left) and Series 6 (right).

    Corey Gaskin

  • Apple says that this screen extension made it possible to add a QWERTY keyboard that I could easily type enough text on thanks to the autocorrect function.

    Corey Gaskin

  • Last year’s blue Apple Watch Series 6 (above) was navy blue, while the new blue hue is lighter and more teal. Even small changes such as the speaker grill reveal the model differences.

    Corey Gaskin

  • The new mindfulness app adds a more engaging “reflection exercise”.

    Corey Gaskin

  • Apple’s new dial emphasizes the larger screen. It actually grows on you.

    Corey Gaskin

  • The 7 series introduces new colors: an army green, a lighter blue and a silvery gold called “Starlight”.

Reading a message on an Apple Watch is nowhere near my favorite method of texting (you can also swipe on the keyboard). But it’s better than drawing every letter. The keyboard does the job and does it with decent accuracy. Apple says it learns from typing on the watch to train predictive text; No information from the keyboard of your iPhone is used in this training. Moving the cursor with the digital crown is a smoothly performed and useful function. It’s nice to send a GIF response now too, but these are limited to the default #images app; Third party clients like Giphy are not currently supported.

During this facelift, Apple also optimized the geometry of the screen. With 40 percent thinner bezels and a flatter underside, the Series 7 has improved its durability, according to Apple, and calls this the “most crack-resistant” screen to date.

The display itself also received a small technological upgrade via software. In always-on mode, the Series 7 can display up to 70 percent higher brightness with the wrist lowered, depending on the light conditions and the displayed watch face.

The maximum brightness of 1,000 nits outdoors and 500 nits indoors remains in effect, but the brightness on the wrist is now algorithmically optimized for better visibility. Looking at a Series 6 and Series 7 worn on the wrist, the contrast in brightness can be felt without overdoing things. The difference is even more noticeable outdoors during daytime (or even nighttime) exercise.

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