First Look: Apple Watch Series 7
Apple says its latest smartwatch features a larger, brighter, tougher display, but not much else is new
Only a day after William Shatner went into orbit, the new Apple Watch Series 7 made a statement that channels "Star Trek": Even on something as small as a smartwatch face, space is still the final frontier.
By far the most significant change in the new model, which goes on sale today starting at $399, is a display that’s almost 20 percent larger than that on last year’s Series 6 Watch. And even that is accomplished without making the case of the Series 7 watch noticeably bigger than its predecessor.
A Modest Millimeter
When I unboxed the Series 7, what struck me first is how much the device looked like my Series 6 watch. The Series 7 is virtually the same thickness as its predecessor, as best I can tell without a micrometer.
And while Apple maintains that the case has grown by 1 mm in height—from 44mm for the Series 6 to 45mm (and from 40mm to 41mm for the smaller Series 7)—the difference is so small as to be almost indistinguishable, even when I held the models side by side.
Apple also says the contours of the corners on the Series 7 are slightly softer. But, while I guess I could see that change if I squinted hard, that seems to me like the kind of super-subtle modification best appreciated by industrial designers.
What is obvious is the striking green of the aluminum case on the model I received. The deep, elegant hue reminds me of the British racing green that adorned vintage Bentley speedsters of the 1930s. Indeed, in low-light situations, the case almost appears to be black, and only the pure black of the crown makes it clear that it’s not. My sample came with a light Clover green silicone Solo loop strap, but I’m guessing that a cognac brown leather strap would make a green Watch look like a million bucks.
The other new colors also channel the super-saturated aesthetic of the green Watch. Midnight, which replaces the venerable Space Gray, is a navy so dark it can appear black; the revised Product Red is deeper, too; a rather mundane blue might look better in person than in Apple’s press photos. The most controversial shade seems to be Starlight, a warm champagne tone that’s supposed to split the difference between last year’s Silver and Gold, but instead has managed to rile fans of both of those classic Apple colors.
One good thing: The Apple Watch Series 7 can use the same bands as the Series 6, which no doubt will save thousands of previous-gen straps from going to the landfill. I tried the Pride-color Nike Sport Band I bought with my Series 6 on the Series 7 watch, and it fit perfectly. That Solo band from the Series 7 loaner also fit like a glove on the Series 6 watch.
Larger Display, Tiny Keyboard
Once I loaded iOS 15 onto my iPhone and powered up the Series 7, I could see what all the fuss is about. Apple has enlarged the display mostly by reducing the size of the bezel, the rim that frames most electronic displays.
It’s not like the bezel has disappeared—it’s merely shrunk from a thick line to a medium-width line. And with the company’s clever user interface, most Apple Watch apps have a black background, so even the thicker black bezel of the Series 6 was never particularly obvious.
The icons and buttons on the menu are noticeably bigger, too. Apple has introduced two new watch faces to take advantage of the Series 7’s additional acreage. A fun and funky Contour analog face (shown below) takes the numerals out to the very edge of the screen, while the Modular Duo allows two large horizontal complications—non-timekeeping functions that rest on your watch face, like heart rate trends and an hourly weather forecast—to be displayed at the same time. Not earth-shattering, but potentially useful.
Reading the same text message on both the Series 6 and Series 7 Watches put things in perspective: The morning after Wednesday’s Lou Barlow house concert, I got a text notification from my friend Wes. The larger display yielded exactly one extra letter, turning "liber . . . " into "libera . . . " and making me open the full text to realize he was saying "liberating."
Leveraging the extra real estate, Apple has created a new QWERTY keyboard feature (shown below) that allows you to input text right there on the watch display. I tried responding to Wes about the show, but my large fingers and the less-than-agile autocorrect turned my attempt at typing "Barlow is a force of nature" into "Barlw os a scorching Marie." FWIW, my attempt at sending the same message with the Watch’s Scribble feature was even worse, resulting in an illegible scrawl that I’d be embarrassed to send even to a good friend.
I can see how the itsy-bitsy keyboard could be useful for replying to an urgent text, but make sure you proofread your answer before sending it to your boss or significant other.
The display on the Series 7 is supposed to be up to 20 percent brighter than its predecessor, but when I tried the Series 7 and Series 6 indoors and out in the autumn sunshine, the difference was quite subtle and only obvious upon direct comparison. As for the durability of the new glass, I’ll have to wait for our testers to weigh in on that.
The most telling point? I’ve been wearing a silver 44 mm Series 6 watch on a regular basis since the spring. As I swapped bands between the watches during the day, I often forgot which model I was wearing until I noticed the color of the cases.
Charging Up Your Sleep Tracking
The Apple Watch Series 7 includes a new and improved charging cable that, according to Apple, lets the new watch charge 33 percent faster than the Series 6, although battery life remains the same.
When I tried the new charger for a quick top-up, it largely worked as promised. To go from 88 percent to 100 percent took 21 minutes and might have been slowed a bit as I activated the display several times to check the progress.
The fast-charging feature requires that new charging cable, which is included with the Series 7 watch and can be distinguished by a charging pad that’s silver instead of the all-white of earlier Apple watches. And before you ask, no, you can’t game the system by using the new cable to quick-charge your Series 6 Apple Watch.
As with the Series 6 watch, the Series 7 watch ships with just the cable but no brick. And while previous Apple watch chargers used USB-A connectors, this one sports a smaller USB-C connector like the one on the latest iPhone cables. Despite living in a house full of Apple gear, none of my bricks were compatible with this cable, so I ended up charging the Series 7 watch from my MacBook Pro laptop.
Whether the charging update represents an important improvement really depends on how you use your Apple Watch. If you take it off when you go to bed and slap it on the charger, you’ll hardly notice the change. But if you’re like me, and you wear your watch overnight for sleep tracking, the ability to add some juice on the fly–Apple claims that 8 minutes of charging is enough for 8 hours of sleep tracking–makes the device’s 18-hour battery life a little easier to manage.
Should You Buy an Apple Watch Series 7?
After using the Series 7 for a day, I suspect that it’s better than the Series 6. But I have to add that it’s only incrementally better.
The 7’s new display is somewhat easier to read., and the improved charging also counts as a benefit.
Are these upgrades worth the extra money over a likely-to-be-discounted Series 6 or the $280 of the Apple Watch SE, which lacks a few features like blood oxygen monitoring? That’s your call and one best made by handing the watches in person.
(If you’re considering a cellular model, note that Verizon and T-Mobile are both offering $100 rebates on the Series 7 with activation. AT&T’s floating $200 off if you buy two Apple Watches, but you can choose any Apple Watch model to get that discount.)
But if you already have a Series 6 watch, spending the money to upgrade to the Series 7 watch makes less sense. You’d have to be pretty impressed with the Series 7’s larger display and marginally faster charging. Unless, of course, you find that one of the attractive new colors complements your ride or your favorite sweater.