- No other smartwatch maker comes close to matching the ease of use and reliability of the new Apple Watch.
- The Apple Watch Series 7 charges faster, has a bigger screen and is more durable than earlier models.
- If you need a new Apple Watch, you should buy the Series 7 or the Series SE, but skip the Series 3.
I've been testing the new Apple Watch Series 7 for about a week ahead of its release Friday. There are three big upgrades from last year's model: it's more durable, has a bigger screen and charges faster.
Apple doesn't break out its watch revenue the way it does for iPad, iPhone and Mac. However, the company's Wearables, Home and Accessories business — which includes Apple Watch, HomePod, AirPods and Apple TV — is one of its fastest-growing segments. That business generated $8.7 billion in revenue during the fiscal third quarter, more than Mac and iPad.
Research firm Canalys said in March that Apple shipped an estimated 14.5 million Apple Watch units during the fourth quarter of 2020, leading the market with a 25% share, and marking 49.2% year-over-year growth.
Apple told me that about 75% of its Apple Watch customers are buying an Apple Watch for the first time, and I think the Series 7 delivers the best experience yet.
First-time Apple Watch buyers will love the Apple Watch Series 7, which starts at $399. People who own the Apple Watch Series 3 or older should consider an upgrade, since there's enough here to justify it.
But if you just need a basic smartwatch for notifications and fitness tracking, and you don't care about the screen size, you can still pick up the cheaper Apple Watch SE for $279. I'd skip the $199 Series 3, even though Apple still sells it, since it's showing its age and you get far more features for the extra $79 for the SE.
Here's what you need to know about the new Apple Watch Series 7:
The Apple Watch Series 7 is the best smartwatch you can buy. No other smartwatch maker comes close to matching the Series 7's ease of use and reliability. There are some niche fitness tracker makers — like Garmin, that make excellent watches that focus more specifically on fitness (or things like ultramarathons) and which have much longer battery life — but Apple still has the best all-around solution that ties well with the iPhone.
The larger screen is the biggest difference this year. You get 20% more screen area compared with the Series 6 from last year and more than 50% screen area than the Apple Watch Series 3 screen, which now sort of looks like a tiny stamp in comparison.
At an angle, it almost looks like the screen is rolling over the edges thanks to the curved design.
The bigger screen is more than just nicer to look at. It's easier to type in a passcode since the buttons are larger. I liked that I could see more on a map while walking around my neighborhood, and that I can see more text in things like emails or messages that pop up. The watch also offers a touch keyboard that works really well. So, you can swipe or tap out a message right on your wrist to respond to someone. I also like the new Modular Duo watch face, which lets you show more information on the home screen.
The bigger screen means I can now see a full breakdown of my next calendar event and all my fitness activity. But you can customize these larger complications to show other data, too, like the song playing, a stock or index you're watching and the weather forecast.
I also like that the new Apple Watch can charge to 80% in 45 minutes. It's helpful if you just want to top up for a few minutes before bed to have enough battery life for sleep tracking. Apple says an 8-minute charge gives you 8 hours of sleep tracking. I found the fast charging useful one day when, just before a run, I realized I only had about 15% battery left. I charged it while I got dressed and was able to head out with more than a 50% charge. You have to use the new included Apple Watch cable for faster charging.
The Series 7 Apple Watch is more durable than any previous version. Apple says the screen is more crack-resistant (both on the glass version and on the more expensive sapphire models.) The watch is also dust resistant for the first time. That's a feature I'm excited about since I've always worn the Apple Watch to the beach but have worried about getting sand in the area around the crown, or in the speakers. Now I don't have to worry about that. The Series 7 is still rated for up to 50 meters of water resistance anywhere, including in the ocean or pools, so you can swim pretty much wherever you want with it.
The Always on Display is a must-have for me, and it works well on the Apple Watch Series 7. I like that I can always glance down and see the time without having to lift my wrist to see it. Apple says it's now 70% brighter inside with your wrist down, which should make it easier to see. I've never really had a problem reading the screen, though, and couldn't see a huge difference in brightness.
Then there's everything you get with an Apple Watch. I love the tight integration with the iPhone, so I can get all my notifications anywhere, and that it shows things like the next driving direction while I'm using CarPlay. I regularly buy the cellular model (also available on Series SE) and just leave my phone at home, but still know that I can call my wife or stream music, find my way on a map, talk to Siri or text someone on a run.
There are also far more apps than on competitors like Samsung, Fitbit and Garmin. So, you can book an Uber from your wrist or save Spotify songs offline, get more in-depth sleep tracking analysis or listen to an audiobook from Audible. And all models work with Fitness+ if you want to access Apple's subscription service, which I really like for indoor cycling classes and its new meditation features. My wife uses it for yoga.
Like the Series 6 before it, the Series 7 is also the only one that can track blood oxygen, in case you want to keep an eye on that while you're hiking to higher altitudes. It also has an ECG app if your doctor wants to see that information, though mine has never asked for it and instead runs those sorts of heart tests at her office.
I wish it had longer battery life. Apple promises up to 18 hours, and I've been getting about that with the Apple Watch Series 7. I just wish Apple could find a way to extend that to two or three days so that I didn't need to worry about charging it. The faster charger definitely helps, but sometimes I still worry that I'm going to go need to find the charger and top it off before going for a run. But a bigger battery would make it thicker, and I don't want that either.
It comes with a charging cable, but it doesn't come with the plug. This is part of Apple's environmental initiatives. The good news is the faster charging works with any 7.5-watt or greater USB-C plug, which you might already have from an iPad or MacBook. You can still charge your Series 7 on an older cable, it just won't power up as fast as possible.
Should you buy it?
Buy the Series 7 if you can afford it and want the bigger screen, faster charging and improved durability. It's the model I'd tell my friends and family to get, largely since it's the newest model and will last several years.
You can save money and get the Apple Watch SE, starting at $279, but you miss out on the larger screen, blood oxygen and ECG apps, the new crack-resistant crystal and dust resistance. You can save even more money and get the $199 Series 3, but you miss out on emergency calls, fall detection, a cellular option, the always-on display and more. I'd skip that.