Apple Watch Series 7 review: Only a mild upgrade, but still the best
- Larger display great for content and text
- Battery life can easily last a day or more
- Still works with existing Apple Watch bands
- Only 2 new watch faces
- Not a huge upgrade for existing Apple Watch owners
- Still only works with iOS
The Apple Watch Series 7 takes the existing Apple Watch design and supersizes it.
Just like any fast food meal that you might buy, supersizing it does bring with it some extra value, but in this case it's not a surplus of fries or waist-fattening soft drinks. Instead, it's with the expansion of the screen display size, some very welcome enhancements to its durability and faster charging capacity.
Like that junk food meal, if you've already got sustenance in the form of an existing Apple Watch it's not enough to justify an upgrade.
If your Apple Watch is on its last legs, or if you're pondering an entry into the smartwatch arena and you're an iPhone user it's a much more compelling option, and easily the best smartwatch available right now.
Design: New colours, larger displays
Apple produces the Apple Watch in a variety of colours, as it's always done. This year there's a new suite of choices, with Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue and (PRODUCT)RED to pick from for your aluminium watch body in either 41mm or 45mm watch sizes.
If you favour stainless steel, those models ship in Silver, Gold, Graphite or Space Black, while the premium Titanium body versions are available in Space Black or Titanium finishes only.
That's only the start of the Apple Watch journey of course, because there's also the question of bands to strap onto your new smart timepiece.
The good news here is that while the Apple Watch Series 7 is a larger timepiece, it still works just fine with any existing Apple Watch band. Apple hasn't changed its slide in, slide out band system at all, so if you do have existing bands they'll work just fine. There's a slight visual difference in having those bands next to a larger watch, but that's a difference, not a problem.
The most obvious change in the Apple Watch in series 7 is the larger display, with either a 352x430 (41-inch) or 396x484 (45-inch) OLED display with the familiar digital crown and single button on the right-hand side. Most of that extra screen space comes from considerably smaller bezels, with Apple claiming a 20% screen space enhancement over the Series 6 watch.
That extra screen space does allow for a few new features – more on those later – but it also more simply gives you a bigger watch face and more on-screen detail within apps, or a larger font size.
That's more important than you might think, because for some watch users the size of screen elements can make a big difference in terms of overall usability of any smartwatch. You do sacrifice lines of text for font sizing, and you can change that at any time, but having that extra screen real estate makes those sacrifices much easier to bear.
The Apple Watch Series 7 is also more durable, or at least from Apple's statements it should be. While the Apple Watch has offered water resistance for some generations, it's been more lacking in terms of dust resistance.
The Apple Watch Series 7 provides IP6X rated dust resistance, which means it should be functionally dust proof, great news if you want to take your Apple Watch to the beach.
Just remember to keep it out of salt water as much as feasible, because while it's still WR50 rated for up to 50 metres of immersion in water, that's for clean lab water. Apple might certify its devices with water and dust resistance, but its warranties do not back that up. Drown your Apple Watch Series 7 at the beach and you won't be covered under warranty in Australia.
Performance: The S6 processor is good… but the same as last year
Dig under the screen on the Apple Watch Series 7 and you'll also 100% void your warranty, so don't do that.
But if you did, you'd find Apple's very capable S6 processor running the Apple Watch Series 7. Smartwatch processors don't need the full fat grunt of mobile phone processors, and they've got to do a lot more load balancing on lower battery capacities.
Still, the S6 was easily one of the best smartwatch CPUs when combined with Apple's watchOS in the Apple Watch Series 6, and it remains so in the Apple Watch Series 7.
At the same time, there's an obvious problem there, because it's the exact same processor. Drop the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch Series 7 next to each other and screen size aside, they've got the exact same set of specifications and features for fitness tracking, heart health, blood oxygen tracking and pretty much every other feature baked into watchOS.
You can opt for LTE compatibility at an additional monthly charge from your supporting telco, although that wasn't a feature I tested for this review. It hasn't changed any in recent years, and there's no sign of 5G on the Apple Watch Series 7. That's arguably wise, as I'd struggle to think of a need for 5G on a wearable.
That makes the Apple Watch Series 7 a particularly poor choice for upgraders from the Apple Watch Series 6, naturally enough, but it also leaves it still in a command position in terms of the way that Apple makes its Apple Watches operate. Like much of Apple's offerings, it's an easy to use, easy to understand platform that does a very good job of tracking the basics that you'd want from a fitness watch, monitoring sleep and giving you some style along the way.
You do get just a handful of Apple Watch Series 7 unique features in watchOS, including 2 new watch faces – Contour and Modular Duo – and a keyboard option for tapping or swiping to enter text into supporting apps. The new watch faces are cute, even though Modular Duo is basically just a larger variant of the existing complication-heavy Modular watch face.
It's still a pity that Apple won't open up watch face design to its developer community, because it would make the Apple Watch properly match up to devices like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 or Fitbit Sense in this regard. Equally, it's a pity that the Apple Watch is an iOS-only zone. Flexibility and consumer freedom is always better than a locked-in approach.
The Apple Watch full keyboard has some merit depending on which apps you use and need on a regular basis, but I honestly found it more trouble than it was worth, whether trying to delicately tap out single letters or swipe to select text. There was never a case where I couldn't have typed the same thing considerably faster just by whipping my iPhone out of my pocket, even allowing for unlocking and app start-up times.
Apple Watch Series 7 battery: Bigger size doesn't lead to new battery woes
Battery life for smartwatches has neatly divided itself by now. On one side, you've got the more fitness-centric products that measure their battery life in weeks.
On the other, you've got the more app-centric watches that can work as standalone devices in their own right, many of which can struggle to get more than a day's battery usage before conking out. The Apple Watch has always stood on that side of the divide, and the inclusion of a larger screen with always-on features did give me concern around whether Apple's desire for bigger might lead to less real usable battery life.
Apple rates the Apple Watch Series 7 as good for "up to 18 hours" of battery life, which is identical to prior Apple Watch battery claims all the way back to the Apple Watch Series 3. "Up to" figures are notoriously rubbery, so I set to testing the Apple Watch Series 7 to battery exhaustion point over multiple days to get some kind of handle on its likely battery life.
The really pleasing news here is that the battery life is as good as, and in some cases better than I found for the Apple Watch Series 6. That 18-hour figure was always achieved over a week's testing, and in one case I managed a straight 30-hour run with moderate usage before it went flat.
That's off a new watch of course, and heavier use of features such as LTE or GPS could alter that, but essentially speaking, this is a model that should easily be able to manage that single day claimed figure without too many problems.
The one area where the Apple Watch Series 7 steps up from the Apple Watch Series 6 is in charging. It still uses a magnetic puck for charging, but it's a newer charger distinguished by a metallic ring on the outside.
You can still charge using the old Apple Watch charger, but if you use the newer charger with a compatible power supply, it'll boost power uptake by around a third. The practical side of this is that you can pretty easily boost up the Apple Watch Series 7 even if you do forget to recharge it overnight.
However, as always, that's more apparent as long as it has at least a little charge. A fully flat Apple Watch Series 7 will still take its sweet time coming to life.
Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 7?
- Buy it if you want the best premium smartwatch and you're an iPhone user.
- Don't buy it if you use Android or can get by on an existing Apple Watch or Apple Watch SE.
The Apple Watch 6 was the best smartwatch of its generation, and the Apple Watch Series 7 is essentially its bigger sibling. That's just as much a style play as it is a functionality one, and while that means it still holds the crown of best smartwatch, it's also still just treading water in the exact same pool.
The added complication here for new smartwatch buyers is that Apple has kept the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE on sale for less money. The Series 3 is a little long in the tooth now, but the SE has most of the features of the Series 7 save for durability and blood oxygen/ECG for less money.
That does rather split the Apple Watch Series 7's value proposition. If you want the best Apple Watch the company makes, this is it – but many consumers will be more than satisfied with what the Apple Watch SE can offer.
Apple Watch Series 7 pricing and availability
How we tested
The Apple Watch Series 7 was paired with an iPhone 13 Pro and intensively tested over a week taking into account design, health tracking features, app compatibility, new features and battery life.
The Apple Watch Series 7 was run down to a flat battery 5 times in total during this review period. The author has extensively tested smartwatches dating back to the original Pebble, including every generation of Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Series 7 tested for this review was a 45mm model in Blue loaned by Apple for the purposes of review.
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