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Apple Watch 4 hands-on: bigger is better

New health features might be more important, but the screen is great

Photography by Nilay Patel and Dieter Bohn

Apple just announced a redesigned Apple Watch Series 4, with a bigger display, faster processor, and built-in EKG scanner. The display looks great. It isn’t quite edge-to-edge, but it makes the Series 3 look pretty cramped. The colors are bright and vivid on a fully black background. And though I’m not a fan of the super busy new watchfaces, I could see people really getting into having more information on them.

That’s the main takeaway for me, but for Apple, the main takeaway is that it has much better health features, including fall detection and improved heart rate monitoring.

Inside the Apple Watch Series 4, there’s a new dual-core 64-bit S4 processor that is custom-designed to improve performance. Apple claims this latest Watch should be two times faster than the previous models, which will help with app load times and general use of the Watch interface. During our brief time with the Apple Watch Series 4, I can’t say I noticed it being all that much faster than before, but it will take much more testing to say.

While there’s a new processor, there’s also a lot of other hardware changes underneath the new display. An updated accelerometer and gyroscope combine together to allow the Apple Watch Series 4 to detect falls. If you’ve fallen and you’re immobile for a minute, then this new Apple Watch will automatically call emergency services for you. It’s not a feature you’re going to use every day, but it’s there and ready if you need it. It’s also not something I tested here in the hands-on area. Sorry.

Apple Watch Series 4 is thinner than previous models

Apple Watch Series 4 will also screen your heart rhythm for irregularities that appear to be atrial fibrillation, and it will send you alerts to go for a checkup. Apple has gone a step further, though, thanks to the ability to take an electrocardiogram (EKG). Apple’s latest Watch will be the first EKG product offered over the counter directly to consumers, and you can simply open an app and put your finger on the digital crown to trigger the EKG scan.

Unfortunately, that feature wasn’t available for us to try out on the demo units here. Another thing I couldn’t do was swap out my old Apple Watch band into the new, differently sized Series 4 casing. Apple says that the bands should still be largely compatible, but I am betting some will look just slightly off on the new watches — especially third-party bands.

Aside from the display, Apple has also overhauled the digital crown on the side of the device so it now includes haptic feedback. And you really can feel a tiny little stutter right under your finger that is almost mechanical. I don’t know how long Apple engineers spent working on it nor do I know really if it conveys some sort of real information with its little vibrations. But just as a thing that makes the Watch feel nice, it’s great.

The speaker is also louder, and the rear of the Watch is now a smooth black ceramic finish.

All of these hardware changes mean there’s clearly a bigger display, but the Apple Watch Series 4 is actually thinner than the previous models, and it will still work with all existing bands. That’s good news if you’re upgrading from the original model from three years ago.