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Apple Watch Series 7 Brings Modest Tweaks

Rumors of a radically redesigned Apple Watch with flatter edges mimicking the iPhone design language did not come to pass. The Apple Watch Series 7 that Apple unveiled during its “California Streaming” event looks much like its predecessors, with modest upgrades compared to blockbuster Apple Watch unveilings of yore.

Apple Watch Series 7

If you squint, though, you’ll see much that is new.

Apple has fiddled with the watch’s dimensions. The Apple Watch Series 7 boasts 20% more screen area than the previous generation and 50% more than the Series 3. The display’s borders have been reduced to 1.7 mm, a 40% difference compared to Series 6, “while barely expanding the dimensions of the watch itself,” according to Apple. Note that the Apple Watch Series 7 will come in 41 mm and 45 mm sizes, replacing the 40 mm and 44 mm Series 6 models. They remain compatible with existing bands.

The case and display have softer, more rounded corners, and they merge more seamlessly than they do on earlier models. A new “refractive edge” on the display means full-screen apps and faces appear to conform to the case curvature.

The always-on screen is 70% brighter indoors when your wrist is down, “making it even easier to discreetly check the time,” Apple quips.

Apple tweaked the watchOS interface with the Apple Watch Series 7’s larger size in mind. The company redesigned and enlarged buttons in apps like Activity, Alarms, Calculator, and Stopwatch to make them easier to tap on the expanded display. About 50% more text (such as messages or emails) fits on the screen now, with less scrolling.

How much text fits on the new Apple Watch vs. the old one

watchOS 8 on the Apple Watch Series 7 adds a full keyboard that lets you enter text either by tapping or by sliding your fingertip from character to character in a manner that has long been common on smartphone keyboards. Apple’s version of this system, dubbed QuickPath, taps into machine learning to predict the words you’re trying to enter. The Scribble text-input method is easier to use on the larger screen, too.

Keyboard on the Series 7

Durability gets a boost. Apple claims that the display is more crack-resistant due to a new “geometry.” The Apple Watch Series 7 is also the first model to provide IP6X dust resistance along with the usual swimmer-friendly waterproofing.

Demonstration of Series 7 dust resistance

Charging for the Apple Watch Series 7 is up to 33% faster than the Series 6. With a new charging architecture and a USB-C puck, achieving an 80% charge takes only about 45 minutes. If you like to wear your watch to bed instead of leaving it to charge overnight, 8 minutes of pre-snooze charging is enough for 8 hours of sleep tracking.

No New Health Sensors but New Fitness Tweaks

The Apple Watch Series 7 debut was humdrum in that Apple didn’t trot out any new physical health sensors. On the software side, though, watchOS 8 brings new health features to both the Series 7 and other models.

Happily for those of us who bike a lot, Apple put a lot of emphasis on cycling. watchOS 8 can analyze GPS, heart rate, accelerometer, and gyroscope data to detect when you begin a bike ride, and it prompts you to start an Outdoor Cycle workout if you didn’t initiate one manually. This works on the Apple Watch SE, Series 6, and Series 7.

For those who ride electric bicycles (see “Some Fancy E-Bikes Have Their Own Apps. We Tried Two,” 2 April 2021), the Apple Watch can more accurately measure active calories with an updated workout algorithm that evaluates GPS and heart rate to better gauge when users are pedaling with electrical assistance versus leg power alone.

Apple also improved fall detection. With watchOS 8, fall detection algorithms better detect falls during workouts—including cycling—and have been tuned to recognize the unique motion and impact of falls during a bicycle ride and other exercise types. As with general fall detection, the watch can call emergency services if the user is incapacitated.

For all kinds of athletes, new voice feedback through the watch’s built-in speaker, or through AirPods or other Bluetooth earbuds, announces milestones and activity ring status, helping users stay focused during workouts.

New Faces, Colors, and Bands, Of Course

There are (natch) new watch faces. A dynamic Contour face animates when the wrist is raised, smooshing the dial out, cartoon-like, to the screen’s edge. And a new Modular Duo face exploits the watch’s expanded dimensions with two extra-large, data-rich complications.

New watch faces on the Series 8

The aluminum Apple Watch Series 7 comes in a new complement of colors: midnight (dark gray), starlight (silvery gold), green, blue, and PRODUCT(RED). Apple says that stainless steel and Apple Watch Edition models continue in their existing colors.

Colors of the Series 7

Fans of Nike and Hermès Apple Watch variants get fancy new watchbands, as per usual. But if you want to keep using your existing bands, rest assured they’ll still work. Apple is offering fresh new colors across its band catalog, too.

Should You Upgrade?

The new watches start at $399 (but go up fast from there) and are due later this year. Apple continues to sell the Apple Watch SE, starting at $279, and the Apple Watch Series 3, starting at $199.

Card summarizing Series 7 features

Those who are happy with an Apple Watch Series 6 likely won’t feel a compulsion to get a Series 7. Although there are new features, they’re incremental for the most part.

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Comments About Apple Watch Series 7 Brings Modest Tweaks

Notable Replies

  1. An interesting twist to the story: a few months ago, Apple banned an app called FlickType that added a full keyboard to the Apple Watch. The developer is suing.

  2. I can’t believe that a last-minute substitution exists in this industry. These products are designed over years, and even the manufacturing lines probably take months to set up. I’m with Gruber on this one—the rumors were likely about a future model.

  3. I’m with Gruber on this. I normally upgrade my stuff when I see a significant change in the device. With the Apple Watch, I bought the original series 0, and then series 2,4, and finally 6. I do remember getting to audition the series 5 when my series 4 was being replaced for a stuck pixel and not being impressed by the changes. So, seeing the series 7 as being a minor bump is totally in keeping the pattern for Apple Watches.

  4. Last minute…you’re probably right. Having a plan B…seems right up Tim Cook’s production guru alley. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to really say. Add in the no talk about the SoC…and the shipping later at some undetermined time in the Fall…lends some support to the idea…but not enough data to know.

  5. Hi,
    I recently submitted a request to Apple regarding a feature request,
    So I will will be curious to see if it actually made the cut (in the iOS update)
    I use my AW6, primarily as a monitor during a rowing workout.
    While one can configure some health metrics such as max heart rate,
    I noticed, or I cannot easily find, a way to create an audible alert when reaching
    a bpm threshold.
    Any thoughts?

  6. It might be worth it to upgrade my Series 1 Watch now…? I wonder if the cellular version is worth getting.

  7. With the Apple Watch it’s always possible there’s a third party app that will do what you want. Search the Watch and Phone App Store.

  8. I am not sure if this confuses any matters but at the Apple website there is a promotional link, of sorts, indicating the following
    Get up to $145 toward a new Apple Watch.8
    My first reaction was “Hunh?”
    Does this indicate AW7 is a predestined short-lived iteration?

  9. I’m sure it’s just a typo, made easier by the fact that watchOS 8 will ship with the Apple Watch Series 7.

  10. Dang,
    I knew I should’ve taken a screenshot. The item has been corrected
    The original “footnote” was not originally in superscript

  11. John Gruber’s review points out that the screen really is quite a bit larger. But even if it has a keyboard, it’s still really hard to type on.

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