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Apple Watch Series 7 review: A bigger screen and more durable design

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The Apple Watch Series 7 sports a larger screen and improved durability, but it might not be worth the upgrade if you've got a Series 5 or Series 6. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 7 sports a larger screen and improved durability, but it might not be worth the upgrade if you've got a Series 5 or Series 6. (Image: Howley)

Apple's (AAPL) Apple Watch Series 7 is here. Available for preorder now and in stores Friday, the latest generation of the world’s most popular smartwatch starts at $399, and brings along a larger screen, more durable design, and faster charging.

Apple says the bigger display provides more room for text, while the watch’s tougher body means it’s less prone to cracks. The faster charging means, well, that the Apple Watch will charge faster.

Those are big changes if you’ve got an Apple Watch Series 4 or older, but if you’re currently wearing a Series 6 or even a Series 5, they’re not exactly a reason to ditch your current timepiece.

Think of the Series 7 as Apple honing a product that was already the best on the market, rather than a completely reinvented Apple Watch. That’s not a bad thing, either. But it does mean you should think before making the jump to the latest version of Apple’s bestseller.

A bigger screen for more content

The Apple Watch Series 7’s new 41-millimeter and 45-mm displays offer 20% more screen space than the Series 4 through Series 6, including the Apple Watch SE, and 50% more than the Apple Watch Series 3.

I’ve been wearing a 44-mm Series 6 for the last year virtually every day, because I’ve become irredeemably obsessed with tracking my activity, and while the Series 7’s 45-mm panel is visibly bigger, it's not an overwhelming difference. What is striking is how much larger text looks overall compared to the Series 6.

If you’ve got a 38-mm or 42-mm Series 3, the Series 7’s bigger display sizes are a massive improvement. It's a completely different user experience, with apps taking up far more real estate, making them much easier to see and navigate.

The Apple Watch Series 6, on the left, is visibly smaller than the Series 7, on the right. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 6, on the left, is visibly smaller than the Series 7, on the right. (Image: Howley)

Some apps do benefit from the Series 7’s larger display compared to the Series 6’s, though. The Calculator, Stopwatch, and Control Center, for instance, all get larger buttons that are easier to press. Apple has also added a full QWERTY to the Messages app on the Apple Watch, allowing you to type out or swipe texts directly from the watch’s screen.

Previously you had the option of either using Apple’s Scribble feature, which let you write out messages one letter at a time; speech to text; or canned responses. Those are all still available, but the on-screen keyboard is a far better experience than the Scribble mechanism or canned responses.

Speech to text is probably still the best option of the lot, but the QWERTY keyboard gets the job done when you don’t feel like speaking to your watch while on line at the grocery store.

It’s also absolutely worth mentioning that the larger screen, combined with the ability to increase the size of text on the Apple Watch with three additional sizes, makes it easier for people with poor vision to read what’s on screen. This, however, apply to all apps or features. For instance, while text size in Messages and the Calendar apps can be increased, it doesn't impact the size of the QWERTY keyboard or the Weather app. It would be good to see Apple eventually address those apps, as well.

Using the smaller Apple Watch Series 3 is a completely different experience than the larger Series 7. The bigger screen makes for easier navigating, and offers larger font sizes. (Image: Howley)
Using the smaller Apple Watch Series 3 is a completely different experience than the larger Series 7. The bigger screen makes for easier navigating, and offers larger font sizes. (Image: Howley)

Finally, the larger screens on the Series 7 bring along new watch faces. The first, the Contour face, spills over the edges of the display, making for a dramatic new look, while the Modular Duo face adds a number of complications including heart rate levels over time, weather, and activity throughout the day.

Speaking of faces, the Series 7 gets a brighter always-on display indoors — meaning it’s easier to see the time without having to raise your wrist.

Finally, Apple has rolled out a number of new colors with the Series 7 including midnight, starlight, green, and blue, as well as product red.

A more rugged, durable design

Outside of its larger displays, the Apple Watch Series 7 also gets a 50% thicker front crystal that makes it more crack-resistant than its predecessors. It’s not as though prior generations of the watch were fragile by any means. I’ve banged every Apple Watch I’ve worn against everything from door knobs and railings to the arms of my treadmill, and I’ve never broken them.

But, we’re talking about a $399 piece of technology on my wrist, and that is enough to make me do a double take. So it’s nice to have the peace of mind that this version is even stronger than before.

The Apple Watch Series 7 has a more durable front crystal and dust resistance. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 7 has a more durable front crystal and dust resistance. (Image: Howley)

Beyond the tougher screen, Apple has added IP6X dust resistance to the Series 7. Essentially, this means that the Apple Watch can withstand dust and dirt blown at it and not break down. Again, I’ve slammed my Series 6 into the sand while playing football on the beach, and after rinsing it off in the sink, it was good to go. So it’s not as if older Apple Watches are especially susceptible to dust and dirt damage, but knowing the Series 7 has that extra resistance rating makes using it on the beach or on a dusty hiking trail less nerve-racking.

The Apple Watch Series 7 also gets faster charging as long as you use the charger provided in the box. Apple says charging is 33% faster compared to the Series 6, and that you can charge from 0% to 80% in 45 minutes. Battery life is still about a day and a half, the same as the Series 6.

The faster charging is a welcome addition to the Series 7, because it makes it far easier to use for sleep tracking. Now you can take it off while getting ready in the morning, put it on its charger, and head out the door with a charged watch.

What’s the same

While the improvements to the Apple Watch Series 7 are important to note, the latest watch carries over the majority of the features found on the Series 6, Series 5, and even the SE. The watches all have heart rate sensors, though the SE doesn’t have an ECG monitor; fall detection; work with Apple’s Apple Fitness+ workout program; and offer WiFi and cellular connectivity.

The Apple Watch Series 7 gets two new faces that take advantage of its larger display. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 7 gets two new faces that take advantage of its larger display. (Image: Howley)

The Series 7 doesn’t get any spectacular new sensors or features not available on the Series 6 or Series 5. The processor is also the same speed as the one found in the Series 6.

Should you get it?

The Apple Watch Series 7 is an iterative update of the best smartwatch in the world. At $399, it’s hard to recommend anyone coming from the Series 5, Series 6, or even SE upgrade to the latest and greatest model.

That said, if you’ve got an older Apple Watch, like the Series 4 or Series 3, which is either slowing down or has that much smaller screen size, then the Series 7 is certainly worth the upgrade. As for whether you should buy the Series 3, which is still on sale, at this point, it’s likely best to avoid it. At $199 it’s a steal, but it’s just about reached the end of its lifespan.

For everyone else who doesn’t have an Apple Watch and is in the market for one, the Series 7 is the obvious choice.

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