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Should you buy the new Apple Watch? A decision calculator

Is the new Watch worth your time? We’ll help you think through the major issues. Either way, and apart from five hundred bucks, you can’t really lose.

Should you buy the new Apple Watch? A decision calculator
[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

Perhaps you already bought an Apple Watch. You wear it every day, or you wear it once in a while. Maybe you stashed in a drawer or returned it or gave it away. Now there’s a new Watch, the Series 4. What you really want to know is if you can ignore this new one (and its price tag) and stick with what you’ve got. We’re here for you.

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Decision Factors:

1. The feature set of the new Watch Series 4
2. The price(s)
3. Your enthusiasm about and susceptibility to the marketing and design of new iThings
4. The age/generation/features of your current watch.

The new features

First let’s look at the new features that were baked into the current Apple Watch (Series 3).

  • Cellular connectivity
  • A W2 wireless chip
  • Water resistant and okay for shallow swimming
  • 70% faster dual-core processor
  • A barometric altimeter (for tracking horizontal position)

Not a bad feature set. Now add to those the new features in the Apple Watch Series 4:

  • A bigger screen

There’s a good chance your decision will come down to the display on your watch vs. the display on the Watch Series 4. The display on the new Watch is more than 30% larger than the one on your Watch. And yet the Series 4 body size is only a tad bigger (on the diagonal) and a tiny bit thinner. Apple accomplishes this by removing the black bezel space around the display. As with the iPhone display, the screen will appear to extend to the edges of the device. Consequently, there will be much more room for more information on the Watch face.


Read more: Everything Apple didn’t announce at its event: Macs, iPads, and more

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The company says it redesigned the software interface to take advantage of the larger display. App icons and fonts that are bigger and easier to read. One of the new watch faces has nine “complications,” or bits of useful information (like temperature, date, exercise progress, etc.) situated around the analog or digital clock. The complications have been redesigned, too.

On a purely functional level the larger display allows you to take in with a glance a larger set of information. But it also gives the Watch a different look and feel, and sets it apart from older Watches.

This is not a small thing. One of the problems with smartwatches from the beginning is they give the impression of highly miniaturized technology with a user interface so small that interaction seems difficult. With the increase in display size Apple may have addressed that barrier to use in the most direct way possible. Apple’s stated design goal is to make the software experience stand out and the hardware fade into the background. The new Watch appears to do that.

Beyond the increased display size, Apple has added some new health-related features that are impressive but not necessarily useful to mainstream audiences.

  • ECG/EKG. The new Watch adds new electrical sensors so you can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) from your wrist. The ECG functionality actually won’t be available when the Series 4 launches, on Sept. 21. The ECG app will be added to the OS in an over the air upgrade later in the year, I’m told. Even then, it’s unclear what kinds of people should use the app, and in what situations.
  • Fall detection. A new accelerometer and gyroscope can detect if the Watch wearer has taken a hard fall. It can then use the phone’s cellular connection to call a contact for help. GlobalData research director Avi Greengart says that with fall detection, Apple has given reluctant buyers a stronger reason to buy the cellular version of the Watch. Until now, the cellular connection was mainly useful for runners who want to stay connected during runs. Now, older people might like the idea of wearing a Watch.

Other Stuff

  • The Watch is powered by a new and faster S4 processor, which smooths the rendering of content on the larger display.
  • The battery life in the Series 4 is the same as in the Series 3–around 18 hours.
  • The Series 4’s speaker is twice as loud, Apple said. Better for phone calls and Siri.
  • The digital crown gives you a little buzz as you scroll through list items. No big deal.
  • The back of the new Watch is made from ceramic and crystal, which might improve cell reception.

The price

So is it worth it? Let’s break it down. Here’s the lineup of available Apple Watches today, with starting prices:

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  • The Series 3 (GPS) sold for $329, but now will go down to $279.
  • Series 3 (GPS +cellular) sold for $399 (this likely gets a price cut, too, but Apple hasn’t said)
  • Series 4: (GPS only): $399
  • Series 4 (GPS + cellular): $499

The Apple spell

People have varying levels of sensitivity to Apple’s marketing presentation of the products’ design, simplicity, style, and utility. The company has a way of getting people excited about its products. In this case, the product itself is convincing. Even when you see it on someone’s wrist you can tell the display is bigger and more content-rich. It looks different and better than earlier Watches. My own Series 3 display seems small and kludgy by comparison. Of course, you may agree with some pundits and find the new Watch face to be an unmitigated design crime.


Read more: Apple’s new design ethos: Making gadgets easy to sell, hard to use


Your current Watch

Your decision will also be effected by whether you already wear an Apple Watch. If you’re upgrading from the first Apple Watch, you’re buying all the enhanced connectivity (GPS, cellular) and the larger display. If you can afford it, that’s a sizable upgrade from a technical point of view. If you’re like me and you already have the Apple Watch Series 3, it becomes mainly a question of the larger screen size.

If you find, as I did, that the dramatically larger display space is a sort of reinvention of the Watch, you may decide that the time to upgrade is fast approaching.

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