(Pocket-lint) - The Apple Watch is much lauded as the smartwatch to own, but the Series 6 of yesteryear offered little reason to upgrade. Fortunately 2021's Series 7 is a more sizable upgrade - quite literally - delivering a bigger, brighter and altogether better screen.
However, other than the size increase there's little else that's changed over previous years. Given the fast-paced world of technological advances, does the Apple Watch Series 7 do enough to impress - or should you give this year's model a miss?
- Finishes: Aluminium (five colours), Stainless steel (three colours), Titanium (two colours)
- Special models: Nike+, Hermès, (Product)Red
- IP6X dust-proof, 5ATM waterproof (to 50m)
- Case sizes: 41mm and 45mm
In terms of design the Series 7's approach is much like the Series 6: the casing design is the same (albeit larger), the digital crown is the same, even the bands are the same (which is good, as it means older ones will still fit).
There are both Wi-Fi and Cellular options, available in new 41mm and 45mm case sizes, along with special edition Nike and Hermes variants. There's a lot of choice, with three material options - aluminium, stainless steel, titanium - available in a variety of colours if you want something extra eye-catching.
The aluminium cases get some new colours too: there's Midnight, which is black; Starlight, which is white with a hint of gold; Green, which is more akin to the Midnight Green colourway from the iPhone 11; and the (Product)Red model is more of a bright cherry hue. There are various new bands to match these new colours too.
Upping the stakes on the durability front, the Apple Watch Series 7 is now IP6X dust-resistant, to go alongside its 5ATM waterproof rating. That should make it considerably more "beach ready", as dust, sand, and even water (to 50 metres) are no concern for this wearable.
It's also tougher thanks to a thicker and redesigned front crystal glass - something the aluminium models benefit from, as the stainless steel and titanium models still retain sapphire crystal - although without going hammer and tongs at it, judging this new crystal isn't something we can gauge.
What's the screen like?
- LTPO OLED Always-On Retina display
- Brighter when dimmed (compared to Series 6)
- 50 per cent bigger than Series 3, 20 per cent bigger than Series 6
But the real focus isn't the new colours or the improved durability, but the new display that sits within that familiar design.
The Series 7 comes in two new sizes: 41mm and 45mm. That means the display size has increased by just 1mm - the Series 6 came in 40mm and 44mm size options - but it's a classic case of using the 'smaller bezel trick', as the Series 7 manages to deliver a 20 per cent uptick in display size over its predecessor.
Compared to the Series 3 the screen is now huge - it's 50 per cent bigger - and delivers several other benefits aside from the screen's subtle curving-around-the-edges design.
Having come to the Series 7 from the Series 6, the screen upgrade is a smaller improvement than it might sound, but there's still subtle benefits in day-to-day usage. The buttons are bigger, for example, making it easier to interact with the Watch. There's also a new swipe-friendly QWERTY keyboard, which uses Apple's QuickPath tech to make replying to messages a lot faster.
For those who like to discreetly check the time when the Watch isn't awake, there's also good news: the display is now 70 per cent brighter when indoors, i.e. when it's "not on". However, you can't manually fine-tune that brightness - it's either on and bright or completely off.
By squeezing every spare pixel out of the design, without making the watch overly large compared to what we've seen before - it's the same thickness, at 10.7mm, so wearing it doesn't feel particularly different - you're simply getting a more refined Apple Watch experience.
How does it perform?
- Same sensors as on Series 6
- Blood oxygen monitor
- Electrical heart-rate sensor
- Always-on altimeter and compass
- 18 hours battery life and faster charging
- S7 processor
- U1 Chip
Once you get past the Watch Series 7's display, there's not much difference compared to the Series 6 model that came before it.
The processor might be tagged as an S7 to go with the new Watch, but it delivers the same performance as the S6 found in Series 6. We've yet to spot any difference in terms of performance.
Likewise, there's the same array of sensors - of which there are many - but none that are new this time around. Rumours are that the Series 8 will see plenty more of them.
That's not to say what you get is anything but impressive, but if you were hoping for more than the GPS, optical heart rate monitor, blood oxygen monitor, electrical heart-rate sensor, always-on altimeter and compass, and fall detection, then you'll be disappointed.
Apple has also included the U1 chip, first launched with the iPhone 11 Pro, which will help future-proof the device. When you can start using the Watch to replace your car or house keys, amongst other things such as that, it'll be really handy.
Faster charging is now possible, thanks to the inclusion of a USB-C cable in the box, and a few internal changes to the Watch itself. That should be helpful for those who charge when in a hurry, although we've not noticed a huge difference despite the claimed 33 per cent improvement. So if you're already an Apple Watch user who's used to charging overnight then faster charging really doesn't make any difference.
The overall battery life hasn't changed either. That means the Series 7 will still deliver all-day battery performance - at around 18-hours per charge - but it's not enough to then get you through the night and into the next morning. That's especially true if you've been active and using the watch to record your activities.
WatchOS 8 software
- Two exclusive watch faces
- QuickPath Qwerty keyboard
- Dynamic Type support
To help show-off the bigger screen there are also several new watch faces as part of the WatchOS 8 software. Two of which - Contour and Modular Duo - are exclusive to the Series 7.
The former and more traditional face really goes to town in allowing you to add more complications; the latter, meanwhile, gives you a chance to show-off the watch's "refractive edge", featuring two large complications.
Another major feature in WatchOS 8 is the QuickPath keyboard, which is surprisingly easier to use on this wrist-mounted display than we were expecting - although the delete key is in the wrong place, as it doesn't mirror the iPhone experience - but you might need to opt for a pair of glasses as the text is pretty small.
While the Apple Watch Series 6 didn't pose enough distinctive reasons to upgrade, the Series 7's larger and brighter screen clearly shows that it's a step above - it's clear, crisp and lovely to use. The new WatchOS 8 software also improves the user experience thanks to added watch faces and a swipe-to-type keyboard.
However, for those who are already enjoying the Series 6, Series 5, or even at a push the Series 4, the Series 7 offers fairly little in terms of upgrades beyond its screen. But if your Series 3 is starting to look a little tired, then this will be a monumental jump forward in terms of what you can do, see, and enjoy.
It's clear to see the Apple Watch continues to get better and better. That ongoing refinement - which is the word that we keep coming back to with Apple products in 2021 - has led to a device that looks more like a proper watch with every iteration. The Series 7 is no clunky, cheap-looking smartwatch by any means.
In short: there's simply no better smartwatch on the market.
Apple Watch SE
The best alternative may well be Apple's cheaper model. You get much the same experience, but it's cheaper because it doesn't feature the full range of hardware. What it does do is deliver the essentials - and it does that with aplomb.
Apple Watch Series 6
If you can still find one in stock for a good price then you could opt for the earlier Series 6. It's virtually the same in terms of hardware and performance, you'll just be getting a slightly smaller screen.