Apple Watch Series 4 Hands-On: A Seriously Stunning Screen

CUPERTINO — When I strapped the Apple Watch Series 4 to my wrist following Apple’s iPhone event today (Sept. 12), the first thing I noticed was the watch’s oversized display. It’s gorgeous.

That comes at a price, though. Smartwatches on competing platforms, such as Wear OS and Samsung’s new Tizen-based Galaxy Watch, have embraced the traditional circular watch aesthetic. But Apple has doubled down on the computer-on-your-wrist look. The Series 4 is big — even the smaller version — and it’s noticeable. For those with wrists on the average to large side, it might not be a big deal. But Apple was the first company to accommodate smaller wrists with a 38mm smartwatch, and to get all of the advanced health features in the Series 4, there’s no option under 40mm.

How the Series 4 (right) stacks up to the Series 3 (left)

How the Series 4 (right) stacks up to the Series 3 (left)

The Series 4 feels larger, but it’s also slimmer than the Series 3, which feels bulbous by comparison. I might get used to the larger case size, but it’s giving me pause for now.

The new watch faces can fit up to eight complications, so you can see bite-sized information at a glance from your most-used apps. You can even squeeze four shortcuts to your most-loved contacts in the center, which is useful if you’re always messaging the same people.

And the new dynamic watch faces positively dazzle on the large new display. Flames licked the edges of the screen and highlighted the secondhand as it ticked. The Breathe app, which now has its own watch face, is a hypnotic unfurling of blue petals. Vapor could be smoke or mist wafting across the screen; it’s just as calming as Breathe.

Aside from looks, the Series 4 also feels different — literally. The Digital Crown now has haptic feedback, so when you rotate the dial you feel a vibration in your fingertip. This offers a more tactile experience for browsing through apps, calendar entries or other lists.

MORE: The Doctor On Your Wrist: How Smartwatches Are Saving Lives

Apple didn’t have the electrocardiogram app installed on the Series 4 demo units on display at today's launch event, so I didn’t get a chance to give myself an EKG. (I was a little stressed, so the results probably wouldn’t have been that accurate anyway.) The electrical heart sensor is the Series 4's most meaningful new feature, because it could actually save lives. Apple had to obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration so the watch can alert people when they're experiencing atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart rhythm.

Two other health features, the fall detection and low heart rate alerts, only kick on when you experience those issues, so I wasn’t able to test them for myself by falling over or slowing my heart rate to a crawl. (See the above about stress.)

MORE: 3 Ways the Apple Watch Series 4 Can Save Your Life

The Series 4 is available to preorder on Friday, Sept. 14, and goes on sale in stores and online on Friday, Sept. 21. The Series 4 with cellular connectivity starts at $499 for the 400mm model. A Series 4 with GPS only starts at $399. Both devices will come in silver, gold and space grey aluminum, and gold, silver and space black stainless steel. Apple is still selling the Series 3, which is now on sale for a lower price tag of $279.

If you’re on the fence about the Series 4’s size, try one on in person. The Series 3 will still come in a 38mm variation, though you won’t get the incredible display or heart health features. When watchOS 5 is available to install next Monday (Sept. 17), the Series 3 will get many of the new fitness-tracking features the Series 4 will have, including automatic workout-tracking and one-on-one fitness challenges.

Stay tuned for a full review of the Series 4.

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.