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Apple Watch Series 4 Review Roundup: Worth the Upgrade?

Editor's note (Sept. 21): The Apple Watch Series 4 is now available to buy in stores and online. We reviewed the new watch and gave it 4.5/5 stars. It's the best smartwatch you can buy right now.

Apple made a lot of announcements at its recent event, but many viewers agree that the Apple Watch Series 4 was the most exciting. 

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The main feature that attracts viewers to Apple's newest smart watch is the massive display. It's 32 percent larger than that of the Apple Watch Series 3, with almost none of those pesky bezels.

But this isn't just a fancy tech device: With approval from the FDA, the new watch is poised to be a health monitor as well. The latest Apple Watch packs in an electrocardiogram sensor that determines whether your heart is beating in a normal pattern, and send you notifications if it detects an irregular beat. An accelerometer and gyroscope help the device detect when you've fallen.

Here's a quick look at what initial reviews are saying about the Apple Watch Series 4.

Tech Radar

Rating: 4.5/5

Tech Radar's Gareth Beavis was enthusiastic about the newest Apple Watch. He found it to be a big upgrade from its predecessor, though he acknowledged that it's a pricey device, while also noting the limitations of the two-day battery life.

The Good: "The larger screen and more rounded edges are much nicer to look at and offer more functionality, and it also adds in some extra features too that are designed for those who are a little more vulnerable or suffer certain health conditions."

Credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

"While [the Apple Watch display is] nowhere near edge-to-edge as some are suggesting it is, it’s certainly a lot larger and more rounded, giving the impression of a rounder timepiece without losing the benefit of a square display."

"Spotify might be the music service of choice for many, but if you’re more into Apple Music then you’ll really get a kick out of the Watch 4. With 16GB of onboard storage, you can chuck loads of songs in there, and play them all from your arm via Bluetooth headphones."

The Bad: "While we could generally be heard OK, when using the Apple Watch to make and receive voice calls you really have to be in a quiet environment to make that 50% louder speaker really work."

"The Apple Watch 4 still seems like a device that's too broad. The Workouts app, the main hub where you track your workouts is powerful enough, but the data is a little siloed away from sharing outside of the Apple ecosystem."

"Not being able to track sleep is a big miss here and we feel it’s the kind of thing Apple could do rather well."

CNBC

Rating: No Score Provided

CNBC's Todd Hasselton also appreciated the device's expanded display. He enjoyed the louder speakers, too, and thought the battery life was good enough. He did, note that the watch is expensive. 

The Good: "I love the larger screen — it's much easier to see. Apple takes advantage of this with new watch faces that show a ton of info, like the weather, the time, the date, your heart rate and shortcuts to Apple Music. "

"I like the new digital crown on the side, which is used to navigate around apps. It provides haptic feedback — a little buzz — when you twist it, and you can press it to make a selection."

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

"I love the new Apple Watch faces that are in watchOS 5, and many were designed to take advantage of the larger display on the new edition. There's one mode that looks like the Apple Watch face is burning, which just looks cool. But my favorite one lets me set 8 different complications, so I can quickly do things like access the exercise app, the weather and check my heart rate."

The Bad: "The Apple Watch Series 4 is super expensive, especially if you want the larger screen and cellular."

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

"The Apple Watch doesn't work with Android. That's not a terribly big deal, but my wife doesn't use an iPhone and I really wish I could get her an Apple Watch so we could compete on workouts."

Screenshot: Tom's Guide/Apple

Screenshot: Tom's Guide/Apple

"If you don't care about bells and whistles at all, and just want to track steps, then get something more affordable."

New York Times

Rating: No Score Provided

Brian X. Chen of the New York Times noted that the device's evolution from a fitness tracker to a credible health monitor is a significant achievement for Apple. While he found the new version to be an improvement over the Series 3, he also wasn't happy with the price tag, especially for first-time Apple-Watch buyers, or those who already own a recent model.

The Good: "The hands-free ability to summon Siri is a feature of Apple’s new watch operating system, WatchOS 5. In my book, this is how watches were meant to be used: without having to press any buttons."

Screenshot: Tom's Guide/Apple

Screenshot: Tom's Guide/Apple

"The new model, with its improved speed, updated with my current heart rate almost instantaneously."

"Apple often sets the standard for consumer electronics, so the watch may prompt other companies to create a generation of wearable devices that help people gather information about their health conditions."

The Bad: "$399 is a stiff price to pay for a gadget with lightweight utility...I wouldn’t upgrade to the Series 4 from a recent generation of Apple Watch, either, because the improvements won’t feel significant."

The Verge

Rating: 8.5/10

Dieter Bohn, executive editor of The Verge, liked the Apple Watch's expanded suite of features, noting that "it can be different things to different people now." He appreciated the battery life, display and health-tracking features. But he found Siri unreliable, and wished the device had an always-on screen option.

The Good: "The screen on the Series 4 is just incredibly good. Apple says it’s 30 percent bigger, which is one of those specs that’s easy to just sort of pass over when you read it. But 30 percent is a lot, and you absolutely notice it right away."

Credit: Apple

(Image credit: Apple)

"The speaker has been boosted to provide more volume. It really is way louder, and I haven’t heard any distortion during phone calls."

"Mapping, music, workouts, calls, texting, podcasts… most of the stuff I could imagine wanting from a smartwatch works better than ever before. "

The Bad: "Siri gets especially fussy when you have a spotty connection. Too often, when I wanted to ask a question, I’d be met with a “hang on…” message, followed by a “I’ll tap you when I’m ready” message, followed by an interminable wait during which I’d forget whatever it was I needed Siri for."

"I wish Apple gave me an option for an always-on ambient screen, maybe by turning off some radios. Alas, you still have to turn your wrist to see the time."

Wired

Rating: 8/10

Wired reviewer Scott Rosenfield didn't think the Series 4 looked like much of an upgrade out of the box, but was pleasantly surprised. Like most reviewers, he liked the larger screen and the increased functionality that provides. He found the battery life improvements "minimal" and wasn't sold on the heart-screening tools. 

The Good: "I found myself unexpectedly excited for automatic workout detection — if you didn't measure it, did it really happen? — and runners will love the new rolling mile measurement, cadence, and target pace notifications."

Screenshot: Tom's Guide/Apple

Screenshot: Tom's Guide/Apple

"The larger screen feels as significant as going from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone 6. The rounded edges and thinner bezel give you substantially more screen space, which make it easier to read and tap."

The Bad: "Prepare to charge the watch every night, and don’t expect to do any sleep tracking."

"The speaker on the Series 4 does seem louder, but I rarely found myself using it. The microphone is supposedly improved, too, by being moved opposite the speaker, but it's hard to tell."

TechCrunch

Rating: No Score Provided

TechCrunch Hardware Editor Brian Heater found a number of the new features (such as the new digital crown) fun, and the display increase significant. However, he didn't recommend upgrading from the Series 3, especially considering the price.

The Good: "I admit I didn’t think much of the digital crown when Apple mentioned it on stage. If anything, it sounded like a sort of parlor trick. When I finally had a chance to try the device on at the event the other week, however, I was surprised at how much I dug it."

"If you’ve used an earlier version with any regularity, on the other other hand, the increase in surface area is pretty readily apparent, especially when an email notification comes through. It also means app developers can jam in more detail."

"Apple also managed to make the new watch thinner than its predecessors. The benefit there is obvious when it comes to making a product designed to be worn on the body. "

The Bad: "I would happily trade a millimeter or two of thickness for some additional mAhs. As it stands, you should be able to get through a day’s use without worrying about finding a charger, but the peace of mind of more battery life is always welcome."

"The Series 4 isn’t the kind of refresh that justifies upgrading from the last generation, especially given the $399 and $499 starting prices for the standard and LTE models, respectively."