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My one complaint about the Apple Watch Series 4 hardware

There are plenty of things I love about the Apple Watch Series 4’s hardware: its thinner profile, its faster processor, and (especially) its larger screen.

What don’t I like? I really only have one gripe: battery life.

Based on my few weeks of use, the Series 4 has noticeably worse battery life than its predecessor. I rarely cracked the 50% barrier after a full day wearing the Series 3. With the 4, however, I’m often down to 40 or even 30 percent by day’s end.

That anecdotal evidence jives with more measurable figures; according to Apple itself, the larger Series 4 has 16.5% less battery capacity than the comparable Series 3 model. Presumably, Apple shaved away battery volume in order to produce a thinner aluminum enclosure. Honestly, I’m OK with that compromise. After all, the Watch still easily makes it through a busy day.

However, the decreased battery life does degrade my Watch experience in at least one way. In the past, I could set the Watch on its charger when I climbed into bed, and by the time I would get sleepy, it had fully charged. That meant I could slip it onto my wrist before drifting off, use it to track my sleep quality, and still wake to more than 90% charge.

Alas, that’s not possible anymore. It’s rare that the Series 4 has reached 75% charge by the time I get drowsy. I either have to (a) forgo sleep tracking altogether or (b) don the Watch for sleep and start the new day with handicapped battery life. ■

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Apple preorder thoughts (2018 edition)

It’s 4:30 in the morning here, and I can’t sleep, so I might as well jot down some thoughts about the Apple Preorder Dance:

  • Preordering jacks up your sleep schedule—especially on the East Coast. It’s not just the interruption of a 3 AM alarm. After all, the order itself took less than five minutes—shorter than a late-night pee break. No, the real problem is that preordering floods my brain with adrenaline. It’s the mad scramble, knowing that any delay could make the difference between having a shiny, new device on Day One or getting it three weeks later. By the time my order actually goes through, I’m wired.
  • My purchase? A Series 4 Apple Watch in space gray. I already own the Series 3, so I certainly don’t need an upgrade. Still, I’m excited about the larger screen, smaller bezels, and improved information density of the new edition.
  • I skipped out on cellular (again). It’s not that I can’t see the utility. I would love to stay connected on my runs—without lugging my phone along. And it would be nice to know I could summon help if I get hit by a car or have a heart attack while exercising. But I just can’t justify the extra cost: $100 more up front, then $15 or so tacked onto my cell phone bill every month, forever. On top of that, to add an Apple Watch to our AT&T family plan, we would have to ditch our grandfathered shared data pool. That would raise our bill at least another $35. It’s would be tough to justify that price hike to the other family members who split the monthly bill.
  • I opted to trade in my Series 3 as part of the purchase. I thought the $175 credit would be automatically deducted from my purchase price, but that didn’t happen. Apparently, I’ll need to wait until Apple’s vendor actually receives my unit. That’s not a big deal, but I might hunt around to see if I can get more for it by reselling through Swappa.
  • One nice perk: Apple’s trade-in program doesn’t force you to return your accessories. I’ll get to keep the gray Sport Band that shipped with the Series 3. Knowing that, I ordered my Series 4 with the nylon Sport Loop instead. I can’t say I’m pumped to try out the “sweat pants of watch bands,” but I am looking forward to a change.
  • I’ll also retain my current Watch charger, which means I’ll have two charging disks for the first time. It’ll be nice to leave the extra charger in my travel bag permanently.
  • After making a fuss about adopting an annual upgrade cycle, I’m holding onto my iPhone X for another year. The Xs just doesn’t feel like it’s worth the outlay. Plus, I haven’t saved enough to buy both a new phone and a new watch, and the Series 4 was by far the most interesting product announced on Wednesday.
  • If Apple had announced new iPad Pros this week, I would have faced a dilemma: new Watch or new iPad? But it’s likely that I would have chosen the Watch (which I wear everyday) over the tablet (I’ve owned three iPads and ended up selling each one).
  • For whatever reason, the shipping address and email associated with my Apple Pay account were incorrect, but I didn’t realize this until after my order was processed. The physical address is close enough that I think it’ll go through, but the email address no longer exists. Hopefully the mistake doesn’t derail my order; if I had to submit a new one, I’d be waiting well into October at this point.

One last thought: as tablets and smartphones inch toward maturity, I see less less and less reason to upgrade annually. I don’t feel much FOMO looking at the Xs vs. last year’s iPhone X. So it might make sense to adopt a longer-term upgrade cycle—say, two years for my phone and three or four for my tablet (if I ever end up buying one again).

But the nascent smartwatch category is still growing by leaps and bounds every year. In 2016, the Watches got significantly faster. In 2017, the device gained standalone cellular capability. This year, the form factor changed radically.

Given that, if I had to choose one device to upgrade annually, it would be the Apple Watch. That’s a testament to the gadget’s utility, considering I didn’t even own one two years ago.  ■

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Imagining the Apple Watch Series 4

Every year since the Apple Watch’s debut, a new hardware version has been released. The OG Watch dropped in 2015, the Series 1 and 2 hit in 2016, and the Series 3 was released this past fall. Should this pattern hold, the Apple Watch Series 4 will show up later this year.

What hardware improvements could we hope for in the Series 4? Here are the changes I would like to see:

Better heart rate sensor

The Apple Watch may well have the best wrist-based heart rate sensor in the industry. But it’s not good enough. On runs, my Watch often fails to register my pulse at all. Once it does, it’s comically incorrect—either 30 BPM too high or “half off,” as if it’s missing every other heartbeat. I’d almost rather not have a heartrate reading at all than one I can’t trust for adjusting my effort level.

Now, we may be running up against physics here. Like all other wrist-based heart trackers, the Watch uses an optical sensor; green LEDs illuminate the blood flowing through your wrist. Apparently, that’s not a particularly reliable way to measure heart rate.1

But if it’s possible to either a) improve the optical heart rate tech or b) adopt some other, more reliable technology, I’d love to see Apple do it. Right now, I bring both the Apple Watch and my chest strap on runs. That’s annoying.

Always-on screen

It’s right there on the tin. The Apple “Watch” is a “watch”—i.e., a wrist-worn device for telling the time. But compared to every other “dumb” watch on the market, the Watch does worse at performing this basic task.

The Apple Watch manages its power aggressively, switching off the screen after a few seconds of inactivity. If you steal a glance at the device without raising your wrist—say, while you’re typing or reading or eating or driving—you’re greeted by a black, blank screen. If you do flip your wrist, the Watch often fails to register this movement and stays dark.

Given the Series 3’s stellar battery life, I’d like to see Apple loosen the power management reins a bit, in favor of an always-available clock. Just light up enough pixels to show the current time. The Series 4 could still hide its complications (weather, Activity rings, sports scores, etc.) until I raised my wrist; fade them in when you’re sure I’m watching. But at all other moments of the day, show the time in dimly-lit, grayish digits, glanceable from any angle.

Thinner body

The Watch has always seemed a bit chunky, and it’s actually been getting chunkier with each successive generation. It’s time to reverse that trend. My ideal Apple Watch would be about 25% thinner than the Series 3 and would feel less like a nerd-alert badge on my wrist. That may not be possible this year, but I’ll be irked if the Watch gets thicker again.

Slimmer bezels

Because the Apple Watch cleverly blends its bezels with its OLED screen, it’s easy to miss just how wide those bezels are. In the era of “edge-to-edge” phone displays, I’d like to see that tech trickle down to Apple’s wearable devices. Push those corners out just a bit with the next hardware revision.

Longshots: glucose monitor and temperature sensing

Finally, two less-likely hopes for an Apple Watch Series 4:

  • Last year, Apple was rumored to be developing a blood sugar sensor that worked without piercing your skin. This would be a godsend for diabetics, but it could also help non-diabetics get a better handle on healthy eating. I’d be less likely to down a Coke if I could see exactly how high it spikes my glucose levels.
  • Finally, temperature sensors could be fun. What if the Series 4 Watch could detect your body temperature and the ambient air temperature? There are algorithmic challenges here, of course; your wrist’s temperature may not reflect your core heat, and body heat would throw off ambient readings. But maybe Apple could correct for these problems. Imagine a Watch that could detect a fever before other symptoms arise. Or a Watch that could confirm, once and for all, that your favorite restaurant sets its thermostat three degrees too cold. ■

  1. My chest strap heart rate monitor works far better than the Watch, but it has the unfair advantage of sitting literally an inch or two from my heart—from that location, it can detect the electric impulse generated by my ticker itself.