​Apple Watch Series 7 review: Design change leaves rivals in its shade

Series 7 offers more reasons to buy at the same price
​Apple Watch Series 7
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Let’s get a few things straight before we start: the Apple Watch Series 7 certainly won’t go down as the biggest update to Apple’s smartwatch in the seven generations to date.

There are no game-changing new features here, or mindboggling new sensors.

And if you’re hoping for drastic changes in the battery life of Apple’s smartwatch, then reset your expectations.

But the Series 7 heralds only the second design change since the original Apple Watch in 2014. And it succeeds in putting the Series 7 right at the top of the smartwatch tree.

Read on for our full review.

Tl;dr review, price and alternatives

Apple Watch Series 7 screen

The Apple Watch Series 7 looks better than the Series 6, and is easier to live with, thanks to fast charging and a bigger screen. And given that it replaces its predecessor for the same price, we’d call that a win.

It starts at $399/£369 for the 41mm in aluminum and $429/£399 for the 45mm.

However, there’s no denying this is an iterative update, that offers a fresh new look but few new features. And that means it’s unlikely to make Series 5 and Series 6 users upgrade.

But back in our Series 6 review, we reasoned that the ECG and always-on display weren’t big enough reasons to recommend most people paying more over the $279/£249 Apple Watch SE.

The Series 7 screen, shape and colorways leave the SE looking a little dated. There’s more tangible reasons to choose a Series 7, even if the SE remains the obvious alternative by offering the core functionality at a great price.

We’d still avoid the boxy and dated Series 3 ($199/£199), for the sake of saving £70. Do yourself a favour.

But what if you don’t want an Apple Watch at all?

The screen on the new Amazfit GTS 3 Pro and GTS 3 make them both contenders. And the sports tracking of the Garmin Venu 2 and fitness/health smarts of the Fitbit Sense are also excellent choices. All of those torpedo the Series 7 on battery life.

The new screen

Apple Watch Series 7 new watch face

When it comes to the Series 7, it’s all about the design. There are new colors for the cheapest aluminum finish – and we got this natty blue. There's also green, red and a white and dark grey finish. It makes the standard Series 7 quite fun, but you will need to get the more pricey stainless steel finishes to get something shiny.

The Series 7’s key change is the screen – and by reducing the border to just 1.7mm, it packs in 20% more screen real-estate over the Series 6 and SE.

And without resorting hyperbole, the difference is stark.

The Series 7 is all screen. The edge-to-edge display looks superb, and it feels like an all-new smartwatch on the wrist.

There’s a slight change to the case size too, with softer edges that immediately makes the Series 6 feel boxy.

Apple has made some design changes to watchOS 8 on the Series 7 to make use of the new display, and we’ll come to those. But the screen change represents more than that. It immediately puts the Apple Watch SE, Series 6 and, let’s face it, most smartwatch rivals in the shade. They feel old. The Series 7 is back on top, and it makes the whole Apple Watch line-up make more sense.

Apple Watch Series 7 glass

How’s it done this? Well first, the Series 7 has grown slightly – and now comes in 41mm and 45mm sizes, up from 40mm and 44mm on the Apple Watch SE. That means that the Apple Watch Series 7 is the biggest ever, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea – especially women.

The screen is now surrounded by just 1.7mm of black which is 40% less than the Series 6.

It’s pulled tight to the edge of the case and the Ion-X glass has been machined with an angular edge that refracts light, pulling the display area down to the metal of the case, so it feels like there’s zero gap.

The screen is noticeably brighter than Series 6, and the 1,000 nit screen punches out as you tilt your wrist. And the low-power version of the always-on display is brighter too.

In terms of screen specs we have details: The 44mm is a OLED Retina display, 396 x 484 resolution and the 40mm is 352 x 420. It’s right up there with the biggest and baddest smartwatch displays, in a relatively compact case.

Usability changes

Apple Watch Series 7 text on screen

So how does the Series 7’s screen change affect usability? Well, not a great deal as the Apple Watch has always been a very intuitive smartwatch to use – but there have been some changes.

The menus and screens are bigger, and buttons are noticeably larger and it’s certainly easier to navigate the watch and interact with watchOS 8. We didn’t have a problem before, but those with chunky digits will enjoy the change.

Possibly the biggest deal is the amount of text you can see (50% more over Series 6) – and that makes a difference when it comes to notifications.

And Apple has added an on-screen keyboard that can appear when text input is required from apps. An easy example is the Messages app. Now, the screen will have to grow by more than 20% to get us using an on-screen keyboard on a smartwatch regularly.

Apple Watch Series 7 keyboard

But in testing it actually worked surprisingly well, using the QuickPath to swipe out a simple message.

We did make mistakes, and you can use the crown to weed those out. It’s fine in a pinch, when you don’t want to be seen talking to your Watch like Dick Tracey.

There are a few new watch faces that are exclusive to Series 7 and make use of the extra screen space.

The Contour watch face is the poster boy for Series 7 and looks great – and the Modular Duo can show two large complications.

We think there could have been more new watch face options for Series 7, but Apple has always been notoriously tight with watch face options, so it’s little surprise.

Sports and activity

Apple Watch Series 7 workout

We usually dive into the most minute of detail here, but the Series 7 doesn’t change things in terms of the fitness tracking and sports tracking from previous generations, so we're going to keep things top level.

In terms of activity tracking, the Apple Watch still offers the best experience on any smartwatch. The three Rings are baked right into the experience. The Move (calories burned via movement), Exercise (time spent at higher levels) and Stand goals are simple and effective.

Active Zone Minutes on Fitbit and Amazfit’s PAI score are possibly more scientific, but they’re also over-complicated and hard to engage with.

Apple’s approach is simple, effective and clear – and the prompts and reminders are regular and addicting. A focus on calories and movements is preferable to steps, but you can see those, too.

Apple added sleep tracking in watchOS 7, and that works nicely, even if it is extraordinarily simple. It’s an accurate monitor of time in bed and your sleep schedule, but you don’t get snazzy bits like sleep stages or a singular sleep score. It’s lightweight, but does cut through the noise to give you the one bit of data you need: how much sleep you got.

Of course, if you want more data, you can download one of the many third party sleep apps.

Sport tracking is a strong part of the Apple Watch feature set – and the Workout app has workout modes for most popular activities – it just added Tai Chi, for example.

Apple Watch Series 7 HR monitor

We regularly used the yoga workout tracker – which doesn’t offer too much detail about the session (just heart rate, duration and calories) and then bounces the session into the Fitness app on iPhone, where we rarely look at it again.

For running we use the Strava app, and for golf we use Hole 19 and Tag Heuer Golf – and that really encompasses what the Apple Watch is about. The core sports tracking features of the Apple Watch have always been quite basic, but if you’re passionate about something, the App Store will have something more advanced.

Like every Apple Watch before it, a Garmin or Polar watch will do running and sports GPS tracking for longer and with more data than the Series 7.

But most of the time, our Apple Watch is on the wrist and ready to go, and is what we use for training. That’s the beauty of it.

The Apple Watch Series 7 will also estimate your VO2 Max as part of its Cardio Fitness feature, and it can do this from walking rather than tracked running workouts. We did use it for a number of workouts, however, and it gave us a VO2 Max of 48 – which is about right. Garmin, which won our group test of estimates against a full treadmill VO2 Max assessment, estimated ours at 49.

Heart rate performance during exercise of the Series 7 also didn’t change over the Series 6.

We found it to be reliable during steady runs and workout sessions in Apple Fitness+ against a chest strap – and usually only 1-2bpm out over a one hour run and matching the same peak HR.

Health and wellbeing

Apple Watch Series 7 activity app

As the flagship, the Apple Watch Series 7 is the only smartwatch in the current range to feature ECG, which also appeared on Series 4/5/6. You can take a reading and it will check the rhythm of your heart for irregularity that could point to atrial fibrillation (Afib). It will also produce an ECG graph that you can show you doctor, that can be found in Apple Health on iPhone.

It’s FDA approved, and easy to use. Start the app, place your finger on the crown and go.

It’s perhaps not a feature most people will use daily, or even after the first go. But for a subset of people, and older users, having an ECG on the wrist can be hugely important.

Like other Apple Watch devices, it will monitor for high/low heart rate as well and notify you if anything is up.

There’s an SpO2 sensor on board, which can take spot readings for oxygen saturation. It can also do that at night, if you wear the Apple Watch to bed.

And it will also estimate breathing rate too, which will be listed in Apple Health – spikes of which can be an early indicator of illness.

Both of these are available on the cheaper Apple Watch SE.

Battery life and fast charging

There’s been a clamour for longer Apple Watch battery life since 2014, and Apple hasn’t budged an inch.

While the Apple Watch Series 7 does infinitely more than the Series 0, including blood oxygen and an always on display which are mammoth power drainers, the quoted battery life is still just 18 hours.

Now, the 18 hour quote by Apple is absolute hooey. Even as heavy users of our Apple Watch, we regularly get around 36 hours. We can expect the Apple Watch to track sleep and last into the next day.

With the Series 7, Apple hasn’t affected the battery life but has made it faster to charge. It says that an 8 minute charge will give enough juice to power a night’s sleep tracking, and 45 minutes will bag you 80%.

That was more than borne out in our testing. We found:

  • 8 mins – 9% to 30%
  • 45 mins – 9% to 95%
  • A 40 min run using Strava used 10%.

There is a small catch. To get the fast charging, you need to use the special new charging plate that comes with the Series 7. This has the same plate. with a metallic rim to identify it, but a USB-C port on the other end.

Not wanting to give up a precious outlet just for the Apple Watch, off we went to Amazon looking for a new extension block with USB-C. In the mean time, we made do plugging the Series 7 into the MacBook in a different room.

In the Series 6 review we moaned that the sleep tracking made keeping the Apple Watch charged a headache – and that was a big negative. Maybe we’ve got used to it, but that hasn’t been the case with the Series 7, and the faster charging certainly helps.

For those that single day battery life is beyond the pale, nothing has changed. For those those willing to compromise for the benefits of the Apple Watch, the fast charging makes the Series 7 easier to live with – if you can find somewhere to plug it in.


Apple Watch Series 7
By Apple
Maybe we’re suckers for a design change, but the Apple Watch Series 7’s new screen leaves the Apple Watch SE eating dust, and the fast charging makes it a better smartwatch to live with. It’s a small change that won’t entice many upgrades from the Series 5/6. However, we criticized the Series 6 for not offering enough over the Watch SE – and now the Series 7 does.

Hit
  • Fresh look, great screen
  • Fast charging works
  • Easier to use
Miss
  • Few new features
  • Battery life hasn't improved