Review: Apple's Watch 7 may not be revolutionary, but it's still the best there is

It's got a bigger screen than ever before and is much easier to read, but is that enough to get one?
It's got a bigger screen than ever before and is much easier to read, but is that enough to get one? Photo credit: Newshub

There's a temptation to look at the differences between last year's Apple Watch models and the new Watch 7 range and conclude there's not much to see.

The same was also said about the new iPhone 13 range, though, and that proved not to be the case, so any attempt to prejudge the new smartwatch must also been seen as premature.

The new model has a slightly larger form, with 41mm and 45mm versions compared to the previous 40mm and 44mm footprints - but also a bigger screen area for display purposes.

That allows a full QWERTY keyboard to be implemented for the first time, allowing faster replying to messages as well as making the watch easier to read and use overall.

But it's also slightly more expensive than comparable devices, particularly the newly-launched Samsung Watch4 and Watch4 Classic; the Apple Watch 7 starts at $649 for the GPS version and $849 for the GPS plus cellular model.

So does upgrading to the Watch 7 make sense or would you be better off waiting for the rumoured health tracking improvements to be delivered next year? And can such a small QWERTY keyboard deliver anything beyond frustration?

I've been using the new Apple Watch 7 for a few days now and here are my thoughts.

The good

The 1mm difference between the 44mm Watch 6 I've been using and the new 45mm Watch 7 doesn't sound like much - but it's huge.

The rounded screen and refractive edge allows more of the real estate to be used for the display and it looks great, increasing the usable area by around 20 percent.

Apple Watch 7 v Apple Watch 6
Photo credit: Newshub

It's a game-changer. Battery aside - more on that in a minute - one of my frustrations with smartwatches has always been they've felt just a touch too small to be truly useful.

Either you increase the text size and only get a few words on the screen, or things are so small you need a magnifying glass.

It seems Apple has finally hit that sweet spot where even someone with my deteriorating eyesight can read what's on there in a glance.

The QWERTY keyboard was surely destined to be a failure, though. I scoffed at the idea when I first heard about it and could never imagine typing out a full response on such a tiny input device.

I was wrong. Not about the size, it's still tiny; but it's surprisingly useful. Both touching the letters individually or swiping to create whole words is pretty accurate.

Apple Watch 7
Photo credit: Newshub

It might be a touch slower than doing the same on a phone keyboard, but I found the actual input as accurate as it is on any other device - even though you'd think Apple might have realised by now that "ducking" is definitely not the word I want to use.

The Watch 7 also offers a brighter experience when you're looking at it 'wrist down' - ie not turning it to face you and activating it. It's much more readable in that state now and means you can quickly check the time in your work meetings without making it too obvious.

Given the improvements in screen size and brightness I did expect a slight knock-on impact on the battery life but I'm happy that appears to not be the case.

Apple says it offers all-day battery life, with 18 hours of usage depending on how often you interact with it, the configuration and other factors. I got significantly more.

I've gotten into the habit of putting the watch on its charger when I get into bed and putting it back on before I drift off so it can monitor my sleep.

I've then recorded an hour-long run while playing a podcast from the device the following morning and still had between 10 and 20 percent of battery life left when it came to the next bedtime.

My routine is helped by the new silver-covered charging dock for the Watch 7 which allows faster charging: Up to 33 percent quicker, according to the company.

Review: Apple's Watch 7 may not be revolutionary, but it's still the best there is
Photo credit: Newshub

It says you can get from 0 percent to 80 percent in 45 minutes. I didn't get to the point where I had fully drained the battery, but I went from 20 percent to 100 percent in 50 minutes, which is still pretty good.

Unfortunately that quicker charging won't work on older devices and if you have to end up borrowing someone else's older dock, the 7 series will be slower to charge too, so you just have to remember to take yours with you.

I've also found the new watch more comfortable to wear than the Watch 6. There doesn't appear to be much difference on the back end, but on most watches - smart and otherwise - I get reactions on my sensitive wrist skin

It's only been a few days but I've had zero reaction with the Watch 7 and long may that be the case.

Watch case colours aren't really my thing as I tend to think a little conservatively about their look. I always imagine going into a high-powered meeting and someone looking at my wrist and making an immediate judgement because it stands out a mile.

But if bright red, or even beautiful metallic greens or blues are your thing then you're going to have plenty of choice compared to previous models. Me? I like my midnight and I don't have to care what anyone thinks.

The final thing to note is the Watch 7 is the first of Apple's watches to offer IP6X dust certification, meaning it's completely dust tight.

That'll mean a splash around in the waves at the local beach followed by a sunbathing session on the hot sand won't cause any issues. Not every smartwatch on the market offers such functionality.

Apple Watch 7
Photo credit: Newshub

The bad

There are very few things about the Watch 7 I consider sub-standard and for the most part those are able to be easily mitigated.

The most annoying thing was transferring my settings from my older one. It was all done automatically, of course, much like you can do with Apple's other devices and happened mostly seamlessly, but certain things just aren't carried across.

In my case it was podcasts I'd downloaded. I set off for my run, started playing the podcast and then it cut off. It took me a few minutes to realise it had been streaming into my earphones from my phone in the house rather than the watch because my carefully curated playlist hadn't been redownloaded.

It meant my run was in silence with only my brain for company. That's never a fun experience.

Clearly it's not a massive thing, but it takes quite a long time to download podcasts and music to the watch so it did raise a growl.

Now I come to think about it, why does it take so long to download music and podcasts to the watch? Maybe that's something Apple can look at for the Watch 8.

Apple Watch 7
Photo credit: Newshub

The other thing that wasn't quite right was the new braided solo loop band. I followed the instructions on the Apple website carefully, measured my wrist and converted that to the appropriately sized band.

It looks gorgeous and feels great - and I love the colour options too. But within a day it was too loose and riding up my arm, particularly when I slept. It's not ideal and something you'll need to consider when ordering.

Thankfully the Watch 7 is backwards compatible with last year's bands so if you've already got one you like then it's a simple matter to move it across

One thing not easily mitigated is the battery life when compared to other smartwatch options. Yes, I got all through the day and night with the Watch 7, but I'm still hankering for something that will last days.

My not-quite-so-smart Garmin tends to give me between three and four days of usage before charging, while others like Oppo Watch and Huawei's Band 6 the offer anywhere between 36 hours and 10 days, respectively.

If you charge every day it's not likely going to be a problem, but it's definitely something to keep in mind when choosing which smartwatch is for you.

Apple Watch 7
Photo credit: Newshub

Finally, I just didn't really like the new Watch 7 faces. I want to look at a watch and instantly know the time, but there's a temptation to put too much information on the screen at once or to play with the important stuff on there.

The World Time face, which is available to all WatchOS8 users, is the biggest culprit, even on the bigger screen. There's so much text, numbers and symbols that my brain just gives up.

Sometimes more just isn't more, Apple! Give me the classic California look any day of the week.

The verdict

The improvements on last year's Watch 6 series may be iterative instead of revolutionary, but that doesn't make them any less impressive.

The increased screen size alone is a massive step up. It's easier to read and the extra text on the screen means less scrolling: That's a win/win situation.

Apple Watch 7
Photo credit: Newshub

Okay, I might not be convinced by some of the new faces, but in the big scheme of things it doesn't matter as I can easily access one I really love.

So should you wait until next year?

I'm not the most patient of people, so waiting really isn't in my DNA. But even with that specified, I'm not sure I'd be holding on for the Watch 8 to drop this time in 2022.

Things have changed in the last 18 months. Chip shortages are, according to reports, causing Apple to cut the number of iPhone 13s being produced. It also means there has been a slight delay in the releaseof the Watch 7 itself.

Anyone upgrading from a Series 5 or older will notice enormous jumps.

Review: Apple's Watch 7 may not be revolutionary, but it's still the best there is
Photo credit: Newshub

Rumours also have a tendency to be overstated - some of the bigger beliefs about Apple's 2021 devices proved not to be true so there are simply no guarantees.

For me the Apple Watch 7 is a step forward in look and functionality that brings us tantalisingly close to a device that will be able to operate without an iPhone.

I'm ready for it. In the meantime I'm just going to enjoy what's undoubtedly the best smartwatch on the market.

Newshub was supplied with an Apple Watch 7 and a selection of bands for this review.