I Miss The Days Before Everyone Was Addicted To Streaming Services

I did mention in my review of the iPhone XS and XS Max yesterday that the Apple Watch Series 4 is a story for another day.

Well, that day is today. (Did it feel longer?)

We only have two days left before you, loyal Apple diehards (and potential converts), get your crack at the tech giant's latest gizmos (kudos to those who pre-ordered). And let's keep the geek ball rolling with their new digital timepiece.

The Apple Watch Series 4 dons the first redesign of the device since it was first introduced in 2015, and in keeping up with the changing times, it's sleeker, bolder and, possibly, death-defying - quite literally. The Apple team, putting emphasis on the device,spent half-an-hour on the Watch at this year's Special Event keynote, considerably more to just over 20 minutes in 2017.

TALE OF THE TAPE

The most notable upgrades are on two fronts: hardware and software (read: everywhere). For starters, the Series 4 now comes in bigger sizes: 40mm and 44mm, compared to the Series 3's 38mm and 42mm. While a hairline of a difference so to speak, it's the actual interface that takes the cake: the displays are now 35 per cent and 32 per cent bigger respectively, which practically gives the new Watches bezel-less display. This will be critical for apps like maps, and a pleasure to the eye when it comes to photos.

Further on the display, it's now made of what Apple calls 'low-temperature polycrystalline oxide', which, simply put, aids in power efficiency. Speaking of that, Apple promises up to 18 hours (again) of battery life, but GPS use is now up at six hours, the latter of which will definitely appeal to those who want to measure their performance over a long period of time by walking (like me) and running (not like me anymore; if this was 20-plus years ago, good luck keeping in step with me).

42mm Series 3 vs 44mm Series 4: you'll immediately notice the difference in display

With the Series 3 LTE, I could easily clear two days with a minimal number of calls taken and messages sent (read: using it as a garden-variety timepiece); sprinkle some more of that plus tinkering with other apps on it, and I'm down to over a day. In the really rare times that I used it for some sweaty activity, it still crossed the listed 18-hour finish line. With the Series 4, those figures went up to two-and-a-half days, a day-and-a-half and almost a day (yes, I was forced to run just for this).

The back of the Series 4 has also been revamped, and I must say it's more bespoke compared to its three predecessors. Gone are the circles that peppered Series 1 through 3 and replaced by a more elegant, simpler build - which actually makes me wonder if the design on the 'Gather round' invite had anything to do with it:

I love what they've done with the Series 4 (and I'm also in love with that gold finish)

All Series 4 rears are now made solely of black ceramic and sapphire crystal to better support its wireless capabilities, most notably cellular connection. Appletipstus maximus Ming-Chi Kuo had sent a note about this a couple of days before the keynote, leading to speculation that the Series 4 would only come in LTE versions.

Alas, it did not, because GPS models also came out. And that's big for those who don't want to spend much: and as you may have seen, you'll be shelling out Dh450 more for the Series 4 compared to the Series 3. Some people may pause on the practically Dh2,000 asking price for the LTE version - especially now that Series 3 prices have dropped a bit.

The Series 4's box is smaller compared to the Series 3's, but it's like unwrapping a gift - plus there's a protective sleeve, too

On the health front, the Series 4 comes with a new electrical heart rate sensor, comprising electrodes built into the Digital Crown and the back. This enables the new Watch to perform some cool new - and potentially life-saving - things.

First, Apple decided to put in a critical feature to the Series 4: ECG measurement. ECG - electrocardiogram - is the method of recording the electrical activity of one's heart that, in turn, will determine if there's anything wrong with one of the most important organs in our body, including atrial fibrillation - the abnormal functioning of the heart - which could be signs of disease.

I'd rather go left (Slashgear)

The drill is pretty simple: put your finger on the Digital Crown, wait for the Watch to finish tracking your ECG and - voila! - you now have an ECG reading. It will be saved in the Health app of your iPhone, which you can share or print with your physician.

Is the doctor in? (Apple)

The Series 4 is also the first ECG monitoring device that's available over the counter. Indeed an exciting feature, but we've gotta hold back just a little bit: this will be available only later this year, and initially only in the US. Another thing to keep in mind: the Series 4 - much like its predecessors and the rest of the health-conscious wearables field - isn't a certified medical device, even if it is, matter of factly, cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration. But despite that, this is the next step in mobile health, and sparing a minute of your time using it could draw the line between life and you-know-what.

More on health: while the Series 3 introduced high heart rate notifications, the Series 4 returns the favour by now also alerting you of the opposite: low heart rate. As with theformer, the Watch will alert you if there's something (not) funny going on with your heart below a specified threshold for 10 minutes.

There's also this new Fall Detection, which speaks for itself: if ever you fall, slip or get into any similar situation during anything you might be doing, the Series 4 will detect it - 'hard fall', as Apple terms it - and you can easily start a call to emergency services or, if you're okay, ignore it.

We pray no one ever has to use this (Apple)

Now, if the Watch detects you motionless for a minute, then it will automatically start a call to emergency services. For good measure, a message with your location will also be immediately sent to your emergency contacts, which you have specified. The fine print: to use SOS, your iPhone must be nearby. If you don't have your iPhone near your: for the GPS version, you need to be connected to Wi-Fi and have set up Wi-Fi calling; for the LTE model, cellular will be used.

I was actually contemplating how to test this feature, until everyone I broached the idea with talked me out of it because it wasn't exactly a good idea (thank you, you-know-who-you-are - even though you knew I was just clowning around). Actually, you can't just simulate a fall just to check how this works; Apple says it had done really extensive testing and research to simulate real-life falls; the trajectory of your body as a result of a fall is hugely different from trying to mimic it, so we can be pretty sure that if a fall ever happens to you - God forbid - the Watch will detect it and perform the necessary actions.

Working hand-in-hand with the hardware is Apple's latest wearable software, watchOS 5. This was first teased at June's Worldwide Developers Conference, and it's as good as advertised, if we go by what has been discussed in this review so far.

Some other new stuff: Infograph watch face and yoga workout

And it gets even better: for the health buffs, watchOS 5 also has some new things for you. First up is activity competitions: challenge a friend for a certain activity; once he or she accepts it, you duke it out for seven days. You need to outdo each other by earning points via closing a certain portion of your activity rings, and coming out victorious earns you awards and bragging rights.

The Workout app is even more intelligent with automatic detection. Started some activity but forgot to fire it up on your Watch? watchOS 5 will be able to detect it and happily start it up for you - and it will even give you retroactive credit for the time you worked out before it actually started tracking you. Aside from that, the running activity also gets some bump-ups, including the ability to choose a target pace while doing it, while also getting alerts if you're running below or above that pace. Rolling mile/kilometre, a new metric to track your pace, is now also available, which notifies you how fast you zipped through the past mile/kilometre. Cadence, or steps per minute, is also in watchOS 5, which will allow you to adjust your pace if needed or if you want to 'chill out' a bit while on the move.

Walkie-Talkie, a namesake feature that allows you to instantly talk with another Watch user with a tap, is also out with watchOS 5.

Notifications have also received a nice upgrade, including interactive controls right off the bat without having to open certain apps. And Siri just got some more intelligence, harnessing the power of the S4 chip: the Siri watch face uses machine learning to absorb your behaviour and patterns, so that it will give you the most accurate and appropriate content or results. Here's one thing I've noticed about Siri, though: it fires up even if I'm not talking to it. The only logical explanation is that it may be hearing something similar to 'Hey Siri'.

What do you mean... I have that heart rate?!

And as a nice bonus, you can now also stream podcasts straight out of the Series 4 with watchOS 5. If you have episodes of subscribed podcasts on your iPhone, it'll automatically be synced on your Watch. And why not ask Siri to search and stream one of the over 50 million songs or 18 million podcasts for you?

Bonus: all Watch bands and chargers from previous Series are compatible with the Series 4. Plus you'll also get editions for Nike+ and, for those with lotsa cash to spare, Hermes.

AND SO...

The Apple Watch Series 4 bursts with a lot of excitement. And forget workouts for now: the health upgrades are the most vital signs (pun intended) that the company is transforming a device that is sometimes viewed as cosmetic into something more serious. The real downer for me here is that that ECG feature will only be available in the US at the first go; the uncertainty of its availability in other places - especially in a place like Dubai and the UAE, where a lot of people are active and health-conscious - really weighs down heavily on me; kinda feels bad that only a handful will be able to experience it. I mean, it's a highlight feature - much like the delay in introducing LTE support here. Nevertheless, it's a more well-rounded Watch if, again, you're willing to pay up (which I believe a lot people will still do).

GOODIES - New health features especially ECG, longer GPS time, bigger screen

BADDIES - ECG only for US initially, Siri a bit too sensitive at times, usersmay balk at pricing

EDITOR RATING - 9.0/10

- alvin@khaleejtimes.com

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