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Review: Apple Watch 4 blows away competition with flashier looks, more functionality

Review: Apple Watch 4 blows away competition with flashier looks, more functionality
Boasting a slimmer profile and a 30% larger screen, the Apple Watch 4 offers improvements straight across the board. But its biggest advances are under the hood. (Apple)

There’s a reason Apple dominates the smartwatch market: Its wearables are consistently the best from both a hardware and software perspective. The new Apple Watch Series 4, true to form, doesn’t disappoint.

Boasting a slimmer profile and a 30% larger screen, the Watch 4 offers improvements straight across the board. But its biggest advances are under the hood, where it now has health-related functionality placing it way ahead of rival gadgets.

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Nearly all smartwatches will monitor your heart rate. The Apple Watch 4 goes one better, with actual electrocardiogram readings like you get during your annual physical.

When the ECG capability becomes available later this year, you’ll hold you finger to the crown, and the watch — with the blessing of the Food and Drug Administration — will show if your ticker is working right.

That might not be for everyone, and it could potentially drive hypochondriacs to distraction. But for anyone with a heart condition, that’s a big, big deal.

Another major new health feature is an ability to detect if you’ve fallen and require assistance. Seriously.

Using gyroscopic technology, the Watch 4 can tell if you’ve suddenly collapsed — as opposed to, say, plopping down on the sofa — and will ask if you need help.

If you don’t respond, it will get help for you automatically and send a text to your emergency contact.

Anyone with aging parents will recognize the enormous value of this. By the same token, anyone with a condition or circumstances that make sudden falls a possibility will receive peace of mind in knowing you’re covered.

I found the Apple Watch 4 to be faster than the Watch 3 and more comfortable on the wrist, maybe a smidge lighter.

It can be dressed up with a snazzy metal band, or given a sportier vibe with one of the rubber or cloth offerings. Older bands also will work with the Watch 4.

I didn’t think the larger, sharper screen would make a big difference but it does, not just for visibility but also for putting more data within reach. Some watch faces can take up to eight complications, although I don’t like such a busy look.

Among the handful of new faces available, the new “fire” and “water” options are particularly cool.

Battery life is still a thing. Plan on recharging every couple of days. Personally, I don’t find that an inconvenience, but I know some smartwatch owners won’t be satisfied until they can go at least a week on a single charge.

My only gripe about the Apple Watch is that it’s Apple’s world and you just live in it. You’re offered relatively few choices compared with watches running Google’s Wear OS system, and little access to third-party apps and complications.

It wouldn’t kill Apple to learn how to play nice with others.

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Overall, however, the Watch 4 builds on Apple’s prior successes in the wearable space and adds enough new whiz-bang features to make this a genuine advance rather than a largely cosmetic step forward.

The latest Apple wearable also raises the bar for a much-rumored Google watch, expected to be revealed next month. To compete, Google will need to really shine in both the looks and apps departments.

The Apple Watch 4 comes in two sizes — 40-millimeter and 44-millimeter (I recommend the 44) — and pricing runs from about $400 to $800, depending on bells and whistles such as cellular capability.

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