Apple Watch Series 4 is the Best Smartwatch in 2018

I have reviewed a number of smartwatches and fitness trackers from Garmin, Samsung, Fitbit and others but the Apple Watch Series 4 is the first Apple watch I had reviewed and I guess I’ll just say it right up front, it is the best smartwatch available right now.

And I am a longtime Samsung fan and still am.  I’ve owned Samsung smartphones, well, since there have been things called smartphones and I actually had to buy a refurbished Apple iPhone 6 to try out the Apple Watch (View pricing and availability at Walmart and/or Best Buy), since the Apple Watch is only compatible with Apple phones.

I didn’t know what to expect from the Apple Watch or if I’d even like it.  Apple tends to create a lot of hype around their products which is marketing genius so I wasn’t sure if the watch was really as good as Apple claimed or even to trust the claims of other reviewers.  Maybe they were just Apple fans and were prejudiced.

Well, the Apple Watch Series 4 really is the best smartwatch available right now.  Samsung isn’t far behind and Wear OS is getting better but Apple still rules.  It’s true.

It’s not that other smartwatches aren’t good or worthwhile but Apple just does it better and I think one of the big reasons is because the watch is only compatible with iPhones.  It’s a lot easier for Apple to develop software within their own ecosystem than tackle the task Samsung and Google has to with trying to be compatible with a wide array of smartphones.

The Apple Watch and the iPhone just go together very well.  Notifications come through reliably and quickly.  Many of the apps designed for the Apple Watch are also superior to apps designed for other watches.

Part of the reason for that is that the Apple Watch is the most popular smartwatch and the iPhone is a very popular smartphone, if you’ve heard of it before :)  As a longtime Android user, I’ve always had to wait in line after Apple users to get updates for apps on my phone.  The same is usually true for smartwatch apps.

“But if you have an iPhone then the Apple Watch is the best choice for a smartwatch. Period.”

I’m not going to get in the argument of whether Android is better or worse than Apple because honestly they are both very good.  My Samsung Galaxy S7 has been a workhorse and the most reliable smartphone I’ve owned.  The camera is amazing and it’s even better on newer Galaxy versions.  The Gear Sport and the Galaxy Watch are very good smartwatches and if you have a Samsung Galaxy smartphone the go together like bread and butter, just like the Apple Watch and iPhone.

But if you have an iPhone then the Apple Watch is going to best your best choice for a smartwatch. Period.  Now if you’re wanting a full-featured GPS watch for hiking, trekking, and tons of workout data from your activities then there’s better options for that.  Personally, I think Garmin (see the Forerunner Guide) does the best at serious fitness tracking but the Apple Watch is fine for most people and it also has those great smartwatch features too.

The SOS feature is a very nice safety feature to have
The SOS feature is a very nice safety feature to have

What’s So Great About the Apple Watch Series 4?

The number one reason why the Series 4 is the best smartwatch available as I’m writing this is that it does everything well.  It paired quickly and easily with my iPhone.  It stays connected through Bluetooth and syncs reliably.

The mic and speaker are the best I’ve used.  In fact when I answer a phone call through the watch nobody knows I’m speaking through the watch.  The sound quality is that good.  Nobody even asks if I’m on speakerphone.  They just think I’m talking to them through the phone and that hasn’t been the case with other smartwatches I’ve tried.

Replying to text messages is quick.  There are different options for replying to messages.  You can respond by voice and the watch will convert what you’ve said into text or you can choose from canned responses of which there are a ton.  There’s also emojis for just really quick and fun responses.

Replying to text messages, the options
Replying to text messages, the options.

The option that I use the most is actually handwriting.  The Apple Watch will convert your handwriting to text.  It takes a little practice but it’s pretty good at recognizing what I’m writing and I have lousy handwriting!

One thing I do quite often on the Apple Watch is listen to music and I never really did this with my other watches.  I’m not sure why because the Gear Sport plays music very well too.  I don’t just listen to music when I’m working out but when I’m relaxing.  The music sounds very good through my Bluetooth headphones.

Totally rad 80's music playlist on my Apple Watch!
Totally rad 80’s music playlist on my Apple Watch!

Probably one of the reasons why I listen to music through the Apple Watch is because there isn’t much storage on my iPhone.  There’s plenty of storage on the Apple Watch for several hundred songs.

There’s also a podcast app which works very well and podcasts can either be streamed from your phone or downloaded to the watch for later listening.

I have had an issue with my Bluetooth headphones disconnecting quite a bit but I’m not sure if the problem is on Apple’s end or the headphones I’m using.  I haven’t heard anyone else complaining about this so I’m holding judgment for now.

One of the strongest points of the Apple Watch is the availability of apps in the App Store.  Of course, there are weather apps, fitness apps, news, travel, audiobook apps, games, sports apps, productivity apps and more.

Some of the apps I have installed on my watch
Some of the apps I have installed on my watch

Some of the top apps available for the Apple Watch are:

  • MyFitnessPal
  • Lifesum
  • MLB At Bat
  • ESPN
  • Map My Run
  • Pillow Automatic Sleep Tracking (I’ll discuss this in a bit)
  • KAYAK
  • Audible
  • TuneIn Radio
  • Runkeeper
  • Seven – 7 Minute Workout
  • ViewRanger (hiking app)
  • AllTrails
  • Endomondo
  • MapMyHike
  • Golfing Apps
  • Nike+ Run Club
  • Runtastic
  • Strava
  • Pretty much every major news source (The New York Times, USA Today, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, CBS, ABC, BBC, The Washing Post, AP News, Fox News, Flipboard, etc.)
  • Uber
  • Yelp
  • Most major airlines
  • Weatherbug
  • Wunderground
  • Facebook Messenger

So there’s plenty of apps to choose from and the ones I have tried have loaded quickly and performed well.

One thing I am a little disappointed about is the selection of watch faces.  There’s a number to choose from but there are no third-party watch faces.  With Samsung and Wear OS there are tons of choices but it’s much more limited with Apple.

The watch with the original strap
The watch with the original strap, oh and Mickey will tell you the time in his Mickey Mouse voice when you touch him. :)

Another thing that is missing from the Apple Watch is sleep tracking which seems odd because the battery life on the Series 4 is certainly good enough to wear a full 24+ hours.  With earlier version maybe sleep tracking didn’t make as much sense since most people would be charging their watch at night.

However, there are very good third-party sleep tracking apps and I’ve tried one called Pillow and it did a great job compared against the Fitbit Charge 3 and Fitbit is the best at sleep tracking.

Fitbit Charge 3 Sleep Tracking
Fitbit Charge 3 Sleep Tracking
Pillow sleep tracking on Series 4
Pillow sleep tracking on Series 4

So, you can still have sleep tracking with the Apple Watch but you’ll need to download a third-party app.

Fitness Tracking

There are two main reasons why smartwatches are useful. One, are all the smartwatch features like getting notifications from your phone on your watch, replying to messages, answering phone calls, getting news and weather updates, and just not having to use your phone so much. There’s the convenience factor.

The other reason to have a smartwatch is tracking your health and fitness activities.  Step tracking, heart rate monitoring, energy expenditure calculations (how many calories you’ve burned), and tracking timed activities are major features of a good smartwatch but they’re only good features if they’re accurate!

Hiking with the Apple Watch
Hiking with the Apple Watch – the hiking activity is limited in features but third-party apps like ViewRanger will provide allow you to view your route on a map, create routes, and download routes to follow.  It’s my favorite hiking app for Wear OS too.

 

ViewRanger
ViewRanger

For step tracking, the Apple Watch Series 4 performs well.  It seems to undercount just a bit compared to Fitbit but not by much.  By the end of the day the Series 4 and the Charge 3 were similar with Fitbit counting a few hundred more steps than the Apple Watch.  It’s hard to say which one is more accurate but in several tests in which I walked 100 steps the Apple Watch was 97-99% accurate.

Where the Series 4 really shines in terms of health monitoring is its heart rate sensor.  It performed very well in every tests I threw at it.  There was never any erratic dips or peaks in my heart rate where they shouldn’t be.  It just has a very stable and reliable HR sensor and that’s for both resting heart rate and during more vigorous activities.

Below is a comparison of the Fitbit Charge 3 versus the Apple Watch Series 4.  Both performed similarly during this workout.

fitbit charge 3 heart rate
Fitbit Charge 3 Heart Rate
Apple Watch Series 4 Heart Rate
Apple Watch Series 4 Heart Rate

You can connect a Bluetooth heart rate strap with the Apple Watch for even greater accuracy.  If you do a lot of weight lifting or any type of fitness activity that involves flexing your wrists a lot then a heart rate strap will always give you the more accurate numbers but the Apple Watch does pretty good on its own.

Promised to come soon to the Series 4 is the detection of Afib.  This is a feature I’m looking forward to testing out because smartwatches are moving in the direction of having the ability to detect and/or monitor medical conditions.  It’s a big step for smartwatches and fitness trackers.  I also do have heart problems that I would like to monitor.

Another very important component to fitness tracking is having a good GPS sensor on-board and the Series 4 certainly has that.  It has performed extremely well compared against several other watches including the Garmin Fenix 5s which is a top-of-the-line GPS watch.

Seeing your location on a map
Seeing your location on a map

Connecting to a GPS signal has always been lightning fast and so far it has never lost signal during my outdoor activities in wooded and hilly areas.  With a great GPS you not only get more accurate fitness data but it also comes in handy for using navigational apps for directions.  A very handy feature for any smartwatch!

apple watch series 4 bike riding
Apple Watch Series 4 map after bike ride

 

apple watch series 4 gps
The Series 4 built-in GPS tracked my position well over this bridge. It even got right which side of the bridge I was riding on for both directions. It struggle a little more when I was riding through the woods but still did a good job.  It’s hard for any GPS device to track you through a dense forest canopy.

My primary activities are walking on the treadmill, hiking, outdoor bike riding, and indoor bike riding so those are the activities that I tested.  Below is a full list of all the activities the Series 4 currently tracks:

  • indoor walk
  • hiking
  • outdoor walk
  • outdoor cycling
  • outdoor run
  • indoor run
  • indoor cycle
  • elliptical
  • rower
  • stair stepper
  • high intensity interval training
  • yoga
  • pool swim
  • open water swim
  • and a “other” category for whatever doesn’t fit into any of the above

Build Quality and Comfort

The Series 4 is available in a 40mm and a 44mm version.  I have the 40mm and I had a tough time deciding which one to choose when I ordered the watch because I didn’t have to opportunity to see them in person and try each size on my wrist.

The 40mm fits my wrist very well and my wrist is about 6 1/2″ but I could have gone with the 44mm and I don’t think it would have been too big but that’s a matter of personal preference.

The watch is extremely comfortable on my wrist.  I chose the cheaper aluminum case non-cellular version.  It was listed at $399 when I purchased it so it’s not a cheap watch but we don’t expect cheap prices from Apple!

I also chose the rose gold version since I already have plenty of black watches and it also matches the rose gold of my wedding ring which is nice.

I really like the design of watch straps for the Apple Watch.  They are very easy to change and there’s tons of third-party straps to choose from on Amazon and elsewhere.

The screen on the Series 4 has great color reproduction and is very responsive.  Tilt-to-wake works well.  (When you turn your wrist to you the screen turns on.  You can turn this feature off.)

I have accidentally banged the screen up against a few things (yes my heart skipped a beat each time) and I haven’t noticed any scratches.  You may want to get a screen protector.

The gold finish on the aluminum case is also holding up well.  After several weeks of wearing the watch I don’t notice any scratches or scuff marks.

Honestly, I still prefer the look of a round watch face.  I still really like my Samsung Gear Sport.  Hey, it has that cool rotating bezel.  Who can resist that?  But the Apple Watch is lightweight and comfortable and it looks pretty good too.

Battery Life

This is the most surprising feature of the Series 4 to me because I was expecting to have to charge the watch every evening and it easily gets me through a full day and that’s with heavy usage.  I can use the watch the way I want to and not worry about running out of battery by 5pm.

As I wrote earlier, because of the good battery life I can use it for sleep tracking as well.

I charge the watch when I’m showering and getting ready in the morning and it charges fairly quickly to a full charge. I haven’t timed it but in seems that in less than an hour if I have 30% or so remaining it seems to charge to 100% by the time I’m ready to walk out the door and start the day.

Conclusion

There’s so many other things I can write about the Apple Watch in this review but I’ll go into more detail on those things in other posts but if you’ve read this far you can probably tell that I can highly recommend the Apple Watch Series 4.

I had absolutely no idea how I would like the watch when I first got it.  I actually wasn’t that excited to pick it up and explore its’ features because I had watched so many reviews before getting it that I felt like I already knew the watch but my feelings changed once I got to experience it myself.  I’m impressed!

It’s reliable and does what it says it can do and does those things very well.  I discovered there’s a good reason why other reviewers always rated it higher than all the other smartwatches.  It really is better than the rest and that pains me to say as a long-time Samsung fan.  In Samsung’s defense, they also make great smart phones and smartwatches but Apple does the smartwatch better, at least for now.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is available at Walmart, Best Buy and other retailers.