The Apple Watch Series 7 is the best smartwatch you can buy, but if you already have the Series 6 it’s not worth the upgrade.
- Bigger screen than its predecessors
- Impressive app store
- Engaging activity tracking
- One-day battery life
- Not a huge update on Series 6
- Weak sleep tracking
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How you feel about the Apple Watch Series 7 will largely depend on how you felt about the Series 6. If you loved the Series 6 then good news, the Series 7 is more of the same, with a bigger screen and a more robust design. If you were hoping to see more substantial changes than that, however, the Series 7 will be a disappointment. It’s the best smartwatch available, and by a comfortable margin, but if you have the Series 6 already there probably isn’t enough here to justify an upgrade.
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Should You Buy Something Else?
If you have an iPhone and are choosing your first smartwatch then the Series 7 is the clear pick. Things are similarly clear for Android users, since the Apple Watch doesn’t work with non-Apple phones at all.
However, if you already own the Series 6 then the Series 7 isn’t really enough of an upgrade to justify splashing out. The bigger screen is nice, but on many apps you won’t really notice the jump in size, and while the improved durability is good for peace of mind it will probably never be tested.
There are cheaper Apple Watch options, with the Apple Watch SE (opens in new tab) (from £249) and Series 3 (from £179) in the line-up. Neither has an always-on screen and the Series 3’s heart rate tracker is not up to the standard of the SE or Series 7, but they do still have access to the formidable App Store. If you plan to wear it while exercising, I’d say the upgrade to the Series 7 is worth it for the always-on screen.
If you can handle a slightly less smart device with better native sports tracking, the Garmin Venu 2 is a good option. The Venu 2 has a fantastic-looking screen and while the Connect IQ app store will never match up to Apple’s, the Venu 2 does distinguish itself from the rest of the field by offering music (including offline playback for Spotify subscribers) and NFC payments, and it works with both Android and iOS phones.
Amazfit and Huawei both offer solid sporty smartwatches as well. The Huawei GT 3 and Amazfit GTR 3 Pro (opens in new tab) recently launched and are cheaper than the Apple Watch, while offering longer battery lives, but fall short on the app front.
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Apple Watch Series 7 In-Depth
The Series 7’s most notable improvement is a larger screen – 20% larger than its predecessor. It is noticeable how much more real estate you get compared with the Series 6 when you have both watches in front of you.
This has been achieved by thinning out the borders rather than substantially increasing the size of the watch – the Series 7 comes in 41mm and 45mm sizes compared with 40mm and 44mm for the Series 6 – and it feels just as light and svelte on the wrist.
The screen is also brighter in always-on mode and the watch is more robust, with a thicker, more crack-resistant screen and an IP6X dustproof rating. It has the same waterproof rating of WR50 as the Series 6, making it suitable for swimming.
That’s more or less all the functional design changes to the Series 7. There are five new aluminium colours: blue, green, red, starlight and midnight. The midnight watch I’m testing is an appealing shade of deep blue, rather than black as it first appears, while the starlight watch is a silvery-champagne.
Health, Activity And Sleep Tracking
The Apple Watch has always excelled at everyday activity tracking, with the three rings system a reliable source of motivation to keep you moving. You are prompted to move every hour to log 12 active hours in total, as well as having an overall active calorie and active minutes goal to hit each day.
The Series 7 includes advanced health-tracking features as well. It can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) measurement and measure your blood oxygen saturation. The watch can also time your hand-washing, alerts you if the surrounding noise levels are dangerously high, and offers menstrual health tracking.(opens in new tab)
All these features are the same as on the Series 6, and there has been no change to the native sleep tracking either, which remains disappointingly basic. The watch will log your sleep duration and there’s a graph that shows disturbances in the night, and you can see your average sleep duration over the past week. It’s a long way short of what you get from brands like Fitbit, Polar and Huawei. In fact it’s hard to think of a fitness tracker from any brand that offers so little. The App Store can save the day to some extent, with apps like Pillow that offer a lot more insight, but you still have to contend with the Series 7’s short battery life.
As ever, Apple’s native Workouts app for sports tracking leaves a lot to be desired, with a basic design that lacks in stats compared with what you will get from a dedicated sports watch. However, the App Store is laden with excellent Apple Watch fitness apps like WorkOutDoors, which can transform it into a proper sports tracker. The new watchOS 8 software update allows these apps to make use of the always-on screen and while it will be a while before the developers take advantage and fill out the Series 7’s larger display, once they do the Apple Watch 7 really will match up to most dedicated sports trackers.
The heart rate tracking is impressively accurate for a wrist monitor, though still not quite as accurate as using a chest strap. I did find the watch sometimes fails to begin heart rate tracking until a couple of minutes into a run, or spikes bizarrely high at the start before settling down, but you can pair a chest strap via Bluetooth to improve the quality of your data.
The GPS accuracy is even better. The Series 6 was a big upgrade on previous Apple watches and it has been one of the more accurate devices I’ve tested in the past year from any brand, and the Series 7 has proved similarly excellent so far. I generally take my phone with me when running or cycling and the watch will then piggyback on its GPS, but I’ve also tested it when not linked to my phone and the GPS tracking has been reliably great with the Series 7.
As a frequent runner I have found that with third-party apps the Apple Watch is good enough to replace a dedicated sports watch, though you will always have to accept the relatively awful battery life and lack of buttons, which can make it more fiddly to operate when sweaty or wet.
The Watch also has the advantage of working perfectly with Apple’s Fitness+ app, which is full of guided workouts across a range of sports. You get three months of Fitness+ with the watch, and it’s certainly worth trying if you’re looking for ideas for your workouts.
The Apple Watch is the most useful wearable I’ve come across, whether you opt for the cellular or normal version of the watch. The cellular version does, of course, make it even more useful since you can make calls, stream music and check your emails just with the watch, but even without a Sim card installed the Series 7 makes itself useful in all sorts of ways.
Apple Pay plays a big part in that, being widely accepted, and the Apple Wallet is handy for storing tickets, travel passes and, these days, your NHS Covid Pass.
You get the best music streaming experience on the watch if using Apple Music, but there is now offline support for Spotify subscribers, so you can transfer playlists and listen without your phone to hand.
I’ve also noticed lately that the podcast support has become more reliable when using the native app. The shows I select to update automatically on the watch when charging are reliably downloaded to the watch, which has not always been the case in the past.
The range of complications available for the various watch faces also means that you can get a lot of the information you want at a glance, and the latest software update allows you to set multiple timers at once. A small improvement, but one which comes into its own when cooking.(opens in new tab)
Despite the larger screen, the battery life of the Series 7 matches the Series 6 at 18 hours, and the Series 7 charges 33% faster than the Series 6. It can go from 0 to 80% in 45 minutes, and an eight-minute charge will net enough juice for eight hours of sleep tracking, so you can use that feature even if you find your watch is dead when you’re about to turn in.
You’ll need to use the new charging cable to get these benefits. The Series 7’s charger has a silver casing to mark it out from past versions and it plugs into a USB-C wall adapter. You can still charge the watch with an old cable, but it won’t get the fast charge.
After trying a few nights of sleep tracking with the watch I quickly returned to my usual habit of charging the Apple Watch overnight. It’s just too much of a hassle to find a time to charge the watch in the day every day, so I’d rather skip the mediocre sleep tracking and have it last through the day reliably. Even when doing long runs with the watch in the day using music and the always-on screen, I found that I’d have around 20-30% of battery left at bedtime.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.