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(The Gear Loop) - The Apple Watch is one of the best smartwatches on the market, but when you aren’t paying for stuff, checking your messages on your wrist or simply seeing what the time is, how does the Apple Watch Series 7 perform? We’ve been using the new watch during our extremely strict fitness regime (ok, it's not that strict) to find out.

In the Loop

Here’s a quick summary of what the Apple Watch Series 7 offers:

  • 41/45mm sizes
  • Advanced materials options like titanium and sapphire crystal
  • OLED Always-on Retina display
  • 18-hour battery life
  • GPS/GNSS, optical heart sensor, blood oxygen, electrical heart sensor, altimeter, compass
  • Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • Swimproof (water resistant 50 meters), Dust proof (IP6X)
  • On review here is the Apple Watch Series 7 Aluminium model
  • Cellular model available

Apple Watch Series 7 review: design

Unlike the Garmin range of Fenix or Forerunner smartwatches, the Apple Watch Series 7, which outright replaces the Apple Watch Series 6, is designed to fit in with your life both during exercise and when you’re at the office, theatre, restaurant, or on the sofa.

The design, which has pretty much stayed the same since the launch of the first Apple Watch in 2014, is focused on the Always-on screen, and this year it has got even bigger, with a new screen size.

The Gear LoopApple Watch Series 7 review photo 5

That new screen size, without making the watch massive, has been achieved by reducing the black bezel boarder that surrounds the screen. If you’ve got or have seen a Series 3 version of the Apple Watch, the Series 7’s screen is now 50 per cent larger.

That increase in size makes a huge difference in allowing you to see your stats when running or doing other forms exercise or outdoor pursuits. Apple hasn’t used it to present more information, but the information you do get is bigger. In turn, that also makes the buttons bigger, allowing for easier control when moving. In short, that button landing pad is simply easier to hit on the go.

It’s not just the chunkier screen size that’s new and improved. Apple has further tweaked the toughness of the screen on the Aluminium model with improved crack-resistant front crystal. That’s thanks to partly to the new screen but also advances it the crystal itself. We’ve not purposefully tried to break it, but a couple of months in and we’re still scratch free. Yay. 

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Apple has also upped the overall durability of the Watch, too. It’s now IPX6-rated, meaning it's dust resistant, and that’s on top of the water resistance that we’ve enjoyed for the last couple of years. This is one tough cookie.

And yes, before you ask, there are new colours, and your old straps will still work. We especially like the new Midnight Green model and the new Sport Loop colours this year around.

For those that really want to turn up the dial on the sports front, the Nike version of the Apple Watch makes another appearence this year, with a dedicated watch face and Nike flavoured straps. The watch performance and capabilities are the same as other models in the range, though, so don't think it's suddenly going to make you run faster or jump higher.

Apple Watch Series 7 review: sports features

One of the core functionalities of the Apple Watch is using it as a fitness tracker and sports watch.

The underlying focus is all about encouraging you to complete your "rings" based on targets that you set either at set up or every Monday morning. These three "rings", as Apple likes to call them, are the basis of your daily target and are made up of Move, Exercise, and Stand.

Move is effectively your calorie use, exercise is the number of minutes you’ve exerted yourself, and stand is how many hours you’ve stood for at least 1 minute. And it’s not just as simple as going for a 30-minute walk. Not all those minutes count as exercise.

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Hit your goals and you complete your rings, which in turn becomes a streak and all that stuff ultimately wins you badges.

It’s a gamification system that works well and combined with a stack of positive, affirming messages - and nudges throughout the day - should mean you complete your daily goals and get a little fitter thanks to it.

Every time you work out, all that effort helps you complete those goals, although it’s worth pointing out that the Apple Watch doesn’t care if you ran a marathon yesterday and need a break today. It will still want you to complete those rings again. Rest is for losers, it seems.

Beyond "rings", Apple offers a simple, but also incredibly effective exercise app that supports several different workouts, from Walking to Running and Rowing to Swimming. There's even a new Cycling feature. There’s also support for HIIT, Yoga, Hiking, Dance, Pilates and many more. You’ll be hard pushed to not find your exercise type, unless you’ve gone incredibly niche. There’s even the option to say whether you are indoor or open water swimming for example.

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Depending on the workout choice (it will even go as far as guessing for you if you’ve forgotten to press start at the beginning of your workout) the stats you are presented with will adjust accordingly, and while it doesn’t go into the in-depth data that say the Garmins do, it will give most users exactly what they need without getting overly complicated.

All the workouts tap into the various sensors on hand and both the GPS and heart rate monitors are very accurate when it comes to the data they provide. What’s also good is that the GPS is ready the moment you start a workout recording. No waiting for the satellite to pick up when you just want to get on with it.

Once your workout is complete, all the data you need can be found in the Fitness app on your iPhone, including a map of the route you’ve taken. It’s here we would like to see more data presented, like interval breakdowns, elevation data, and other metrics on the maps shown.

Unlike Garmin, the Apple Watch doesn’t offer any route guidance for running, although there are a several apps that will help you out allowing you to find new running routes.

Apple Watch Series 7 review: running Apps

We’ve been using the Apple workout app for several years, specifically the running workout feature. The app is basic but delivers exactly what you need.

That includes total run time, BPM, your rolling distance, an average speed or pace and total distance covered. You can also see further details like cadence, elevation gain as well as current elevation – handy when your trail running up a mountain. Better still, you can display five at any time, while also having one of those data sets highlighted for easier viewing at a glance.

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Beyond Apple’s dedicated workout app, there are several apps that WatchOS supports, including Nike Run Club, Kamoot, Strava: Run & Ride Training, WorkOutDoors, Watch to 5K, and RunGo to name a few. You can also get a variety of interval timer apps, although we have to say it’s just as easy to use the in-built timer function on repeat.

Thanks to Apple’s HealthKit system on the Apple iPhone, everything can be synced to not only the app in question, but more importantly, to ensure those "rings" get the data too.

Running is just one example. The Apple Watch Series 7 can easily be applied to cycling, rowing, and a wide variety of exercise disciplines, and if you’re unable to go out, it also ties-in with Apple’s Fitness+ service at home. Alternatively, if you’re in the gym working out, it can be connected to some gym apparatus, like the Peloton bike and TechnoGym products, thanks to GymKit connectivity allowing you to suck up that data too.

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Apple Watch Series 7 review: ECG and blood monitoring

Introduced in previous Apple Watch models, the Series 7 still features an a blood oxygen monitor, which can determine your SpO2 level.

Again, the tech sounds impressive, but the results and use cases are perhaps less so. There's not any real concrete data or information as to why it's needed.

Blood oxygen monitoring will tell you, as the name suggests, how much oxygen you have in your blood. A healthy person is normally between 90-100 per cent, and for us that's what the Apple Watch S7 has reported.

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But the bigger problem is understanding what it all means. We don't have (and we presume you don't either) a clue whether we should be worried about having a blood oxygen level of 92 per cent one day compared to 98 per cent the next.

So, we're left with the belief that at the moment, it's more a knee-jerk reaction - a sort-of because others have it, we should have it too decision - rather than because there is a need for you to know at any given time what your SpO2 is.

The Apple Watch Series 7 continues to offer the ability to take an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to help you diagnose certain heart conditions. The back of the watch includes electros in the glass, meaning users will be able to touch the Digital Crown with their index finger of the opposite arm to complete the circuit and record their findings to share with a doctor via a PDF report.

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Apple Watch Series 7 review: fall detection

Apple Watch uses custom algorithms that analyse the data from the accelerometer and gyroscope to detect if you’ve taken a fall. If it detects a hard fall, an alert is delivered to Apple Watch, and you can initiate a call to emergency services or dismiss the alert.

While we suspect the feature has been designed for elderly users, it’s a great addition for those of us that are perhaps pushing the limits on a bike or trail run, and if you opt for the Cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 7 will phone for help if you’ve remained motionless for about a minute. The fall detection feature works with all workout programmes by sensing the unique motion and impact, rather than merely detecting a jump or jolt on a bike, for example.

Apple Watch Series 7 review: more than just a sports watch

One of the main selling points of the Apple Watch Series 7 is that it’s not a big bulky watch that you’ve got to wear when you aren’t exercising.

This is where the Apple Watch Series 7 shines in our minds. There’s just so much more to it, especially when you factor in things like Apple Pay or the ability to unlock your Mac when you’re at your desk without having to type in a password every time.

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There are several new features in WatchOS 8 and with the promise of new major software updates every year over the next couple of years at least, the S7 is extremely futureproofed.

New and exclusive to the Series 7 is a couple of watch faces, as well as the QuickPath keyboard that allows you to swipe your way through replies. It makes replying to people via your watch surprisingly easy if you aren’t yet ready to reply with voice dictation.

Apple Watch Series 7 review: performance and battery life

Apps run smoothly, workouts are recorded effortlessly to view in detail via the relevant dedicated apps on your iPhone. Depending on how much time you spend exercising will depend on how long the battery life will last, but a busy day with a 5km run will still mean you’ve got battery life until bedtime and beyond.

Stretch that to a much longer run and you’ll probably see the low battery warnings towards the end of the evening, but it’s but no means a concern.

Where you might run into issues is if you’re also planning on using the Apple Watch Series 7 to track your sleep. The sleep tracking features aren’t great and Apple, like others, still hasn’t cracked the problem in our minds.

If you do go down this route, recharge times have been improved. The Apple Watch Series 7 offers faster charging - 33 percent faster than series 6. That’s roughly 0 – 80 per cent in 45 minutes.

Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 7 is one of the best, if not the best, smartwatches on the market and we feel it is still head and shoulders above the competition.

While it doesn’t offer many of the dedicated sports features as say the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, nor can it match it's 14-day battery life, it makes up for that with third-party app support and a watch that is useful beyond the trail.

It's clear to see the Apple Watch continues to get better and better. That ongoing refinement - which is the word that we keep coming back to with all Apple products in 2021 - has led to a device that looks more like a proper watch with every iteration.

The Series 7 is no clunky, cheap-looking smartwatch by any means, and one that will help you achieve your exercise goals with ease. The only catch is that you’ll still have to do that exercise.

Writing by Stuart Miles. Editing by Leon Poultney. Originally published on 15 November 2021.