Apple Watch Series 4 up close and hands-on

I’m sure somewhere out there, there’s someone who wants nothing more in this world than a circular Apple Watch. That person, I’m sad to report, was once again disappointed with the outcome of yet another Apple event. Circle-sporting invites and office buildings aside, the squircle works well for Apple, so it’s sticking around for the time being.

In fact, that was a bit of a broader theme with today’s announcements — most of the updated Apple brand magic is happening under the hood here. That said, there is one key distinction from an aesthetic standpoint this time around: the logical extension of Apple’s ongoing war against bezels.

The display is 30 percent larger than the one on the Series 3, by Apple’s count. The new watch isn’t “edge to edge” as some early leaks put it, but the bezel size has shrunk considerably. Here’s a side by side image, courtesy of Apple:

The 44mm version’s display now measures 977 sq mm (versus the 3’s 740 sq mm), while the 40mm case is 759 sq mm (to the 3’s 563 sq mm) — so the smaller version of the 4 actually has a larger display than the larger 3. The reduction of the bezel was less of an aesthetic decision and more about cramming more information into the Watch’s relatively limited real estate.

When you’re dealing with something small enough to fit on your wrist, you take every spare millimeter you can get. Also notable is the fact that Apple’s slimmed things down here to 10.7mm from 11.4mm. Honestly, I’m surprised the company didn’t spend a little more time on that. Again, with wearables, a few millimeters go a long way.

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The back of the device looks a bit different, as well. That comes courtesy of the electrocardiogram. That bit got what was easily the biggest applause line of the Watch announcement. People didn’t have to wait for Apple to break that one down. The new sensor makes it possible to detect heart rhythm, in addition to rate. That’s going to be a big thing for users with certain heart diseases.

It’s also the latest indication of Apple’s ongoing focus on health in addition to fitness. Ditto for improvements to the gyroscope and accelerometer, which make it possible for the watch to detect falls and send out an emergency alert accordingly.

Better battery life is always a biggie for wearables. That’s obviously one of those pieces we’re going to have to wait until we get our review unit in order to test. According to Apple, the number should be roughly the same as what you’ll find on the Series 3 — amounting to around 18 hours or “all day,” per the included press material.

There are other updates throughout, including a 2x faster chip (again, jury’s out until we can properly test) and a 50 percent louder speaker. Unlike the addition of LTE with last year’s model, the new features don’t jump out as earth-shaking updates over the previous model. Instead, the company’s just making the most well-rounded (so to speak) smartwatch that much better.

As ever, the Apple Watch is the one to beat.

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Everything Apple announced at its iPhone XS event

Today was Apple’s big hardware event, and the trillion-dollar company had quite a lot to share about the future of some of its most profitable product lines.

While Apple boasted how its products had been completely redesigned and re-engineered, in reality, what was most notable about today’s Apple event is how Apple is choosing to design within the bounds of its past releases.

The new class of flagship iPhones, the XS and XS Max, made hardware upgrades focused on durability and performance, with a new chipset and not too much else. The first hardware design update in years for the Apple Watch equated to a larger, rounded corner display and updates to the biometric sensors.

There were also a couple of surprises though; here’s what we saw today:

 

iPhone XS and XS Max

Apple’s latest and greatest iPhone didn’t reinvent the wheel after last year’s major refresh, but the flagship iPhone XS now has a plus size, though it’s not called the XS Plus.

The iPhone XS Max sports a 6.5-inch OLED display compared to the XS’s 5.8 display. It’s a massive screen and it’s the biggest that’s ever been on an iPhone. For comparison, the iPad Mini’s screen is 7.9 inches, so the XS Max is as phablet as phablets come.

The iPhone XS and XS Max are identical specs-wise, with both toting Apple’s latest A12 bionic chipset; the only difference is the display and a $100 price bump for the larger phone.

The iPhone XS starts at $999 for a 64GB version, while the 64GB iPhone XS Max starts at $1,099. They’re up for pre-order on September 14.

iPhone XS Specs

  • 5.8″ (2436 x 1125) OLED display
  • 143.6mm x 70.9mm x 7.7mm
  • 177 grams
  • Dual 12 megapixel back cameras
  • 7 megapixel true depth camera module
  • FaceID
  • A12 Bionic chip
  • IP68 water resistance
  • Wireless charging
  • 3D Touch
  • Starts at $999

iPhone XS Max Specs (differences)

  • 6.5″ (2688 x 1242) OLED display
  • 157.5mm x 77.4mm x 7.7mm
  • 208 grams
  • Starts at $1099

iPhone XR

While Apple’s iPhone X may have oozed premium luxury when it launched last year, boy, was it pricey. The next best option was the iPhone 8 line, which felt like a pretty major step down in terms of design. This year the choice is a lot easier with the “edge-to-edge” iPhone XR, which cuts down on priceyness (it starts at $749) by using an LCD display as opposed to the more high-end OLED one found in the iPhone XS.

The XR may offer a tad less vibrant experience, but the large 6.1-inch LCD phone is sure to be Apple’s best seller thanks to how similar it is to the XS. The main areas where it falls short beyond display types are the single camera module and its lack of 3D Touch. The body of the XR is also made of aluminum as opposed to the stainless steel body on the XS.

The phone starts at $749 for 64GB. It’s up for pre-order on October 19.

iPhone XR Specs

  • 6.1″ (1792 x 828) LCD display
  • 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm
  • 194 grams
  • Single 12 megapixel back camera
  • 7 megapixel true depth camera module
  • FaceID
  • A12 Bionic chip
  • IP67 water resistance
  • Wireless charging
  • Starts at $749

 

Apple Watch Series 4

After three years of under-the-hood upgrades, we finally got some changes to the look of the Apple Watch. The major story here is a new, larger curved-edge display.

The small version has a 32 percent larger display, while the bigger one has a 35 percent bigger display. While the displays mainly cut into the bezels, the watches are a little larger, even if their overall volume has shrunk due to growing a bit thinner on the wrist. 

The Series 4 has some crazy health-monitoring features, namely it now has the ability to perform electrocardiograms in 30 seconds.

The 40mm Apple Watch starts at $399 while the LTE version starts at a pricey $499. You can pre-order the Watch on September 14.

There were still plenty of things that we expected Apple to touch on that we heard diddly squat about. Where’s AirPower? Where are the new AirPods? What’s up with the MacBook Air? Any word on a cheaper HomePod? What about those rumored over-ear headphones? What about that AR headset we’ve been hearing about for years?

In the end, Apple can only share so much at each event, but even through the lens of past announcements, this was a pretty quiet keynote.

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Hello eSIM: Apple moves the iPhone away from physical SIMs

A man looks cosmically insignificant onstage next to a giant projection of a smartpphone.

Throw away your ejector pins and paper clips, iPhone users.

On Wednesday, Apple announced that its new iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max will use an eSIM—a purely electronic SIM that allows users to maintain a secondary phone line in a single device. That line could be a secondary domestic line (say you’re a journalist and don’t want to have separate personal and work iPhones) or could have an American and Canadian number (if you travel across the border frequently).

These handsets will have a new “dual SIM dual standby” option, one of which will be a nano SIM. In other words, they will have two distinct phone numbers. (Chinese models will have two SIM slots instead of the eSIM option.)

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iPhone XR up close and hands-on

Apple would have you believe that it’s not beholden to such trivial things as the market — roadmaps are long and the company’s always done its own thing. But the XR feels like as much a response to the first iPhone X than anything.

Last year’s flagship iPhone broke the $1,000 seal for the company. It was bound to happen, and certainly premium competitors like Samsung were racing in that direction with equal or greater speed. And while the $1,000 flagship is just a fact of life for early adopters, total sales numbers appear to have not hit the same heights as some predecessors.

The fact that the phone costs more on a per unit basis offset that, but moving to an all-premium product portfolio for a broad swath of the company’s user base. That’s where the XR comes in. Flashed onstage above in big, bright colors, I couldn’t help but be struck by the idea that the XR is, in its own way, the iPhone X version of the iPod Mini.

It’s cheaper, it’s smaller (than the Max at least) and it’s available in a broad array of neon swatches (blue, black, coral, yellow, white and Project Red). Perhaps it’s more of a playful take on the serious business of being an iPhone — but more importantly, for most users, it’s a way in to many of the iPhone X’s premium breakthroughs without having to spend an arm and a leg.

Better still, the XR looks like the iPhone X (and, for that matter, the XS). And that’s the whole point. The gulf is much smaller here than between the X and 8 — from a purely aesthetic standpoint, at least.

As we elbow one another out of the way in the standard post-Apple event media scrum, most of us had some trouble determining which was which, as they were all spread out along the same long table. The materials are different (stainless steel on the XS), but the colors are the real giveaway at first glance — well, that and the single camera on the back.

Interestingly, the display is actually larger than on the XS. Not really sure why Apple went that route here, but as I speculated in the XS Max write-up, this could well have to do with supply chain issues. It probably just made more sense to stick with the iPhone X’s panel for the followup.

All of this means that the XR is a bit larger than the XS in all dimensions. Here’s that breakdown:

iPhone XS: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7 mm

iPhone XR: 150.9 x 75.7 x 8.3 mm

The XR definitely felt a bit thick in-hand, though just barely. Ditto for the weight, which is 6.84 ounces to the XS’s 6.24.

Design aside, there are plenty of downgrades from XS, to help Apple hit that $729 price point. The screen is the main thing, swapping the OLED for a “Liquid Retina HD display” — you know, an LCD. That after all, was the primary factor driving up the price on the iPhone X. The camera’s down to one lens here, as well, though the company’s worked on a few tricks akin to what we’ve seen on the Pixel — namely the ability to simulate a bokeh effect without a second depth camera.

For most users, I suspect most of these elements won’t really be missed — unless, of course, you’ve already gotten comfortable with the iPhone X. While $749 is hardly “cheap” by the standards of mid-range handsets in 2018, it’s a pretty good entry-level price for an Apple handset. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of colors choices in the phone-buying process.

The XR feels like less of an afterthought, unlike the iPhone 8, which was hugely overshadowed by the iPhone X released alongside it. It looks and feels enough like the premium handset that, when coupled with the $250 price drop, it seems inevitable that Apple will sell a ton of the damn things.

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