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Review: The Apple Watch Series 4

The ultimate fitness companion

The Apple Watch Series 4 was released on Sept. 21, 2018. Photo: Apple

Ever since the success of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, Apple Inc. has been a driving force in the technology industry. Following 1984, Apple revealed the iMac, the iPod, its line of MacBooks, the iPhone, the iPad and in 2015, the first generation of the Apple Watch.

Ever subsequent year, Apple has revealed a new generation of the Apple Watch. Each model was created to be better, faster, lighter and more applicable to everyday life than its predecessor. The Apple Watch Series 4 follows this trend and has some exciting features specific to multisport athletes.

The Apple Watch Series 4 was released in North America on Sept., 21, 2018. Shortly after its release, I began putting the Series 4 through the paces – my first impression was that this is a great watch that does pretty much everything I could want and it’s one I still hold.

As a triathlete, I train a lot. Some of the runners and cyclists in our office may say too much, but when you have to prepare for three sports, you got to get it done.

So, it’s awesome to know that Apple, one of the main drivers of technological innovations in the 21st century, has thought of the needs of busy, hard-working, 9 to 5 professionals, who also happen to train before, during and after their workday. This is who the Apple Watch Series 4 is created for, the on the go triathlete, who needs a stylish watch they can walk into the boardroom with and still use when they jump into the pool for a lunch break workout.

The ultimate fitness companion. Photo: Apple

The swim – does it perform?

Thinking about jumping in the pool for a lunch swim? Hit the workout button, select pool swim or open water, and the watch automatically locks, protecting you from water damage. To unlock, you just scroll the dial. It’s that easy.

Even if you forget to set the water lock, the watch will pick up on your arm movements and ask if you would like to record the swim.

Didn’t lock your watch from water? Don’t worry, the lock is an added protective measure put in place – the watch is water resistant up to a depth of 50 metres.

I was impressed with the Apple 4’s recording and versatility in the water. Before jumping into the pool, you can set the length of the pool you’re swimming in – ranging from zero to over a 1,000 metres. The watch will automatically pick up what stroke you are doing and record for how long you performed that stroke. It will also accurately pick up on the number of lengths you’ve done, the distance, heart rate, average heart rate, active calories burned and total calories burned, all of which are displayed on the watch interface.

Because I usually try to do my swim workouts in the early morning or late at night, I worry about whether my watch will last long enough to record all my sessions in a day. Apple claims that the Series 4 has an extended battery life of 18 hours or six hours of continuous workout recording power, though I would argue it offers more. Beginning my day at 5:45 AM and finishing at 10 PM, I can record every step I take, the strokes I do in the pool and each kilometre covered in my day, and still have plenty of battery life available (often 25-45% remaining).

On the run, literally 

We put the Apple Watch Series 4 through the paces with some long runs, tempo and track sessions.

What makes this watch so attractive is its versatility – I can get from sitting in the office to on the streets in minutes, and I don’t need to change my watch. I can literally watch my heart rate rise from 38 bpm to 140 bpm in less than 10 minutes. Speaking of heart rate, I found the Apple Watch Series 4 to do a really good job with picking up heart rate with minimal drops in performance. Thanks to the electrical and optical heart rate sensors, you can monitor your heart rate during training sessions and throughout the day.

With a specific Strava Application for the Apple Watch Series 4, you don’t need to worry about forgetting to record a workout.

What is really impressive about the watch is it’s GPS. Even in the downtown core of Toronto, I found the watch picked up my running routes accurately, while also providing me with rolling splits. Previous versions of the Apple Watch showed splits on the screen for a few seconds after a kilometre or a mile, but the Apple Watch Series 4 will show your rolling splits – current, previous and average.

The Apple Watch Series 4 will also record your leg cadence when running. This is a parameter that cannot be overlooked when you are trying to improve your running efficiency and speed.

A common setback for some GPS watches is its size. When wearing some other brand watches, you constantly ask the question, “Does it really need to be this big?” Well, the Apple Watch Series 4 is small and light. Offered in two sizes, 40mm and 44mm, and two casings, stainless steel and aluminum, the weight ranges from 30 grams (40mm aluminum) to 48 grams (44mm stainless steel).

The Apple Watch Series 4 has fall detection built into its sleek frame. Thankfully, I didn’t have the opportunity to test this feature, but Apple has worked this into the Series 4 to ensure safety. If you do fall, the user will receive a notification to call emergency services, which they can accept or dismiss, depending on the severity of their fall. While most triathletes try their best to keep their feet and wheels on the ground, roads can be slippery, and many have fallen at least once – having the Apple Watch can be a preventative measure in case of a slip.

On the bike

The Apple Watch Series 4 has easy integration with Strava.

The Apple Watch Series 4 makes life easy with its ability to record workouts. It easily uploads to Strava, so you can put your mind at ease when it comes to recording your workouts and sharing with friends.

As part of my job, I  interview many Canadian triathletes. On one, particular occasion while on an evening ride after work, I seamlessly conducted an interview over my Apple Watch Series 4. Don’t worry I did not do this interview while on the road – I pulled over into a coffee shop ahead of time to make notes. With its powerful speakers and microphone, you can talk effortlessly to the watch without bringing the watch near your mouth.

The Apple Watch Series 4 records heart rate, speed and any changes in elevation when riding – a standard practice for GPS watches.

What we would like to see in next editions

Unfortunately, the Apple Watch Series 4 does not record power, a key training feature for cyclists and triathlete’s alike. There is also no available bike mount for the Apple Watch to your handlebars. This highlights who and what the Apple Watch Series 4 is made for; busy, athletic people you live life on the go and want to be able to record their activities effortlessly.

At the end of the day, the Apple Watch Series 4 is an all-round watch that allows you to stay connected with friends and family, and maintain a sleek look in the boardroom and training sessions.

If Apple is interested in making a mark in the triathlon scene, here are a few features we would love to see in subsequent models or updates:

  • Multisport mode – with the ability to record multiple events in succession, for example, a triathlon.
  • Connection with power meters – it would be awesome if subsequent models were able to pick up power data from Bluetooth enabled power meters.
  • A drill setting for the pool – this feature is relatively new to most training watches; however, it is a very interesting feature that allows you to record every lap of your swim set.
  • Activity mounts – this may be some ways down the road, but it would be cool to see the production of bike mounts for the watch. With its small size, this would be the perfect fit for triathlon aerobars.

The Apple Watch Series 4 retails for $519 and goes for $649 with both GPS and cellular.