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Apple Watch Series 4 review roundup: There’s no other smartwatch like it

The brand new Apple Watch nearly stole the show at Apple’s iPhone event last week. The fourth-gen smartwatch looks much sleeker than its predecessors, as Apple managed to increase the display and slightly reduce the thickness. But Apple Watch Series 4, which launches in stores later this week, doesn’t only bring a major design makeover. It also packs a bunch of new health features unseen on any competing device, including an ECG monitor that’s just one touch away. With a few days to go until Apple Watch 4 ships, the first reviews are out and they’re all packed with praise for Apple’s new Apple Watch Series 4.


Brian Heater for TechCrunch:

If you’ve used an earlier version with any regularity, on the other other [sic] hand, the increase in surface area is pretty readily apparent, especially when an email notification comes through. It also means app developers can jam in more detail and the Watch’s faces can feature additional complications (a descriptor I suspect makes Apple designers die inside a bit every time they have to utter it).

The Verge

The full review is available at this link.


Beth Holzer for Wired:

Apple advised me against trying to trick the watch into thinking I’d fallen, but I couldn’t resist. I tried to trigger a false warning by tripping onto a yoga mat, jumping on the bed, and flailing around while attempting to powerlift. No dice.


Charlie Warzel for BuzzFeed:

I’m not an Apple Watch devotee — after a harrowing experience getting lost in the Alps a year ago, I purchased a hulking Garmin multi-sport smartwatch with GPS to ensure I’ll never find myself cold and afraid on the side of a mountain ever again. A long weekend with the Series 4 didn’t convert me from my current monstrosity, which has 12 days of battery life, topographic maps of every inch of the US, and turn-by-turn directions. But the new Apple device’s sleek, compact design and hyper-high-resolution screen did make me feel pangs of shame for the rugged absolute unit of a Garmin that normally rests atop my wrist.

USA Today

Ed Baig for USA Today:

Aside from the new health features, one reason I’m seriously thinking about an upgrade comes with an edge-to-edge display that provides more than 30 percent extra screen real estate, whether you opt for the bigger 44mm case or the 40mm version. On a modest size screen, 30 percent is a lot, and the payoff for consumers comes with larger text and bigger buttons (again, a potential boon for older people).

The new watch feels zippier, too; there’s an updated processor. The speaker is considerably louder, as well, a benefit when you’re listening to Siri or communicating via the new Walkie-Talkie app that arrived with watchOS 5. The Walkie-Talkie app – each person presses an onscreen button on their respective watch screens to talk – might come in handy when it is better to convey something by voice rather than text.

The New York Times

Brian Chen for The New York Times:

[The] new Apple Watch is perhaps one of the most significant developments in wearable gadgets in years. People with heart problems can easily use the EKG app to take electrocardiograms whenever they sense something abnormal, without the rigmarole I went through. And the data can be shared immediately with their doctor, which could open a conversation about next steps, like going in for a visit or modifying treatment.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Wells for The Sydney Morning Herald:

Eleven years after the release of the iPhone, Apple’s most important product offers only incremental improvements with each new update. This seems to disappoint pundits, who demand giant leaps in technology with every release. But those wanting year over year drastic improvement need only look at the Apple Watch, which shows no signs of slowing down.


Todd Haselton for CNBC:

The battery life is good, too. Apple advertises 18 hours of use. I took the Apple Watch Series 4 off of the charger on Friday morning. I drove to the beach that evening and realized I’d forgotten my charger. I turned it off Saturday night and still had 16 percent left on Sunday at 3 p.m. I’d worn the Apple Watch all day each day, and even used it to track workouts and make sure I closed all of my rings. That’s good enough for me.


Rene Ritchie for iMore:

Now, sure, phones save lives. Tablets. PCs. Helicopters. Ultrasounds. A lot of technology, old and new, medical and general saves live. Absolutely. But Apple Watch is uniquely positioned, literally, to do so in dedicated and persistent ways.

And, with Series 4, Apple isn’t just doubling down — it’s tripling up, improving connectivity, activity, and longevity.

The Independent

David Phelan for The Independent:

There are also advanced visual effects. Since the first Watch with its high-quality animations of jellyfish and flowers, through the additions of Mickey Mouse and Toy Story characters, Apple has made the most of the bright, sharp look to the face. Every previous Watch face is still available, but now there are items like Liquid Metal, which looks like rippling pools of silver or bronze, for instance.

Apple barely got FDA approval for the Watch 4’s ECG in time for the unveiling last week

In the days leading up to Apple’s splashy fall product event last week, members of the company’s watch team were probably sweating bullets. Because the signature new feature of the watch, the ability to take an electrocardiogram reading, apparently didn’t get the all-important green light from the Food and Drug Administration until … less than 24 hours before show time.

That’s according to Fast Company writer Mark Sullivan, who apparently overheard an Apple employee talking about how close they cut it outside the Steve Jobs Theatre after the event. “I understood the man’s anxiety better when I saw that the FDA’s classification letters to Apple were dated September 11,” Mark wrote in a piece online today. “Apple’s event was September 12.”

During the event itself, as we all saw, Apple COO Jeff Williams told the assembled crowd the ECG feature embedded in the watch had won a de novo clearance from the FDA. It’s a type of designation the company won for being unlike other products on the market — and, as Mark notes, Jeff wouldn’t have been able to say that, which seemed to put some official government heft behind the new feature, if the letter hadn’t come the day before.

FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and Center for Devices and Radiological Health Director Dr. Jeff Shuren, released a joint statement last week saying the FDA had “worked closely” with Apple as it developed and tested its new watch tech. You can read a copy of the FDA’s Sept. 11 letter to Apple here, which walks through exactly how the company is allowed to market the new watch.

As a reminder, when the Watch 4 goes on sale on Friday it won’t be able to take an ECG reading right away. That feature will be added via a software update later this year. Getting FDA approval, meanwhile, removed an important hurdle in between Apple and getting this out to the public the way it wanted.

According to the FDA letter, the agency didn’t actually look at the hardware itself — just a notification feature and an app, as Mark notes in his FastCo piece.

“The first app, called the ‘Irregular Rhythm Notification Feature,’ looks at the Apple Watch wearer’s heartbeat rhythm and can send a notification if it detects patterns reminiscent of atrial fibrillation or some other arrhythmia. The second app, which the FDA calls electrocardiograph software for over-the-counter use, creates an electrocardiograph and provides analysis on whether it shows signs of cardiac arrhythmias.”

Withings is announcing its comeback with this stylish hybrid smartwatch

Go ahead and call it a comeback. After buying itself back from Nokia, which had acquired the company almost two years ago, French consumer electronics company Withings is reintroducing itself to the public in a big way. It’s got a new logo, website and stylish new product — the Steel HR Sport, a hybrid smartwatch and fitness tracker that marks the first new device from the company since moving ownership away from Nokia.

The new device sports GPS connectivity, is water resistant, comes with an OLED display and is the first from Withings to offer Fitness Level assessments. There’s a new indicator along those lines that measures the heart’s and the muscles’ ability to convert oxygen into energy during physical exercise. The fitter you are, the higher that score will be.

The device is available starting today for $199.95 and is available via Amazon and the Withings website.

The Steel HR Sport “has the classic Withings analog face that shows the time, as well as a sub-dial that shows the percentage of daily activity goals achieved,” the company explains in a blog post. “You can set and manage goals within the free Health Mate app, available for iOS or Android. The device’s discrete OLED display shows important health and sports data such as daily steps, calories, distance and heart rate and can be navigated with a push of a button. The display also shows smartphone notifications, which appear automatically along with a discreet vibration.”

Among its other features:

The HR Sport offers multisport tracking for more than 30 different activities, everything from yoga to boxing and ice hockey. During sessions, the tracker will show you how intense your workout was with heart rate zones and the amount of calories burned.

When you pair it with a smartphone, the device can also help you track your pace, distance, elevation and map your workouts whether you’re walking, running or cycling. Heart rate can be tracked live on a connected smartphone, and the device’s new fitness metric can help you optimize training and, the company hopes, better achieve long-term goals.

It’s got 25 days of battery life that can be extended for another 20 days in power-conservation mode. It’s got a built-in sleep tracker that analyzes sleep length and quality and gives you a Sleep Score. There’s also a Smart Wake-up feature that will buzz you awake with a silent vibrating alarm “at the most optimal time in your sleep cycle.” Plus, you get recommendations on how you can improve sleep patterns.

“During waking hours,” the company says by way of wrapping up its announcement, “Steel HR Sport helps you keep on top of your daily communications. Both Steel HR Sport as well as the existing Steel HR now benefit from enhanced notification capabilities, allowing app notifications to be displayed on the digital screen. Previously limited to calls, text messages, and events, the Steel HR line is now compatible with notifications from all apps –just customize to get the ones that are important to you. Whether it’s flight alerts, breaking news, or messages from friends and family on social channels, notifications will appear on the watch with a content preview.”

In one study, Apple Watch Series 4 was near-perfect in flagging healthy vs. irregular rates

Much has been made since the unveiling this week of the new Apple Watch, which sports an abundance of health-focused features like its fall-detection and the ability to take an electrocardiogram.

Buried in this skeptical piece from Quartz, which argues that the new watch’s features “aren’t all that impressive,” we also get a look at study results that seem a bit incongruous to include in a piece that’s dubious about the watch. In order to get FDA clearance for the inclusion and marketing of the watch’s ECG features, Apple and Stanford University conducted a study of a little less than 600 people, the results of which were submitted to the FDA for review.

According to Quartz: Half of those study participants were healthy, while the other half had atrial fibrillation — or AFib, for short, which is a heart condition that can lead to serious health complications. The smartphone app that the Watch 4 works with was able to identify more than 98 percent of the patients with AFib and more than 99 percent of the patients with healthy heart rates.

Cardiologists, according to the Quartz report, were able to read 90% of those total readings, although about 10% of them were unreadable. So, on one level that certainly sounds promising for a product that Apple is trying to position as “an intelligent guardian for your health.”

So why are some people skeptically poking at some of the most promising aspects of the watch? Andrew Moore, an emergency department physician at the Oregon Health and Science Universitytold Quartz the tech in the watch is “rudimentary” compared to what you’d get in a hospital setting. Which leaves one wanting to reply — well, of course the $399 watch (preorders for which went live today) doesn’t compare to the much more robust treatment and diagnosis that happens in a hospital setting.

We’ve already written about this in an earlier post, but the FDA gave Apple the approvals it needed for the watch on the condition it stress that any readings should be seen as a guide that you’d want to get a doctor to look into. That the readings you get on your watch shouldn’t be regarded as a definitive medical diagnosis.

The Washington Post weighed in on this, noting that “heart rhythms naturally vary, meaning that it’s likely that Apple Watch or any heart monitor could signal a problem when there isn’t one — and send someone running to the doctor for no reason.”

The new Apple watch falls in an FDA category for “low to moderate risk” devices. The risk here being the misreading of a user’s heart rate, which isn’t as likely to be fatal like you’d see with a subpar device in a higher risk category. To get its FDA clearances, Apple had to show the device was safe and that it worked. Which, as you can see from the study results, were requirements the company easily met.

Former Google+ boss says his new startup beats the Apple Watch Series 4 by years

The last time I interviewed Vic Gundotra was some six years ago, back when he was still the top executive at Google’s not yet ghost town of a social network, Google+, and he was as Google-y as you’d expect about how amazing and wonderful it was going to be.

Fast forward to today, and Gundotra is now the CEO of health tech startup AliveCor, and he’s no less eloquent about his new company’s sense of mission and the purpose it brings to its main work. Which includes things like making it possible to use a smartphone to take an electrocardiogram.

You can see where this is going. “Apple doesn’t like to admit they copy anyone, even in the smallest things,” Gundotra told Business Insider after watching Apple’s unveiling of the Watch Series 4 Wednesday. During the event, of course, Apple made a big deal about the ability to eventually use the watch to take an electrocardiogram reading. There’s a new sensor that lets you use the watch to tell whether you have a normal or irregular heartbeat, among lots of other health features.

“It was amazing, it was like us being on stage, with the thing we’ve been doing for 7 years,” Gundotra told BI. He was referring to, according to the news site, “AliveCor’s product for detecting atrial fibrillation (AFib), a tough-to-spot heart disorder that manifests as an irregular, often quick heart rate that can cause poor circulation.”

His startup employs almost 50 people and makes ECG testing devices and software, as well as an FDA-approved Apple Watch band and another version of that band that attaches to a smartphone.

During the event Wednesday, Apple claimed the new watch model will represent the first “over-the-counter” consumer ECG testing device. That’s the part Gundotra seemed to be disputing, though CNBC reporter Chrissy Farr shared some helpful context via Twitter:

So there you go. What’s not at all unclear, meanwhile, is the difference in pricing between the two companies’ products. The Apple Watch 4 starts at $399, while AliveCor’s hardware starts at $300 less than that.

In his BI interview, Gundotra described AliveCor as being comparable to a really great restaurant in a kind of out-of-the-way part of town. With what Apple is doing with the new watch, it’s like “someone just opened a giant restaurant right next to us, bringing a lot more attention.”