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Apple Watch Series 7: Bigger is everything

Not needing to scroll as much and presenting more information on that display are huge reasons to upgrade.

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Sr. Technology Editor Jason Perlow meets the Apple Watch Series 7

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

After Apple announced the Series 7, I wasn't sure whether I'd upgrade.  I was happy with my Apple Watch Series 6. Aside from a larger screen, there didn't seem to be many improvements other than purely software-related enhancements introduced in WatchOS 8, most of which were available in the Series 6 and older devices. 

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The S7 Apple Silicon chip shares the same t8301 identifier and quoted performance as the S6 chip, and the Series 7 contains no new sensor hardware.

The Watch Series 7 is essentially a Watch Series 6 with a bigger screen. I didn't think I was going to be that much more impressed with it.

But this year, a Series 7 was supplied to us for evaluation, and It's the first Apple product I've looked at in an official editorial capacity for ZDNet in my 25 years as a freelance technology writer. So damn the torpedoes, we are moving to Series 7.

My ZDNet colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes has already given his early impressions, and there will be a more detailed review from my Jason Squared colleague, Jason Cipriani shortly. But I will say this -- with the Series 7, the bigger screen is everything, and more is... well, more.

How so? Well, at age 52, it's all about using bigger typefaces to make reading elements on a screen easier. My eyes aren't getting better as I get older, so crisper, easier-to-read text on a small display will make the difference between an okay user experience and a good one.

I liked my Series 6 and I used it with the largest possible text setting. But that means that I couldn't get as much information on the screen as I do with a Series 7 because they've increased the amount of screen area quite a bit -- approximately 20 percent more screen area. That's a lot more compared to Series 6, and a heck of a lot more compared to an older Watch, especially if you are using a Series 3 or Series 4. There's no need to scroll as much and more information is presented on the display.

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I like big fonts and cannot lie.

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

The larger display's advantage isn't limited to simply seeing more text on a larger screen; it's also much easier to use Watch apps and faces that contain complex data elements. For example, Watch faces with lots of complications such as Chronograph Pro are much easier to read, and it's much easier to select a complication with your finger because of the larger screen. When you have big fingers, this is a significant enhancement.

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Looking at my latest Yelp review.

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

There's also increased brightness when Watch 7 is in a resting position indoors. It's a small tweak, but it's noticeable and allows you to more discreetly check the time or notifications without raising your arm, which increases the display to full brightness.

All of Apple's watch faces have now been optimized for the new model, and some faces are specific to the Series 7 on WatchOS 8, such as Contour (which takes advantage of the screen to edge design of the new display) and Modular Duo (which has space for three large complications in greater detail). 

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Chronograph Pro watch face on Series 7.

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

However, the new display will require many app developers to make changes because it has a higher resolution and more screen area. For example, my RadarScope app for Apple Watch originally ran at the Series 6 resolution and didn't use all the display real estate until it was updated on October 19. 

Per Apple's Developer documentation:

"When a 41 mm or 45 mm watch runs an app compiled for watchOS 7 or earlier, the system letterboxes the interface, centering it on the screen. To make full use of all screen sizes, build your app with the watchOS 8 SDK or later. When compiling with these SDKs, you also need to add the 51 pt home screen icon and the 117 pt short look icon for the 45 mm watch." 

These aren't huge changes, but there are a lot of Apple Watch apps out there that will need to be rebuilt with the current SDK.

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RadarScope prior to WatchOS 8 SDK optimization on the Series 7.

Jason Perlow/ZDNet
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RadarScope after WatchOS 8 SDK optimization on the Series 7.

Jason Perlow/ZDNet

Because I've only had the product for a few days, I have not yet had time to evaluate the faster charging, nor have I had a chance to look at battery life. But so far, so good; the device doesn't appear to drain any faster than its predecessor. Watch Series 7 works fine with my existing charging accessories, such as the various combination docks for my iPhone/Watch, so I don't need to replace them. When I dock it with the setup on my nightstand, it charges at the same speed as my Apple Watch Series 6 did. 

All in all, I think the Watch Series 7 is a significant upgrade for an older Apple Watch customer. My eyes might not be getting any younger, but at least my watch display is getting larger.