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Apple Watch Series 4 Review for Runners

What You Need To Know

  • It’s a beautiful watch with a clean and inviting display
  • Best served as a crossover device for lifestyle and fitness
  • Can’t stream from Spotify without iPhone connection, can’t download offline at all
  • Can download offline music from Pandora onto watch (weird)
  • Thomas loves Apple so much he may start a Believe in the Mac website

I preface this review by letting you know I am an Apple fanboy, and you’re getting a history lesson whether you like it or not.

The first computer we had in our house was the original Macintosh. As a child, I was excited when we got it, and I didn’t even know why. My dad was all geeked up about it, so I figured it was a big deal. Two days later my dad became addicted to Dark Castle and never talked to me again*.

Later in my life, I became a professional designer and Macs were the only way to go. Even though I was still stung by the non-memories of my dad*, I was forced to use one.

Macs were still for “artsy” types when the iPod arrived. That shit blew people’s mind! All of a sudden you could fit your entire music collection into a device the size of a deck of cards. The cult of Mac was in full swing, and the Kool-Aid went down smooth. Within a short period of time, the iPod turned into an iPhone, and the iPhone made the Apple Watch possible.

And here we are, as my Mac and running passions have finally joined in a holy union.

*events may be fictionalized

Apple Watch Series 4

The Basics, For Real

Let’s talk about the Apple Watch Series 4 as a tool for your running needs. Setting expectations is always a good place to start. Good technology should be user-friendly. In my case, it needs to be totally intuitive.

I don’t read manuals, I am not going to google tips and tricks, and while I can appreciate DC Rainmaker’s watch reviews and the level of geekery he puts into them, I just can’t get through the technical jargon.

So if you are looking for a highly technical review of the Series 4, you won’t get that out of this review. This is more of an “I took it out of the box and figured out how to get what I needed and also how did the watch suit my needs compared to my Garmin kind of review.” Still here? Didn’t think so.

Battery

The battery life on the watch with my settings gave me less than 48 hours of battery. Compare that to the week of battery I get on the Garmin 935. No big deal, charge the Apple Watch while you sleep.

GPS/Controls

The number one thing you need in a GPS watch is accuracy. The Series 4 is extremely accurate, maybe even more so than the Garmin, but with a caveat. While testing out the Apple Watch I used my Garmin 935 on the opposite wrist. The watches stayed in sync for most of the workouts. The only discrepancy came from using the auto-pause on the Apple Watch.

Depending on when the watch paused or started back up, the distance could be slightly off. Auto pause is a necessity because manually pausing the watch can be a real pain, especially if your fingertip is sweaty from running. Swiping and then tapping was frustrating. I’m used to the ease of pressing your lap button or pause button. This was my biggest issue when using this watch as a run tracking tool.

If you’re the type of runner that just wants it for everyday running scenarios, you’ll be fine. However, if you are using a training plan or working with a coach that gives you workouts with intervals, tempo, repeats, etc., the Apple Watch won’t be the right tool. During the start of a 10-mile race, the NRC start button on the screen wasn’t recognizing my fingertip; luckily I had the backup Garmin ready to go, but I missed testing the Apple Watch during a race.

Nike Run Club vs. Strava

I ended up using the NRC app instead of the Strava app since my other Garmin watch already syncs to Strava.

Side note: you can record straight to the Strava app from the watch, but you cannot sync to Strava if you record through NRC app. Also, you can’t download any GPX files without using a third party app. For data nerds, this could be annoying. For my preferences, Strava is the best place to track and log my runs. The people I want to follow and who follow my training use Strava, so my community is built in.

Anyway, like I said, I used the NRC app for the Series 4. I really enjoyed how it “gamified” running, which it can do seamlessly because it’s an app made specifically for the Apple Watch. The stats and display are pretty simple and straightforward.

Apple Watch Series 4

In reality, the Apple Watch is tailored for the runner that wants simplicity and ease of use. Someone who won’t care as much about splits, programming workouts, or some of the other features a runner may want.

Through the NRC app, you can do guided Nike workouts, get encouragement from Nike celebrities and trainers, and so on. It’s a fun program for the runner that just wants a basic running workout.

Apple Watch Series 4 display

Design and Display

The actual design of the Series 4 is larger than the 3 and looks sleeker. The display on the Apple Watch is amazingly bright and clear in any light. It literally made me smile when I first saw it.  For daily wear, the watch is plenty comfortable.

For nighttime, not so much. When I would toss around in my sleep, I found that the bright display of the Apple Watch would flash on, waking me up. There’s really no reason to wear it at night since the watch doesn’t track sleep. For that, I’ll stick to my Garmin. Also, you need to charge the watch at night anyway, as noted above.

I tested it with the Nike+ silicone sports band, which was as comfortable as I could ask for from a fitness watch.

Apple Watch Series 4 Nike+

Music

Listening to music on the Apple watch is cool, especially if you have the Beats by Dre Powerbeats PRO earphones that we just reviewed. The Powerbeats Pro, like any Bluetooth headphone, can pair with the Apple Watch. Leave your phone at home and hit the road with your music.

Pandora somehow beat Spotify to the download game, so you can actually offload tracks from there to the Pandora app on your watch. No word on if/when Spotify will join them, or if Apple will even allow them to do so.

At the moment, if you listen to your music through Spotify, you can only listen to music if your phone is in close proximity. This is the case even if you have the Spotify app on your watch, and even if you have a streaming cellular plan on the watch. This is… ridiculous, and just Apple being Apple.

Miscellaneous Features

One awesome feature I love on the Apple Watch Series 4 is the speakerphone integrated directly into the device. I was riding my bike with my phone in my backpack when my wife called. I was able to answer the phone from my wrist and talk to her while I rode with both hands on the handlebars.

Additionally, while at my son’s swim meet I was able to read and respond to text messages discreetly, and not “appear” as an uninterested parent glued to his iPhone. Instead, I just looked like a crazy person talking to his wrist.

I have mixed feeling on some of the other features of the watch. Alerts are insanely distracting. Since all my Apple devices are synced, while at work my phone would buzz, my computer would pop up an alert, and then the watch would vibrate.

No f***ing way you are going to miss a messenger notification from Facebook. I know this is all manageable, but it’s such a pain in the ass to regulate every notification. I guess this is more my fault than the watch, but I just want to complain about it.

The Series 4 will auto-detect activity, even down to the type of activity. For example, if you start a swim workout, the watch will vibrate and read “looks like your swimming, would you like to record the activity?” Awesome, right?? You must record everything, otherwise nobody will remember you when you’re dead. Apple is doing God’s work, keeping us alive forever.

Apple Watch Series 4

Other fun stuff includes all the usual functions on your iPhone (Apple pay, news, weather, etc.), remote camera shutter for your iPhone, and Apple TV Remote.

Apple Watch Series 4 Watch Conclusion

This watch is for the Apple lover that is a casual runner or a general fitness junkie. It has all the things you need to track your daily exercise and health stats. It has a better and cleaner display than any other fitness tracker.

However, if you are more serious about your running, swimming, and/or bike riding you will want to look at a Garmin or COROS. They are designed to be hardcore watches for dedicated athletes, while the Apple Watch is a lifestyle accessory designed that manages to elevate itself above basic fitness trackers. It doesn’t need to be the best running watch.

Garmin and COROS are focused on being the best running/swimming/biking smartwatches that happen to sync with your iPhone. I guess you could compare it to a family medicine doctor (Apple Watch) and a heart surgeon (Garmin/COROS). For most runners, seeing a generalist will work; for others, we need the specialists.

Prices start at $399 for the Apple Watch Series 4.

Other specs I didn’t cover:

  • 64-bit dual-core S4 processor
  • Electrical heart sensor ECG
  • Second-generation optical heart sensor
  • Fall detection
  • Digital Crown with haptic feedback
  • GPS (GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS)
  • Barometric altimeter
  • Water resistant to 50 meters
  • Improved accelerometer up to 32 g-forces
  • Improved gyroscope
  • Ambient light sensor

Final disclosure: Apple loaned us the Apple Watch Series 4 for the review. After this review, we will pack it up and send it back to the mothership.

6 Comments

  1. Hey Thomas great review! Just a couple of notes. If you’re using the stock workout app, double tapping the screen will set laps, and simultaneously pressing the side button and crown will pause (instead of using auto pause.) Also, turning on theatre mode (from the control center) will keep the screen from lighting up during sleep. I use a third party app to track sleep and top off the watch after a workout and the battery never runs out. Spotify COULD do offline downloads if they weren’t such petty a-holes (it’s open for them to do it like Pandora.) Also, streaming is going to be available with the new update in September for all developers. Have a good one!

    1. Awesome. It sounds like you have been living with yours longer than I have. I used to be big into apple music, but Spotify got me a few years back with unlimited music, playlists, and downloading. It would be tough to switch back, especially now that I have the family account.

      I knew there had to be a solution to wearing it at night. Thanks for the tips.

  2. I use Nike run club then export to Strava after the run. You need a 3rd app called rungap. Import your NRC run into rungap, then rungap will export to Strava with the paid version. It’s an extra step but it works great for me. The run needs to be on your phone NRC app before you can transfer, so open NRC on your phone then open rungap.

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