My Apple Watch has taught me a lot of things. It’s taught me that I can hit about 40km/h flat out on my cheap fixie bike before I run out of legs. It’s taught me that my exercising heart rate is really kinda high and I should probably see a doctor. It’s taught me that taking a minute out of each hour to walk around is really quite a good idea, but taking a minute to focus on my breathing just leaves me light-headed. Apple’s newest and most fitness-focused wearable is, on paper, a small improvement from the original — but those improvements under the hood translate to a massive increase in usability.
What Is It?
If you put an $529 Apple Watch Series 2, to use its proper name, next to its predecessor Apple Watch, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference unless you looked very closely. The two are nearly identical, apart from some different writing on the Series 2’s rear casing, with the same 38mm and 42mm screen sizes and the range of bands on offer. That O.G. Apple Watch, by the way? It’s now being called the Apple Watch Original. The internet, though, seems to be calling it the Series 0, an updated O.G version with a faster processor is being called the Series 1, and the shiny new thing on my wrist is the Series 2.
The Apple Watch Series 2 gains an integrated GPS receiver over the original, as well as water resistance to a depth of 50 metres (in an ISO-certified standard). Both are important features for a watch that can also function as a fitness tracker, and Apple’s first-party Workout app has been updated with appropriate outdoor and in-water activities — like Outdoor Walk and Pool Swim — that translate those hardware improvements into software results. The water resistance comes despite the fact that the Watch has a built-in speaker, which even spits water.
The crowning glory of the Series 2, though, is a OLED screen more than twice as bright as the original — rated at a maximum of 1000 nits versus the O.G’s 450. That translates into much better outdoor visibility and glare resistance, helped in part by the sturdy sapphire glass on the stainless steel and ceramic case variants (although the aluminium only has Apple’s in-house Ion-X strengthened glass). The resolution of the display scales with the two screen sizes available — 272x340pixels on the 38mm and 312x390pixels on the 42mm, both translating into similar 292 and 302ppi pixel density overall.
And, of course, with the new Apple Watch Series 2 comes Apple’s significantly revamped operating system, called WatchOS 3. It’s a feature also made available to other Watch variants, but it’s an integral part of Series 2 because you can’t get one without it. WatchOS 3 means a Watch owner can keep many commonly used apps running in the background, reducing the need to navigate to the cluttered and clustered apps menu. It’s also a hell of a lot faster to operate and bring up apps from memory, to the point where you’d wonder how older Watch users tolerated the original software.
What’s It Good At?
The Apple Watch Series 2 has come at a convenient time for me. I’m exercising more than I ever have in my lazy sedentary life, and having integrated GPS and water resistance means that I’m using the Watch to track my workouts — and there’s a bunch of different apps available. Apple’s Workout app is incredibly straightforward and does a good job of tracking a huge variety of movement from rowing to elliptical to swimming. The swim tracking is a huge advancement if you visit the pool regularly, since it’ll surprisingly accurately measure your distance traveled based on stroke length and the length of the pool you’re in.
The value of the Series 2’s GPS can’t be understated. If you’re a big fan of outdoor walks — bushwalks or a weekend jog — having that more accurate metric of your travel, as well as some way of tracking your course later when you’ve actually completed it, is a boon for your activity stats. The watch’s GPS is accurate enough for tracking your location and movement that it’s already come in handy for me: on a weekend traverse through the Royal National Park without a map, taking a wrong turn quickly showed up as a discrepancy; the difference between the Watch distance traveled and the distance remaining on our (apparently) 10km walk was enough to make us think twice.
On the Series 2, you’re more likely than ever to use one of the Activity watchfaces that come pre-loaded, because they’re the best way to work out how much you’ve moved (and hopefully to share with your Apple Watch-wearing friends while you pat yourself on the back). Both the digital and analog Activity faces give you a visual representation in three rings of your active kilojoules burned, your minutes spent exercising, and how many hours in the day you’ve moved at least a little during. ‘Closing the rings’ is a phrase that Apple talks about a lot in reference to the watch, and it’s the same addictive gamification that makes step trackers enjoyable.
All the smaller, less obvious updates to the Series 2 combine to make it the best Apple Watch by far, as well as the best smartwatch that I’ve used at all up until now. That very bright screen is of huge usefulness for outside viewing, and the new hardware under the hood makes it much, much quicker to operate than the original Apple Watch in everything from the lag for the screen to power on when you raise it to your wrist to the speed with which you can double-tap the side button to bring up Apple Pay. There’s no one stand-out in this laundry list of minor changes, but they all work together to just make the Apple Watch Series 2 feel complete in a way that I couldn’t say the original did.
What’s It Not Good At?
There is a Nike-customised version of the Series 2 Watch on the way. It has a perforated elastomer watchband rather than the solid one on Apple’s Sport series watches, it has some Nike+ Run Club watchfaces, and although it only has Ion-X rather than sapphire glass it’s probably a more tempting fitness watch for semi-serious athletes than the standard Series 2 itself is. That’s a reason you might want to hold off on your purchase at least until late October, when the Nike+ Watch drops.
The battery life on the Apple Watch Series 2 is better than the original, and you might be able to stretch two days’ use out of it rather than one and a half before you’ll hit the low-functionality Power Reserve, but it’s still bested by many of the Android Wear competitor smartwatches out there. This isn’t a huge deal — I clip my watch onto its magnetic charger overnight to fill it with precious electrons just like I do my iPhone — but if you’re taking a short holiday it is another proprietary charger that you’ll need to throw in your overnight bag.
There’s one feature that the Apple Watch Series 2 is missing that would have been a very useful and forward-looking piece of technology. Hell, maybe it’s in there waiting for the iPhone 8. No, the Apple Watch Series 2 does not have support for eSIMs, or virtual SIM cards — which would have been a great stand-out feature in line with Apple’s excellent Continuity features across iOS, WatchOS and MacOS platforms. Imagine being out for a run (without your phone) and being able to take a phone call on your watch — now that’s the future. But it’s not here, not this time, and while I can’t begrudge Apple for not including it, it would have been really freaking cool.
Should You Buy It?
I think it’s the biggest compliment I can give the $529 Apple Watch to say that I’ve stopped using a Fitbit, I’ve stopped using Google Fit, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything at all. The GPS, water resistance, heart rate monitor and suite of apps on offer all combine to offer a fitness regime tracker that genuinely rivals a proper fitness watch from a respected brand like Garmin or Polar or TomTom. Even something as simple as setting a fitness target and filling those three activity rings just works so well, with such positive reinforcement from the visual cues to the speaker’s sound effects to the haptic engine’s thud. This is a smart watch that can get you fit, and that looks good while you’re doing it.