Apple Watch Series 2 – Review

7 minute read

Introduction

When Apple introduced the original Apple Watch it was unknown how its product cycle would unfold. Would Apple be upgrading it every 12 months? No. It looks like Apple are sticking to a 16 month cycle and that’s fine by me. A watch doesn’t need to be updated yearly like the iPhone does. The technology isn’t there yet. The Apple Watch no longer comes in three types like it did with the original.

Apple Watch Series 2 still comes in two different case sizes, 38mm and 42mm. There are three different materials available; aluminium, stainless steel and ceramic which is brand new and dubbed as Apple Watch Edition. (You can no longer buy gold and rose gold cases.) I have a theory as to what Apple Watch Edition’s are. I think every time a new generation of the watch is released, we’ll see a brand new exotic material released alongside it. So, for the first-generation we had gold and rose gold materials and for the second-generation we have the new ceramic material.

The cheapest aluminium watch will cost you £369 (for 38mm) and £399 (for 42mm) and comes with a sport band. The cheapest stainless steel watch will cost you £549 (for 38mm) and £599 (for 42mm). You can also get different bands with the stainless steel watches so expect to pay more for them. Finally, the ceramic. There’s only one configuration available and it comes with a cloud sport band and will cost you £1,249. Hey, at least it’s not as much as the gold and rose gold versions!

The aluminium cases still have an Ion-X glass display and come in silver, space grey, gold and rose gold while the stainless steel has a sapphire crystal display and comes in, well, stainless steel and space black. The ceramic also has a sapphire crystal display.

Hardware

There are three major changes to this revision of the Apple Watch. The original watch was splash-resistant and if you were outside and it was raining and you got a few drops on it here and there, the watch would be fine. (Some people even used it in the shower.) However, the Apple Watch Series 2 is water-resistant and can withstand up to a massive 50m of water. You can go swimming with it and Apple have even included two new swimming workouts in the Workout app. When you select a swimming workout, the watch notifies you before you start that the screen will be locked (so that nothing is pressed accidentally during your swimming exercise) and that once you’ve finished, you must turn the Digital Crown to unlock the display again. Apple have also done something very clever here. Water will get inside the speaker (of which there are now two speaker holes instead of the one) but speakers need air to function so they couldn’t block them out completely. When you turn the Digital Crown to unlock the display it’ll also spit out the water inside the watch. Apple did thorough tests of course and submerged the watches in water for 24 hours straight and they passed with flying colours.

The second biggest change is that the watch has built-in GPS. This means if you go out for a run, you won’t need your iPhone with you, which, for some people is great news. The watch will connect to a satellite instead and once you have a connection with your phone again, it’ll sync the workout across. Apple said on-stage during the event that connecting to GPS is almost instant and that you don’t need to wait for anything to activate, you can just start working out. There’s no indication on whether or not you’re actually connected to GPS however. Once you’re back at home, you can open the Activity app and you’ll see a map and a route of your run. It’ll also be split into three different colours, green, for when you were moving quickly, yellow, for when you were moving slowly and red, for when you had stopped moving.

Finally, the CPU. It now has a dual-core processor called the S2 (officially called System in Package) as opposed to a single-core 512MHz processor and the speed differences are noticeable. On the original Apple Watch, some of the default apps would take a while to open and third-party apps would take even longer and in some instances, would not load at all. Navigating through the Home screen feels more fluid but third-party apps will still take, roughly, 1-3 seconds to open and possibly a couple of seconds longer if you’re opening the app for the first time. As long as developers have updated their apps for watchOS 3, you’ll notice a vast improvement. There’s also no lag when swiping down from the top to view notifications and no lag when swiping up to reveal the all-new Control Center which I talk about below. If you do get a notification, there’s no lag there either, it’s very smooth. The Scribble feature (new to watchOS3 which I talk about below as well) has also improved, I remember using it with the original Apple Watch and it was slow to work out what letters I was drawing each time.

There are also some other improvements. Apple have included a bigger battery but the addition of GPS and the more powerful processor nearly cancels this out. The battery life is a little bit better compared to the first-generation. You’ll easily get one day out of it and depending on what you’re doing, even more. If you find yourself using the GPS a lot, the battery will go down faster. The display is the same resolution but it’s the brightest display Apple have ever shipped. The original Apple Watch came in at 450 nits while Series 2 has 1000 nits. You won’t notice the difference inside but you’ll certainly notice the difference when you’re outside. You don’t need to find the right angle to try and read the display anymore and it doesn’t matter if the sun is pointing directly at you, you can just flick your wrist up and look at the screen. Thanks to the GPS, brighter display and bigger battery, the watch is actually 0.9mm thicker but no-one will notice this. The only way you’ll notice is if you put a first-generation and second-generation side-by-side.

Software

watchOS 3 is one of Apple’s best updates in my opinion. It’s a breath of fresh air. It even made my original Apple Watch faster, I could tell the difference from watchOS 2. One of the biggest changes to watchOS 3 is the Dock, which replaces Glances. You press the Side Button to open the Dock and you’ll be presented with a live preview of an app. You can have up to 10 applications in the Dock. These apps are kept in memory and while they aren’t instant to update, they’re pretty quick. There are also new fitness-focussed watch faces, analogue and digital, so you can keep track of your activity rings for the day just by tapping the screen of flicking your wrist up.

Control Center has also made its way to watchOS. It’s a simplified version of course compared to iOS as there’s a lot less room. Right at the top, it’ll tell you whether or not you’re connected to your iPhone and under there are eight tidbits of information and buttons. You can do/view the following from Control Center:

  • The current battery percentage of your watch
  • Toggle Airplane Mode
  • Toggle Silent Mode
  • Toggle Do Not Disturb
  • The ability to ping your iPhone is you misplace it
  • Lock your watch ready for the water if you simply want to jump in the pool (once pressed, you must turn the Digital Crown to unlock the watch)
  • Lock your watch
  • View current AirPlay devices

There’s also a SOS feature, which might save your life one day. (I’m not joking.) You can add up to three emergency contacts from your phone. By default, you must hold the Side Button and then swipe “Emergency SOS” but there’s a setting that’ll allow you to simply hold the Side Button (and it’ll then count up to three and then call) and it’ll do the rest for you. To do this go to the Watch app, then General, then Emergency SOS and toggle “Hold to Auto Call”.

My favourite feature of watchOS 3 is Scribble. With watchOS 2 you could only use Siri to send text messages but Scribble allows you to scribble letters on the screen to create a message. You might think that it’s long-winded but it’s not, it’s very quick and accurate. You can also scribble symbols and it’ll also Autocorrect for you if needed. If you can manage it, you can draw two letters at a time. When you start typing a word a pair of up and down arrows will displayed to the right letting you know you can use the Digital Crown to select from potential word recommendations.

Health and fitness is a big part of Apple Watch Series 2 and watchOS 3. As I mentioned earlier on in the review, Apple have added two brand new workouts; Pool Swim and Open Pool Swim. Once you start the Pool Swim, you’ll be asked to set the pool length and the next step will allow you to either set how many active calories you want to use, set an elapsed time, set a total amount of metres to complete or you can choose to have no goal at all.

With the Open Pool Swim, you don’t set the pool length, but again, you either choose from how many active calories you want to use, an elapsed time, a certain amount of metres to complete or to have no goal at all. Once you start you can tap the display to see how you’re getting on but that’s all, you can’t do anything else. There will be a water symbol at the top of the display indicating that you need to turn the Digital Crown to unlock the display and once you do that, it’ll also squirt out any water that’s managed to get inside.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Apple Watch Series 2 focuses on health and fitness this time around and that’s not a bad thing. Am I disappointed that it looks the same as the first-generation? A little bit, but I think the design of it is fine. Perhaps we’ll see a major design change in 18 months from now. They might change to a circular design next. There’s an argument that you’ll lose screen estate if a circular display is used. Think about it. Here’s an example. You have four complications on your Apple Watch which are positioned at each corner. If it retained the same dimensions but instead it was a circular screen, you’d lose the four corners and as a result, lose screen estate. Perhaps Apple will make the display bigger to counteract that. I think it’s also important that the current bands still fit. If Apple changed that part of the watch, I don’t think many people would be happy.

Series 2 is a great upgrade. It may not entice everyone but if you’re looking to buy a smartwatch for the first time, look nowhere else. If you already have an Apple Watch and are on the fence and can’t decide, let me help you. Do you care about water-resistance? Do you workout a lot? Do you want a brighter screen you when you’re outside? Do you find your watch could do with some speed improvements? If the answer is “yes” to all of them, get the Series 2, it’ll tick all the boxes. However if you answered “yes” to the last question only and aren’t fussed about the water-resistance and don’t workout a lot (well, you do, but don’t mind taking your iPhone along for the journey) but still want speed improvements, I have an alternative for you. During the event, Apple also released Apple Watch Series 1 but only includes the faster dual-core CPU (however it’s called the S1p and not the S2) and it’s £100 cheaper. For some reason, the Series 1 does not come with a 5W USB power adapter but the chances are you’ll have a couple lying around at home.

I hate saying things like this but Apple Watch Series 2 is what the original Apple Watch should’ve been. watchOS 3 is what watchOS should’ve been. The fact is though, right here, right now, Series 2 + watchOS 3 are like two peas in a pod. They work seamlessly together.