The Apple Watch Series 2: Our Review
Top 5 Things the Apple Watch Series 2 Does Incredibly Well
The Apple Watch Series 2 has been on the market for a few months now. The launch is always an exciting time, when everyone’s just happy to get their shiny new toy as soon as it hits the market. But after a few months of practical use, it’s usually a better time to assess whether or not the Apple Watch Series 2 is worth your money.
Our short answer? It is, particularly if you’re into a workout watch. There are significant upgrades to performance and capabilities that open the door to the athletic device market. However, outside of general “it runs faster” performance improvements, many of the features are geared towards a specific audience segment -- namely runners and swimmers. If you’re not necessarily in that group, read below and see if you think our list of top-five Apple Watch Series 2 features is good enough for you.
More powerful isn't necessarily a good thing. We've all probably upgraded our smartphone, laptop, or tablet at some point with this problem: while it supported the latest and greatest software, it sucked the battery dry -- or in a worst-case scenario, did everything better except the load times were slower. An upgrade to the latest technology should mean that both functionality and performance are optimized, even if that's not always the case in the tech industry.
Fortunately, the Apple Watch Series 2 is extremely successful in both of these areas. When it comes to speed, the Series 2 is fast. The technical specifications come down to Apple's S2 chip -- a dual-core CPU and GPU that's twice as fast as Series 1. The result is an increase in performance that Apple claims is up to 50% faster than the Series 1 -- and remember, Series 1 wasn't exactly a slouch when it comes to speed. The difference is subtle: you'll wait half a second to open an app rather than a second or two, but it does give a seamless and instantaneous feel to performance.
Battery life is always a bit hit-and-miss on specifications because there's never a true average amount of use. The easy way to sum it up is that battery life is better than your Series 1 watch, and that's not just because the physical hardware has less historical usage drain on it. The battery itself is larger, so the battery life is listed up to 18 hours. Basically, be prepared to charge it when you go to bed and you should be fine.
One of the biggest technical improvements of the Apple Watch Series 2 caters to a niche audience. The previous Apple Watch was water resistant -- washing hands, playing at the beach, getting through the rain, that sort of thing was no big deal. With the Series 2, however, we're looking at resistance upon full immersion -- up to 50 meters of immersion, in fact. For many people, this is just a cool feature that they may never actually use. For swimmers, though, it's a huge boon to tracking workouts.
Water resistance, of course, always comes with the concern of "well, how resistant is it actually going to be?" That's where Apple's engineers came up with something truly ingenious. Of course, there's going to be residual water that comes through, particularly with the micro holes of the speakers.
Which is why Apple's team has created a mechanism for flushing out remaining water in the watch's body by using the speaker's vibrations. It's an ingenious technique, and by all accounts, it actually works quite well.
Series 2 comes with two different swim workout apps, as Apple clearly realized they were going after the swimmer workout demographic. These can be used to do everything from calculating distance to detecting stroke style to totaling your workout calorie burn (this is based on the type of stroke it detects), all in addition to the traditional time tracking. If you're swimming laps at a pool, you can even set the pool's length for an accurate lap count.
The Apple Watch was a great first step in many ways, though it’s clear that runners missed one particular feature: a built-in GPS. The Apple Watch always had to sync up with the user’s iPhone, meaning you could never just pick up and go.
Series 2 changes things. Apple has listened to all of the runners out there and provided the Apple Watch now with a built-in GPS. Of course, all device GPS’s tend to vary in accuracy, so how well they reflect your actual workout is dependent upon your hardware and the time of workout you partake in. From our view, the GPS worked quite well when you kept a steady pace, but if you stopped (like at a stop light or to tie your shoe) or varied your pace by walking a bit, its accuracy was affected. However, perhaps the better -- and more expert -- perspective is from the folks at Runner’s World, who gave it high praise.
Visuals & Interface
Performance and battery life mean nothing if your screen is difficult to see or your interface is difficult to use. The Apple Watch Series 2 improves on its last iteration in both ways. First, the Series 2 offers brighter hardware for its screen (up to 1,000 nits of luminance for those of you keeping score). Like most smart devices these days, you can set an auto-dimmer or keep it at a frozen level; it's really up to you. However, brighter is better across many conditions, especially considering you'll be wearing this outside a lot.
The screen's bright enough for you to see even in direct daylight, but what about the actual interaction with the screen? The Series 2 watch launched with watchOS 3, which is a functional upgrade from previous iterations. With watchOS 3, you'll find yourself swiping and tapping much less than you used to. Anything that can be done to streamline efforts is a good one, especially if you find that you don't miss any of the previous process logic (Windows and Microsoft Office have been guilty of removing steps that were still necessary). The side button opens up a new Dock view, which offers auto-refreshed recent apps, giving you an at-a-glance view that saves you time and effort, since you don't always need all of the details. That button also offers something that hopefully you'll never use -- hold it down and you'll have access to call local emergency authorities (opt in). Just make sure it's properly locked before your toddler gets hold of it.
Hardware & Software Backwards Compatibility
Apple Watch users have more to worry about than usual smart device upgrades. In many cases, size, fit, and form aren't that big of a deal. You may wish your smartphone upgrade uses the same case so you don't have to buy a new one, but it won't be a deal breaker for most people.
Things are a little different with the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch's quick-release functionality makes it easy to switch bands. That makes the Apple Watch an ideal combination of style and functionality in just about any situation. We should know -- at Monowear, we specialize in high-quality watch bands for the Apple Watch. We offer a wide range of watch bands just for this reason. With the quick-release, it's possible to go from an athletic band during a morning workout to a casual band for a normal day at the office to a high-fashion band for a special date night.
That's why we're particularly pleased to report that the Apple Watch Series 2 is completely backwards compatible with watch bands, despite the new sizes. In addition, Apple also provided backwards compatibility from the software side. Thus, an upgrade to the new Series 2 means that all of your hardware and software will remain in use -- you won't have to worry about any potential conflicts. For those that have become accustomed to switching out watch bands on the go for different situations -- like us -- we're definitely relieved.
Despite some drawbacks, the Apple Watch Series 2 delivers in many of the areas that the initial product launched. The trick here is that some of you didn’t care that it lacked water resistance or a built-in GPS, so if you’re one of those people that uses the Apple Watch simply for easier notifications, this may be more like a 1.5 rather than a 2.0 improvement. However, for those that rely on a smart device for their workouts, the Apple Watch Series 2 is a significant improvement and a must-have for weekend warriors in training.