The original model has been discontinued, replaced in stead by Series 1 and Series 2 models. While the former focuses on bringing the older model up to speed, the latter adds a few new features that will be of particular interest to those looking for an exercise companion.
But has Apple done enough to turn this “want” into a “need” yet?
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It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Apple hasn’t radically changed the design. The Apple Watch is as basic as it ever has been, with the same Apple design flourishes we’ve seen before. Rounded corners, as much screen as possible up front, and the bare minimum in terms of input options.
The Series 2 is available in both 38mm and 42mm watch faces, with the same responsive 3D touch technology you’ll find on the iPhone 7. There is a slight difference in terms of the overall size and weight, and the Series 2 adds an additional 1.1mm depth compared to predecessors.
The 38mm Series 2 Sport model also adds 3.2g weight compared to its predecessor, and other models are also marginally heavier. This isn’t much of a talking point though, the Apple Watch still isn’t so big that it’s intrusive, but you’ll want to pick a 38mm model if you have small wrists.
There are quite a few configurations of Watch to choose from:
- Aluminum: Silver, Space Grey, Gold, and Rose Gold aluminum
- Nike+: Silver and Space Grey aluminum with custom Sport bands
- Stainless Steel: Silver and Space Black
- Edition: Ceramic with Cloud Sport band
- Hermés: Single Tour, Double Buckle Cuff (38mm), Double Tour (38mm), and Single Tour Deployment Buckle (42mm).
The model I’m reviewing here is the Series 2 in space gray aluminum, with a black silicon Sports band. It’s sporty, minimalist, somewhat utilitarian, and low-key. If you’re fashion-conscious then this configuration will go with just about anything, but you may want to swap the band out for something else.
Just like its predecessor, the Watch is still very comfortable to wear. There are no pointy edges, it’s lightweight and virtually undetectable when I’m wearing it. The stainless models are heavier, but they’re also tougher and feature a sapphire crystal screen, compared to the Ion-X glass on the softer aluminum model.
Series 1 or Series 2?
Apple discontinued its original run of “Series 0” watches in September 2016. You can currently buy two main configurations of Apple Watch, the Series 1 and Series 2. The Series 1 is essentially an upgraded version of the original, and features the same dual-core processor found in the Series 2.
The Series 1 uses a S1P system-on-chip, which omits GPS capabilities. It’s pretty much identical to the previous model, with the same OLED screen, IPX7 waterproofing, battery life and form factor. You can only buy the Series 1 model in aluminum, and it’s available for $269 and $299 in 38mm and 42mm configurations respectively.
The Series 2 features an S2 system-on-chip which includes its own dedicated GPS functionality. It’s also got a higher waterproof rating, up to 50 metres in depth. The screen is brighter than the Series 1, though the overall performance and battery life (of 18 hours) are unchanged. It’ll set you back $369 and $399 in 38mm and 42mm variants respectively.
So which is better? That’s going to depend on what you do with your smart watch.
A More Capable Apple Watch
The most “obvious” benefit of the Series 2 is a brighter OLED screen. It’s over twice as bright as the previous model on paper, at 1000 nits compared to 450. That unit of measurement is derivative of candela per square metre, used for measuring luminance.
Though the original Apple Watch wasn’t terribly difficult to read in bright light, there’s no denying the Series 2 is considerably brighter. It’s a promising step forward for Apple’s foray into the world of OLED displays, and it’s easy to read behind sunglasses even in the bright midday Australian sun.
You can now go swimming with your Apple Watch too. The Series 2 features 50 metres of water resistance, which means it’s finally able to track your vitals and distance in the pool. The previous version featured a respectable level of water resistance, but more waterproofing is always a good thing. Another feature of note is Apple’s Direct Fire speaker, which blasts water out of the watch using sound after you’ve gone swimming.
The inclusion of a dedicated GPS chip allows you to track your workout without having to take your phone with you. This is a huge leap forward for runners, cyclists, and anyone who wrote the last Apple Watch off for its reliance on an iPhone for working out. Load your Apple Watch up with music, grab your Bluetooth headphones, and track your run with the in-built GPS chip.
There are a few smaller additions to the Series 2, like the ability to subtly wake your screen by turning the digital crown clockwise. This is handy if you’re in a dark room or cinema and just want to peek at the time without exposing your eyes to the power of 1000 nits.
The Series 2 features the same haptic engine as found on its predecessor, and while it’s nothing new it is worth mentioning as a selling point. You can choose between subtle and prominent vibrations on your wrist so you’ll never miss a notification.
Unfortunately, battery life is still the worst thing about the Apple Watch. For the time being, this is something we’ll have to accept from all smart watches. Small devices mean small batteries. The more those devices try to do, the faster the battery will deplete.
The idea of a watch you have to charge regularly is still somewhat ridiculous, but then most watches don’t do an awful lot beyond tell the time. It’s comparable to the transition between dumb phones and smart phones. Your Nokia 3310 lasted all week on a single charge, but your iPhone does a hell of a lot more and is subsequently much thirstier.
The Apple Watch is just like that. I’ve been using it to check notifications, find nearby ATMs, track hour-plus long workouts at the gym, take phone calls, and I’m charging it virtually every day. If you don’t use the activity tracking features all that much, you may get away with two days use. And there’s always low power mode, which kicks in when you just need a watch to tell the time.
watchOS 3 is the Real Star
When I first used the “Series 0” original Apple Watch, watchOS impressed me. Looking back it did seem a little complicated at points, and could have been more intuitive. Since May 2015 watchOS has received two fairly large updates, and the difference is very noticeable.
The OS is now simpler, and better mimics Apple’s “everything is an app” approach. There’s no longer a list of favorite contacts hiding on the power button, but a customizable “dock” of commonly used features. Third party complications like weather information and public transport can now be integrated right into watch faces.
Things are much faster, thanks in part to the new dual-core processor, and apps take only a few seconds to launch from cold when they drop out of memory. The original Apple Watch relied far more on its iPhone counterpart to access apps, but since June 2016 all new apps must be native.
Unfortunately an in-range iPhone is still required for Siri, but all the improvements made in iOS 10 carry over to the Apple Watch. You can also use hands-free “Hey Siri” functionality, even if you don’t have an iPhone 6s or later.
watchOS has matured, and I feel like it sits more comfortably within the Apple ecosystem at this stage in time. App selection is better than it was, features like Digital Touch for scribbles and sending your heartbeat via iMessage is now properly integrated into Messages on both iOS and macOS Sierra.
The only “issue” is that watchOS 3 is available on all models of Apple Watch. It’s compatible with the original Apple Watch and cheaper Series 1 models, so you don’t necessarily need to pay top tier unless waterproofing and dedicated GPS are really important to you.
Still Want, Not Yet Need
When I received the Apple Watch for review in April 2015, I really liked it. Despite this, I never went out and bought one after I finished my review. I don’t feel hugely different this time round, but I’m far more inclined to buy one as I feel like the latest model more closely matches my expectations from a watch.
Unfortunately battery life still isn’t where it needs to be to win over a lot of potential buyers, but it’s unlikely to get there within a few years either. Both the Series 1 and Series 2 add some much needed speed to Apple’s wearable lineup, but it feels like watchOS does most of the heavy lifting.
I feel like the few small improvements, a more mature OS, fleshed out third party support, and better integration into the Apple ecosystem are pushing me towards a purchase. It really doesn’t take long to get used to the device, it’s great for use in the gym or when out cycling, and not having to reach for your phone to read notifications and check the weather is super convenient.
But it’s still not a must-have device. I don’t need an Apple watch, but that’s probably more indicative of the smart watch as a device in general. But if you do want a watch, and you’re likely to spend a few hundred dollars, why not get a smart watch?
The Series 2 (and Series 1) is in no way worse than Apple’s last version, and it serves its purpose with aplomb. It’s still the best smart watch choice for iPhone owners, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.Don’t write off the Series 1 either, though. If you don’t want 50 metres waterproofing, or native GPS, then you gain very little for your extra $100.