Comprehensive apps ecosystem
Improved water resistance
Detailed health & fitness tracking
Above average battery life
Square face design isn't the most compelling
No variant with built-in cellular radios
Some would argue that Apple was late to the smartwatch game, watching from the bleachers as a handful of competitors, mainly from the Android side, announced their respective offerings to capitalize on the new fad. Despite the initial interest in smartwatches, it subsequently turned out that they weren’t being as heavily adopted by consumers – so sales were flat for the most part. Apple, on the other hand, struck gold with the introduction of its offering, the Apple Watch, which came to market in the spring of 2015.
Since that time, there still hasn’t been any substantial increase with the adoption rate of smartwatches by consumers, but the Apple Watch somehow managed to thrive – surprisingly well given that it wasn’t only competing against other smartwatches, but other fitness trackers and wearables as well. Heading into the holiday season, Apple finally decided to refresh its smartwatch; dubbed the Apple Watch Series 2. Upgrades are naturally in tow with this latest iteration, but is it really worthy enough to earn that spot on your wrist?
Placed side-by-side to its predecessor, the new Series 2 Apple Watches looks identical in every facet, so you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. Our particular review unit, the 42mm aluminum casing with a woven nylon band, might not be fancied as much due to its squarish shape, especially given that round face designs are more attractive and stylish, but there’s still a hint of modern elegance here that makes it recognizable. Add to that, it’s incredibly sturdy and solidly built, which is something you’d expect with Apple’s reputation.
While the aesthetics remain the same from before, like the digital crown on its side and the heart rate sensor on its underside, what’s different and new here with the design of the Series 2 Apple Watch is its improved water resistance protection to 50 meters. That alone is what separates this year’s model, allowing owners to take it on swims in the pool or ocean – whereas with the original, it lacked those protective qualities. It’s a nice addition, offering peace of mind in situations where water is involved.
And just as before, the Apple Watch Series 2 is offered in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm, as well as three finishes (aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic). In terms of the bands, they’re easily replaceable and available in various colors and materials – so personalization is plentiful with this one. Sure, the improved water resistance is a warranted touch, but it still can’t escape that bland look with its square shape. If it opted for a round face style, the Apple Watch could’ve potentially be a home run. There’s always next time, right?
Specs-wise, Apple didn’t change anything with the display, which is a 1.65-inch 390 x 312 AMOLED display with Force Touch technology. What’s notable, however, is that the stainless steel and ceramic variants get treated with a sapphire crystal glass – whereas the aluminum casing features Ion-X glass. We’re actually impressed by the latter with our review unit, just because we’ve smack it accidentally a couple of times on some surfaces, but it remains resilient enough to not show any marks or scuffs.
Beyond that, we’ll certainly say that the AMOLED display doesn’t exhibit the traditional qualities of AMOLED technology, in the way it’s usually over-saturated in tone. Instead, colors exhibit a more neutral tone that doesn’t become too distractive in the dark. And when it comes to visibility, even on sunny days, we’re happy to report and its emits a potent punch to make it visible. Sure, there’s no bump to its resolution over its predecessor, but it doesn’t need it because a pixel density of ~303 ppi is more than adequate to discern something displayed on the screen.
Another new addition that distinguishes the Series 2 model over the first-generation one is its built-in GPS, allowing users to leave behind their iOS device – while still retaining GPS coordinates to track their exercise routes. It’s a nice addition for those who use it frequently, especially for those who don’t want to be bothered with carrying or holding onto their phone as they’re running or walking. Runners will be delighted by this more than others, of course, but regardless, the integration simply means less reliance to another device.
Just as before, the heart rate sensor on the Apple Watch’s underside allows for wearers to track and measure their heart rate. It’s nothing terribly new or different, seeing that it’s a staple feature amongst smartwatches and fitness trackers, but for fitness junkies, they’ll appreciate that it can continuously track your heart rate while exercising and using the accompanying Workout app. When it comes to precisely figuring out a calorie burn, this feature is undoubtedly crucial in providing the necessary details to keep you informed.
Force Touch isn’t new at all, but its implementation is definitely appreciated when it comes to navigating through the interface. Almost every app, including third party ones, implement Force Touch to a degree. Rather than having to scroll through a bunch of options or menus, Force Touch eliminates the need to do that because it brings up the most relevant functions – making it a breeze to quickly reply to a text message, or clear out all of our notifications in one fell swoop. Surprisingly, it makes more sense having it here, as opposed to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
The original Apple Watch was already super responsive with its performance, much like most iOS devices. With the Series 2 Apple Watch, however, it receives the upgrade treatment with a brand new dual-core Apple S2 processor. Given Apple’s reputation of performance consistency with its products, it’s no shock that the second-generation Apple Watch maintains the same buttery responses we’re familiar with. And that’s fantastic news!
Seriously, there’s barely any considerable delay with its processing performance, as the tight responsiveness is evident in everything done with the Apple Watch. The only time we’re ever waiting is when data is being transmitted from an iPhone to the Apple Watch, to do something like browse the Amazon app, or waiting for images to load in the Instagram app. Then again, that makes sense considering that data is being transmitted.
Aside from that, the Apple Watch Series 2 doesn’t disappoint with its impressive responsiveness. You really get a sense for its speediness navigating through its honeycomb-like apps panel, since there’s just an incredible amount of responsiveness scrolling around or zooming with the digital crown.
When it comes to smartwatch software, no one does it better than Apple – and that’s the sad truth! Android Wear failed to be captivating, while Samsung’s Tizen-powered Gear S2 is still lacking when it comes to meaningful third party apps. Apple, on the other, has been far more aggressive than anyone else when it comes to extending its smartwatch software; watchOS 3 in this case with the Series 2. In the 1+ years since the Apple Watch’s arrival, Apple has worked with developers to offer the richest smartwatch experience around. And that’s no understatement!
Initially, we were skeptical about watchOS 3, just because when we look at the competition and what’s out there, most smartwatch experiences have been relatively isolated to being nothing more than notification aggregators. Thankfully that’s not the case here with the Apple Watch Series 2, as it dishes up a compelling experience that in some way is dedicated – as in, there’s minimal interaction required with an iPhone. Sure, we can do most of the stuff other smartwatches can do as well, such as making phone calls, replying to text message, reading emails, and controlling our music playback, but where the Apple Watch separates itself from the pack is its diverse third party apps support.
For example, we can reply to messages with the Slack app, finding restaurants with Yelp, order a pizza through Dominio’s, and even check in to a spot using Swarm. These are real apps offering real functions, not just an aggregator for notifications. And that’s exactly what make watchOS 3 so ahead of the pack in terms of what you can DO on the watch itself. For fitness fanatics, Apple also offers a convincing experience that’s not only reserved to the usual stuff, like tracking calories burned, distance walked, or measuring our heart rate, but they go the distance to include some unconventional stuff – like breathing techniques or tracking our standing activity.
All of this proves that Apple’s smartwatch platform is the benchmark that all others should follow. That’s saying a lot, but definitely warranted given watchOS 3’s comprehensive offering. The only thing missing from its recipe is complete independence which would come from having cellular connectivity baked into the Apple Watch, so in that regard, it’s still a tethered experience, but one that’s more advanced than the competition.
In general, a day is usually the minimum expectation when it comes to battery life with most smartwatches. With the Apple Watch Series 2, though, its 250 mAh battery manages to impress us by producing a solid two days of usage. That’s a lot of time with a smartwatch when you think about it, so we’re impressed by its tally.
When it comes to charging, nothing changes with the process, seeing that it still employs the same magnetic charging as before with the included cable. Of course, it would’ve been better if the charging cradle kept the Apple Watch upright while charging, but it doesn’t, however there are Apple Watch docks available that will hold your smartwatch upright.
We know that the price of the Series 2 Apple Watch varies depending on what combination you end up choosing, but at the base level, you can fetch one for as low as $369. That’s still expensive when you compare it to some other smartwatches on the market, including the original Apple Watch, which now sees a $100 reduction to make it $269. The meaningful differences here with the Series 2 model is its increased water resistance protection, built-in GPS, brighter display, and a newer processor.
Although it’s difficult to say whether or not all of that justifies a $100 difference, we know that the improved water resistance is arguably what will have the most impact when it comes to a decision on which one to choose. However, when the core functions of the Series 2 model don’t differ at all from its predecessor, that $100 difference makes for a tough sell – more so when the watchOS 3 experience is identical on both smartwatches.
To that degree, if you can live without the improved water resistant construction, we very much would recommend going for the Series 1 model; for the savings that accompany it. In comparison to other smartwatches, the Series 2 Apple Watch can still making for a convincing argument, given how it’s vastly superior with its apps ecosystem. Is it perfect? Not really. However, it’s very close if it somehow featured a round face design and came with built-in cellular radios. For now, it’s a solid offering that’s more than just an extension of the iPhone and possibly the best smartwatch currently available to buy.