Apple Watch Series 2 review: The same on the outside, but a whole new wearable on the inside

The Watch is ready for its biggest audience yet

David Phelan
Wednesday 14 September 2016 10:59
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Versions of the Apple Watch Series 2 are displayed during an Apple media event in San Francisco, California, U.S. September 7, 2016
Versions of the Apple Watch Series 2 are displayed during an Apple media event in San Francisco, California, U.S. September 7, 2016

The new Apple Watch, called Apple Watch Series 2, is on sale this Friday. It’s a big step forward from the original, which was released last spring.

It’s true, the design has barely changed: there are fractional differences in some of the measurements but you’d be hard pressed to tell whether you were looking at the original or the new model.

Happily, this also means that all last year’s straps and bands will still fit on the new Watch. On the inside, though, it’s a whole different ball game.

When the Apple Watch was launched it defied critics who thought that the battery wouldn’t last (it runs a full day with ease), that it would be lacking in features (it has notifications, music, class-leading fitness capabilities, directions and more) or that it just wouldn’t succeed (it’s the biggest selling smart watch by a country mile).

But users sometimes found it was slow – and the last thing you want a timepiece to do is keep you waiting. Apps took time to launch, which was frustrating.

So with the watchOS 3 software update, just out for all versions of Apple Watch new and old, widespread improvements were made. The new OS has meant a slight re-learning of how the Watch works and some will miss the friends circle which was accessible from a quick press on the side button. That press now leads to a dock of favourite apps.

The functions found in the friends group such as sending your heartbeat or other messages to someone are still available, but now found elsewhere, for example under Messages.

Now, once you’ve put the apps you use most frequently in the new dock, you’ll find they launch very quickly on every model of Apple Watch.

Even the apps have been redesigned to help with speedy responsiveness. So in the Workout app, for example, you no longer choose your exercise mode and then on a second screen pick a timed session or quick start. Now you tap on outdoor cycle, indoor run or whatever and if it’s a mode you’ve chosen before, you’re off, right away.

Since I can’t tell you how many times I thought I’d pressed on the second screen to start my running session only to find out ten minutes in that I hadn’t and not a single damn step had been counted, this is a useful advance.

So if the hardware design hasn’t changed, what has? Alongside the better apps there is a faster processor which is decidedly nimble. Everything now works together smoothly so that there’s no hanging around. This means there’s a speed increase on the new models over and above the OS improvements.

On Apple Watch Series 2 there’s now a built-in GPS chip as well. This means if you want to go running or cycling outdoors and have the most accurate measurement of your exercise, you no longer need to have your iPhone with you, which is a big bonus.

But it’s the third hardware improvement that’s arguably the most important. It’s now swimproof. Previously the water resistance was such that Apple advised against anything doing anything wetter than showering with your Watch.

But now you can wear it when you’re swimming which means it’s also been configured to monitor your swim accurately, with settings for open water or pool swimming.

When you go swimming you can set the Workout app so it knows you’re in the water –you don’t have to do this, the Watch is still waterproof whether you touch a button or not. But as well as measuring your movements differently when it knows you’re swimming, the Watch also locks the screen.

The thing is, although every hole and connection has been made safe against water, there’s still the speaker to consider which needs access to the air so it can be audible. The solution, and it’s one only Apple would have come up with, is that when you finish your swim, you rotate the digital crown. After all, the screen is locked and may not respond properly if it’s too wet anyway.

As you turn the crown, the speaker starts making noises so that any water inside it is expelled: the sound vibrates the water out. How cool is that?

Other changes worth noting in the updated OS include a much simpler way to change the Watch face. You just swipe your finger sideways from one screen edge to the other. You can still customise them with a force press on the display but to quickly switch between favourites, this is a good solution.

And next week, when macOS Sierra arrives on Apple’s computers, there’s another bonus. You’ll be able to set your Watch so the Mac recognises it. This means that as you leave your desk the computer locks and as you sit down again it unlocks, no passwords required.

It’s worth mentioning that alongside Apple Watch Series 2, the company has also release Apple Watch Series 1. That’s not last year’s model retitled, because it has the new, whizzy processor, too. And it’s cheaper than Series 2 because it doesn’t have the GPS or the waterproofing.

Series 2 comes in aluminium (no longer called the Sport models) and stainless steel. The aluminium version has different colour finishes: silver, gold, rose gold and space grey. Each has a display covered in toughened glass. Prices start at £369. Stainless steel has a regular finish and an especially attractive darker one called Space Black. Prices go from £549.

And the Edition – the name for the high-end models which were previously made of gold and cost £10,000 and up – is now made of a ceramic material. This looks stunning and costs £1,249 for the 38mm case, £50 more for the 42mm model.

The Watch Series 1 is aluminium only and costs from £269 – a pretty keen price for a smart watch.

One more thing, there’s a Nike special edition called Apple Watch Nike+ with special Watch faces and a different sports strap. Let’s be clear, this looks much better than it does in photographs and has a strap that feels supple and appealing. It’s aimed at runners, of course, and comes out next month. It’s the same price as the regular Apple Watch Series 2, from £369.

Eighteen months on from the original Apple Watch launch, this is a significant upgrade. Some may have desired a more strikingly different design – though, hey, last year’s straps still fit! – but it remains the best-looking smart watch around.

Now, with better software, a much nippier processor, useful GPS and excellent waterproofing, it’s likely to attract its widest audience yet.

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