Review: The still optional but pleasantly refined Apple Watch Series 2 - Apple Mac Training UK

Review: The still optional but pleasantly refined Apple Watch Series 2

Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn.

Whether you wanted to or not, you knew about the Apple Watch as soon as it came out last year. And even if you heard “wearable” and immediately thought “fitness,” Apple was very intentional about pushing the Watch’s non-fitness features as the main reason to buy it. While there are things the Apple Watch can do that are primarily found in smartwatches versus fitness trackers, Apple hasn’t yet convinced consumers at large that they need those features—or that they’re worth $ 350, at least.

The true value of a smartwatch may still be up for debate, but what’s undeniable is that people see practical value in connected fitness devices. With the Apple Watch Series 2, Apple has decided to embrace that. The second-generation model of the company’s smartwatch builds upon the foundations of the original by adding a built-in GPS, water-resistant design, and swim tracking abilities. It runs watchOS 3 as well, which adds to the fitness features while boosting the performance of the watch and fine-tuning some of those smartwatch characteristics.

After spending some time with these new releases, the Series 2 hardware and software updates are both welcome and necessary, especially since the new device successfully attempts to answer some questions about the necessity of Apple’s wearable. (Some, but not all.)

New hardware, bands, and a Nike collaboration

Not a whole lot has changed about the Apple Watch Series 2’s external design. On the surface it looks nearly identical to the original, and you have to have a razor sharp eye to see the difference. Because of the newly included onboard GPS, the Series 2 is a hair thicker and heavier than the original watch. But unless you set the two versions side by side on a table, you likely won’t notice the difference. The Series 2 doesn’t feel any heavier on your wrist.

The Series 2 is still the rounded-square, mini iPhone-looking device we’ve come to know over the past year and a half. The crown and side button remain unchanged, as do the discrete band release buttons on the watch’s underside. The only other change is that Apple made the Series 2’s AMOLED display twice as bright as the touchscreen on the original. It is noticeable if you bump the brightness up all the way, and that makes reading the display in direct sunlight much easier. Most of the time, though, I kept my Series 2 (and the original watch I was testing) at about half brightness because that’s the level that was most comfortable for me.

The Series 2 comes in the same 38mm and 42mm case sizes as the original, and you still have the aluminum and stainless steel styles to choose from (starting at $ 369 and $ 549, respectively). The wildly expensive, $ 10,000+ gold Edition style isn’t an option for the Series 2, but it has been replaced by a ceramic option that is less ostentatious. It’s also less expensive, starting only at the relatively high price of $ 1,249.

The one outlier in all of these options is the Apple Watch Series 2 Nike+ model, which comes out in October. Don’t be confused by the branding—in most ways this is still a standard aluminum Apple Watch, just with some extra Nike perks. You get a few exclusive watch faces when you purchase this model, all of which feature bold typography and bright colors (ideal for displaying data while exercising). You also get a dual-colored Sport band that’s slightly different from Apple’s regular Sport bands. This one has small holes dotting the entire band and is made of a slightly thinner material; both of these aspects make it easier to wear during intense exercise, and the holes allow your skin to breathe a little more freely.

If you want the Nike watch faces or the special band, you’ll need to wait for the Nike+ model to come out, since Apple won’t be selling those separately. If you like the look of them or the comfort they bring to a workout, you should wait and get a Nike+ version. The Nike+ Run Club app for the Apple Watch, the program that actually tracks your workouts, is available for anyone to download.

Even if you can’t get the Nike bands separately, you can pick from a huge variety of Sport, nylon, stainless steel, woven, and leather bands for the Series 2. The leather band collection also includes a couple new Hermès styles, including a “double buckle cuff” (available for the 38mm case only) that has two strips of leather that conjoin when they meet at the watch case and a deployment buckle strap (42mm only). Being Hermès, those bands nearly triple the cost of the Series 2 itself, bumping the final price up to $ 1,499 and $ 1,399, respectively.

The Apple Watch has more band options than most other wearables and fitness trackers, which is a good thing if you want to frequently change the look and feel of your watch. However, just like with the first Apple Watch, these optional accessories add up over time. When you purchase the Series 2, you’ll get one included band that is dependent on the case model you choose (stainless steel cases have the most first-purchase options, including Sport, leather, and stainless steel band options). Any bands you buy after that will set you back at least $ 50, which is the price of one additional Sport band. Ironically, when you compare that to the $ 200 Fitbit Blaze’s accessories, there’s only a small difference. The Blaze starts off cheaper than any Apple Watch model, but an additional leather band costs $ 100 and a new stainless steel one will set you back $ 130. The bigger price discrepancies between the Series 2 and its competitors come when you want luxe bands such as the $ 149 leather loop or the  $ 339 Hermès single tour.

Workout app

On the Series 2 watch, the Workout app is designated by an icon of a running man in a neon yellow circle. Opening this brings you to a list of common workouts including indoor and outdoor walks, runs and cycles, elliptical trainer, stair stepper, and more. There’s also an “other” category that looks unassuming at first, but it will become important for anyone who plays sports or regularly does other kinds of activities. After you record an “other” workout, you can name the activity and choose from an even bigger list of exercises including basketball, soccer, strength training, and more.

No matter which workout you choose, you’ll always be taken to the next screen to choose your goal. This could be time-, distance-, or calorie-based, or you could have an open goal where the watch just records you without a specific end goal in mind. Choose the goal you want and then the watch will count you down to begin the workout. It’s really simple and self-explanatory to use for the first time, and after you do a few workouts, the watch will show your most recent stats in the Workout app’s page underneath quick-start panels. This allows you to choose the same workout with the same goal more quickly from the selection list.

While you’re working out, the watch will send you light haptic taps to your wrist when you’ve hit certain milestones such as the half-way point in a five-mile run. During an open-goal run I completed, the watch tapped me when I reached two miles, which I appreciated as an acknowledgement of my progress. I run primarily on a treadmill, so I can usually see my distance and time on the machine, but those periodic updates from the watch will come in especially handy when I run outside. The watch was also on-point with its distance calculations: it was always within .1 miles of the distances estimated by my machines (treadmills, ellipticals, etc).

One gripe I have with the Workout app is that there’s no auto-tracking feature. Most of Fitbit’s devices can automatically track sessions of activities like running that are longer than 10 minutes, and it’s a convenient feature to have if you make a habit of forgetting to manually start a workout. It’s also helpful when you’re in situations where you didn’t realize how much activity you were doing until you were finished. Say you and your friend meet up for coffee and end up going on a walk together, Fitbit’s auto-tracking would be able to see that as a walking activity and save it to your daily log as a completed session.

Since the watch can identify stroke type while swimming, I asked Apple about this kind of auto-tracking for other activities. A representative couldn’t tell me if a similar feature would be coming out any time soon, but we did discuss how auto-tracking really only works for activities that involve arm movement. It’s assumed you’ll be swinging your arms, even a little bit, while running or walking, but it’s harder to decipher arm movements for different sports or dance routines.

Another thing the watch cannot do that most fitness trackers can is track sleep. There’s no native sleep tracking function, although there are a few third-party apps that offer to do so (and the new “bedtime” feature in iOS 10 is a rudimentary preview of what may one day become sleep tracking). That’s because the original Apple Watch’s battery life wouldn’t be able to survive an entire day and night of tracking anything, but it might be possible with the Series 2 since the battery life has been improved. Some users who like sleep tracking features may feel lost without it on the Apple Watch, however, many devices measure movement as the main indicator of a good night’s sleep and that isn’t always accurate. Sleep analysis should still be taken with a grain of salt, no matter which device is capturing it, which is probably another reason why Apple hasn’t invested in that feature for its watch.

Listing image by Valentina Palladino

Activity app

All your recorded workouts are saved to that day’s timeline on the watch and they sync to the Activity app on your iPhone. You can see an overview of your daily activity by tapping the Activity app on the Apple Watch, designated by those recognizable pink, green, and blue grouped circles. It’ll show you how much you moved, how many minutes of exercise you’ve completed, and how many hours during the day you’ve stood up. Users also receive small info cards for total distance traveled, total steps taken, and any recorded workouts completed.

If you want to see a full breakdown for each workout, you’ll have to go into the iPhone app. You can access them by scrolling down on the daily overview page or by going into the Workouts tab from the bottom menu bar. Each workout will detail calories burned, distance, total time, and average heart rate, and some will have extra, relevant stats like average pace, weather conditions at the time, elevation gain, and a map of your route (see the GPS section for more on this).

I was surprised at the lack of charts for stats like heart rate since other companies like Fitbit and Garmin will show you charts logging your heart rate variation throughout the entirety of a workout. I like to see these charts because it shows me how my heart rate changed over time, during the hardest and easiest parts of my session. Average heart rate is an overview metric that’s good to have, but after using so many devices that provide those extra charts, I missed them while using the Apple Watch.

Although it’s not in the Workout app, the Breathe app on the Apple Watch is another integral part of the company’s health push. It’s one of those mindful-breathing apps that guides you through a few minutes of slow, deep breathing. You can choose how long you want each session to be (from one minute to five minutes), and the display will show a blue animation that expands and contracts as a guide for you to inhale and exhale. The watch will also tap your wrist rapidly as the animation expands, allowing you to close your eyes and still be able to follow the breathing session’s inhale and exhale intervals. As I mentioned in my Fitbit Charge 2 review, I’m not the type of person to do these guided breathing sessions every day, but they do come in handy when I’m experiencing some anxiety, frustration, or nervousness. The way the Breathe app uses haptic feedback is particularly useful because you can go through a session with your eyes closed; with Fitbit’s devices, you have to follow along visually with the screen’s animations.

Both the Breathe app and the Activity app will send you notifications throughout the day (that you can customize or turn off completely) to remind you to do another slow breathing session or stand up each hour, and the Activity app will give you an exercise progress update as well. The most useful of those for me was the status update because it reminded me of what exercise I already completed that day and what more I had to do to meet my daily goal.

One aspect of the Workout and Activity apps I couldn’t test was the new wheelchair optimization that came with watchOS 3. The Apple Watch can recognize when wheelchair users push and roll themselves around, and when wheelchair mode is turned on in the Activity app, it will capture those movements instead of steps and count them to the user’s daily activity goal. Instead of move and stand notifications, users will get a “Time to Roll” alert whenever they need to move a little, and there are two wheelchair activity options in the Workout app to measure pace and distance during wheelchair exercise. None of the other activity trackers I’ve tested are optimized for wheelchair users, and while I cannot say how accurate those push and roll calculations are, it’s certainly a unique feature that no one else is offering.

Built-in GPS

The Apple Watch Series 2 has a built-in GPS that will be good news for active outdoor runners, cyclists, and other athletes. Apple calls the technology “assisted GPS” and defines it as using “a combination of technologies—Wi-Fi, GPS, and locally stored and regularly updated satellite ephemeris data—to identify location. During a run, Series 2 also uses the accelerometer to continue tracking distance and pace when GPS is unavailable like when running through a tunnel or under an overpass.” So even when you’re in environments that may interfere with the GPS, the watch should be able to piece together your location based on information collected by the accelerometer.

Apple bragged about how fast the GPS is when it revealed the Series 2 at its early September event, and it lives up to that hype. When you start an outdoor workout using the Workout app, you don’t even realize the GPS is working when you start (but it actually is). You’ll be able to tell after the fact, looking at the elevation and pace data that it collected, and a map of your route is automatically included in the recorded workout profile in the Activity app in your iPhone. Unlike Samsung’s $ 180 Gear Fit 2, which shows you a small line drawing of your mapped route, you can’t see the recorded map on the Apple Watch’s display.

The routes are obviously rendered in Apple Maps, and they’re accurate not only in sketching out where you were, but how fast you were going, too. Your route gets divided into different colored line segments: green where you were moving quickly, yellow where you were slow, and red where you stopped. There aren’t exact speed indications in those segments, but the color code makes it easier to glean an overview of your speed over time.

Water-resistance and swimming

Aside from GPS, the water-resistant design of the Apple Watch Series 2 is the biggest new feature for athletes. The watch can withstand up to 50 meters of water, and new open water and pool swimming activities have been added to the Workout app. Apple pulled some clever technical work with the speaker, and it had to because that’s an opening that could allow water into the watch if not properly secured. Now the speaker physically ejects water after you take it out of water mode, pushing out any liquid that might have gotten inside.

There are two ways to activate the water resistance mode: swipe up from the bottom on the watch’s display and tap the droplet icon, or start a swimming exercise in the Workout app. When activated, a small, blue water droplet icon will appear at the top of the display, and you won’t be able to use the touchscreen. To unlock the device, you have to turn the crown until you hear the speaker start to eject water. I wasn’t expecting to actually hear the watch push water out, but you can and it sounds like gears moving inside the device. You can see a teeny, tiny droplet shoot out the side (the speaker opening is a dual-slit on the left side of the watch).

I suppose you could shower with the watch thanks to this feature, and that’s the only reason I would activate water mode if I wasn’t tracking a swim exercise or just hanging out in a pool. In the Workout app, you can pick from pool or open water swimming, the former of which will ask you how long your pool is in yards and the latter will turn on the watch’s GPS. I was happy to see that you could set the pool to be as big or as small as you want—many devices that monitor swimming will place a minimum on how large the pool can be, meaning your options stop at maybe 15 or 20 yards. Most backyard pools are not as long as professional athletic pools, so if you’re working out at home, this could lead to inaccurate data. The Apple Watch lets you go down to one yard (I guess you could train in a kiddie pool if you tried?), which will ensure you can input the exact length of your pool and get accurate distance and lap calculations.

Swimming with the watch is a really easy experience. Once the Workout app starts tracking you, just swim in whatever strokes you like, and the watch will capture time, pace, laps, distance, calories, and heart rate. The watch was on-point counting my laps and it knew when I was swimming backstroke, freestyle, or a mix of the two. I was also impressed with heart rate monitoring because many other devices, including Garmin’s $ 250 Vivoactive HR, turn off optical heart rate monitors when in the water. The first time you initiate a pool swim, the watch gives you a message on the display saying in part that “water may prevent heart rate measurement,” which makes sense if you’re wearing the watch too loosely and a lot of water gets in between your wrist and the device. But in every swimming activity I recorded, my heart rate was logged along with the rest of my data.

I did try a number of times to swipe the screen in between laps only to remember—duh, the screen is locked. When you pause an activity (by pressing the crown and the side button at the same time) and unlock the device, you can see time, active calories, laps, and total yards during a swim. By default, the Workout app shows four stats on the display during any workout, but you can customize up to five stats to be displayed by going into the Workout app settings within the Apple Watch app.

Open water swimming is a nearly identical experience to pool swimming, but the GPS is turned on automatically to capture your location. Apple told me in a briefing that even if GPS doesn’t work when your arm is underwater, the watch’s GPS will automatically grab your location when you raise your arm out of the water (for the few seconds it’s in between strokes) and then piece all those bits of location information together to render your route map. I tried this in a pool while swimming freestyle, just to see how accurately the GPS could fashion my location using those small puzzle pieces of information, and it pinpointed exactly where I was down to the street block.

You’ll have to unlock the watch before you can manually end a swimming session, and doing so even with wet fingers is easy since you only use the crown. Once you need to swipe to the right on the display to reach the “end” and “pause” buttons, you will need to dry your hands a little since it’s not easy to initiate a swipe on the display with wet fingers. Overall, the swimming experience on the Apple Watch is almost stupidly easy to get used to. Even though Apple had to get clever in making the speaker water-resistant, the user doesn’t run into issues with it at all since it just takes one action (the turning of the crown) to unlock the display and simultaneously eject water.

Third-party activity apps

One major advantage Apple has compared to other fitness trackers is its app ecosystem, which can fill in gaps that Apple’s first-party apps don’t address. But in my experience, they’re still mostly hit or miss. In the fitness category, most of the major players have made Apple Watch apps: MyFitnessPal, Under Armour’s Record, RunKeeper, MapMyRun, Strava, Nike (obviously), and the like. All of these watch apps require you to install the iPhone app, give it access to HealthKit, and then allow the watch app to show up on your device. From then on, those third-party apps will share information with HealthKit so all your workouts and activities recorded within them will automatically be counted toward your daily goals in Apple’s Activity app (and can be shared with other HealthKit-compatible diet and fitness apps, besides).

While it’s great that the major players have embraced the Apple Watch, some apps aren’t very useful when opened on the watch. Take the MyFitnessPal Apple Watch app: on the watch, it’s basically just a diary of your current nutrition intake for the day. The first page shows you how many calories you have left to consume in the day, and swiping to the left brings up a breakdown of that number in carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc. Swiping one more time to the left brings up your total step count for the day. That’s all well and good, but if you’re logging your meals and snacks regularly, you’re going to be opening the MyFitnessPal app on your iPhone after nearly every meal and you’re going to see that information anyway. In an app that requires a lot of regular interaction like this, being able to glance down at your wrist to see your current stats is not going to save you a trip into the mobile app.

Some activity apps are extensions of their parent mobile apps. Nike+ Run Club, for example, lets you start indoor and outdoor runs directly from the watch, just like you would if you didn’t have the watch and were using the mobile app only. After you’re finished, the watch displays your recorded stats, which you can also find in the Nike+ Run Club app on your iPhone (along with extra features such as past workouts and friends’ leaderboards). Since these third-party apps aren’t made by Apple, there will be some variation in accuracy. Apple’s Workout app was always within .1 miles of treadmill running distance, but the Nike+ Run Club app often logged distances that were up to .3 miles off what my treadmill recorded.

Others I tried simply didn’t work. I went to the driving range to test out SwingAnalyzer, an app that is supposed to help you improve your golf swing. But even after starting a session from my Series 2, the app never even registered that I was swinging. I ended up fumbling around with it on my wrist, swiping and tapping profusely to see what my next move should have been. Eventually I realized, almost on accident, that Force-Touching the app would let me quit out of it, so that’s what I did. I tried recording three sessions using SwingAnalyzer to no avail before I tried using Ping, another golf swing analyzing app. I didn’t get very far, though—the Ping app is free to download, but you need to pay $ 5 for the full version to even use it.

That brings me to my next issue: a lot of the fitness-related Apple Watch apps require subscriptions or in-app payments. I was super excited to try the Sweat with Kayla app, a program created by the Instagram fitness star that guides you through circuit training and high intensity workouts using the watch. But even though I downloaded and set up the app for free, I couldn’t use it unless I signed up for a $ 20-per-month subscription. These app makers usually give you some phone functionality for free, but Apple Watch functionality is a paid extra. That’s really frustrating for me as a user, and I do think there should be some alert or notification that tells anyone downloading one of these apps that, yes, before you can use it, you’ll need to pay up.

The reason why I was interested to try the Sweat with Kayla app is that the Apple Watch doesn’t come with any guided workouts of its own. The Microsoft Band is currently the device with the most comprehensive guided workout list, pulling sessions from companies like Gold’s Gym, Shape magazine, and more. That device even lets you create your own workouts. Third-party apps give the Apple Watch this feature, but it apparently comes at a price. That’s a feature I would like to see come to the watch in the form of a native app or even in collaboration with other companies (maybe even an extension of Nike’s collaboration).

No matter if you have to pay for them or not, third-party apps now will also have access to the Series 2’s GPS. Currently there are only a couple apps using the watch’s GPS, including RunKeeper, Under Armour’s Record, MapMyRun, Cyclemeter, Trails, and GolfShot, but there will likely be more to come in the future. That means if you’re using those apps on the watch to track an outdoor activity, your iPhone can be off, or not on your body at all, and the third-party app can use the watch’s GPS to map your route within its UI. The fact that Apple is even giving developers access to the GPS is a big deal, and for users, it means a more seamless experience if you’re a diehard member of a third-party app community and want to record and map all your trail runs.

One last note about third-party apps: music is an area that’s lacking. Most of my music is on Spotify these days as I pay for the premium service, but Spotify doesn’t have an Apple Watch app. While you can control music playback from the watch, it’s limited to Apple Music tracks. Similarly, Apple Watch podcast apps mostly serve as remote controls for the phone versions, and Apple still doesn’t offer a watch-bound version of its first-party app. The only way you can get around this is if you use a third-party app like Nike+ Run Club that both draws in music from a specific source of your choosing and lets you control it from within its app during a workout.

The rest of watchOS 3

WatchOS 3 bought a lot of updates to the Apple Watch, many of which we’ve explored already as fitness improvements. But many other tweaks help the device be a better smartwatch. For starters, Glances have been replaced by the Dock, a list of up to 10 of your most-used apps that you bring up with the side button (this replaces the “friends” view that the side button activated in earlier watchOS versions). You can customize which apps appear in the Dock, making it an easy way to open the apps you use the most—this is especially useful when you’re using a watch face that doesn’t have complications.

Long-pressing the side button brings up another new feature: a short list of options that lets you turn off the watch, bring up your Medical ID if you have one set, or make an SOS emergency call to authorities. When you make an SOS call, you can also optionally share your location data with an emergency contact to let them know what has happened. Hopefully you’d never have to use this, but being able to access personal medical information and call emergency services with just a press of a button and a swipe on the display is a useful feature to have.

In addition to setting the apps in your Dock, you can also choose a series of your favorite watch faces that you can switch between by swiping to the left on the display. This replaces the more cumbersome Force-Touch-then-swipe system from before. You can set up to 14 different faces, but I typically rotated between two on a regular basis: one with complications surrounding the time and date and a more atmospheric one with moving flowers.

In all the wearables I’ve tried, I never liked answering texts from them, even ones like the Microsoft Band (or the upcoming Android Wear 2.0 update) that give you an on-screen keyboard with microscopic letters. I always found it easier to open my phone and type a message out like normal, but the updated messaging features in watchOS 3 have led me to answer a few times from my wrist. I like the new Scribble feature in particular, which lets you write out a response by drawing letters on the display on top of one another, and the watch strings them together into words. There’s a space bar so you can create full sentences if you wish, and its handwriting recognition is surprisingly good. You also don’t have to wait until the letter you drew pops up on the display to write the next letter—just write each letter, one right after the other, in the same square area on the display and they show up. If you’re not into scribbling letters on your wrist, you still have the option to dictate a message with your voice, send an emoji, or pick from a list of 24 or so prefabricated messages that you can customize in the Apple Watch app.

Battery life

The Series 2 watch has a slightly larger battery than the original device, allowing it to last up to two days on a single charge. That will mostly depend on how many notifications you receive, how many apps you use, whether you make use of the GPS, and how bright you keep the watch’s screen. Most of the time my watch had about 40 percent battery life left at the end of each day—I receive a decent amount of notifications and I usually keep the watch’s brightness at the default middle setting.

GPS was obviously a concern for Apple since the chip can drastically reduce battery life on any device. Apple told me that you should be able to use the GPS for 30 to 90 minutes per day without seeing a significant battery drain. After using it for two 15-minute walks one Saturday, I was pleased to find my watch’s end-of-the-day battery life to be about 35 percent—not that much different from a normal day.

Anyone using the GPS during long races will be happy that the Series 2 is built to last 5 hours and 15 minutes while using the GPS consistently, a target Apple said it wanted to hit specifically for marathon runners. There’s also a “power save” mode that will turn off the watch’s heart rate monitor for an extra boost of battery life. There are other, dedicated GPS running watches that are built to last up to eight or ten hours during constant GPS use, but for most people, five hours should be good enough to map the occasional marathon.

Conclusions: Fitness focus with smartwatch dreams

The Apple Watch Series 2 gives the Apple Watch a sense of purpose it didn’t have last year—it’s a fitness device that also happens to do some other smartwatch-y things. The hardware improvements combined with the refined nature of watchOS 3 make the watch a solid contender for the activity tracker that lives on your wrist. But it’s not the absolute winner, because the Series 2 has very few fitness features that are unique to Apple. Onboard GPS is widely available on other, cheaper devices, as is swim tracking, general activity and workout monitoring, guided breathing exercises, and even the integration of third-party apps.

Apple didn’t come up with these features, but just like it did with the iPhone, the company relies on its expertise in making the experience of using those features on an Apple Watch easier and unique. It took the frustration out of GPS tracking by making it incredibly fast to the point where you don’t even realize it’s working until you finish a workout. Recording a few laps in the pool is just as easy as recording a run on the treadmill, and the watch isn’t incredibly bulky or ugly in order to help it withstand water. Even watchOS 3 on the Series 2 does enough non-fitness things that I can see myself wearing it daily, as opposed to some dedicated fitness trackers that you really only want to wear when you’re at the gym.

But the Series 2 is still an optional device, and a lot of people will opt not to buy it because the base model costs just shy of $ 400 (at $ 269 the newly tweaked Series 1 is more affordable, but also takes a big step down as a fitness device by losing swim tracking and the GPS). When you can get the same core features in other devices like the Fitbit Blaze, the Samsung Gear Fit 2, the Garmin Vivoactive HR, or the Microsoft Band that all cost a fraction of the Series 2’s price, some will always choose the more affordable option and for good reason. But those options don’t offer that particular experience that a lot of users will find intuitive, appealing, and familiar, and that has always been Apple’s signature bet.

I’m still on the fence about how much I need the device’s “smartwatch” features in my everyday life. Things like wrist notifications, glanceable complications, and useful third-party apps are tempting, but I’m still not at the point where I feel like I’ll be lost without an Apple Watch on my wrist. It’s still an accessory rather than a necessity.

Overall, using the Series 2 as a fitness device is a great experience with very few hiccups. Apple has come closer to defining the practical value of the smartwatch with the Series 2 and watchOS 3, but I still need some convincing. The watch continues to feel non-essential when compared to Apple products like the obviously essential iPhone, and for now that will keep it in a relatively small niche.

The Good

  • Accurate workout tracking.
  • Fast and accurate GPS create speed-detailed maps of exercise routes.
  • Swim tracking is easy to initiate; water-resistant speakers keep liquid out of the watch.
  • Heart rate monitor works even while swimming.
  • Haptic feedback in the Breathe app lets you follow guided breathing session with your eyes closed.
  • Wheelchair optimization allows disabled users to log activity that’s not step-related.
  • Scribble makes it super easy to write short text messages on the watch’s screen.

The Bad

  • No auto-tracking activity feature.
  • Cannot natively track sleep.
  • Mapped routes cannot be viewed on the watch itself, only in the Activity app.
  • Third-party apps are hit or miss.
  • Battery life is better than the original watch, but still not nearly as good as other fitness trackers.

The Ugly

  • The high price tag may deter some who just want a good fitness device, which can be purchased for less.

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Infinite Loop – Ars Technica