Introduction, design and screen
You want to know two things about the Apple Watch 2 (or Apple Watch Series 2 if we’re being picky): is it a big enough upgrade to beat the first Watch, and has Apple done enough to make a smartwatch a necessity, rather than just a novel luxury?
Well, Apple’s brought a lot of the tech upgrades we wanted: with the Watch 2 you’re getting a new water-resistant design, a GPS chip on board for tracking your runs, a swim tracker and a much faster processor.
There’s a new white ceramic finish too – which takes the place of the extortionately expensive gold Apple Watch Edition – to add an element of ‘luxury’ to proceedings, with the Hermes band making an appearance again to keep the top cost of the Watch 2 higher.
The second Apple Watch is also the poster child for WatchOS 3, which radically improves the functionality of the device – so has Apple solved the issues that prevented the original Watch becoming the must-have gadget of the year?
Apple Watch price and release date
- Apple Watch 2 cheapest price at launch: $369 / £369 / AU$529
- Launched on September 16
The Apple Watch Series 2 is available from September 16, and in terms of pricing it unsurprisingly arrives at a variety of levels, with the cheapest model, the 38mm version, coming in at $369 in the US, £369 in the UK and AU$529 in Australia.
Check out our Apple Watch Series 2 video review
That’s going to make the new Apple Watch a hard sell to anyone who isn’t a fitness diehard and obsessed with getting that GPS chip in their watch.
The cost then rises steeply, with the 42mm base model costing $399 / £399 / AU$579. This continues all the way up to the highest-priced ceramic Edition model, which comes in at $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$1,799.
The good news is that Apple will continue to sell the original Apple Watch, upgraded with the same faster processor that’s in the Series 2, for a cheaper price. Dubbed the Apple Watch Series 1, it’ll cost $269 (£269, AU$399) for the entry-level Sport Edition.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is a little more expensive than the first Watch was when it launched in 2015 – but it’s a lot more expensive than the upgraded Watch Series 1, which now features the same faster processor as used in the Series 2.
- Water-resistant chassis allows for swimming
- 1mm thicker than previous model, which isn’t noticeable
- Aluminum, stainless steel and ceramic models now available
The design of the Apple Watch Series 2 is simple: it’s the same as the previous version. Unless you’re someone who loves a round shape on their wrist, that’s no bad thing, as Apple makes a very handsome-looking device no matter what it’s creating.
The curved edges, the formed glass, the quality of the spinning digital crown on the side of the Watch all feel premium, and while they don’t necessarily excuse the high price, they do go a long way towards qualifying it.
The weight isn’t too light or too heavy – the right heft for the mix of metal and glass you’re strapping to your wrist.
Talking of straps, I still wish Apple had a more elegant solution to the issue of changing the bands on your Apple Watch. The little strap release buttons are just too hard to push easily, and I’ve spent too long trying to move between the polymer sport and nylon bands, yanking them from the slots.
On the underside of the Watch 2 is the heart rate monitor, a collection of four LEDs that pulse light below your skin to work out how fast your heart is pumping. The LED array on the back of the watch looks bulbous, but once strapped to the wrist isn’t noticeable, and supports useful features throughout the Watch.
Apple has thankfully done away with the hyper-expensive gold Edition Watch, but has replaced it with the ceramic version, which is still three times the cost of the base model at $1,299 / £1,299 at the cheapest point.
It’s nice, and does feel a little more premium (plus it’s four times stronger, according to Apple) but the white case looks a bit too… well, Apple. But the finish is nice.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is a high-end device – and now that it’s water-resistant, and has GPS and a bigger battery, it’s hard to believe it’s not thicker. Throughout our review there was never a suspicion that you’d be scratching this thing up, despite repeatedly picking it up and putting it down during activity.
- New brighter screen is easy to read in any conditions
- Water-resistant mode is smart
- Sharpness is excellent for all tasks
Apple hasn’t changed much with the screen dimensions – actually, nothing at all. The same 1.65-inch display is on offer, with the 390 x 312 OLED display rolling attractively into the side of the Watch’s frame.
The key thing is the brightness though: the Watch Series 2 can now pump things up to 1000 nits. That’s just a number to most people, but my word, it’s bright – and brighter than the previous model too.
Thankfully, the OLED element of the display of means the black backgrounds are turned off when not in use, both saving battery life and improving the brightness of the white element.
As the Watch 2 is now water-resistant as well, the display has been augmented with a ‘wet mode’, which locks the display and disables touch functionality when activated.
What does that mean? Well, as water can conduct electricity, the screen could sense the water as an input and order an Uber when you’re in the swimming pool. With this mode on, the screen is safe – and will automatically activate when you turn on swimming tracking.
The way it unlocks is cool too: you spin the digital crown, and when it’s fully clear the speaker emits a pulse to shove out the water, should any be left in there.
The screen on the Apple Watch Series 2 is one of the very best things about the device – it’s not as high-resolution as some of the best phones on the market, but it doesn’t need to be – it’s more than sharp enough, as well as being bright and colorful enough to be easily seen in any scenario.
Specs, WatchOS 3 and performance
- Faster dual-core processor feels snappier
- New WatchOS features are useful
- Breathe is a really great idea on a wearable
The big spec upgrade on the Apple Watch 2 is the S2 dual-core processor inside. Combined with EITHER 1GB or 512MB of RAM (we’re still waiting for confirmation), the Series 2 whips along under the finger compared to the original.
That said, the response isn’t instant – it’s a single beat when you press the dock button or hit the main menu. When flipping between apps it’s great, but opening the dock with the apps you use the most isn’t as speedy as I’d expected.
That said, the combination of improved processing, graphical prowess and general efficiency improvements from the new operating system mean the Watch 2 is a stable and useful platform.
If you don’t know much about the Apple Watch, then here are a few things you should pick up: the screen is blank on your wrist until you raise it to see the time, or to catch a notification when you feel a buzz on your skin.
The action of raising your arm to fire up the screen feels odd at first, but you’ll get used to it. Sadly Apple hasn’t added an always-on display here to make the whole issue moot – presumably that’s to save battery life.
The buzzing sensation comes from Apple’s Taptic feedback engine, a vibrating system that feels more like taps on your wrist that simple buzzes. It’s actually quite pleasant and feels more ‘targeted’, mimicking what you’re actually being notified to do. So an alarm ringing mimics the sensation of a ringing alarm clock, and that works nicely.
We found the performance of the new Watch 2 to be pretty good for any task. Some apps require a little too much syncing, with a little icon swirling in the center of the screen while the Watch catches up when opening Bluetooth or the timer – but it’s not a deal-breaker.
If you want to change anything on the Watch 2, you’ll need to slip into your iPhone and the immensely complex Watch app. There are settings all over the place here, with some crossover from the earlier version of the WatchOS left in there as well.
If you need to get something done, like changing settings or removing an app from the mix, then it’s all possible here, but very little is possible on the Watch itself – apart from the brightness of the screen (which isn’t even set to full power automatically, yet still the screen looks clear), there’s only a few other bits you can change without the phone present.
WatchOS 3 is the platform the Apple Watch has been crying out for. It’s the right blend of hardware and software, and comes with some nifty tricks that really make use of the additional hardware of the Watch 2.
It beggars belief that Apple didn’t launch the original Watch with the dock, a place for your 10 most-used apps (which you can set manually) that’s accessed by pressing the power button.
Why on earth was this originally a place to find your friends? Especially when so few had an Apple Watch, and even then it was only used to send creepy heart beats and rude pictures?
One can only surmise that this was because the battery life effect was so huge that Apple couldn’t put it out there, where now it’s managed to minimise the risk.
Whatever it’s done, the dock is great on the Watch 2. While, as mentioned, it doesn’t open instantly, it’s at least consistent.
Then there’s Breathe, the prompt every few hours to lean back and take a few breaths. This is one of the nicest features of the new WatchOS, giving you permission to take some time out from the stress.
It’s a simple solution: instead of being prompted to stand every hour (although that still remains to a degree) now you’re asked to just focus on your breathing, and the haptic feedback will buzz as you need to breathe in, allowing you to exhale easily.
At the end of the session, you get your heart rate – so there’s a self-competing element too. It really does relax you, and the guilt that comes with snoozing the notification is assuaged by just getting on and doing it – and it can be done in a meeting, at your desk or in a car.
It’s weird when you initiate the new session and someone tries to talk to you though – you just have to ignore them breathlessly for a while.
After a few weeks you’ll start to ignore this feature – but try to spend some time with it when you get a few idle moments and you’ll start to really feel the benefit.
Apart from those two features, WatchOS 3 is pretty much just a clean-up of the operating system, with a few little tweaks to make it feel a bit more intuitive.
There are still the same annoying limitations: you can’t see WhatsApp photos you’ve been sent on the smaller screen (despite being able to see your own snaps quite happily), Facebook updates are just notifications that you need to look at your phone, and you can’t properly browse tweets.
The app experience on the Apple Watch 2, while better, is still a long way from being indispensable; there are some nice tweaks (being able to order an Uber from your wrist is cool) but nothing that will make you say "Thank HEAVENS I didn’t have to pull my phone from my pocket / bag".
What’s odd is how few third-party apps still aren’t native (as in, working without the phone attached) – you can’t open Google Maps, or message through Slack or order an Uber if your iPhone isn’t around, even when connected to Wi-Fi.
That said, the app experience is still slick thanks to Force Touch, with most of the stock apps offering clever extra functionality when you prod the screen a little bit harder.
With WatchOS 3 there’s now an emergency SOS number that can be called right from the power-off screen – and some people have been complaining that it’s really easy to activate this easily. Apparently if you hold the side button down for too long your Apple Watch will automatically call the number – but we were unable to replicate this problem, no matter which way we tried to angle our hand.
If something lodged in the way it could possibly be an issue, but if you do want to get rid of the auto-call feature then you can easily do so in the settings. You don’t want to end up like these guys…
- GPS data is accurate
- Battery life is much stronger than anticipated
- The heart rate monitor is still less useful for running
Let’s be honest: the only really important upgrade on the Apple Watch Series 2 is the addition of GPS, and what it offers for anyone who doesn’t want to run with a phone welded to their arm.
Apple has done what it should have with the last model – and having missed the boat last time it’s at least made a good job of it here. The Series 2 not only packs GPS but also hooks up to Glonass, the Russian variant of the global positioning satellite system, so it has more chance of picking up your precise location.
My issues with the first Apple Watch were many when it came to running: it was too simplistic, the data wasn’t accurate (sometimes even with the phone attached), and the heart rate monitor was horrendously inaccurate.
This time around, the heart rate monitor is precisely the same technology as before, and as such is equally as inaccurate when running. We tested it against the new Garmin 735XT, which also uses wrist-based tech, and while that one also wasn’t perfect, it was accurate a lot more regularly than the Apple Watch 2.
It’s fine for more sedentary actions, but for running it was constantly giving messages saying the heart rate was far, far higher than it was – we guess that it was somehow reading cadence instead, a common problem for wrist-based heart rate monitors.
We took the Apple Watch 2 on a run to see how its battery got on
We ran many tests to assess the GPS accuracy, ranging from easy runs to races to long endurance sessions.
We measured it first on a 10km course that had been run many times before, which came in at 9.8km. The next day, pushing it around a 5km Parkrun course, and it was annoying to see the distance come out as 4.97km – the route was on an open promenade, so the Watch couldn’t have had more of a clear view of the sky for the GPS to function.
Apple told us that with the heart rate monitor off, we could get to just over five hours’ use before the battery gave out – the ballpark time for many trying to complete the Chicago marathon. We ran 22 miles over three and a half hours with just the GPS running – that was impressive, with only 50% battery dropped in 210 minutes of jogging into Central London.
An hourly check of the GPS and battery showed some startling things: first, the Apple Watch was holding its own exceptionally well, matching the other two watches for distance accuracy, and dropping battery far slower than expected.
Then came the big test: how does the Apple Watch 2 last during a marathon? We tested it over 26.2 miles with everything turned on – Bluetooth streaming from the wearable, the heart rate monitor turned on and the GPS tracking me – and after 189 minutes, the smartwatch only lost 78% battery.
Extrapolate that and you’d get to just 4 hours and 20 minutes with the Apple Watch 2 going at full power – which is good enough for the intermediate runner. If you turn off the heart rate monitor then you’ll get a lot longer (and use a Bluetooth chest strap instead) then you should get to five hours.
The accuracy was excellent too – within 100 metres over the course of an entire marathon. Yes, the split times were a bit erratic compared to the more accurate Garmin 735XT, so not great for split times, but overall enough to bank on.
The GPS lock seems pretty strong, but the time when it’s officially locked on is invisible. There’s no clear way to show you’ve got a satellite fix, with the Watch 2 filling in the early points where you might not have a signal with accelerometer data.
That’s an incredibly useful idea, and unique to Apple among the big running watch manufacturers. However, we could happily trade off a few seconds at the start of the run to get confirmation of GPS fixes.
A few more runs of easy effort all seemed to be pretty accurate – within a few hundred meters of the Garmin watch.
In fact, the only issue with the Watch 2 as a running monitor is the basic workout app. You have to hand it to Apple, though – it knows how to make a decent user interface.
The ability to add and drop different elements of the run on the go (just by dragging and re-ordering them from the Watch app on the phone) is immense, and being able to cycle through them and see the different colors makes it easy to use the Watch on a run, drawing your eye to the right point easily.
The data being shown and saved is still a bit too simplistic, and there’s no obvious way to export your data to another running platform (such as Smashrun or Strava) if you want to share it with friends.
The new method of pausing the watch by pressing the digital crown and flat dock button together should be a brilliant feature – but it’s not accurate enough and you need a really light tap to make it work, which is hard after a race.
The issue here is the third-party app experience. The Workouts app is fine if you’re just thinking about trying to beat your personal best, but we need apps from Nike, Strava and Adidas (among others) to bring a new level of functionality to the mix.
Sadly, the forthcoming Nike app doesn’t seem to add much more than the Apple Workouts app – although it’s not been released yet, and may change from the demo.
The great part of that app, though, is that when it does land you’ll finally be able to upload the data you’ve gleaned from the Apple Watch 2 to your favorite sites, rather than having to run an app on your phone and have the Watch act simply as a second screen.
Has Apple made the perfect running watch? Not at all – but it’s a massive step in the right direction. If it can solve the heart rate monitoring issue – something a lot of brands are trying to do, with some being more successful than others – then that would go a long way towards making this the perfect all-in-one device.
The GPS accuracy is excellent, the battery life is stronger than expected, and the user interface is clean and usable. If Apple could create a ‘Pro’ running app – one that didn’t just tell you how far you’d gone or how long for, but actually gave you a dedicated plan to follow and more uploading options – that would make the Watch a hard choice to ignore.
As it stands, Apple now has to rely on developers to perform that function instead – and while they might do so, you’re not going to see any brands with their own running watches cannibalising their sales with such a move, and those companies are the ones that provide the best training plans.
If only Apple had brought out this watch two years ago… then we’d probably be standing on the cusp of a revolution in the running world.
The Apple Watch 2 is adept at other tracking tasks too. These range from cycling to elliptical machines to ‘other’ workouts, which gives you the equivalent calorie burn to a brisk walk.
All these fitness modes are fairly rudimentary – more of a chance to track against yourself than upload to a wider fitness community.
Swimming tracking is the big new feature for the Apple Watch 2 though, and while – again – this doesn’t tell you much beyond how far you’ve gone and for how long, Apple has coded the accelerometer and gyroscope to be able to tell when you’re changing lengths.
Once you enter the length of your pool at the start of the workout, the Watch will be able to give you a pretty good idea as to how you’ve done.
As mentioned, it’s a shame that Apple hasn’t gone all-out on fitness this year, adding in tailored programs designed to get you fitter or faster by varying the styles of workout you can do.
The brand is in prime position to do just that – instead of relying on third-party apps to create great experiences, the brand could just make itself a winner in the fitness stakes.
That would be easy given that it’s already got a good suite of fitness tracking features on the Apple Watch 2. Instead of meaningless step numbers, the Watch will tell you how long you’ve been active for, give you a calorie goal to work towards, and keep an eye on how much you’re standing each day – much more important from a fitness standpoint.
And the ability to compete against your friends, while nothing new at all, is going to be a really exciting feature going forward if enough people sign up.
- Watch 2 can easily last two days
- Can track around seven hours of running
- Heart rate monitor and music playback limit battery life
The battery life on the Apple Watch 2 was far more impressive than expected. Where Apple has previously promised an ‘all day’ battery life, thanks to the need for a bigger power pack to run the GPS chip the whole unit now is a lot more power-efficient.
Apple hasn’t explicitly stated how big the battery is, nor the expected performance – but the good news is that, for most, you’ll be able to get at least two days’ use out of it.
We say ‘for most’ as the average person will have a few days a week where they’re not using the watch for fitness tracking or powering the GPS – in those instances, the battery life will be much improved.
Let’s put some numbers on this, and give you some real world usage figures: removing the Apple Watch 2 from charge at 63% and heading out on a slow 45-minute run, with music streaming from the Watch via Bluetooth and the heart rate monitor on, the smartwatch fell to 47%.
The next day, the Watch 2 was removed from charge at 8AM and took in a 5km race (with the heart rate monitor on), and it lost 4%. Another slower 5km run followed before we headed home, reconnecting to the phone in the car and once again receiving notifications.
By 11AM it was still at 85%, and dropped only a further 3% in the next 90 minutes. At bedtime the Watch was down to 57%.
The next day, another shorter 40-minute run with GPS and heart rate monitoring was undertaken in the morning, before a day of sitting, eating and driving meant the Watch only needed to deliver notifications. It took until 9.30PM before the unit went into power reserve mode (where you can see the time if you tap the side button only).
The next day was the big test: how far can the Watch go for longer times? As we said in the running section above, after 210 minutes of running with only the GPS firing the Watch 2 lost 50% of the battery.
And over a marathon distance with everything going – Bluetooth music streaming, heart rate monitor and GPS running – after 189 minutes it was down to 28%, another good result.
Even by 10.30PM, it was still working just fine too – all day battery life is a cert on this (as long as you’ve not got a mega chat app running in the background, as that munches power like nothing else).
It’s not the best on the market of course – there are watches from Pebble, for instance, that can last 10 days on a single charge. But those devices lack the sheer functionality, and the beauty, the Apple Watch brings, preferring minimalist, lighter designs and offering slower performance compared to the speed of this device.
Then again, they also don’t require you to raise your arm to make the screen show the time, so it really depends what matters to you.
The Apple Watch 2 doesn’t do anything mind-blowing, but adds in tweaks in the right places to make it a much more attractive option for prospective smartwatch owners than its predecessor.
It’s almost a shame that it’s limited to Apple users, as it’s certainly one of, if not the, best smartwatch out there right now.
Almost every single upgrade offers something of tangible benefit: the GPS chip, the faster innards, the water-resistant frame.
Suddenly the Apple Watch is able to last longer and track you better, and even offers you the chance to get better at a new activity.
But it is expensive – so it’s not a simple case of ‘Got an iPhone? Buy this, post-haste!’.
What’s in the box? Check out our unboxing video!
Who’s it for?
The Apple Watch 2 is a device that doesn’t really fit anyone squarely. It’s a good option for the ‘more than idle, but not super-serious’ fitness fan, or the ‘I don’t have a watch but I’ve got an iPhone and like the sound of this’ user, but not perfect for either.
The ideal person for the Apple Watch 2 is someone who’s on the go a lot, is constantly carrying things, and probably spends too much time looking at their phone when sat watching TV.
A person who’s not averse to running or cycling, and perhaps – one day – dreams of doing a triathlon. A tech fan who likes the idea of being able to perform tasks in a new way – like firing a camera remotely with a group of friends, or paying for a coffee with their wrist.
It’s hard to say that there’s a perfect target user for the Apple Watch 2 – especially given the high price of ownership – but there are a lot of people who would get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
Should I buy it?
The Apple Watch 2 feels more like a great gift than a necessary purchase – it’s the cost that prevents it being a strong buy. It doesn’t feel like it’s too expensive when you hold it and discover what it can do, but ultimately it’s still more of a novelty than a necessity – the apps required from developers to make it the latter still aren’t coming to pass.
If you’re excited by the idea of what smartwatches can offer in terms of fitness and functionality, bringing out your phone fewer times in a day and making working out a simpler experience, then the Apple Watch 2 will be a great choice.
This Watch is an all-in-one device, something that’s about convenience above all else – the convenience of keeping your phone in your pocket, or of not having to worry about clipping your phone to your arm to go running.
The convenience of being able to take a quick note through Siri, or fire the camera remotely, or flick through your music. None of this functionality is essential to your quality of life, but this watch adds an element of gloss to these everyday activities.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is the smartwatch we wish Apple had brought out two years ago – but we’re glad it’s at least here now.