PROS / The Apple Watch Series 2 is completely waterproof.
CONS / Voice search is weak for the Apple Watch in comparison to Android Wear.
VERDICT / If you are an iPhone user, the Apple Watch Series 2 is the best smartwatch available. It is incredibly well-designed and has several bands to choose from.
Smartwatches have yet to make their way onto most people’s wrists. While the wide majority of U.S. adults have smartphones tucked in their pockets, just 16 percent of them own a smartwatch or fitness tracker.
Apple’s hoping its latest smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 2, will not only become part of your wardrobe, but also a part of your daily routine.
The Apple Watch Series 2 marks Apple's second foray into the realm of smartwatches. This time around the watch is waterproof, has a much brighter display, and built-in GPS. Apple's smartwatch still reigns supreme and its latest Series 2 model is the winner of our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award for best smartwatch.
Most people wouldn’t be able to differentiate Apple’s second-generation smartwatch from its predecessor. Both feature an aluminum or stainless steel case that comes in 38 mm and 42 mm versions. The latest rendition is slightly larger – it weighs 3 grams more and is 0.04 inches thicker – to make room for a bigger battery.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is also waterproof. It can be worn in pools, the ocean and the shower and will survive water depths of up to 50 meters (164 feet).
Like the original Apple Watch, the Series 2 feels solid. Its Ion-X glass display didn’t get scratched at all in the two weeks that we wore the watch. You really shouldn’t feel the need to get a screen protector for a smartwatch like you would a smartphone.
All of Apple's watches have the same internals, but their external cases and bands are made from different materials. The pricier models also have sapphire crystal displays. Apple also sells its Series 2 anodized aluminum model in gold, rose gold and silver. You can pay extra for nylon, leather and stainless steel bands, but the included strap is comfortable and doesn’t get dirty easily. The watch is reversible and can be worn on your left or right wrist. The display rotates and the watch still works when the crown is facing left.
The Apple Watch is the most fashionable smartwatch money can buy, but we don’t think Apple succeeded at marketing the Watch as a luxury good. It is no longer selling its $10k 18-karat gold Apple Watch Edition and is opting for a less expensive (but still pricy) ceramic watch that starts at $1,249. Apple has again collaborated with luxury goods manufacturer Hermes and, most recently, Nike to sell watches that feature special edition bands.
Compared to other smartwatches, the Apple Watch has been and continues to be equipped with the best display. The Series 2 Apple Watch has an improved 1000-nit OLED Retina display. The screen resolution remains the same, but it's twice as bright as the first-generation Apple Watch – making it the brightest display on any device Apple has ever shipped. A brighter display means the Apple Watch is easier to read outdoors, especially in direct sunlight. Other watches aren't as bright and glare easily outdoors forcing you to put your palm over the screen to check the time.
To conserve battery life, the Apple Watch’s display automatically turns off when you aren’t using it. Android Wear smartwatches have an always-on-display mode that you can enable, but not this smartwatch. If you lift your wrist, the display is supposed to illuminate. This functionality didn’t always work with the Apple Watch Series 1, especially if you were in bed or on the couch. It still doesn’t work any better on the newest version.
One of our biggest complaints with the original Apple Watch was its sluggish performance. Fortunately the Series 2 watch is equipped with a newer dual-core processor that is 50 percent faster. The GPU has also been updated, doubling the graphics performance. Both upgrades come in handy if you use the watch for playing games on the go.
Additionally, the Apple Watch caught up with the times (no pun intended) and finally has built-in GPS. The previous Apple Watch was entirely dependent on your iPhone for GPS data. Now you can easily track your walks, runs or cycling. The Series 2 measures your pace and distance traveled then shows a map of your route when you’re done. It even calculates your average heart rate and records the current weather and humidity levels at the time of your run. Obviously, GPS comes at the expense of battery life. Apple claims that the watch’s battery lasts for five continuous hours while retrieving a GPS signal. One other minor qualm – we didn’t like that the watch gives no indicator that the GPS is on and is working. On iOS devices you can see a little icon at the top of the status bar when your location is being tracked. We hope this is added with a later update.
Just like its predecessor, the Apple Watch has 8GB of onboard storage, which is twice as large as most Android Wear smartwatches. However, you can only store 2GB of music and 75MB of photos, which translates to roughly 200 songs and 100 photos. You can pair Bluetooth headphones or a speaker to the Apple Watch to play your stored tunes or use your iPhone’s speaker instead.
Like other modern smartwatches, this one is outfitted with Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi, an accelerometer and a gyroscope. Apple kept the original watch’s heart rate sensor on this newer model. It also has an additional microphone that helps with voice recognition, which is used for replying to texts, asking Siri questions and taking phone calls (which we still don’t recommend). It has NFC (near field communication), which is what the Apple Watch uses to make mobile payments using Apple Pay.
As previously mentioned, the battery for the Series 2 Apple Watch is larger than the old one. An improved 273 mAh battery is onboard that is 32 percent bigger than the original 205 mAh found inside the Series 1. Don’t get your hopes up though. This doesn't mean battery life is significantly better. You can thank the added GPS and brighter display for that.
Apple claims that the Series 2 Watch gets 18 hours of battery life. During our tests, we found that the assertion was indeed true and actually better – we were able to squeeze 19 hours. If you forget to charge your watch overnight, it can still manage to get you through most of your workday. This wasn’t the case with the original Apple Watch. You’re still better off charging it every day, though. If you want a smartwatch that allows you to forget about battery life, you should definitely consider a Pebble smartwatch, which has a week-long battery life.
It takes just two hours to fully charge the newer Apple Watch. That’s a half hour less than the first model. Apple includes the same magnetic charging cable that was bundled with the original watch. The cable is long enough to set on your nightstand, and it’s easy to align the watch to the charger. You can even connect it in the dark with no problem.
The watch displays the time, date and any set alarms when it is charging. Apple also sells a $70 magnetic charging dock so you can use your watch as an alarm clock. We wish this dock was included at no cost, similar to Motorola’s included Moto 360 charging dock, but you only get a USB cable and AC adapter with the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is powered by WatchOS 3. The improved operating system and quicker processor make the watch much speedier than last year's model.
There’s a new app dock so you don’t have to constantly go to the home screen to select from a giant swarm of tiny app icons – it’s also much easier to change watch faces. All you have to do is swipe left or right from edge to edge. We found ourselves mixing and matching the Apple Watch’s face with our outfits much more frequently now that it’s slightly easier to swap watch faces compared to the original Apple Watch.
Voice search and Siri still aren’t as powerful as Google Now on Android Wear. Siri oftentimes responded, “Sorry I didn’t get that” when we asked simple questions. And there were two separate occasions where the watch display would read “Siri Not Available” when we asked Siri to define a word and tell us the weather.
Despite removing the word “Sport” from its name, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is a fine fitness tracker. Its band is sweat proof, the watch is completely waterproof, and its recent addition of a GPS chip lets you route runs. We really enjoyed using the Apple Watch at the gym and on jogs.
Apple’s Workout app still lacks presets for lifting weights, playing sports or doing yoga, but you can select from other common cardio-focused workouts. You can track walks, cycling, rowing, and using an elliptical or stair stepper. Now that the watch is waterproof, it even tracks swimming. The Workout app has presets for pool swimming and open water swims. Since you can't really use a touchscreen in the water, the display locks to prevent accidental taps. You unlock it by simultaneously pressing the side button and digital crown on the watch's side. While swimming, the watch records your laps, strokes, calorie expenditure, pace and distance.
Help & Support
Apple is known for its outstanding support. The Apple Watch Series 2 comes with one year of AppleCare, which includes phone, email, live chat and in-store support.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is what the first-generation Apple Watch should have been. It finally has built-in GPS, it's waterproof, and it isn’t as sluggish as last year's model. However, we still don’t think you need a smartwatch. The Apple Watch Series 2 is ultimately for people who want to track their fitness. It also serves as a way to sift through notifications and keep connected to family, friends and colleagues without always having to whip out your smartphone.
We think the Apple Watch remains the most well-designed smartwatch, but it still has a weak battery life, poor voice search and an expensive price tag.