Apple Watch Series 2 review (hands-on): Steady improvements from Apple

We had a feeling the Apple Watch 2 was going to be unveiled today. In the end, the presentation by Apple’s Jeff Williams was something of a warm-up act for the long awaited iPhone 7, but it does – in its own evolutionary way – impress.

Apple Watch Series 2 design and versions

If you saw an Apple Watch Series 2 on a store shelf, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at last year’s model. As the rumours predicted, Apple has taken the approach of fitting more stuff into the available space rather than resetting the design.[gallery:1]

This is no big surprise. If Apple were planning on making a round Watch, we’d know about it by now, given it requires significant changes to apps and developers would have to have been informed.

We are, however, getting new colours, most notably a ceramic Apple Watch Series 2 – a model that Williams described as “remarkably smooth”, boasting that it’s four times harder than stainless steel. Apple will also be continuing their partnership with Hermès.[gallery:23]

Finally, there’s the Apple Watch Nike+. On the surface of it, this is just a (slightly gaudily) reskinned Apple Watch Series 2, but it comes bundled with Nike’s running app. That may not sound like much, but Nike’s FuelBand had some great software and a solid running community, so a return to this could be very welcome indeed. If you’re a runner, this is probably the one to go with, especially as it comes at the same price as the standard Apple Watch Series 2. 

Apple Watch Series 2 specs

The real innovation is within the watch itself. The Apple Watch Series 2 has a dual-core processor that Williams boasts will be 50% faster, backed up with a new GPU which should be twice as fast as the original. Playing with it in the hands-on area after the conference confirms this: it feels snappier and more responsive, which is pretty important in a smartwatch.[gallery:6]

But speed boosts are to be expected. The real advantages come for the sporty: not only does the Apple Watch Series 2 come with GPS as predicted ahead of launch, it’s also swimproof. It comes with a rather clever design where the speaker actually spits out water once you’re back on dry land again, and means that it can sustain water pressure of up to 50 metres. That’s “pretty deep”, as Williams observes.

The screen also gets a big upgrade. So big an upgrade, in fact, that it’s superseded the brightness on all of Apple’s existing products, hitting the dizzy heights of 1,000nits. That should make it a lot easier to look at in direct sunlight, which is obviously a good thing. In the well-lit testing area post conference, it certainly felt a lot brighter, but we’ll be more exact once we get our full review in soon.[gallery:2]

One thing that didn’t get a mention in the keynote is battery life. Hopefully that was an oversight rather than a worrying omission. Given Apple took the opportunity to announce the power-hungry Pokemon Go for Apple Watch, you’d better hope that this model has more stamina than the original. This is something we’re keen to test when we put the watch through our rigorous review process. 

Apple Watch Series 2 software – watchOS 3

As expected, watchOS 3 will debut with the Apple Watch Series 2. The software will be released on 13 September, three days before the watches go on general sale.[gallery:12]

We’ve been using watchOS 3 for a while, and our favourite feature is the change in how the big button on the side of the watch works. Now, instead of bringing up a rotary menu of your favourite contacts (which no-one I know used), it gives you a “Dock” with your most recently used and favourite applications, all of which the Watch keeps in memory. This makes them much easier to access and quicker to load, which is a big deal on the underpowered first Apple Watch, and is still likely to be incredibly useful on the Apple Watch 2.

Apple Watch Series 2 release date and price

Which brings us to the price. Despite the rumours being pretty much spot on ahead of the launch, we were blindsided by one announcement: the Apple Watch Series 1. That’s basically the current features of the original Apple Watch, but with the speed enhancements of the Apple Watch 2. The Series 1 starts £269, making it a more tempting entry level model.[gallery:4]

Then there’s the Apple Watch Series 2. For the added niceties of waterproofing and GPS, you’re looking at an additional £100, starting at £369. The Apple Watch Nike+ edition is the same price, but as with the existing range of Apple Watches, this is the bottom rung of a very tall ladder – the ceramic version costs an eye-watering £1,249, while the Hermes editions start at £1,149.

So evolution rather than revolution is the order of the day here. Consider the Apple Watch Series 2 an analogue to the S series of iPhones: a modest improvement before the next big leap forwards. As modest improvements go though, this is a pretty good start too: refining the device into the indispensable companion the original so nearly managed to be. Especially if you have a passion for fitness.

These are early first impressions based on hands-on time with the Apple Watch Series 2 after the company’s September event. Check back soon for a more thorough assessment once we’ve had time to give it a once-over on our wrists. 

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