Apple Watch Series 2 review: The Apple Watch is now bigger than Rolex

Price when reviewed

Update 12.09.2017: Apple Watch Series 2 has been usurped by Series 3. Unveiled at the iPhone 8 event, the next-generation watch comes with data built-in, meaning you no longer have to have your phone with you at all times, its lets you stream 40 million songs and additionally comes with WatchOS 4 with improved heart-rate monitoring. We’ll be posting our review of the watch in the coming weeks.  

Original story

All too often, you see articles that talk about the Apple Watch as if it was a failure. In fact, although sales have declined from launch (what products don’t?), it’s now the world’s best-selling smartwatch. At this year’s iPhone 8 launch, Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch is now bigger than Rolex and Fossil.

By some analysts’ estimates, the Apple Watch represents a £10 billion business for Apple over its first year. If that’s a failure, then it’s the kind most companies would kill for.

But the first Apple Watch did have its flaws. The interface was complicated and apps were slow. Battery life was adequate but not outstanding. And it seemed like a solution in search of a problem: other than getting alerts on your wrist, what was the watch actually for?

Get the Apple Watch Series 2 for £369 from Currys!

Part of the issue was that Apple pitched the Watch as the next great computing platform. It mirrored the iPhone launch by focusing on three “tent-pole” features: being a great watch; communications; and health and fitness. Of the three, the Apple Watch was actually best at the third: health and fitness. It was a good watch, but a poor communicator. No-one I know actually used the communications features on it.

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With Apple Watch Series 2, and the simultaneous launch of watchOS 3, Apple is giving a clear lead that the device is, first and foremost, about fitness. Yes, it’s still a good watch and does alerts really well, but all the talk is about fitness. As Stratechery’s Ben Thompson pointed out, of the 47 shots in the Series 2 introductory video, only 12 were devoted to anything not connected to fitness or health.


Faster, longer… thicker

If the biggest criticism of the first Apple Watch was its speed – or rather, lack of it – then the Series 2 answers this very well indeed. The new watch is significantly faster. Apple rates it as 50% quicker, and combined with watchOS 3 (about which more later) it’s much more usable.

Externally, not much has changed, although the Series 2 is a little thicker (0.9mm to be exact). This, along with a few other internal changes, has allowed Apple to upgrade the battery, which is now 273mAh in the 42mm version compared with the 205mAh battery on the original watch.

This battery-size increase doesn’t hugely increase the overall battery life, although you might find that in regular use you get a couple more hours out of it. This isn’t a watch you can wear for two days running. But it is one that you can eke out a day and a half from, which could make all the difference if you’re stranded somewhere overnight without a charger, or you leave yours at home when you go away for the weekend.

Internally, there’s a larger Taptic Engine that gives a slightly more pronounced click, and also a second microphone. This additional mic serves a single, vital purpose: it makes Siri much more accurate on the Series 2 Watch than on its predecessor. I’ve always had major problems with Siri on Apple Watch, which seemed much less accurate than on iPhone. The Series 2 doesn’t entirely solve this, and it still makes noticeably more mistakes in voice recognition than the iPhone, but it’s much better with the new Watch – and a little bit faster.


Water resistance and swimming

One of the flagship new features, however, is increased water resistance. The Apple Watch has always had a degree of water resistance – it was rated for immersion in one metre of water for one minute – but the Series 2 takes this forward. A long way forward. Now, rather than simply being splashproof (or at your own risk shower-proof), you can swim with it at depths of up to 30m.

The way this works is a classic piece of Apple design: clever, economical and efficient. When you set swimming workout mode in the Workout app, it locks the screen to prevent accidental screen touches (because water conducts electricity and the screen uses capacitive sensors, a flow of water over it can “feel” to the watch like a finger’s pressure). When you’re swimming, it senses your stroke pattern and the distance travelled, in order to gauge how good a swimmer you are. This lets it give a more accurate set of data for your workout, based also on your gender, height, weight (if it knows it) and age.

Once you’ve finished the workout, you spin the digital crown and the Watch makes a strange sort of chirping sound. This is actually a tone being played through the speaker, which ejects any water in the speaker chamber, thus helping keep water out of the device.

One word of caution: if you’re going to swim with the Apple Watch, try and make sure it’s with a Sport band. Although leather and fabric won’t immediately die when wet, long-term, they won’t thank you for being immersed, especially if it’s chlorinated swimming-pool water.


GPS included

The biggest new feature for anyone interested in fitness is likely to be the inclusion of GPS. The lack of GPS in the previous version meant that if you were a runner, hiker or walker, you needed to keep your phone with you if you wanted to accurately track your speed, altitude or where your route took you. Now, you’re untethered from the phone, at least for location data.

Apple highlighted the ability of the GPS in the Apple Watch to lock onto a satellite quickly, something that’s essential if you don’t want to be waiting around to start your run. It does this by using assisted GPS (A-GPS), which essentially means it uses the Wi-Fi built into the Watch to narrow down where it’s located prior to starting its search for satellites. Once it has a rough location, it can then use this data to work out where satellites should be depending on your location, date and time, leading to a significantly faster lock-on.

In use, it’s close to instantaneous, although your surroundings will always affect how fast your device can lock onto a satellite. In urban areas, with multiple high buildings surrounding you, this is more tricky.

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