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A weekend with the Apple Watch Series 8 gave me a severe case of déjà vu

The Apple Watch Series 8 —Apple’s latest entry into the wearable space — is a reality. Announced on September 7 and officially launched on September 16, the Series 8 continues Apple’s dominance in the smartwatch space. It has a tried-and-true design, a big display, ample performance, and robust health tracking. If you know and love the Apple Watch formula, you’re getting more of that with the Apple Watch Series 8.

But what about the Series 8 is actually new? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself since the watch was announced during Apple’s Far Out event. It looks just like the Series 7, has a nearly identical feature set, and is priced exactly the same. After spending 48 hours with the Apple Watch Series 8 this past weekend, I feel like I can confidently answer that question. Not much is new with the Apple Watch Series 8, and while that may not make it very exciting, it also ensures it’s still the go-to smartwatch for anyone with an iPhone.

A very good, very familiar Apple Watch

An Apple Watch Series 8 with the display turned on.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

If you’ve used the Apple Watch Series 7, Series 6, or even the three-year-old Series 5, the Apple Watch Series 8 will feel right at home to you. Hardware-wise, the Series 8 uses the same shape and body as the Series 7. That means it comes in 41 and 45mm sizes with a large display and extremely slim bezels.

Like its predecessor, the screen on the Series 8 looks fantastic. Colors are vibrant, the expansive screen real estate feels wonderfully futuristic, and the tiny bezels let watch faces and apps shine. The always-on display introduced with the Series 5 also returns, giving you persistent information on your wrist even when you aren’t actively looking at it.

An Apple Watch Series 8 showing its always-on display.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

When you are looking and interacting with the Apple Watch Series 8, the smartwatch flies with speed. Under the hood is Apple’s S8 chipset, and while the name is new, the tech inside is identical to the S7 chip in the Series 7… which was also the same as the S6 inside the Series 6. Although Apple hasn’t significantly improved performance over the last couple of years, the Apple Watch Series 8 easily stands tall as one of the snappiest smartwatches around. I would like to see some progress next year with a more capable chip for the sake of futureproofing, but as it stands today, the S8 in the Series 8 has yet to leave me yearning for more horsepower.

Also great is the Apple Watch Series 8’s health and fitness suite. I’ve been using an Apple Watch as my primary fitness tracking device for the last few years, and the Series 8 has all of the features I’ve come to expect. There’s all-day activity tracking, sleep tracking, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, an ECG app, SpO2 tracking, and end-to-end encrypted cycle tracking to handle a user’s menstrual cycle. From tracking exercises, getting reminders to move, and checking my daily activity, the Series 8 is just as good in this regard as the last couple of Apple Watches.

The back of an Apple Watch Series 8.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Battery life is another area where the Apple Watch Series 8 is very familiar. The Apple Watch has always been a one-day wearable, and the Series 8 is no different. I started my first full day with the smartwatch at 8:00 a.m. and finally ended the day at 1:20 a.m. with 35% battery left in the tank. That day included a constant stream of notifications, the always-on display enabled, and tracking a four-mile walk for a little over an hour. After tracking my sleep for about six hours, I woke up with 26% battery remaining at 7:15 a.m. There’s plenty of endurance to go about your day and track a night’s worth of sleep, but you will need to charge up at some point before embarking on the next day.

How’s the temperature sensor?

Ovulation alert on Apple Watch Series 8.

All of the above have made the Apple Watch Series 8 a great smartwatch to have on my wrist over the last two days — but these were also things that made the Apple Watch Series 7 fantastic. Where does the Series 8 get to stand out as something new?

The hallmark feature this year is a duo of temperature sensors, including one on the back and another under the display. Using these temperature sensors, the Apple Watch Series 8 can analyze your baseline body temperature and look for nightly changes to it. And if you use Apple’s cycle tracking features, the temperature sensors can retrospectively identify when you’ve ovulated — potentially very helpful if you’re trying to have a baby.

Unfortunately, a weekend hasn’t been enough time to see the results from the temperature sensors. Apple says you need to wear the Series 8 for about five days before it can establish your baseline temperature and start showing changes to it. While I’m not someone who can use the temperature sensors for cycle tracking or family planning, I am curious to look at my nightly temperature changes when that data finally becomes available to me.

Apple’s showcase for WatchOS 9

An Apple Watch Series 8 running the Compass app in WatchOS 9.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

What else is new? Besides the temperature sensors and Apple’s new car crash detection (the same one found in the iPhone 14), the Apple Watch Series 8 really serves as a showcase for everything that’s new in WatchOS 9. And Apple doesn’t shy away from this fact at all. The Series 8 product page on Apple’s website has huge callouts for improved sleep tracking, the new Medications app, heart rate zones while exercising, and customizable workouts that you can tailor exactly how you want.

During my weekend with the Apple Watch Series 8, I found a few other WatchOS 9 goodies that I particularly like. The new Low Power Mode is a great way to eke out a little extra battery when you need it, the Compass app with its Backtrack feature has enormous potential, and I really love the new watch faces.

The Metropolitan watch face is a gorgeous addition, featuring a customizable analog clock with room for complications on each corner. You can also now edit the Modular face with full-color backgrounds, giving it a wonderful visual pop that it didn’t have before.

All of these features are great, but they’re all highlights of WatchOS 9. While they work well on the Series 8, they’re also bound to be just as helpful on the Series 7, Series 6, Series 5, etc.

Time for more testing

Apple Watch Series 8 showing its App Library.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Where does that leave me with the Apple Watch Series 8? Although I’ve only been wearing the smartwatch for a couple of days, I feel like I’m already deeply familiar with it. And coming from someone who’s been wearing an Apple Watch Series 7 for the past year, that’s not surprising.

As with the baseline iPhone 14, I’ve seen plenty of people up in arms about how similar the Apple Watch Series 8 is to its predecessor. It certainly is far from an exciting yearly upgrade, but this isn’t a watch meant for folks rocking last year’s model. This is a smartwatch for someone with an Apple Watch Series 3, Series 4, or a Series 5. In that regard, the Apple Watch Series 8 makes a good argument for being worth the $399 asking price.

I need more time to form my full thoughts and put them into a review, but so far, the Apple Watch Series 8 is making the exact impression I thought it would. It’s not a game-changing smartwatch. It’s also not particularly exciting. But it takes the excellent formula of the Series 7 and makes it a little better, and that’s a recipe I don’t anticipate myself complaining about any time soon.

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Joe Maring
Joe Maring is the Section Editor for Digital Trends' Mobile team, leading the site's coverage for all things smartphones…
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