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Apple Watch Series 8 review: the best Apple Watch gets better

An Apple Watch Series 8 with the screen turned on.
Apple Watch Series 8
MSRP $399.00
“Powerful, comfortable, and familiar. The Apple Watch Series 8 isn't a revolution in Apple's portfolio, but it's still the best smartwatch you can buy.”
Pros
  • Sleek, comfortable design
  • Display is big and gorgeous
  • Excellent health features
  • Fast charge speeds
  • watchOS 9 is better than ever
  • Car crash detection
Cons
  • Temperature sensors are limited
  • Almost identical to the Series 7

In 2023, the Apple Watch is a known quantity — and one of the most recognizable products in Apple’s portfolio. That’s why when you look at the Apple Watch Series 8, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It’s bound to be easy to wear, have plenty of health features, and offer the best software you can find on any smartwatch.

After wearing the Apple Watch Series 8 for a while, I can confidently say that all of those things are true. Wearing the Series 8 has reminded me a lot of my Apple Watch Series 7 I’ve worn for the past year because, well, the Series 8 is practically identical to it. It’s very similar to the iPhone 14 in that way. Apple didn’t reinvent the wheel with the Apple Watch Series 8, and that’s because it’s already so far ahead of the curve that it doesn’t need to.

Call it “boring” or “bland” if you want, but that doesn’t stop the Apple Watch Series 8 from being the best smartwatch money can buy.

About our Apple Watch Series 8 review

This review was written and published by Joe Maring after using an Apple Watch Series 8 (provided by Apple for review purposes) for around two weeks. The six months later section toward the end of the review was written by Jesse Hollington after using an Apple Watch Series 8 (purchased by himself) for about six months.

Apple Watch Series 8: design

The always-on mode on an Apple Watch Series 8.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

What’s going on with the Apple Watch Series 8’s design? Well, it looks like an Apple Watch. Apple’s had a very clear and focused design approach ever since the original Apple Watch debuted in 2014, and while new models have improved things over the years, the general aesthetics haven’t changed very much. When you have a design foundation that’s this good, it’s understandable why that is.

Whether you get the Apple Watch Series 8 in the 41mm or 45mm trim (the version I have), both feel fantastic to wear all day long — and even throughout the night if you’re interested in sleep tracking. The watch sits comfortably on my wrist, the squircle shape is one I personally love to look at, and a WR50 rating provides waterproofing for up to 50 meters of submersion.

The Digital Crown on an Apple Watch Series 8.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Apple’s execution of the Apple Watch’s design is also as excellent as it’s ever been. When you scroll through menus or notifications, the Digital Crown feels wonderful to interact with. Pressing the side button below it offers great tactility to swap apps or open Apple Wallet. When you’re ready to put on a new watch band, Apple’s band system is among the easiest to use.

If you’ve never liked how the Apple Watch looks, the Apple Watch Series 8 doesn’t do anything to change that opinion. But if you do like how the Apple Watch looks and feels, the Series 8 is more of what you love.

Apple Watch Series 8: screen

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

The standout feature of the Apple Watch Series 7 was its larger screen and slimmer bezels, enabling you to see more content on the tiny display than ever before. The Apple Watch Series 8 recycles that same design, and just like last year, it creates a truly impressive viewing experience. Watch faces have room to shine, notifications creep out to the very edges of the screen, and navigating apps/menus never feels restrictive — especially on the larger 45mm model.

And it’s not just the size of the screen that’s so impressive. Colors pop with vibrancy, text is easily readable, and the 1,000 nits of peak brightness ensure you can easily read the watch even in broad daylight.

The always-on mode on an Apple Watch Series 8.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

When you’re not interacting with apps or notifications, the Apple Watch Series 8 has an always-on display to show a dimmed version of your watch face at all times. The Apple Watch has had an always-on display since the Series 5, so while it’s nothing new, it still remains one of my favorite Apple Watch features. Being able to subtly glance down and see the time, weather, and other info without needing to raise my wrist is enormously convenient — and one of the biggest missing features from the cheaper Apple Watch SE 2.

Apple Watch Series 8: health and activity

An Apple Watch Series 8 running the Activity app.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The market for health/fitness trackers in 2023 is crowded, to say the least. From Fitbit, Garmin, Oura, Amazon Halo, Whoop, Amazfit, and more, the myriad of options to track your daily activity often feels overwhelming. Despite all of that, Apple has done an incredible job of making the Apple Watch’s health and activity suite feel simultaneously approachable, intuitive, and comprehensive.

The crux of activity tracking on the Apple Watch Series 8 revolves around your activity rings — more specifically, your Move, Exercise, and Stand rings. Each one encourages you to burn calories, perform X amount of exercise minutes, and get up and stand throughout the day. It’s one of the most recognizable activity metrics around and has created something of a cultural phenomenon to “close your rings” every day.

WatchOS 9 software with its new workout screens.
New Workout views in watchOS 9 Apple

If you’ve ever used an Apple Watch, you’ll know precisely why that is. Aiming to close your rings each day is fun, challenging, and a clear metric to work toward. It’s still not great at promoting recovery days, but third-party apps (like Gentler Streak) help to fill that void.

To measure your ring progress throughout the day, the Apple Watch Series 8 records a vast array of health metrics.  It tracks your steps, distance, resting and active energy, and 24/7 heart rate. There’s also an ECG app to get on-demand ECG readings, a SpO2 sensor for manual and automatic blood-oxygen level tracking, and sleep tracking to measure the quality of your slumber at night. You can use all of these features if you’d like, pick and choose the ones you want, or ignore all of them.

Apple Watch Series 8 showing sleep tracking results.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

While health tracking on Apple Watch Series 8 is nearly identical to previous models, Apple’s watchOS 9 software does add a few nifty additions. Some exercises now show heart rate zones in real time, making it much easier to gauge the intensity of your workouts.

Speaking of workouts, watchOS 9 allows you to create custom workout routines that you can tweak with custom time, distance, calorie, and pacer goals. And when it comes time to rest up, watchOS 9 adds sleep stages to show you how much time you’ve spent in REM, Core, and Deep sleep (critical data that was previously missing in watchOS 8).

Apple Watch Series 8: temperature sensors

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

That said, there is one new hardware addition to the Apple Watch Series 8’s health toolkit — a pair of temperature sensors. Using one sensor on the back and another underneath the display, the Apple Watch Series 8 tracks your wrist temperature and displays those readings in the Health app on your iPhone. You need to enable sleep tracking and wear the Series 8 for about five nights before it establishes a baseline, but once that’s done, you’ll see a new Wrist Temperature section in the Health app.

Per Apple’s website, wrist temperature changes can be related to your “diet and exercise, alcohol consumption, sleep environment, or physiological factors such as menstrual cycles and illness.” It’s a neat metric to have, but I also don’t know what to do with it. I see my wrist temperature in the Health app, but there’s no guidance about what these numbers mean. My temperature was 1.05 degrees higher on September 19 but 0.59 degrees lower on September 26.

Apple Watch Series 8 health features.
Apple

There’s probably some meaning to that, but I have no idea what it is. I’ll give Apple credit for doing something out of the box with its temperature sensors (unlike the Galaxy Watch 5), but I’m much more interested in seeing what third-party apps do with this data.

There is another aspect of the Series 8’s temperature sensors, but it’s not a feature I’ve been able to test. After wearing the Apple Watch Series 8 for five nights, users who take advantage of Apple’s Cycle Tracking app will see retrospective estimates for when they last ovulated — something potentially very helpful for family planning.

Apple Watch Series 8: car crash detection

Car crash detection on Apple Watch Series 8.
Apple

There’s another Apple Watch Series 8 feature I haven’t been able to test, and it’s one I’m hoping that I never will. Like the iPhone 14, the Apple Watch Series 8 offers car crash detection. If you’re ever in a severe accident, the Series 8 will ask if you’re OK with a prompt to call emergency services. If you don’t respond to that prompt within 10 seconds, the call is automatically placed for you.

The feature appears to work quite well on this year’s iPhones, so it’s safe to assume it’s just as good on the Series 8. While I’m crossing my fingers that I (and anyone else with a Series 8) never have to use car crash detection, it is reassuring to know that it’s there — just in case.

Apple Watch Series 8: watchOS 9

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

When you buy an Apple Watch Series 8, watchOS 9 is the software powering it right out of the box. As mentioned above, watchOS 9 improves the health/fitness experience with new workout metrics and better sleep tracking. But that’s not all.

In typical Apple fashion, watchOS 9 brings a few new watch faces to keep your watch feeling fresh. Metropolitan is my personal favorite, which is an analog clock with customizable numerals and has plenty of room for complications. There’s a charming face called Playtime, which is a digital face that turns the numbers into playful characters.

If you’re an astronomy nut, the Lunar face has a full breakdown of the current lunar calendar. Apple also updated the Astronomy watch face to better utilize the Series 8’s large display, while the Modular, Modular Compact, and X-Large faces can now be customized with full-color backgrounds.

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

Along with checking out the new watch faces, I’ve also had a lot of fun playing with watchOS 9’s new Compass app. By default, the Compass app shows the current direction and degree you’re facing, along with a permanent marker for north at the top of the screen. You can rotate the Digital Crown up to get a more detailed view of your elevation, incline, latitude, and longitude.

Where the Compass app gets really interesting is with its Backtrack feature. From the Compass app, tap the footprint icon at the bottom right corner and start walking. The app keeps a log of where you go and shows a visual outline of your path in real time. When you’re done, tap the pause icon and then Retrace Steps to follow the path back from which you came. To make things even more interesting, you can create custom waypoints along the way to help you remember where a lake, hill, or another point of interest is.

Apple Watch Series 8 running the Compass app.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

I used the Compass app and the Backtrack feature while out walking around a local nature preserve, and it actually proved quite handy. I took a different path than I normally do, got a bit turned around, and was able to look at my starting point and easily walk back toward it. It’s not a tool I’ll use daily, but it was very convenient to have.

There’s plenty more with watchOS 9 to sink your teeth into. The Medications app is a great way to track the medicine and vitamins you regularly take, users with atrial fibrillation can now track their AFib history, and the Calendar app finally lets you create events right on your wrist.

Apple Watches with different WatchOS 9 features.
Apple

watchOS has always been far ahead of wearable software from the competition, and while watchOS 9 isn’t an overhaul of that experience, it does make it better in some very key ways. All of these things work beautifully on the Apple Watch Series 8, and if you have an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer, you can experience them right now with a free software update — no new Series 8 required.

Apple Watch Series 8: battery and charging

Apple Watch Series 8 showing how much battery is remaining.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch has always been a reliable one-day smartwatch, and with the Series 8, that’s no different. While you won’t find the next-level endurance of the Apple Watch Ultra, there’s plenty of power here for all-day use without battery anxiety.

During my time wearing the Apple Watch Series 8, I’ve ended each day somewhere in the 40% to 30% battery remaining range. One day saw me put on the Series 8 at about 6:00 am and find myself at 9:15 pm with 48% battery still available. That was after tracking a 20-minute core workout on Apple Fitness+, receiving constant notifications throughout the day, using a couple of timers while cooking dinner, and having the always-on screen enabled.

On a more intensive day, I took the Series 8 off the charger at 9:00 a.m. and had another day filled with notifications and the always-on screen. I also tracked a 1.8-mile outdoor walk and used the Backtrack feature on the Compass app for 40 minutes. I had 33% battery remaining at 2:03 a.m. and woke up at 8:00 a.m. with 23% remaining after tracking my (much too short) sleep.

Just like last year, the Apple Watch Series 8 supports fast charging speeds. It easily goes from 0 to over 80% in 45 minutes and reaches a full battery in around an hour. That’s fast enough to throw the Series 8 on the charger when you wake up after a night of sleep tracking, get ready for the day ahead, and then take it off the charger with a full battery ready to go.

Apple Watch Series 8: six months later

Person wearing Apple Watch showing Sleep Tracking information.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

Mobile writer Jesse Hollington has been wearing an Apple Watch since the first Series 0 came along in 2015, and while he’s not prone to upgrading every year, he decided last fall the Apple Watch Series 8 marked a good time to move up from the Series 5 — a model that he’s long considered the sweet spot in the Apple Watch lineup. Here’s what he has to say after five months with Apple’s latest wearable on his wrist.

The Apple Watch Series 8 may not have been the most exciting upgrade to my trusty Series 5, but it’s proven itself worthwhile. The battery life remains fantastic, and I have yet to end a day in the red; even after heavy use, with multiple workouts and audio streaming over cellular, I’ve never gone to bed with less than 25% remaining. That’s more than enough for a full night of sleep tracking, and it’s the exception; most days, I wake up with 30% to 40% remaining after it’s spent 23 hours on my wrist.

As I mentioned in October, I’m not all-in on the sleep tracking features as I like to give my wrist time to breathe once in a while, so I tend to use it weeknights when I’m on a more regular schedule, and then take it easy on Fridays and Saturdays. Still, the enhancements in sleep tracking capabilities are probably one of the nicest upgrades found in the Series 8. For one thing, the faster charging makes it practical to wear the watch to bed at night without sacrificing daytime use. I can pop my Apple Watch Series 8 on the fast charger before I get in the shower in the morning, and it will be charged up and ready to go by the time I’m done with my coffee.

More significantly, the new body temperature sensor only works while you’re sleeping, and it does provide some interesting metrics that can sometimes be insightful. In my case, it provided a clue when COVID-19 finally caught up with me for the first time in December, showing a spike of 1.39 degrees Celsius (2.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over my normal baseline temperature when I woke up that morning. A rapid test confirmed the presence of the virus, and the bout turned out to be mercifully short-lived, with my watch confirming that the fever had broken by the next morning.

Apple Health app on iPhone showing Apple Watch Body Temperature measurement chart.
Jesse Hollington / Digital Trends

The accuracy of the other Apple Watch health sensors seems to have improved on the Series 8 as well. Some of this is likely a result of tweaks in watchOS 9, but there are clearly some hardware improvements here, too. Metrics like VO2 Max and heart rate seem faster and more precise than they did on my Series 5, and notifications for things like high heart rate come up more consistently. For me, that just means I need to follow my doctor’s advice to stop stuffing myself with large meals and get out and walk more, but these are important notifications that can be critical in alerting folks to more serious conditions; it’s something I wouldn’t have known to ask my doctor about had I not been informed of them by my Apple Watch

Beyond that, the Apple Watch Series 8 remains every bit the powerful iPhone companion that it’s been since the first model came out — just better in many subtle but useful ways. I use mine with an iPhone 14 Pro Max, but you don’t need the latest and greatest iPhone to enjoy the Apple Watch Series 8. It will work great with any iPhone capable of running iOS 16, which means the 2017 iPhone 8 or later.

Apple Watch Series 8: price and availability

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

The Apple Watch Series 8 is available for purchase now. It starts at $399 for the 41mm aluminum case with GPS only. Stepping up to the 45mm aluminum case with GPS will run you $429. If you want to add LTE cellular connectivity, the price goes up by $100 to $429 and $529, respectively.

You can also get the Apple Watch Series 8 with a more premium stainless steel case. Here, the 41mm GPS/LTE model costs $749, and the 45mm version is $799.

Apple Watch Series 8: verdict

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

There’s nothing surprising or shocking about the Apple Watch Series 8. It does all of the Apple Watch things you expect in 2023, with some added niceties to make it better than ever.

Like the iPhone 14 and iPhone 13 comparison, there’s no need to upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 8 if you already have a Series 7. The chipset is virtually identical, the screen and design are the same, and you’ll get the same watchOS 9 software experience. But if you’re coming from an Apple Watch Series 6 or older, I think there’s enough here to justify an upgrade. The large display is a joy to look at and interact with, fast charging can be a lifesaver, and the temperature sensors and car crash detection — while not immediately useful for everyone — are really nice to have. And you get all of that at the same $399 price Apple’s been charging for Apple Watches for the last few years.

The Apple Watch Series 8 may not be a revolutionary chapter in the Apple Watch story, but as another entry in the family, it’s a remarkably good one. If you have an iPhone, want a smartwatch, and need more functionality than what the Apple Watch SE provides, the Apple Watch Series 8 is our new go-to recommendation. Just like the Series 7, it really is that good.

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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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