Welcome to So You Think You Want a Smartwatch: Season 2, where we try to identify whether you actually want a smartwatch, and which one is best for you.
First question: Do you have an iPhone? Yes? Then step right up and check out the Apple Watch Series 2! It’s faster, brighter, and much more waterproof than last year’s model. It’s still super stylish and modern looking, too, and it’ll whip you into shape. But is it the right smartwatch for you? Well, we’ve been using one for the past four days in an effort to find out. Here’s what I learned.
Familiar Apple watch design is now waterproof
Nothing to see here, ladies and gents! Apple’s new Watch Series 2 looks just like last year’s Watch — which is to say, it’s lovely. It has the same curvy, rectangular shape and it’s about the same thickness. It still comes in two sizes: 38mm and 42mm. All the same Apple Watch bands and accessories are compatible with the new model, and you can choose from a number of different finishes. We tested the 38mm sport model with the Milanese band we bought last year; we also had a sports band to test the sporty features.
Now that the Watch Series 2’s body is entirely waterproof, you can safely submerge it in up to 50 meters of liquid and even take it swimming. The display locks when it’s submerged. Every nook, cranny, and crevice has been hermetically sealed to prevent leakage, and the speaker is specially designed to eject water every time the Watch peeks its face above water.
Apple’s new Watch Series 2 looks just like last year’s Watch, which is to say, it’s lovely.
We dunked the Watch underwater for 30 minutes and pulled it out to test the feature. If you want to trigger the ejection of water, you just swipe up from the bottom of the screen; tap the water droplet, and then turn the digital crown until it squirts out all the water inside. It’s really neat to see the Watch spitting like this.
Last year’s Apple Watch was only splashproof, so the addition of full waterproofing and swimming features is a huge win for Apple. It’s one of the first major smartwatches to be waterproofed to this degree and fit for swimming. The Pebble, Nixon Mission, Casio WSD-F10, and some Garmin watches are your main alternatives, and none is as fashionable or slim as the Apple Watch. They’re much more sporty looking.
New OLED screen tech also makes the Series 2 display the “brightest that Apple has ever shipped on any product” at 1,000 nits — around the same level as high dynamic range (HDR) televisions. Although the first Apple Watch had a brighter display than many other smartwatches, the Series 2 blows it away. You can actually read everything in full sunlight, yet the dark theme in WatchOS 3 never blinds you with tons of annoying white light.
The Apple Watch’s design still looks as futuristic, sleek, and modern as it did the day it launched. While everyone else goes round, Apple is stubbornly sticking to the curvy rectangle. Even though many of us sometimes wish the Apple Watch were round, every time I strap it on my wrist, it just looks so good.
Part of its unique appeal still lies with the size. Apple is the only company that makes a smartwatch that fits my wrist comfortably and doesn’t look like a hockey puck. I’ve tried to love the round women’s Moto 360, the Huawei Watch, and the Fossil Q Wander, but they’re all a bit too big. Sure, they’re better looking than most other smartwatches that claim to be “gender neutral,” but they’re still not as natural looking on a small wrist as the 38mm Apple Watch.
Then there are the watch faces. Apple offers a number of feminine faces, including Minnie Mouse, flowers, butterflies, and a variety of color combinations for simple, minimal looks. The cherry on top is the wide array of bands you can buy from Apple and third parties that are feminine. Other smartwatch makers may think of women to a degree when they make their products, but nobody is as female-friendly as Apple.
WatchOS 3 and a better processor work miracles
WatchOS 3 breathed new life into the first-generation Apple Watch, and it runs even better on the Series 2. That’s thanks to a cutting-edge processor called the S2, which has dual cores and a GPU that’s twice as powerful as the first Watch’s chip. It is noticeably faster than the first one. On Series 2, apps load almost instantly, especially when you pop them in your dock. The dock is just a button press away from the home screen, too, making it much easier to access your favorite apps than before.
In terms of smartwatch features, WatchOS 3 makes the Apple Watch Series 2 a real success. Our favorite feature is the reminder to breathe and take a moment to meditate a bit each day. It’s a much-needed feature for busy people who forget to breathe well when they’re stressed. Reminders to stand up from time to time are helpful too, albeit sometimes annoying.
Messaging is much better on the Watch now, as well. You can quickly reply to texts by tapping twice in quick succession. New animated stickers and full-screen effects allow you to express yourself “more visually.” And you can write custom replies with a scribble, even in Chinese. There’s a built-in safety feature that lets you program an SOS message to be sent in the event of an emergency, too.
Apple’s new Watch also has GPS on board, so it’s no longer reliant on a phone for location data. That means you don’t have to bring an iPhone along anymore when you’re out running, biking, or swimming.
To trigger the GPS, just start an outdoor workout. Continuous GPS can go for about five hours before you’ll run out of battery, which is decent — good enough for a marathon, Apple told us. Your route isn’t visible on your watch in real time, but you should really be focused on your workout – not your wrist – when you’re running down the street. It felt freeing to escape my phone for an hour, and it was still very cool to see a map of my route on the iPhone when I got back home.
Now the Apple Watch can track swimming, too, which is a big deal for water sports enthusiasts and swimmers alike. The watch will even learn your body’s movements to better record your workouts over time, and still tracks your heart rate, too.
These new features make the new Apple Watch a much better fitness tracker, though we wish it supported more activities natively –things like yoga for example. It’s not going to show you your route in real time, as Samsung’s Gear Fit 2 or more sport-oriented wearables will, nor does it auto track different activities, which is a shame. If you just want a fitness tracker, you don’t need Apple. But if you want both a fitness tracker and smartwatch features in an appealing package, there’s no better option than the Apple Watch.
Battery life is a solid day
The Apple Watch Series 2 has a slightly bigger battery than the original, but it will still really last you through just one day before you need to charge it. Most smartwatches last about the same, and if you don’t use GPS too much, it could possibly last you a day and a half or two. It really depends on how much you use it, but you’ll probably have to charge it at night. The same Apple Watch charger works with the Series 2, so no worries there.
Tons of different models to choose from
Just like last year, the Apple Watch Series 2 comes in a wide array of styles, materials, and colors. Stainless steel and aluminum finishes are still available, and there’s a new ceramic option. All the same Apple Watch bands work with the new models, so you have options ranging from around $50 up to insane price points like $690.
Pricing starts at $370 for the base model of the Apple Watch Series 2 with a sport band, and races up from there. The 14K gold Edition model is gone, but you can still be a high roller who drops a grand on the Apple Watch if you get a Hermès band or the ceramic model.
Apple is big on collaborations with high-end brands, so it continued its partnership with Hermès to offer two new leather straps: one with a single silver buckle ($1,399) and one with a double buckle design ($689).
In a nod to the sporty crowd, Apple teamed up with Nike to make a special activity-focused Apple Watch called the Nike+. It’s really just an Apple Watch Series 2 with special software and a perforated band that’s supposed to be breathable and durable enough to handle workouts. The Apple Watch Nike+ starts at $370, same as the Series 2, and debuts in October. We look forward to testing it.
The Apple Watch is still among the priciest smartwatches you can buy, but its base model is nearly on par with the competition at $370. If you want to save some dough, first-gen Android Wear watches can now be had for as low as $270.
Warranty and customer service information
Apple has a one-year limited warranty for the Apple Watch, which covers defects and other manufacturing issues, but not accidental damage like smashed screens.
You can also get AppleCare+ for your Apple Watch, which gives you expert phone support and more coverage, including up to two incidents of accidental damage each with a service fee. The $50 extended warranty adds two more years of coverage to most models, though the Edition and Hermes ones get three years of coverage.
Luckily, if something should go wrong with your new Watch, Apple has the best customer service in the industry. If you live near an Apple Store, you can schedule an appointment with the Genius bar and have your device looked at. The technician will let you know what’s wrong and walk you through potential solutions. Apple will often repair your device on the same day you bring it into the store, which isn’t something you can say about any other smartwatch maker.
If you don’t live near an Apple Store, you can start a live chat with an Apple rep online. Apple’s customer service is exceptional – there’s really no competition in this space.
Competition is scarce, and Apple is king
Apple may have been late to the smartwatch game, but it is the undisputed ruler of the realm now. Apple sold the most smartwatches of any company in 2015, and now sits second only to Rolex in the larger watch market. Given Apple’s clear dominance and Android Wear’s struggles, most of Google’s partners haven’t released new smartwatches in 2016.
So right now, you have a choice between the new Apple Watch, the brand-new Samsung Gear S3 watches (large watches for men that work only on Android, and best with Samsung phones), and some new Fossil Android Wear watches (which are less techy and more for the fashion crowd).
Watch OS 3 makes the Apple Watch Series 2 a real success.
Although the newest version of Android Wear is a big improvement over the initial release, it’s not available to download just yet. It’s also still not the most intuitive smartwatch OS we’ve used. That award goes to Samsung’s Tizen-powered Gear OS — and Apple’s WatchOS 3.
If you’re an iPhone user, the Apple Watch Series 2 is the one for you. Only some Android Wear features work on iOS, and most hardware is a year old now, which doesn’t bode well for the competition. But if you’re set on an Android Wear watch, your best choice at present is the Huawei Watch, which comes closest to being gender-neutral and attractive.
For most women, the 38mm Apple Watch is still your only viable smartwatch choice. Unless you have bigger wrists or prefer large watches (newsflash, tech world: women don’t), any Android Wear watch will look slightly silly on your wrist. Yes, even the Huawei Watch, the second-gen Moto 360, and Fossil’s Q Wander, all of which offer watches for the ladies, are a bit big on the wrist.
The DT Accessory Pack
I still see more women wearing Apple Watches than I do men, and I rarely see anyone on the street wearing anything else. It’s still the one to buy for the small-wristed.
It’s still totally debatable as to whether you need a smartwatch at all, however. No one, including Apple, has made a strong case yet as to why you need to shell out $370 for another device that’s largely dependent on your phone. Even we aren’t convinced, and we’re geeks! If you really want to track your fitness, there are dozens of cheaper devices to chose from. However, smartwatch fans who want everything – notifications, apps, fitness, and mindfulness – need look no further than the Apple Watch.
If you already have an Apple Watch, you don’t need to upgrade. Just wait for the third Apple Watch – the tech will be much more advanced by then, especially if Apple waits a year and a half before its next upgrade.