It’s been two years since the first Apple Watch was unveiled, and in that time the wearables market has changed considerably – but what can’t be denied is that Tim Cook’s crew made the best-selling smartwatch by some distance, and has refined that in some key areas for the Apple Watch Series 2.
That doesn’t mean it was the perfect device for your wrist though – far from it. While Apple promised that its Watch would, like a ‘normal’ watch, continue to function well for a number of years, there were instantly some reservations about its limitations.
A single day on battery? No GPS? An initial lack of apps and, dare we say it, no obvious point to having this on your wrist? Sure, it’s good to know whether someone has sent you a message worth reading, but beyond that it seemed a luxury rather than a necessity.
In the intervening two years we’ve seen smartwatches with three- to four-day battery life emerge, at the same time packing in GPS connectivity, advanced fitness tracking and a whole host of apps too – Apple needed to step up.
The good news is that it has, with the new device bringing a raft of new features that will make it much more exciting and attractive to prospective smartwatch wearers. Apple has also teamed up with Nike to offer a dedicated running variant of the watch, although it only brings an app and a new strap.
Apple Watch Series 2 price and release date
In terms of cost, the Apple Watch 2 price has been set at something similar to previous years, with the base Watch model costing $369 (about £275, AU$480). The original Apple Watch, now called the Apple Watch Series 1, will cost $269 (about £200, AU$350).
There’s also a new ceramic version, and that’s going to set you back $1249 from the start (which is an unfair £1249 in the UK and AU$1799) – it’s a beautiful model, but not one that’s worth that kind of money.
The Apple Watch Series 2 – thankfully – won’t be subjected to the same kind of delay we had to endure in 2014 – so instead of waiting months, you’ll be able to get your hands on one of these from September 16, the same day the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus go on sale.
The design of the Apple Watch Series 2 hasn’t really evolved too much from the original, with the same square frame encompassing the glass screen that was seen on the first Apple Watch.
It is waterproof now though, which is a big deal for people that like swimming – it’s now one of the activities you can get the Watch to track from the workouts menu.
Despite the similar design, Apple hasn’t said anything about the Watch 2 being a device that can last any longer than before – presumably that was ‘good enough’ in the brand’s eyes, and now that it’s a watch with GPS, there was no room to make the battery last longer.
That said, the Apple Watch was always one of the more attractive devices in the smartwatch world, so the lack of a major design upgrade this time around isn’t really that much of a shock – and while it’s a touch thicker, we’re talking less than a millimetre compared to the previous generation.
We’re still seeing the same digital crown and single button – both of which are now more useful since WatchOS 3 was unveiled. They’re smooth, clear, and easy to hit when on the wrist, and while the design hasn’t changed dramatically, it’s what it can now do that matters.
The amount of designs seems to be limited more to the bands – the aforementioned ceramic version is the most expensive, and there are the stainless steel and aluminium options too, all with varying prices.
It looks like the hyper-expensive ‘Edition’ range is no more. Shame. Apple must have sold three and been able to fund the entire project for the next fifteen years.
Apple was notoriously secretive about its screen on the first Apple Watch, and with the same 38mm and 42mm sizes on offer this time around, things haven’t changed.
However, the display on the first Watch was one of the best things about it, using a flexible OLED display with a high level of sharpness underneath sapphire or ion-X glass (depending on whether you go for the Sport model or not) according to DisplayMate.
The overall effect is similar on the new Apple Watch 2, with the screen remaining the same size but massively boosted when it comes to brightness – it’s twice as bright and makes everything look more clear and vivid on the screen. It’s also going to be excellent for bright sunshine.
Force Touch is back again, enabling you to press harder on the display to activate different elements such as changing settings – although Apple seems to have moved away from this option in the way WatchOS 3 works, instead letting you do a lot of things with swipes.
We were hoping for an ‘always on’ display, but once again you’ll need to raise it to see what time it is. Sadly Apple couldn’t figure this one out in the way other watches have managed to.
The big changes in the Apple Watch 2 are on the fitness side, where GPS being on board has enabled it to do more autonomously from your iPhone. Apple’s got some interesting changes here, with the water resistance the main change.
That means you can now track your swims in the pool or in open water – and Apple’s Jeff Williams lambasted current sporting watches as too complex, not able to give you the notifications you want when you want them.
While the changes have been welcome on the Apple Watch Series 2, there’s not a lot of information that can really be used well here. For instance, the Apple Watch can work out the size of your pool rather than you having to input it. Fine, that makes sense – it can also learn your stroke length over time to work out how far you’ve gone.
But what if it’s wrong and doesn’t track the distance correctly? How does it know how long your stroke is? The simplicity of the watch is also its greatest drawback, as the inability to fiddle with settings is something of an issue if the results are wrong. And if you can’t trust what you’re seeing, then you’ll come to disregard it as a training tool.
Apple went big on saying this was one of the best watches for runners as well, with the GPS inside being able to track you accurately without the phone needed. It’s a possibility, but Nike+ was lauded as the most fancy app on offer for the new Watch, and the ‘advanced mode’ there could basically show you distance, time or BPM from your heart rate.
The last one isn’t even really that accurate – the heart rate monitor hasn’t changed on the new Apple Watch, and that means it won’t be much good for running still.
This needs a good testing before we can properly say whether or not it’s any good for a runner – but I feel that it’s still a bit too simplistic.
The battery life of the Apple Watch was one of the contentious elements, and that will actually drop ever so slightly when WatchOS 3 hits – the new operating system drains things a touch more thanks to the dock of apps kept in the background.
However, the drop will be minimal thanks to the more efficient way the platform works (and the lack of swipes needed to get to your favorite stuff), and Apple’s extended battery life slightly in the Watch 2.
However, there’s not the big change we were expecting here – Apple isn’t suddenly managing to get three or four days between charges, and is miles away from the 10 days that devices like the Pebble 2 can manage with its low-power E-ink display.
Apple’s stayed worryingly coy on the subject of battery life, so it’s assumed that all-day battery life is once again on offer – with GPS on board, it’ll be interesting to see how well that can last if you still want to use it as a smartwatch too.
The big question is whether these changes are enough – sure, the fitness credentials are good, and a solid upgrade, but these are the things we were hoping to see last time around, rather than having to wait two years for.
But then again, the smartwatch market is incredibly turbulent, and while Apple never disclosed sales figures of its first Watch, it was certainly the best-selling device of its kind by an absolute street.
The Apple Watch Series 2 builds on that success, comes with water resistance and fitness smarts and a brighter, more useful screen – but it’s iterative again.
That said, the most exciting thing is going to be seeing how these new fitness elements work day to day – and we’ll be bringing you one of the most in-depth reviews on the web very soon.