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Apple Watch Series 2 Review: Watch or Fitness Band? - Tech Altar

Apple didn’t create the wearable segment that we now enjoy so thoroughly, but for whatever reason they’ve used their market position to make it something of a normal part of conversation. The Watch (now Series 1, of course) isn’t the most feature-packed and definitely not the speediest of devices, but it was one that nearly outsold all of the competition. Why? Appeal, fans, the mobile crowd already safely ensconced in their eco-system. Regardless of why, Apple is on a roll and they’ve taken that role quite seriously now. There’s now a lot of competition in the realm of fitness wearable devices, though Apple still continues, despite apparent logic with the older, slower and much less robust platform.

Watch Series 2 doesn’t shy away from sweat

The Apple Watch Series 2 is their latest device and it improves upon the predecessor in a number of very significant ways, fixing the aging hardware platform and subsequently improving battery performance by a massive margin. They’ve used their Apple “magic” and molded a new type of watch that directly resembled the old, just with better stuff. Stuff that you and I might actually find useful in real life, and in actually using it. The Watch Series 2 will be more valuable if it fills a niche and does so in an actual functional way. Sure having a nice watch, of any sort, on your wrist is great, but what if it did stuff that fits in with your daily routine. Even better. But it has to seamlessly melt into that routine and not be a hindrance, or require any obtuse extra steps to truly be of value.

Apple continues with the original design, using either a stainless steel or aluminum for the outer case. This time they’ve also included a rather striking all ceramic design that’s purported to be much stronger and resistant to physical trauma than the others. It’s quite good looking, though a bit more expensive than the traditional materials. Ceramics are great, compounds of them used for armor against high velocity impacts. Though it’s designed to shatter, spreading out the forces so that it doesn’t go any further, slowing the projectile down. Depending on the mixture of ceramics used here, it could be just as vulnerable to shattering with a large enough force. It’s not fragile, however.

Apple Watch Series 2

Apple Watch Series 2 Ergonomics

There are plenty of different bands, the previous generations included, that all fit the new design so you’re capable of customizing it nearly to your hearts content. The device, with the protruded dial and secondary button with speaker and microphone holes on the opposite side, is not unattractive in the least. It has a certain minimalist flair that’s an extension of the design language of our dear Jon Ivy. Underneath is the usual bevvy of sensors, using green light to read your heart rate known as photoplethysmography. The design is perhaps a bit thicker than a traditional watch though it’s not uncomfortable, nor does it stand out. If you don’t want it to of course. The slightly rounded underside where the sensors are actually contributing to it becoming invisible, until the haptics are felt, of course. It disappears on the wrist. Even if you’re unused to wearing such accoutrements (such as me), you’ll nary realize it’s there until it becomes useful. And it’s actually a useful little machine, a very useful machine.

At a glance information is startlingly valuable and quite convenient. Though you can generally have all the same information shown here featured on a number of other watches, the bright, clear OLED screen makes it very easily readable and quite hard to miss. Even a few weeks after the excitement and hype has worn off, I still find myself glancing at it throughout the day to see the weather outside and any number of things. That said, the watch face within watchOS 3 is highly customizable, separated into “complications” that turn into useful little widgets that show information regarding different apps. Quite interesting, but at the moment not all apps truly take advantage of having a wrist-mounted computer. Of course the Watch Series 2 isn’t quite as robust as some Android Wear competitors, though it does easily integrate into the Apple ecosystem if you happen to be ensconced into that. Not for nothing.

Apple Watch Series 2

Inside they’ve upgrade the internals to include a more massive battery and a more efficient and much faster custom dual-core SoC they’ve dubbed S2. This is the biggest, and perhaps the most welcome change. It wasn’t that the old watch lacked, per-se, but it definitely wasn’t up to snuff. As if it were an experiment that wasn’t quite complete. Also there’s a GPS and they’ve made it far more water resistant, so it won’t die from sweat or from taking a dip in the drink, up to 50m.

Also new is the OLED screen, and it’s quite improved in the amount of nits that it can provide to your eyeballs. Instead of a higher resolution, Apple has noticed that the problem is perhaps with daylight readability more than anything else. So now the Watch Series 2 can push up to 1000 nits of light into your retinas. Though just don’t expect the battery life to be anywhere near acceptable at that brightness. That’s a lot of photons. Without actual miniscule testing equipment I can’t confirm, though it’s certainly incredibly bright. Over the past few weeks we didn’t notice any OLED image retention issues either.

Apple Watch Series 2

The screen is magnificent, to say the least. It’s bright, of a high enough resolution that I can’t make out individual pixels, and refreshes quickly. It’s also responsive, despite some elements not being that easy for my clumsy fingers to press.

Having a personal assistant that’s able to do any task that you can, and likely do, on your phone on your wrist is a nice idea in theory, though in practice it does take some getting used to. The at a glance information is easy enough to integrate into your life, but going beyond that takes patience and practice. Certainly Siri is useful, for making appointments, sending quick messages and the like. But she’s a bit slower on the watch and not as intuitive to use as a result. Instead of off-loading processing power to your phone, the wee S2 SoC takes on the load, which it isn’t entirely up for.

Tracking your workouts is a breeze, easy as eating pie even. Just tap the appropriate button and you’re on your way. At least for anything involving large movements. But it tracks well and the GPS is pretty accurate for giving you distance traveled and the like. For weight lifting or any other type of exercise that doesn’t involve gross forward movements you’ll have to select “other”, though it does track your movements and heart rate enough to give a good approximation of the number of calories that you’ve burnt. It’s fairly accurate too.

Apple Watch Series 2

The exercise and activity tracking is great, with the Activity app quite likely being one of the better methods of helping you be more active. The rings are addictive, a bright swirling reward that works on the brain fairly well. Compared to using a more targeted activity tracker, I feel more compelled to move a bit more. More rewarded at the end of the day and better even. What’s missing, though, is a sleep tracking program. Though Apple is apparently working on adding that to the repertoire in the future. But it’s quite missed regardless.

What about the constant reminders to breath? Yeah, those are actually a welcome feature. It helps bring you out of your head for a few moments to help quiet things down. I was quite resistant at first, not wanting to break away from whatever it was that I was doing, though in the end it actually was a help. By taking a few moments, which is always recommended by nearly any doctor, it helped to refocus on what I was doing. And my heart rate calmed down appreciably. It’ll likely be an annoying feature, asking you insistently to just take a moment to breath. But if you allow yourself that moment the simple breathing exercise might actually be a good productivity tool. You just have to let it, which I suspect won’t be the case. If you hate it, you can turn it off though.

Apple Watch Series 2

Apple Watch Series 2 Battery Life

And now for the touchy issue that everyone is sure to be quite interested in: battery life. The previous iteration, and all smart watches to be honest, didn’t exactly deliver when it came to how long they’d last. You might barely get a day out of the Watch Series 1, and sometimes it didn’t last even that. More use and higher brightness naturally lessened it. This one, the Watch Series 2, has a slightly larger battery and more efficient, and faster, processer. It all adds up to what should be a much more lasting experience.

Here, even with a bit more capacity and that extra efficiency, it won’t last terribly long. In practice with a realistic amount of use, making a few reminders, texting and checking the weather a few times throughout the day, it went from 100% to 41% battery capacity left after 10 hours. Worn continually I found it lasted 18 hours total before shutting down to conserve power. Not terrible, but also not good either. Fitness devices that are more targeted tend to last much longer, but then they’re also not as capable of doing so much either.

The battery life, then, is a still a sore spot for now. But in realistic terms it’s more than enough. Most don’t sleep with their watches on and it’s natural to simply place it by the bedside when going to sleep, where it’ll happily recharge after a full days use. I’d estimate that the majority of people will see it get to around 20% by the end of their day.

That extra functionality is only useful if it truly fits into your day, and everyone will differ as to whether it’s actually a good inclusion or not. For me, the small utility is turning into a great help, and I can see that there’s potential for even more use as I get used to it over time. Like anything, there’s a learning curve and an acceptance curve as well.

Apple Watch Series 2

Conclusion

So what about it? Is this watch even worth it? As an activity tracker alone, no, it’s not. If you feel and can justify other uses for it, then absolutely. There are far better activity trackers that offer much better battery life and can even tell you the time. This watch, like all smart watches, are for those that want a bit more usefulness in more scenarios. You want to talk to it, text from it, and have it do things. Siri is a good example as slow as she might be on the watch. More and more apps are being developed that take distinct advantage of this form-factor. A natural form factor that we’ve been using for centuries and that we’ve imagined increase our efficiency in countless works of science fiction. And here it’s not quite the most magnificent device ever created, just a watch that can do some stuff, albeit slowly.

Is it worth the price tag? Well, that’s a good question. Battery life isn’t so bad that it won’t last admirably for a full day whilst doing all manner of tasks. But then the tasks are not revolutionary either. Your phone can easily accomplish all of them, this just provides convenience. That convenience isn’t any more expensive then some watches, though it also doesn’t quite have the social status bearing behind it. It is worth it, just know its limitations and know that the Watch Series 2 isn’t mind-blowing in any aspect, it’s just rather convenient. And quite convenient indeed. Overall a useful thing, though we’re still in the beginning stages of these smart watches and there’s bound to be even better devices on the horizon. For now, this Watch Series 2 is a nice little device. Certainly if you’re an Apple fan.

Apple Watch Series 2 Review: Watch or Fitness Band?
A decent watch with a growing usefulness. Its battery life is much improved though it could always be better. A good competitor for a decent price. With better apps it'll be even more valuable.
Design92%
Durability96%
Ease of Use90%
Battery Life85%
Value83%
What's Right
  • Useful as an Assistant
  • Water Resistance
  • Minimalist Design
What's Wrong
  • Battery Life Could be Better
  • No Sleep Activity Tracker Yet
89%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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