Apple Watch Series 2 review: it doesn't suck

Apple's latest version of its Watch, the Series 2, was announced alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, and launched at the same time as well. While it may have been overshadowed by the phones, the new model solves a number of problems that were presented by the original model.

The big new features are that it has a dual-core processor, GPS, and it's waterproof. The company also launched the Apple Watch Series 1, which is the same as the original model, except with the new dual-core S2 chipset. I didn't get a Series 1 to review, but we'll talk about it in a bit.

Day one

One thing that was apparent upon booting up the Apple Watch Series 2 is that it's fast. It's not iPhone-fast, but it's much faster than the original Apple Watch.

And that's important, because the original model - let's just call it Series 0 (credit to Serenity Caldwell for the naming convention) - sucked. It was frustratingly slow, and that's why Apple offered the Series 1 instead of continuing to sell Series 0.

It's waterproof, except it's not, except it is

The Apple Watch Series 2 is waterproof; well, sometimes it is. You basically have to warn it before it gets wet. Note that I had mine for about a week before I even realized this, so it's not like the Watch will crumble into dust if you get it wet.

There are two ways to make your Watch waterproof. You can start any pool-related activity, or you can swipe up on the Control Center and tap the raindrop icon. Doing either will lock the screen and block the speakers, so if you were planning on practicing your speech that's saved in OneNote while you're in the shower, you're out of luck.

Once you're out of the pool, shower, or another wet place, you'll be asked to turn the digital crown to unlock the device. It will then use vibrations to eject any water from the speaker.

Ejecting the water is pretty cool, the first few times you do it. After that, it can get annoying.

OK, it's story time. I was helping some friends to clean up after a party and had to reach into some (very cold) coolers filled with water to put away any soda that hadn't been drank. I told my Watch that it would get wet, and when I was done, I unlocked it. A friend turned to me and said, "What the **** is that noise?" I then had to awkwardly explain why my Apple Watch was making this noise, which was just annoying.

I don't really see why it would be so hard to include a sensor that tells the watch it's getting wet, or at least find some other solution. Plenty of companies have developed waterproof devices without this unconventional solution. In fact, you can walk into a Sony store and you'll see devices on display that are submerged in water.

Also, it's recommended that you don't use the Apple Watch Series 2 for water skiing, scuba diving, or other such activities with high velocity water or if you might go deeper than 50 meters. Apple also recommends that if you go in salt or chlorinated water, you should rinse it with warm water as soon as possible.

Apple Watch Series 1

As I mentioned above, I didn't get a Series 1 to review, but it's certainly worth mentioning because it uses the same dual-core chipset that's in the Series 2, and it costs $100 less. You won't be getting GPS, and it won't be waterproof, but you'll get the performance.

Coming in at $269 for 38mm and $299 for 42mm, it only comes in an aluminum model (formerly called Apple Watch Sport). For the full pricing list of Series 2, click here.

If you don't care about GPS and water resistance, and you don't have any interest in the stainless steel or ceramic models, you might want to take a look at the Series 1. I can't possibly know what your priorities are, but the Series 1 and 2 are very similar, and you can save a few dollars by going with the former.

watchOS 3

I don't always write about the OS of a device in a product review; after all, most people know by now if they preview Android or iOS, so there's really no need to talk about it. Something tells me that few people will be upgrading from a Series 0 to a Series 2, so for a lot of you, this will be your first experience with watchOS.

What's new

OK, let's start with the new Breathe app. While it's a great idea in theory, it's terrible in practice. The idea is that a couple times a day, your Apple Watch will remind you to stop and do breathing exercises.

I can promise you that you will eventually find yourself shutting this feature off. The problem is that Apple seems to have not built any kind of activity awareness into the feature. There's only so many times that you can be told to stop and breathe while driving until you're ready to go insane.

Apple has also taken a few steps to make the Watch work a bit more like iOS, as you can now swipe up to access a Control Center. There's also a new dock that will run your apps in the background, allowing them to load faster.

What's old

I've been known to say that watchOS is the least intuitive wearable OS that exists. Launching an app is just a pain, as it takes an already small screen and puts icons inside of these tiny little circles.

Force Touching on the watch face will bring you to your selection of faces, from which you can choose to use a photo or a number of pre-installed selections. You can also customize some of them by using the digital crown.

What it's missing

Sadly, my personal wishlist for watchOS 4 is exactly the same as it was last year for watchOS 2. There's still no "watch mode", a way for the user to be able to tell the time when the device is asleep. Apple introduced Nightstand Mode with watchOS 2, but even that isn't on constantly. It stays on for a few seconds and goes to sleep.

Sleep tracking is another thing that watchOS simply can't do yet, and for no good reason. Most reply to this with, "Well if you use it for sleep tracking, when would you charge it?" Truthfully, this thing easily gets well over 24 hours of battery life, as did its predecessor.

It also boggles my mind that there is no Podcasts app in watchOS. I can sync up to 2GB of music, but for some reason, Apple hasn't seen fit to allow us to add audio podcasts.

Finally, and I know that it isn't a limitation of the OS as much as the hardware, but cellular connectivity would be really nice. While Apple seems to be adding more and more stuff that you can do with an Apple Watch without an iPhone nearby, it will never stand on its own without LTE, or even 3G.

The display is super bright

As you can see from the image above, the display on the Series 2 is much brighter. That image was taken in direct sunlight, with the Series 2 model on the right.

To be completely honest, it wasn't something that I noticed until I did that test. The display is fine, but then again, so was the display on the Series 0.

Apple is promising twice the brightness of the original Apple Watch, with a display that comes in at 1,000 nits. Indeed, as the company said, "That's a lot of nits", but you really won't see a difference unless you're in a situation where the display might be otherwise hard to read.

Bands and pricing

OK, pricing for the Apple Watch can be super confusing. You have to choose which model you want, a size, and a band. There's a 38mm and a 42mm model; I went with 42mm, just like I did last year. If you're upgrading, you can use all of the bands that you bought with your old Watch. They still fit.

To help with pricing, you can check out our handy guide right here.

The model that I chose was the 42mm Space Black stainless steel with the Milanese Loop band. In fairness, Milanese Loop was all that the Apple Store had in stock; otherwise, I would have purchased the one with the Sport band.

Regardless of the fact that I already own two Milanese Loop bands, I prefer the Sport band, or at least the idea of having one. If you shell out the extra money for the Milanese Loop, Leather Loop, or something else that's more expensive, you'll eventually find that it's a waste of money.

You need a Sport band

After a year and a half of owning an Apple Watch, I've learned that you need a Sport band. Even if you're a fairly inactive person, one day your buddy might call and invite you to the batting cages, or the driving range, or to the gym. At some point, the bands with magnetic clamps will begin to loosen on your wrist. This will happen, I promise you.

Do you know what bands won't loosen when you're active? You guessed it, the Sport band. They come with the cheapest Apple Watch model, and even if you rarely use it, you'll want to have one around in case you need it.

The Woven Nylon band

OK, I'll admit it. I own two Sport bands (one red and one black), two Milanese Loops (one silver and one black), a blue Leather Loop, and a black Link Bracelet. My new Watch was going to come with a band that I already had, so I treated myself to the black Woven Nylon band.

I quickly fell in love with it, as it looks pretty sharp, and it doesn't have the drawbacks of the Loop bands. Let's admit to ourselves that a watch is fashion just as much as it's technology, and we want it to look good.

The one drawback to Woven Nylon is that when it gets wet, it stays wet. I don't recommend taking it in the pool, or using it while taking sodas out of a cooler filled with (oh, it was so cold) water. And just like that, we're back to the need for a Sport band.

Third-party bands

I've expressed over and over that you should have a Sport band, but hey, I know you want that fancy Milanese Loop. After all, we're not savages here.

Luckily, you don't have to pay the $149 (and the prices go up from there) that Apple would charge you for it. There's a massive selection of third-party bands available.

Seriously, just head over to Amazon or your favorite shopping site and search for Apple Watch bands. You can grab that $149 band for under $30. Just make sure to get the right size and check the reviews first.

Design and battery life

This is probably the first time that I've bundled design and battery life into the same section (normally it's design and display), but it's for good reason. You see, the design looks almost the same as last year's model, except it's just a bit taller, to fit a bigger battery.

I noticed the change right away, but probably only because I've been wearing one for so long. If this is your first Apple Watch, you likely won't have a problem. If you're skeptical, ask someone at the Apple Store to let you try it on.

But then again, the Apple Watch is great on battery life, and always has been. Apple promised 18 hours of juice in its wearable, and it definitely exceeds expectations. I get a minimum of 24 hours out of it, but I can usually stretch it to 36.

Fitness tracking

For a device that starts at $369, you're probably going to ask yourself why you need it in the first place, and it's a tough one. If there's one way that you can justify this purchase, it's fitness tracking, but there's one problem.

The Apple Watch isn't entirely accurate. To be fair, no smartwatch is completely accurate, and when you're trying to beat yesterday's step count, it's really not going to matter.

There are a number of pre-selected workouts to choose from, including indoor and outdoor walks, a swim in the pool, a run, a cycle, and more. With GPS, it can even tell you where you went on your run.

I'll say it again though; I really wish it had sleep tracking as an activity, and I'll leave it at that.

But is it worth the upgrade?

Yes. OK, let's back up a bit. I can't pretend to know what your budget is and priorities are. Most people upgrade their phones every two years, and end up trying to stretch tablets for much longer, so I'm not going to tell you that you should refresh your insanely expensive smartwatch after a year and a half.

But if it's in the budget, you totally should. The dual-core processor alone makes the Series 2 worth it, or even the Series 1. Sure, you'd miss out on some of the bells and whistles with the Series 2 - which kind of kills the point of buying a brand new one - but the experience is just so much better with the dual-core processor.

This is the Apple Watch that we've been waiting for. Series 0 was slow and clunky, and the new models are not. If you were one of the folks who sat on the sidelines and said, "I'm going to wait for next year's model", you made the right choice, because this is the one worth buying.

Of course, one might debate the overall usefulness of having an Apple Watch to begin with - especially given how much it costs to buy one - but that's not what we're here for. When I tell you that this is the one that's worth knowing, it's a given that you know what the Watch can do. This is not an iPhone replacement by any means.

As the title implies, this year's model doesn't suck like last year's did. It's still missing that purpose that might make you spend iPad-like prices on it, but at least it's now good at what it does.


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