Worth the Wait? Apple Watch Series 2 Review

Worth the Wait? Apple Watch Series 2 Review

When Tim Cook unveiled the original Apple Watch in April of 2015, I took one look at my heavy, cameraless first-generation iPad and decided to wait, knowing that the next iteration of the smartwatch would be far superior. Fast-forward to last October, and I was walking into an Apple Store intent on buying a 42 mm Apple Watch Series 2 as an early birthday present to myself. When they didn’t have any in stock, I ordered online and waited. I have now had my new watch for a month, and am thoroughly enjoying my new companion. Over the last few years I stopped wearing watches, but I wear my Apple Watch all day, every day. Visually, the Apple Watch Series 2 looks the same as the original, except it gained a bit of girth (0.9 mm) and weight (3.2 grams). The crown and button positions remain unchanged.

What’s New

S2 Chip

The Series 2 now sports a dual-core S2 chip that runs up to 50 percent faster than the original Apple Watch, making the Apple Watch 2 noticeably more responsive. 

GPS 

The addition of GPS is a big deal for those who seek an all-in-one activity tracker. For exercise, the Apple Watch series two delivers. If you leave your phone at home or in the car, not to worry; your watch’s GPS kicks in and tracks every twist and turn. When you complete your workout, you can save it to the watch. Once in range of the owner’s iPhone, the watch and phone exchange information. Unfortunately, the GPS offers little utility outside of exercise, and heavy use of GPS negatively affects battery life.

Waterproof

The Series 2 is waterproof up to depths of 164 feet. I don’t swim, but I live in Seattle, and the Apple Watch Series 2 hasn’t missed a beat regardless of the intensity of the rain. For review purposes, I showered with my watch once just to see how Water Lock mode works. Water Lock, located in Control Center, keeps the screen from mistaking water drops for finger taps. After the shower, I turned the Digital Crown to experience the series of beeps that discharged water from my watch’s speaker—the tech equivalent of a wet dog shaking off after a bath. 

The Screen

The Series 2 sports the brightest screen of any Apple device ever, at 1,000 nits, compared to 450 on the Series 1. The OLED Retina display is easy to see even in the brightest of sunlight.

Battery Life 

I charge my Apple Watch every night and like the nightstand mode that provides accurate time—a necessary thing for frequent travelers. 

WatchOS 3

While a slow interface caused owners of the original Apple Watch endless frustration, watchOS 3 has helped reconcile those issues and is another reason I’m glad I waited to upgrade. The new Dock offers an improved experience over glances, bringing up shortcuts to a select set of apps when you press the Side button. Holding the same button for six seconds also lets you invoke the new SOS feature that will attempt to notify healthcare officials to your location. There’s also a new Breathe app, which offers short, guided breathing exercises throughout the day. An improved Activities app now supports data acquisition for a wide range of exercises, including swimming. You can also add both apps as complications to your watch faces, providing a convenient shortcut.

What I Love About the Apple Watch

I’m a news junkie. I need to know what is going on in the world. With a little tap on my wrist my watch allows me to see what’s going on locally, nationally, or internationally through apps like CNN, BBC, NPR, The New York Times, and our local Seattle King 5.

I also love the answering the phone with my watch. I can speak for tech geeks everywhere when I say that this is a capability that we expected to have in the 21st Century. It took a decade-and-a-half longer than expected, but it’s here now. 

The watch is also great for navigation, guiding the way so I don’t have to take out my phone every few minutes to check the course. The once-berated Maps app is a pleasure to use on the wrist, as haptics remind me of upcoming turns. 

I also love that my MacBook Pro unlocks when I extend my watch-wearing arm toward the keyboard. 

Finally, I like that you can add complications for all native apps (and some third-party apps), offering a contextual portal from your watch face into the activity you are currently involved in.

Time Out: What Could Be Better

Although I don’t exercise regularly, I do like to hike occasionally, and having the watch offer up a GPS app would great. I’d like to know where I am, and at what elevation. Apple has never done a good job of exposing GPS data. An app like Altimeter+ ($0.99) adds visibility, but requires the iPhone be nearby.

I swapped out my Fitbit Blaze ($199.95) for the Apple Watch and miss the Fitbit’s sleep analysis. The lack of built-in sleep analysis ensures I don’t slam my wrist against the headboard during my slumbers.

Carousel style scrolling would also be a good addition to watch faces. At the end of scrolling, for instance, you are forced to stop and scroll in reverse, instead of just a continuous loop of watch faces. 

Must-Have Apple Watch Accessories

Apple Watch Charging Stand

The Twelve South Forté for Apple Watch ($59.99) is an elegant charging accessory that tilts to invoke the nightstand feature during charging. It completely hides Apple’s charger (which is not included) in a bright chrome arm. Genuine leather accents add class. 

Apple Watch Travel Case

The Incase Travel Kit for Apple Watch ($39.95) is designed to hold the original charging cable and the Apple Watch and protect it during travel. A dedicated mesh area holds the charger while the watch sits snuggly in a faux-fur lining. 

Apple Watch Portable Charger

Belkin’s Valet Charger Power Pack 6700 mAh for Apple Watch + iPhone ($99.99) is one of the few products that offers a built-in charging disk for the Apple Watch. This gem tops off the Apple Watch while leaving plenty of juice to keep your iPhone or iPad running as well. It’s not the lightest external battery, but perhaps the most versatile. 

Apple Watch Bands

If you want Apple’s Milanese Loop but aren’t willing to pay the premium, this Penom knockoff ($32.98) looks great and works well. No one will ever know if you don’t tell them. 

Pros:

  • Waterproofing extends activity reach to water sports
  • GPS supports exercise scenarios that don’t include a phone
  • Improved notifications
  • Improved processor 
  • Software tweaks make Siri useful

Cons:

  • No GPS visibility outside of exercise, no elevation calculations
  • Battery life could be better
  • No sleep tracking
  • Still pricy

The Final Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 2 is a worthy successor that should motivate hesitant prospective buyers to jump into the fray and extend the Apple ecosystem to their wrist. The hardware is solid and attractive, if not as overtly cool as you might expect from Apple. The real joy of Series 2 is the release of watchOS 3 that not only powers the Series 2 but creates good experiences on all Apple Watch models. Keep in mind that any remaining constraints or awkwardness derives from software, not hardware, so Apple can address them (not that they necessarily will). Apple remains a software company first; its hardware is a platform for that software. The Apple Watch is a very good extension of Apple’s platform that will assist and entertain most who choose to don the now iconic device.

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Daniel Rasmus's picture

Daniel W. Rasmus is the Founder and Principal Analyst at Serious Insights. He is the author of Listening to the Future, Management by Design and Sketches of Spain and Other Poems. Rasmus teaches at Bellevue College where he teaches Social Media and Personal Branding.