The Apple Watch is a line of smartwatches produced by Apple Inc. It incorporates fitness tracking, health-oriented capabilities, and wireless telecommunication, and integrates with iOS and other Apple products and services.
The Apple Watch was released in April 2015, and quickly became the best-selling wearable device: 4.2 million were sold in the second quarter of fiscal 2015, and more than 115 million people were estimated to use an Apple Watch as of December 2022.
Apple has introduced a new generation of the Apple Watch with improved internal components each September each labeled by Apple as a ‘Series’, with certain exceptions.
Each Series has been initially sold in multiple variants defined by the watch casing’s material, color, and size (except for the budget watches Series 1 and SE, available only in aluminum, and the Ultra, available only in 49 mm uncolored titanium), and beginning with Series 3, by the option in the aluminum variants for LTE cellular connectivity, which comes standard with the other materials.
The band included with the watch can be selected from multiple options from Apple, and watch variants in aluminum co-branded with Nike and in stainless steel co-branded with Hermès are also offered, which include exclusive bands, colors, and digital watch faces carrying those companies’ branding.
The Apple Watch operates in conjunction with the user’s iPhone for functions such as configuring the watch and syncing data with iPhone apps, but can separately connect to a Wi-Fi network for data-reliant purposes, including communications, app use, and audio streaming.
LTE-equipped models can also perform these functions over a mobile network, and can make and receive phone calls independently when the paired iPhone is not nearby or is powered-off, substantially reducing the need for an iPhone after initial setup. The oldest iPhone model that is compatible with any given Apple Watch depends on the version of system software installed on each device.
THE APPLE WATCH SERIES 8
THE APPLE WATCH SERIES 8 HAS PROMPTED ME TO CONSIDER THE JAPANESE CORPORATE PRINCIPLE OF KAIZEN. TOYOTA POPULARIZED THE PRINCIPLE OF CONTINUAL IMPROVEMENT. THE SERIES 7 WAS A SLIGHT UPDATE TO THE SERIES 6, WHICH HAD BEEN AN INCREMENTAL UPDATE TO THE SERIES 5, WHICH HAD BEEN A MINOR IMPROVEMENT OVER THE SERIES 4.
THESE IMPROVEMENTS WEREN’T VERY SIGNIFICANT ON THEIR OWN, BUT THEY BUILT UP OVER TIME, WIDENING THE GAP BETWEEN THE APPLE WATCH AND EVERY OTHER SMARTWATCH.
THE YEAR 2022 IS A HUGE ONE FOR THE APPLE WATCH, BUT THE SERIES 8 ISN’T THE MAIN ATTRACTION. THE NEW APPLE WATCH ULTRA IS THIS YEAR’S MOST INTRIGUING WATCH, AND THE SECOND-GENERATION SE REPLACES THE SERIES 3 AT THE BOTTOM LEVEL. AS A RESULT, THE NEW SERIES 8 IS STUCK IN THE MIDDLE.
SO, NO, THIS ISN’T A PARTICULARLY THRILLING UPDATE. BUT DOES IT HAVE TO BE THAT WAY?
ALL MODIFICATIONS ARE LOCATED UNDER THE HOOD.
THE DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN THE SERIES 7 AND SERIES 8 ARE DIFFICULT TO DISCERN. TO BE QUITE HONEST, THE ONLY REASON I CAN IS BECAUSE MY EVALUATION UNITS VARY IN SIZE AND COLOR.
THIS IS ANOTHER WAY OF SAYING THAT NOTHING HAS CHANGED. THE SERIES 8 CONTINUES TO BE AVAILABLE IN TWO SIZES: 41MM AND 45MM. THIS TIME AROUND, THERE ARE FEWER COLOR POSSIBILITIES – SAY GOODBYE TO GREEN AND BLUE — AND THAT’S ABOUT IT.
THE PRICING IS LIKEWISE UNCHANGED. THE SERIES 8 STARTS AT $399 FOR THE GPS-ONLY MODEL AND $499 FOR THE CELLULAR MODEL.
WHEN I COMPARED THE 45MM SERIES 7 AND SERIES 8 DISPLAYS LAST WEEK, I WAS CONVINCED THAT THE SERIES 8’S WAS SOMEWHAT LARGER, BUT IT ISN’T.
IT WAS ALL A TRICK OF THE LIGHT: WATCHOS 9 INCLUDES NEW WATCHFACES LIKE METROPOLITAN THAT MAKE BETTER USE OF THE WATCH’S NARROWER BEZELS.
MY SERIES 8 REVIEW UNIT IS THE 45MM CELLULAR MODEL IN Apple Watch STARLIGHT, A CHAMPAGNE-Y COLOR THAT FALLS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN GOLD AND SILVER. I LIKE Apple Watch SMALLER WATCHES, BUT THIS DIDN’T APPEAR OUT OF PLACE ON MY Apple Watch SMALLER WRISTS. A LARGER SCREEN ALSO PROVIDES A MODEST BOOST IN READING, WHICH I APPRECIATED.
WHILE EVERYTHING APPEARS TO BE THE SAME ON THE OUTSIDE, THE SERIES 8 FEATURES SOME BIG MODIFICATIONS BEHIND Apple Watch THE HOOD.
WARNING: IT IS NOT A FASTER CHIP. IN TERMS OF PERFORMANCE Apple Watch AND BATTERY LIFE, THE S8 CHIP IS NEARLY IDENTICAL TO THE S7, WHICH Apple Watch IS NEARLY IDENTICAL TO THE S6. (I’M FEELING A PATTERN HERE.) WHAT THE S8 DOES BRING TO THE Apple Watch TABLE IS A SLEW OF NEW SENSORS.
TWO TEMPERATURE SENSORS, A NEW HIGH-G ACCELEROMETER, AND A NEW GYROSCOPE ARE INCLUDED. THE SERIES 8’S TWO STANDOUT FEATURES ARE POWERED BY THESE NEW SENSORS: CYCLE TRACKING AND CRASH DETECTION.
A TEMPERATURE SENSOR FOR THE APPLE WATCH HAS LONG BEEN PREDICTED, AND THEY’RE BECOMING MORE WIDESPREAD IN COMPETING WEARABLES.
SAMSUNG HAS JUST INTRODUCED ONE TO ITS GALAXY WATCH 5 LINE, AND FITBIT WILL HAVE ONE ON THE SENSE IN 2020.
(THOUGH SAMSUNG’S DON’T DO MUCH YET.) HOWEVER, APPLE’S APPROACH DIFFERS SOMEWHAT FROM FITBIT’S OR SAMSUNG’S. ONE SENSOR IS PLACED DIRECTLY BENEATH THE DISPLAY TO MONITOR AMBIENT TEMPERATURE, WHILE ANOTHER IS PLACED CLOSER TO THE SKIN.
THE GOAL IS TO REDUCE ENVIRONMENTAL BIAS IN ORDER TO OBTAIN MORE ACCURATE MEASUREMENTS.
THE TEMPERATURE SENSING ON THE WATCH IS PRIMARILY PASSIVE. YOU CANNOT TAKE ON-DEMAND READINGS, UNLIKE THE EXISTING EKG, HEART RATE, AND BLOOD OXYGEN SENSORS. WRIST TEMPERATURE DATA ARE ONLY AVAILABLE WHEN THE SLEEP FOCUS IS TURNED ON AND SLEEP TRACKING IS ENABLED.
IN ADDITION, YOU MUST SLEEP WITH THE APPLE WATCH FOR FIVE NIGHTS IN ORDER TO ESTABLISH A BASELINE. ONCE THAT’S DONE, YOU’LL ONLY OBSERVE DEPARTURES FROM THE BASELINE.
YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LOOK AT YOUR WRIST AND THINK TO YOURSELF, “OH, I HAVE A FEVER BECAUSE MY TEMPERATURE IS 100 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT.”
THAT IS NOT A CRITICISM OF APPLE. THE OURA RING AND FITBIT BOTH UTILIZE THIS METHOD. THE GOAL IS TO TRACK HOW VARIOUS FACTORS, SUCH AS A STRENUOUS WORKOUT, ILLNESS, OR EVEN A FEW TOO MANY MARGARITAS, AFFECT YOUR BASELINE.
IF YOU TRACK YOUR CYCLES IN THE HEALTH APP, YOU CAN GET RETROSPECTIVE OVULATION ESTIMATIONS AFTER AROUND TWO CYCLES IF YOU ENABLE WRIST TEMPERATURE READINGS.
THERE’S A REASON THAT PROJECTIONS ARE RETROACTIVE RATHER THAN PREDICTIVE. FOR FIRST, THIS IS PURELY AN AWARENESS TOOL – IF YOU BETTER COMPREHEND PREVIOUS CYCLES, YOU MAY HAVE AN EASIER TIME CONCEIVING.
BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE IS COMMONLY UTILIZED IN FAMILY PLANNING, SO THIS ISN’T OUT OF LEFT FIELD. HOWEVER, THE SERIES 8 HAS NOT BEEN AUTHORIZED FOR CONTRACEPTIVE USAGE AND IS NOT INTENDED TO BE USED IN ANY MEDICAL CAPACITY.
NATURAL CYCLES AND CLUE ARE TWO APPS THAT HAVE BEEN FDA-APPROVED FOR THIS PURPOSE. NATURAL CYCLES JUST RECEIVED APPROVAL TO USE WEARABLE TEMPERATURE DATA ACQUIRED FROM AN OURA RING FOR BIRTH CONTROL, BUT THE APPLE WATCH DOES NOT. (AT THE VERY LEAST, NOT YET.)
IT’S DIFFICULT TO COMMENT ON ACCURACY BECAUSE I’VE ONLY OWNED THE SERIES 8 FOR APPROXIMATELY A WEEK. I DON’T HAVE TEMPERATURE DATA FROM TWO CYCLES, AND I’VE ONLY RECENTLY SET A BASELINE.
HOWEVER, FOR THE FEW NIGHTS WHERE I HAVE TEMPERATURE DATA, IT LARGELY CORRESPONDS TO WHAT I OBTAINED ON MY OURA RING. FOR EXAMPLE, THE OURA RING REPORTED THAT MY BODY TEMPERATURE WAS 0.5 DEGREES HIGHER THAN NORMAL TWO NIGHTS AGO, WHEREAS THE SERIES 8 SAID THAT IT WAS 0.41 DEGREES HIGHER.
I also struggled for two years to receive a polycystic ovary syndrome diagnosis, so it’s comforting to know that Apple may now notify you when a cycle variation is detected. However, because I have yet to have a deviation, I was unable to test how this works. It’s also not available to people who have a “cycle factor,” such as chemical birth control.
I completely understand if advanced cycle monitoring gives you the heebie-jeebies in the post-Roe v. Wade environment. If that’s the case, you should be aware that Apple’s Cycle Tracking feature is entirely optional. In the settings, you may also track temperature without tracking your cycle or totally stop wrist temperature tracking. If you enable temperature tracking, Apple claims that health data is encrypted on your device and only accessible with a passcode, Touch ID, or Face ID, and that data synced with iCloud is similarly end-to-end encrypted if you enable a passcode and use two-factor authentication.
Crash Detection is a new feature.
Apple has always marketed the watch as a life-saving device. It may have gone overboard with the advertising this year when it introduced Crash Detection, but it’s a useful function that complements the watch’s other safety features, such as Emergency SOS and fall detection.
The Series 8 has an upgraded gyroscope and a new accelerometer that can sense changes in gravity force up to 256 g, just like the Ultra and second-generation SE. These function in conjunction with the barometer, GPS, and microphone on the watch to detect extreme impact and rapid changes in speed and direction.
If a serious accident is detected, the monitor will contact emergency services on your behalf. You’ll also have 10 seconds to cancel the call if it’s unnecessary.
I enjoy my profession, but I’m not going to ruin my car (or my insurance bills) for a smartwatch review. We strapped the Series 8 to an RC truck and “crashed” it around the Verge office, but it did nothing. (I guess we were more looking for an excuse to play with an RC truck.) I’ve worn the Series 8 on several dubious Lyft rides with some bad stop-and-go traffic, but it didn’t trigger the feature either.
That comes as no surprise to me. When Apple first announced fall detection, I — along with numerous other reviewers — attempted to discover if you could activate the feature with simulated tumbles. None of us were successful.
All of this to say, I’d be astonished if you received a bogus warning. That’s great news.
watchOS 9 is fantastic.
I’ve been playing with watchOS 9 for a while now, and there’s a lot to like about it. Too much, in fact, so I’ll concentrate on what’s new in the final edition and the aspects I liked best. (Some of my other thoughts can be found in my watchOS 9 preview.)
Every version of watch OS 9 includes slick new watch faces. I’m generally “meh” about Apple’s watch faces, but I genuinely liked a number of them this time. (They really do make the screen appear larger than it is!) The Lunar watch face gave me all the feels throughout Chuseok this week.
It’s a major Korean festival that coincides with the lunar calendar’s mid-autumn harvest, when you return to your hometown to spend time with your family. I particularly liked the Metropolitan face, and changing the color backgrounds on my favorite Modular face to match my clothing was a lot of fun.
In terms of efficiency, the revamped Calendar app makes excellent use of the larger display. It was an excellent approach for me to see my weekly agenda discretely.
I wrote about medicine reminders a few months ago, and despite using them, I’m still bad about taking my meds on time. When I have reminders on, I take them considerably more consistently than when I don’t.
Another surprise is that the Series 8 has one of the Ultra’s best features: a revamped Compass app. This is fantastic news if you enjoy hiking. You may use the new software to drop waypoints – geographic sites of interest — and retrace your travels if you get lost.
I used it for a walk and, while there was a tiny learning curve, I actually loved using it as someone who lacks an intuitive sense of direction. (I’ll go into more detail about this feature in my Ultra review, so stay tuned.)
Sleep tracking is also being improved. Within the Health app, you can now see sleep stages as well as more detailed sleep metrics. It’s not the best, and Apple is still catching up, but it’s a lot better than what Apple debuted with in watch OS 7.
I assume that the addition of wrist temperature tracking will only pave the way for more extensive sleep tracking in the future — albeit battery life will need to increase a little before the Apple Watch can compete with Fitbit or the Oura Ring.
Speaking of battery life, the Series 8 is still a gadget that must be charged on a daily basis, but watch OS 9 introduces a new low-power battery option.
It disables the always-on display and background sensor readings while restricting Wi-Fi and cellular access. During workouts, it also keeps the heart rate and GPS intact. On the Series 8, it’s supposed to last up to 36 hours. (On earlier models, mileage will vary.)
Fair warning: activating low-power mode will not provide you with multiday battery life, and I never obtained the full 36 hours. With normal use and no low-power mode, my Series 8 lasted about 24 hours before needing to be recharged.
Low-power mode was particularly useful for getting a little extra juice to come home or to get me through the last mile of a lengthy run when I failed to charge the battery before leaving.
While we’re on the subject of fitness, I absolutely adored the new workout views. It’s simple to change the order, and I love the idea of adding a full second panel with data.
I’m particularly pleased that I can now view heart rate zones in the native Workout app, something that most other trackers already allow. It’s also fantastic that Apple has finally added the opportunity to design your own personalized interval exercises.
If you’ve been using a Garmin or Polar, you’re probably rolling your eyes because these have been your go-to devices for years. I’m simply stating that it’s past time for Apple to include these capabilities, which will be extremely beneficial for beginners graduating to more intermediate-level workouts.
The one thing I didn’t enjoy was browsing through the various training views while running. The Series 8 largely relies on touchscreen navigation, which works OK some of the time but is a hassle when your fingers are sweaty.
The digital crown is also so thin that it’s not always easy to operate while in motion. This isn’t likely to be an issue on the Ultra, but it’s a headache on the Series 8.
There aren’t many reasons to upgrade.
If it isn’t clear by now, the Apple Watch Series 8 is an excellent smartwatch. However, if you’re satisfied with your current Apple Watch, there’s no reason to change.
To begin, the majority of the features that made my time with the Series 8 so enjoyable came from watchOS 9 – a software update. You’ll get the vast bulk of what makes the Series 8 amazing if you have a Series 4 or later.
You have nearly the same processing power if you have a Series 5, 6, or 7. Upgrading to the Series 8 won’t make things faster or your battery last any longer.
Meanwhile, temperature tracking is still in its early stages. I imagine Apple may add it in the future, but you don’t need it right now. This is especially true if you don’t menstruate, don’t feel comfortable sharing your health data with internet companies, or don’t use the Apple Watch for sleep tracking.
If you want Crash Detection, you don’t need the Series 8. It is also available on the iPhone 14 model line. If this is a feature you want and your phone is towards the end of its life, you may always upgrade instead.
Taking all of these considerations into account, Series 6 and 7 owners have no compelling reason to upgrade. Chill. But if you have a Series 3, 4, or 5, it’s a different situation.
(And if you’re on a Series 2 or older, it’s time to upgrade.) Longtime Series 3 owners should absolutely switch to the Series 8. You’ll love the improved performance and always-on display, and watchOS 9 is a lot better update than watchOS 8. It’s finally time. I believe the larger display is worthwhile for Series 4 or 5 owners. I’m convinced that after a year with the Series 7 and a week with the Series 8, either is a game changer for readability.
However, if you have 20/20 vision, you could probably wait another year.
If this is your first Apple Watch, you may choose between the Series 8 and the somewhat less expensive SE, which starts at $249 for GPS only and $299 for cellular. For first-time purchasers who aren’t sold on the notion of a smartwatch, the SE is the better option.
You’ll get the sense of what makes the Apple Watch so popular without spending a fortune. (All you’re giving up is the always-on display and advanced health sensors.) From there, you can make an informed decision about whether to upgrade to the nicer model. If you’re already set on getting an Apple Watch, you might as well get the Series 8.
I have yet to try the Apple Watch Ultra, but I am confident that the Series 8 is the best option for the vast majority of people. It is not just less expensive than the Ultra, but it is also more adaptable. It is better suited to smaller wrist sizes and can be dressed up or down for any occasion.
You also don’t need the Ultra’s increased durability unless you’re into severe endurance sports or a supreme klutz of the highest order. The Series 8 may appear more frail, but it is quite durable on its own. (However, if you truly want the Ultra, don’t let me stop you.)
Listen, the Series 8 does not transform the Apple Watch as we know it, but it does not need to. Apple can get away with year after year of modest changes because it is light years ahead of its competitors in terms of iOS users.
Android smartwatch competition is increasing, but if the upcoming Pixel Watch and Wear OS Samsung watches are any indicator, wearable ecosystems will remain compartmentalized for the foreseeable future. Apple has found a winning formula for smartwatches.
And it has no need to fix what isn’t wrong until someone comes up with another smartwatch that iPhone owners truly want.