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Apple Watch 2 Review: In Depth

5

The Good

  • Massive improvement
  • WatchOS 3
  • GPS
  • Water resistant
  • Variety

The Bad

  • Pricey

Apple Watch 2 Review: With this second generation wearable, Apple has made several improvements over the original Watch. Built-in GPS, full water resistance, updated WatchOS software and a strong variety in design means the ‘Apple Watch Series 2’ could be the best smartwatch we’ve rocked on our wrists. Here’s our full Watch 2 review.

Smartwatches have been around for a few years now, but there are still very few that we’d happily slap on our arms on a daily basis. In fact, many manufacturers seem to have given up on the devices entirely, after a rather enthusiastic beginning; in 2016 we’ve seen practically no new Android Wear watches emerge.

Apple took its time getting into the smartwatch game, but although it was late to the wearable party, the original Apple Watch wasn’t quite as refined as we’d hoped. The hardware was attractive but lacked some key features like built-in GPS, while Apple’s WatchOS software was rather limited.

Fast forward a year and now we have the Apple Watch Series 2, which boasts a number of improvements over the original. So is this the definitive smartwatch, and should Apple Watch owners upgrade to this new model?

Apple Watch 2 Review: Design

You’d be forgiven for any confusion when deciding which version of the Apple Watch Series 2 to purchase. After all, not only does the Apple Watch 2 come in three different finishes (aluminium, stainless steel and ceramic) as well as two sizes (38 and 42mm), but there are also a wide selection of wristbands and some special edition models, such as the Nike+ and Hermes versions.

First of all, check out our Apple Watch aluminium vs stainless steel vs ceramic feature to see which material is best for you. I’ve been rocking the aluminium version (the cheapest of the three) and I’m more than happy with the design. The 42mm version isn’t too chunky and looks rather splendid, thanks to those curved edges and relatively slender bezels. The Watch 2 is also quite light and comfortable to wear for days on end.

Reassuringly, the Watch 2 hasn’t picked up any scratches or other scuffs in the week and a half I’ve been rocking it. The aluminium surfacing isn’t as tough as the stainless steel model, but it’s still hardy enough to shrug off any knocks, while the matte finish will help to hide any marks. And although the aluminium watch also sports Apple’s standard Ion-X glass for the display, compared with the other models’ sapphire crystal panels, I’ve once again been impressed with its durability.

You can slide off the straps with just a quick push of the rear buttons, to replace with a fresh design. They’re easy enough to detach, but also hold firm when snapped back into place. I did have a problem with my first strap, which refused to lock on, but Apple immediately replaced it and the second strap has been perfect.

You get an impressive selection of bands to choose from, to suit all occasions. I found the nylon strap to be perfectly comfortable, but there are sports straps, leather and stainless steel on offer too.

As well as the dial button, which can be pushed to call up the apps menu and twisted to skip through menus, you now have a bonus edge button on the side of the Watch. This is used to bring up the new Dock feature, where your favourite apps are stored. More on this later, in the features section.

Another big update for the Series 2 Watch is the water-resistant design. You can rock the Watch in your local pool and measure your swimming session, or simply leave it on in the shower if you’re too lazy to take it off.

Apple has clearly thought this feature through carefully, with the help of a lot of testing at its own Cupertino labs swimming pool. There’s a special water mode which can be activated in the new Control Center, which deactivates the screen to prevent accidental touch registering when you’re submerged. And when you turn this mode off, the built-in speaker will eject any lingering water with a quick blast of sound.

Apple Watch 2 Review: Screen

Apple has boosted the display for its second wearable, so the Series 2 version of the Watch is much brighter than the first Watch. At 1000 nits, you’ll have no trouble seeing what’s going on even if the sun is beaming down at you.

The 38mm version of the Apple Watch 2 sports a 340x272 pixel resolution, while the 42mm model boosts this to a 390x312 resolution (as it’s a bigger display). That’s identical to the original watch, and once again produces seriously crisp visuals. You’ll need bird of prey eyes to make out any individual pixels.

As you’d expect from Apple, viewing angles are perfect too. You can glance down at the Watch’s screen while typing and clearly read whatever is displayed, without having to twist your arm and raise it to your face.

The Watch 2’s display also supports 3D Touch, or in other words, it’s pressure sensitive. That means a hard poke will in some cases perform a different operation, compared with a standard tap. However, so far there aren’t too many apps which support this feature. In fact, the only time I ever use it is when customising my watch face.

Read next: Apple Watch 2 tips, tricks and best hidden features

Apple Watch 2 Review: Software and features

Apple’s Series 2 Watch comes packing WatchOS version 3, and so far we’re seriously impressed.

Finally you get complete control over the Watch with just a quick poke or swipe, thanks to the new Control Center. Like the iPhone Control Center, this adds shortcuts to quickly enable or disable key features like Do Not Disturb mode. You also now have the very helpful Dock, which gives fast access to your favourite apps.

Smart home fans will love the Apple Home app, which gives you control over your Homekit-enabled devices. There’s also improved support for Apple Pay and a new Emergency feature, which allows the wearer to send out a distress alert to their preferred contact simply by holding down the new edge button.

Check out our run-down of the best WatchOS 3 features to see more.

As before, you get a heart rate sensor that can accurately measure your pulse at any time. This is particularly handy after a strenuous workout, to check how your recovery rate is faring.

The Watch can also measure your general activities, thanks to the built-in accelerometer and gyroscope. Every day you can see how many calories you’ve burned, how much time you spent standing and how far you’ve wandered, with the ability to quickly and easily scan back through previous days, weeks and months. Apple’s wheel of exercise is a great visual representation of your daily habits (or laziness, in my case), and as before you can share your results with friends, as a bit of bonus motivation.

Of course, the Watch 2’s main fitness feature is the built-in GPS, which means you no longer need to drag your iPhone along on bike rides, jogs and the rest. Your trusty wearable will track your motions and then sync up with your mobile on your return, for a hassle-free experience. Best of all, GPS activates automatically when needed, so won’t constantly leech your battery life.

Apple Watch 2 Review: Battery life and performance

For the Watch Series 2, Apple came up with a new dual-core S2 processor. This nippy little chip does a great job, offering smooth performance whether you’re zipping through WatchOS or messing around with mini-sized games. I saw a couple of little stutters here and there, but the Watch 2 is definitely no slouch.

Read next: Best games for Apple Watch 2

Despite that pumped-up processor, brighter screen, GPS support and the rest, the Apple Watch 2 still gives you respectable battery life. With moderate use - constant time and message checks, occasional app play and using the Watch to control my media - I managed to get two days of use between charges. In other words, I would take it off charge at 6am, and not stick it back on the charging pad until the following evening at around 11pm.

With heavier use, including lots of navigation and fitness tracking, you can still expect a full day of play before needing to top up that charge.

Apple Watch 2 Review: Verdict

The Apple Watch 2 is undoubtedly one of the very best wearables that we’ve rocked on our wrists. With a massive selection of design combinations, essential features like built-in GPS and waterproofing, plus a refined OS and plenty of app support, there’s pretty much nothing to dislike about this second-generation Watch. You can pick it up now from £369.

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