Apple Watch Series 2 review: fitter, happier, more productive

WIth GPS and water resistance, Series 2 is going places

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For

  • Take it in the shower
  • GPS GPS GPS
  • The best smartwatch around

Against

  • Sometimes fiddly
  • Distance accuracy
  • Better battery but want more

The original Apple Watch was a superb gadget that won Gadget of The Year gong at the 2015 T3 Awards. But it was also a first generation device in many ways. It required daily charging. It wasn't that quick. It wasn't waterproof. It didn't have GPS.

Enter the Apple Watch Series 2. We're been wearing the £399 Gold Aluminium Case with Toasted Coffee/Caramel Woven Nylon band. We've got a gold iPhone 7 Plus, so it makes sense.

The aluminium versions remains so much better value than the stainless steel and, though we've held the beautiful £1,249 Ceramic Series 2 Edition, we can't help but wonder how many of those Apple will shift.

Apple Watch Series 2 Features

Crucially, Apple Watch Series 2 fixes two of the original flaws straight away, with 50m water resistance (it's a swim watch, not a dive watch) and – praise be – GPS so you can run without your iPhone.

There's also Apple Watch Nike+ available in early November. That version isn't massively different, with a special sports band, Nike+ watch face and engraved swoosh on the back.

If you're regularly going to be immersing it in water, we would recommend the Sport band (there's no now Sport Edition as such). The Nylon bands are fine in water (we've dunked ours many tens of times now) but we think it would probably wear after prolonged washing and drying.

Apple has had a bunch of people working in a special sports lab in an effort to make Series 2 a sports watch proper and there's now a swim tracker for both indoor (tell it how long your pool is) and open water swimming. This is paired with a really clever mode that disables the touchscreen (which would otherwise flicker in water because of the conductivity of H20).

The way it unlocks is one of the very best things about Series 2. It's so very Apple: you turn the Digital Crown round and the speaker emits a pulse sound to push out any water left in it. This mode automatically activates when you turn on swimming tracking, but you can also easily turn it on manually for holiday swimming or similar.

Swimming tracking detects what type of stroke you do, as well as when you change length so you can use it as a distance, length and calorie monitor. It's not revolutionary stuff, but all the Activity and Exercise stuff is packaged so well and is very simple to use. You can also track walks, indoor runs, rowing, cy and more.

What else is new? There's the new and much-improved watchOS 3 including the dock to house open apps, a dual-core processor (which is also coming to the still-available Apple Watch Series 1) plus a brighter screen (1000 nits, apparently) for better reading in sunlight.

We'll let you read our other coverage of watchOS 3, but we'll just say that we love the Scribble feature for quick-fire WhatsApp replies! The interface as a whole isn't the most intuitive, but you will get used to it and Apple has made several enhancements in this regard.

Apple Watch Series 2 Perfomance

The processor makes the new Apple Watch zip along much better than the original, but there are still some operations that aren't as quick as you hope; like opening apps.

Some reviews have suggested issues with slow synchronisation of apps, but we haven't found that to be a problem and we've had no stability issues with Series 2 whatsoever.

Although it's possible to get about two days out of the watch (42mm version), we find our normal use means we're getting around 1.5 days from it. There is a bigger battery inside than there was inside Series 1, but of course there are also other enhancements that use more power.

Apple Watch Series 2 Activity and Workouts

One of those enhancements is also Series 2's most important upgrade is without doubt the addition of GPS for iPhone-free running. You can also sync a playlist to the watch for inspirational music, too. We've done a few runs with the Series 2 now. Distance data is pretty accurate – versus our trusty Garmin Forerunner 610 it was quite similar, though the Apple Watch tracked just slightly less distance a couple of times. Which is a little weird.

GPS ties into an enhanced Workout app:

One thing the Apple Watch Series 2 doesn't do is make you wait for a GPS lock. Apple has clearly determined this isn't a good user experience and – similar to the first iPhone which didn't have GPS – uses the location of local Wi-Fi networks to help pinpoint location if a fix isn't immediately available.

Battery life could be an issue if you're into very long runs – you get around five hours with the GPS switched on, apparently. Apologies, but we haven't done a five hour run to find out, although others suggest that a 3.5 hour run with music will leave you with an impressive 50 percent power remaining. If you've got questions on how Activity tracking works on Apple Watch, it's worth reading Apple's guide – we reckon you'll need to so you can get the most out of it, anyway.

We're still not impressed with the Apple Watch's heart rate monitor, but then it's the same with pretty much every on-wrist HR monitor; they just aren't as good as a strap. Most of us don't need that level of tracking, but if you do it doesn't mean you have to give up your Apple Watch – just pair a Bluetooth heart rate strap instead.

Activity tracking is stil present, just as before and includes Workout data as before. New in watchOS 3 is Breathe, an app designed to encourage you to pause and breathe deeply for a minute (or more).

T3 Verdict

Should you buy Apple Watch Series 2? The Watch's new capabilities make this a more complex question than it used to be, because it's suddenly a lot more useful.

And you can now take it in the shower. Series 2 is what Series 1 should have been originally – and that makes it a rather compelling package.

Usability still isn't the best in certain apps, but its strength for tracking a busy diary, rapidly replying to messages and triaging emails are enhanced. Exercise and Activity tracking is so nicely packaged – although with some flaws.

We're looking forward to checking out Samsung's new Gear S3 in the coming weeks. But it won't change the fact Apple Watch remains one of the nicest-looking devices you can own. And with watchOS 3 and the extra features, it's now properly useful throughout the day, too.

Liked this? Check out our iPhone 7 review