Apple Watch Series 8 review TL;DR: Premium smartwatch that looks and feels very similar to its predecessor. It might be worth the upgrade if you're a runner or want to use your Apple Watch for sleep tracking.
At this point, talking about how each new Apple Watch iteration is a revolution, not an evolution, is pretty boring and news to literally no one, mainly because not only would it be impossible to revamp the watch from one year to another completely, but it's also absolutely unnecessary.
And indeed, the Apple Watch Series 8, which builds on the foundation of all of the best Apple Watches that came before it – especially the Apple Watch Series 7 – isn't mind-blowingly innovative, but it doesn't have to be, as Apple Watches are way ahead of the competition as is. It's like telling Nike to completely overhaul the ZoomX foam, despite their shoes winning all the road running races. There is no point.
Therefore, in this Apple Watch Series 8 review, instead of focusing on the incremental physical changes or how similar the watch is to its predecessor, I'll look at what's new in terms of features and user experience, especially all the fresh goodness stemming from the WatchOS 9, like advanced running metrics and new Workout Views.
Ready to read more about the best smartwatch right now? Let's get right into it.
(First reviewed Apr 2023)
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Price and avability
The Apple Watch Series 8 was announced in September 2022 and is available to buy now directly from Apple UK, Apple US and Apple AU, with prices from £419/$399/AU$629. There are tons of different strap and case material options available, but in terms of case sizes, the two choices are 41mm or 45mm (just like the Watch Series 7). The Apple Watch Series 8 is also available in GPS + Cellular, allowing you to make calls and send messages with just your watch without a phone nearby.
Strangely, the new Apple Watch is the same price in the US and AU but seems more expensive in the UK (£369/$399/AU$629). Apple sets their prices in US dollars and then adjusts internationally to account for foreign exchange rates, taxes, channel distribution costs and duties or regulatory fees, where applicable. Recent disruption in the global distribution system and the change in the UK's global market position might have something to do with the price increase – sorry, good folks of the UK.
I tested the 45 mm version with the Midnight Aluminium Case and Midnight Sport Band (GPS + Cellular), which sells for £549/$529/AU$839.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: What's new?
The Apple Watch Series 8 introduced an updated feature list that focuses on providing even more health and fitness features. Some of these are clearly overspills from the development of the outdoor-ready Apple Watch Ultra (e.g. updated compass app), while others try to make the wearable more appealing to runners and active people in general (e.g. advanced workout metrics).
One physical update is the new two-sensor design that allows the Apple Watch Series 8 to track your temperature while you sleep so you can see changes from your baseline. This is used for menstrual cycle tracking, which uses this data to provide a retrospective estimate of when you likely ovulated. Of course, the watch tracks your temperature even if you don't ovulate.
Another new feature is crash detection, which was a key focus of the presentation at the last Apple Event. Essentially, using the new high-g accelerometer and improved gyroscope, plus the barometer, microphone, and GPS, the Apple Watch Series 8 can detect "severe car crashes" and automatically connect you to emergency services if set up correctly. I must confess I didn't test this feature, but I take Apple's word that it works.
One welcome addition to the new feature lineup addresses the most-commonly criticised aspect of the Apple Watch. The new Low Power Mode can extend battery life to up to 36 hours of everyday use, maintaining features like Activity tracking and Fall Detection while disabling others like the Always-On display. There is more to this feature and battery life in general, which I'll discuss below in the Battery Life section of this review.
Finally, let's quickly go through the redesigned Compass app. I won't talk about this feature below as I think most Apple Watch Series 8 users won't use it too often for navigation. It's a cool update, though, with more in-depth information, new zoomable views for directions and orienteering, and the ability to add customisable Compass Waypoints to mark your position or point of interest and retrace your steps with Backtrack if you get lost or disoriented.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Design and build quality
In terms of physical design, the Apple Watch Series 8 is a carbon copy of its predecessor. It has the same always-on retina 1.57-inch or 1.73-inch LTPO OLED touchscreen display with up to 1000 nits brightness when the screen is active and up to 500 nits when the wrist is down. The resolution is either 352 x 430 or 396 x 484 pixels.
One notable difference is the lack of a titanium case option (you can buy the Apple Watch Ultra if you're desperate for a titanium case); you can only choose between (100% recycled) aluminium and stainless steel options now. Both have exactly the dimensions (Height: 45mm, Width: 38mm, Depth: 10.7mm), but the former is lighter (32.0g/38.8g vs 42.3g/51.5g, 41mm/45mm versions, case only).
The bezel is still 1.7 mm, and the screen is still protected by either Ion-X glass (Aluminium) or Sapphire crystal (Stainless Steel). You'll find the now-familiar digital crown and the subtle physical button on the right side of the case. The back of the watch is made of ceramic and sapphire crystal in all versions. The case has a water and dust ingress rating of IP68 and is swim-proof to 50 metres (WR50).
As for sensors, the Apple Watch Series has blood oxygen and ECG sensors, Apple's own third-generation optical heart sensor, a new dual temperature sensor (one measuring skin temperature, the other ambient temperature), a high-g accelerometer (up to 256G with Crash Detection), a high dynamic range gyroscope, altimeter, ambient light sensors and a multi-system GNSS (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and Beidou).
That's a lot of sensors, with most of them running in the background, but luckily, the watch has the new S8 SiP with a 64-bit dual-core processor which can handle all the new tasks (e.g. dual temperature sensing and crash detection) without compromising battery life. The Apple Watch Series 8 has 32GB internal storage.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Features
The WatchOS 9 update emphasises health and fitness features, so I dedicated a whole section to them below in this Apple Watch Series 8 review. The latest WatchOS 9.2 update added even more fitness features; again, I'll discuss all these below.
Here, I'll touch on other features new to WatchOS, such as the four new watch faces, like Astronomy (featuring a continuously updated 3D model of Earth), Lunar (choose between Chinese, Hebrew or Islamic), the quirky Playtime, and the classic Metropolitan. There is a new background colour editor, and, most importantly, you can now add dogs and cats to the Portraits watch face. Now that's a solid update if I've ever seen one!
Another significant update is the Family Setup feature which allows your child to listen to podcasts, control HomeKit-enabled devices, open doors with home keys, and access all major email accounts, even if they don't all have iPhones. The Reminders and Calendar apps have also been redesigned to view and edit important tasks and events in more detail without using your iPhone.
Crash detection is also a biggie; I discussed this in the What's New section of this Apple Watch Series 8 review. The WatchOS 9.2 update tweaked this slightly, as there have been multiple reports of the feature being accidentally triggered during rollercoaster rides and on ski slopes. The drastic change in altitude over a short period of time is recognised by Crash Detection as a hazard, potentially causing emergency services to be called unnecessarily.
A quick rundown of other minor updates are a refreshed Siri UI, expanded keyboard languages for Apple Watch Series 7, new banner notifications, and quick access to apps you have running. For accessibility users, Apple Watch Mirroring uses AirPlay, so you can stream your Apple Watch to your iPhone and use Switch Control, Voice Control, or any assistive features on iPhone.
For a more in-depth analysis of the apps that were already available on the watch, I recommend reading Matt B's extensive Apple Watch Series 7 review, linked in the intro.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Health and fitness tracking
The Apple Watch Series 8 and WatchOS 9 are all about extending Apple's wearables' health and fitness capabilities. And while the updates (positively) affect most exercisers, the main beneficiaries are certainly runners. I wrote about the beefed-up workout mode of WatchOS 9 last June when it was announced and wondered if the then yet-to-be-released Apple Watch Series 8 could take on Garmin.
The updated Workout app now includes more metrics, such as stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation metrics, plus native running power on the wrist without external sensors.
Furthermore, the Apple Watch Series 8 now offers personalised Heart Rate Zones based on your estimated max heart rate and resting heart rate saved in the Health app. You can also manually create zones. Personalised heart rate zones can help you train better and understand the strain on your body easier. It's been used in the best running watches for a while, and it's nice to see the Apple Watch offering it, too.
The WatchOS 9.2 update also added the Race Route feature, which notes the routes you run or cycle most often and allows you to do battle with your own personal best (like racing the ghost of your best time in Mario Kart). Pacer is another new feature that allows you to set a goal for distance and time and prompts you to go faster or slower to meet that target.
The new Multisport workout mode can automatically switch between the three disciplines (swim, bike, and run) for triathletes. I haven't tried this feature and will update the review once I thoroughly test it. Finally, the workout summary view has also been redesigned.
Improved sleep tracking is the most interesting (and helpful) new health upgrade on the Apple Watch Series 8. The watch can now provide additional insights into your sleep with sleep stage tracking.
The Apple Watch Series 8 uses signals from the accelerometer and heart rate sensor to detect when you're awake and in REM, Core, or Deep sleep. Better still, in the Health app on your iPhone, you can view your time asleep alongside heart rate and respiratory rate on the Sleep Comparisons charts.
While previous iterations of the watch have been criticised for not providing a lot of sleep insights, the Apple Watch Series 8 has a much better grasp on sleep tracking. I find sleep tracking helpful as I have a funny sleep pattern (I get most of my deep sleep in the first few hours of my slumber), which makes me feel like I haven't slept enough.
The data gathered from the Apple Watch Series 8 corresponds to sleep data from other devices I used to double-check Apple's top dog wearable (including some of the best sleep trackers) – excellent news!
Just briefly, the Apple Watch Series 8 can now also help people take and log their medications via the Health app. If you have been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, AFib History can now estimate how frequently your heart is in AFib and track lifestyle factors that may influence your condition. Neither of these I could test, for the record, but the apps are indeed available on the watch.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Battery life
Battery life is still not mind-blowing on the Apple Watch Series 8; however, even though many new features have been added, at least it didn't get any worse (primarily thanks to the new processor). Apple claims normal battery life is around 18 hours, with Low Power Mode bumping it up to 36 hours. There is also fast charging, which allows you to charge the watch to about 80% in 45 minutes.
The Low Power Mode (LPM) is a nice touch from Apple, but I would like to see more customisation options in the future. Apple likes to make decisions for people through limited customisation options, and I 100% agree – as soon as you let the average person tamper with the settings, they'll ruin everything and blame the company for performance issues.
However, I'd appreciate it if I could adjust what the LPM turns off. For example, I'm okay with the Always On display, heart rate notifications for irregular rhythm, high heart rate and low heart rate are disabled; I don't need those anyway. But I'd like the watch to keep tracking my heart rate in the background. It'd be brilliant if I could toggle which battery-saving options are enabled in LPM and which aren't.
Another feature that gets turned off when LPM is active is background blood oxygen measurements. This is one of the few features you can manually turn off, and I recommend doing so. SpO2 measurements are the single most useless and energy-consuming feature on almost all watches these days – one of my pet peeves, actually.
They generally don't contribute to any health insights, and most people can't use these measurements to improve their health. As soon as I turned it off in the settings, battery life went from an 'okay' 18 hours to an 'easy' 24 hours. Unless you're desperate to see the non-existent deviation in your blood oxygen levels throughout the day, I recommend deactivating this feature immediately.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Verdict
I started this review by saying that no Apple Watch iterations are revolutionary, but some are more revolutionary than others. The Apple Watch Series 7 introduced some of the most notable changes in Apple Watch design in recent years and did it without a significant price bump.
The Apple Watch Series 8 builds on this and further refines what makes the Apple Watch the best smartwatch. However, some new features, such as crash detection, medication logging, Afib history, etc., are either niche or don't add much to the everyday user experience.
What I appreciate the most were the improved health and fitness features. The Apple Watch Series 8 can be used for tracking sleep just as well as 'proper' sleep trackers, and the new-and-improved workout metrics and views bring the watch ever so close to being used for running training. It even has Track Running and Triathlon workout modes now!
I thoroughly enjoyed using the Apple Watch Series 8 and was completely obsessed with the Mickey Mouse watch face telling me the time every two seconds (I kept tapping it to hear Mickey's voice). The watch is as sleek as it's always been, and the price point is also more appealing than the Apple Watch Ultra (which, let's admit, will be used by suckers more than adventurers).
Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 8? If you have the Series 7, the answer is a definitive no. If you have any other Apple Watch or any other wearable in general, I'd recommend at least entertaining the idea of investing in Apple's latest non-rugged wearable. It's a premium smartwatch experience like no other.
Apple Watch Series 8 review: Also consider
Apart from all the watches mentioned in the above review (e.g. Series 7, Watch Ultra, etc.), you might want to consider the Google Pixel Watch. The first lovechild of Google and Fitbit, the Pixel Watch, is a sexy and feature-rich wearable that falls short only in a few categories. However, it's a superb Apple Watch alternative for Android smartphone users, particularly Pixel owners. Read my full Google Pixel Watch review.
Alternatively, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 is another decent alternative to the Apple Watch Series 8. It's an incremental upgrade compared to the Galaxy Watch 4, but there's no denying it's one of the best Android smartwatches around. Stylish to look at with a vibrant display, it's packed with comprehensive fitness tools. Read Jennifer's full Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 review.