Apple Watch OS 8 has some great new features but the portrait watch face is my favorite

Trying out Apple’s Watch OS 8 beta, it’s this new face option that really impresses

Apple Watch OS 8
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch is far more than just a watch. In many ways, it’s a full smartphone on your wrist, complete with music, apps and even the ability to make and receive calls. But when it comes to the crunch, what we want from any watch is that it’s nice to look at, while also telling the time.

The upcoming update of Apple’s Watch OS brings lots of improved features to the Apple Watch, irrespective of whether you are buying a brand-new model or have one that’s a few years old. The wallet and home app make it more useful for daily use, the new workout types allow you to better track your activities and the on-watch messaging is much improved. However, it’s a new watch face that is winning for me.

Watch OS 8 features a new Portraits watch face that uses photos taken with the iPhone’s portrait function and superimposes the time into them. While the clock digits can be placed towards the top or bottom of the image, they can also be placed behind the person in the image, like a fashion magazine cover.

Apple Watch OS 8

(Image credit: Future)

The feature makes use of Apple’s subject isolating technology, which it uses to blur the background of portrait mode shots. This allows it to make it look like the clock is behind the head of the person, giving the whole thing a three-dimensional feel. The person will even move slightly as you move your wrist.

The Portraits watch face allows you to import up to 24 photos into the feature, which will slowly scroll through on your watch so that you see a different image each time you look at it. Each of the images can then be moved and scaled to fit the display and the clock digits placed either bottom front, top front or top behind.

As you reposition your portrait, the software will warn you if the time is being obscured and won’t let you save. The ideal is to have just a small amount of the head over the bottom of the number, so an image with lots of space above the person is easier to place.

Apple Watch OS 8

(Image credit: Future)

You can also edit the font of the clock between rounded, classic or modern and choose two complications. You can also share the watch face you’ve created with others – if they have Watch OS 8.

Currently, not every portrait picture allows you to place the time behind the subject. Any portraits I’d taken of my dog didn’t give me that option – perhaps the algorithm isn’t able to properly define the dog's head as it can a person. It could also be that this will be improved before the final version goes live in September.

‘On This Day’ and ‘Favorite’ photos can also be viewed on the Apple Watch with Watch OS 8, and shared with friends straight from the watch by message or email. While I’d never previously been taken by having my photos appear on my watch face, the new portraits watch face has me hooked and I’m sure it will be a popular feature.

Mat Gallagher
Mat Gallagher

As T3's Managing Editor in the US, Mat is a true lover of gadgets, but especially anything that involves cameras, cars, music or travel. Originally from the UK, he has written about technology since 2003 and after stints in Beijing and Hong Kong, is now based in Chicago.