I started using an Apple Watch on April 24, 2015, and I have worn one every single day since. I loved my original Apple Watch for its basic functions that were built-in by Apple: receiving notifications such as new emails or messages, quick responses to text messages and emails, the fitness and activity functions, a quick way to glance at my calendar appointments and the current time, etc. But I didn't like the way that my original Apple Watch worked with third party apps. They were so slow to launch, and slow to update data, that I found myself rarely using them.
Apple addressed the major shortcomings of the original Apple Watch in a one-two punch this month. First, Apple released watchOS 3.0, which made every Apple Watch faster when working with third party apps. Second, Apple released the Series 2 version of the Apple Watch, adding even more speed and other cool new features such as GPS, a brighter screen and being waterproof. I've been using the stainless steel 42 mm Apple Watch Series 2 ($599) for about a week now. Here are my thoughts.
I'll start with the new features in Series 2. There are four key differences: speed, brightness, GPS and waterproofing. Battery and size are also worth mentioning.
Speed. The original Apple Watch was begging to be faster. The software upgrade in watchOS 3 improves things by letting you keep your most commonly used apps in memory, even apps from third parties, making it faster when you launch those apps. That's great, and certainly better than before, but the original Apple Watch running watchOS 3 is still no speed demon. To get more speed, you need updated hardware.
The 2016 version of the Apple Watch features a hardware processor that makes the watch 50% faster, plus a new GPU that makes graphics twice as fast, plus a dual-core processor. Put it all together, and both 2016 models of the Apple Watch (Series 1 and Series 2) are responsive. When I go to start a workout with my Series 2 Apple Watch, the Workout app pops up with virtually no delay. Third Party apps that I have placed in the dock launch instantly, and while sometimes for some third party apps I need to wait a few seconds for data to load, and a few apps take even longer than a few seconds, it is much faster than when I try the same thing on my original Apple Watch updated to watchOS 3.
Launching third party apps that are not in your dock is still slow, but much less slower than before. Launch times vary from app to app, so rather than a quantitative analysis I'll provide a qualitative one: on my original Apple Watch, launching these third party apps is slow enough that I often just lose interest and go on to something else. But on the Series 2 Apple Watch, the wait for an non-dock app to open is annoying but not so annoying that I give up. And of course, whenever I find a third party app that I want to use often, I just add it to my dock, which turns that app into a fast-loading app.
Speed on an Apple Watch is important for the same reason that it is important on an iPhone or iPad: it improves responsiveness. Whenever you press a virtual button on a screen and have to wait for something to happen, you get at least a little annoyed. On the other hand, when pressing virtual button yields immediate results, you almost forget that the button is virtual, and instead just focus on the task that you were triggering by pressing the button.
I presume that the Apple Watch will get faster every time that Apple updates the hardware. (At this point, we don't know how frequently Apple will update the Apple Watch. This update took almost a year and a half. I suspect the next update will be in the Fall of 2017, but maybe not until 2018.) A future, Series 3, Apple Watch will surely be faster, but the speed upgrade this year is a significant one, enough to make the Apple Watch noticeably more pleasant to use.
Brightness. The original Apple Watch is more than bright enough when you are inside, when you are outside at night, or when you are outside in the shade. But in the sun, it can be hard to see.
The screen on the Series 2 Apple Watch is twice as bright. I thought that would mean that it is much brighter when I am inside, but frankly I don't see any difference between the original Apple Watch and the Series 2 Apple Watch. Look at this picture taken inside and tell me if you can see the difference:
The original Apple Watch in the above picture is on the left with the white band; the new Series 2 Apple Watch is on the right with the black band.
On the other hand, when I'm outside, the brighter screen is a noticeable improvement. Let me show you what I mean. There is a watch face called X-Large which I like to use when I am outside on a sunny day. It makes the numbers as large and bold as possible to give you the best chance to see it in direct sunlight. In the following pictures, for both watches, I have brightness turned up to maximum (which is the setting that I always use). In this first picture, it is a sunny day but I waited to take the picture until the sun was behind a cloud, so it wasn't as bright. I can see the X-Large display on both the Apple Watch Series 2 (left, with black band) and the original Apple Watch (right, with white band), but it is much easier to see on the newer Apple Watch:
Of course even in the above picture, you can read both screens. That's what I like about the X-Large display, with its large fonts. But if you are outside at the park or a concert, and you are trying to read a text message from a friend on your watch, the additional brightness in that smaller text is a big improvement and makes things much more legible.
What if you are in direct sunlight on a hot New Orleans day with no shade? This is a very difficult condition for an Apple Watch (or an iPhone screen, for that matter). With the sun beating down on the watch, the original Apple Watch is just barely visible, even with this X-Large display watch face. The display on the newer Apple Watch is somewhat hard to see in the direct sunlight, but it is a big improvement over the original Apple Watch:
I like this feature of the Series 2 Apple Watch. The Apple Watch often works best when you can glance at it for a half a second and get the info that you need. The brighter screen means that, even on a sunny day, you can still do so in that half a second, without needing to hold up your watch closer to your face and squinting.
GPS. When you are walking or running outside, you can improve the accuracy of your distance, pace, and calorie measurements by using GPS. These accuracy improvements are helpful not only for that specific outdoor workout, but also for calibrating your watch to help it to learn your fitness level and stride, which improves your distance, pace and calorie measurements when you are exercising inside on a treadmill.
With the original Apple Watch, getting the added accuracy that GPS provides meant carrying your iPhone with you while you were exercising. Often, that is not ideal. Because the Series 2 Apple Watch has a built-in GPS, you get the accuracy that GPS provides without the hassle of carrying your iPhone with you. If you have a playlist with songs that you like to listen to when you workout, you can sync those to your Apple Watch. That way, all you need is your Apple Watch and a pair of Bluetooth headphones to walk or run outside. On the other hand, if you want to listen to a podcast while you are outside, there is not an easy way to sync those episodes to the Apple Watch, so it is easier just carrying your iPhone with you.
An added bonus of GPS is that the watch gives you a map after your walking or running workout is over so that you can see where you have been. For example, I recently took a walk up and down St. Charles Ave., the beautiful street in New Orleans where the streetcars operate. I started the Outdoor Walk function in the Workout app on the Apple Watch. Then I walked one direction on one side of the street, and the other direction on the other side of the street. When I was done, I could launch the Activity app on my iPhone and see exactly where I had walked, with green areas indicating where I had walked a little faster, and red areas indicating where I had walked a little slower — because, for example, I had to wait for cars to pass before I could cross an intersection.
Although I try to walk or run just about every day, I virtually always do it using a treadmill in my house, so the new GPS feature isn't particularly useful to me. However, if you regularly exercise outdoors, either walking or running, and you don't want to carry your iPhone with you, then you might really appreciate the new GPS feature. I've heard many serious runners tell me that they wouldn't even consider using a smartwatch while running unless it had a GPS built-in.
Waterproof. Even the original Apple Watch was reasonably water resistant. I wore it many times when I was in water and when my arm was only occasionally going under water — such as when I was at the beach with my kids and in water that was only up to about my chest, and several times when I was in a "lazy river" at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans with my kids. But whenever I got my original Apple Watch wet, I was conscious about not getting it too wet, just to be safe.
The Series 2 Apple Watch is waterproof, and it even has workout features designed specifically for swimming laps in a pool or swimming in the open water. I enjoy swimming laps, but I don't have the opportunity to do it very often. I had planned to test the Series 2 Apple Watch in a pool this past weekend, but unfortunately my schedule didn't allow for it. I did wear my Series 2 Apple Watch in the shower once and it held up just fine, but the main thing that experience accomplished was to remind me that it is completely unnecessary for me to ever wear a watch in the shower. I mean, seriously, why do people do that?
Even though the hardcore swimming-for-exercise that I do is rare, I know that I will appreciate the peace of mind that comes along with having a waterproof Apple Watch. I can keep my hand underwater for long periods of time, and even keep it on while in a pool with my kids, without having to worry about the water harming the electronics. Thus, any time that I am around water, I just won't have to worry about the fact that I'm wearing my watch. And since I wear my Apple Watch all day long every day, this is nice.
Battery. Apple doesn't advertise the Series 2 Apple Watch as having better battery life than the original Apple Watch; the company suggests 18 hours for both. But in this first week of usage, I have noticed more battery life at the end of every day.
Does this matter? For me, mostly no. I charge my watch every night when I go to bed, so whether it has 10% or 50% left at the end of the day is of no real consequence. But if you use the smaller 38 mm size watch — which has a smaller battery — this might matter to you. Serenity Caldwell of iMore wrote a recent review in which she says that the improved battery life is one of her favorite new features for the 38 mm watch. For example, she states that "a morning cross-training workout dropped my battery from 100% to 89%; the same workout on the [original Apple Watch] put it at 53%."
Size. If you own an original Apple Watch, the new Series 2 is almost exactly the same size, but it is about 1 mm thicker. This is an incredibly minor difference. In the following picture, the original stainless steel Apple Watch is on the left, and the Series 2 stainless steel Apple Watch is on the right. Zoomed in like this, I suppose you can see the slight difference.
In actual use, however, I really don't think I can feel the difference. The other day, I was wearing a shirt with a tighter cuff, and I thought to myself — aha, I can feel the larger size of the new Apple Watch. But then I put the old Apple Watch on, and the cuff was still tight with the watch underneath it.
Don't get me wrong; I'd much prefer for Apple to make the Apple Watch slimmer with each generation, not thicker. I wasn't thrilled to learn about the 1 mm increase. Fortunately, I really haven't noticed the difference.
Summing up the new features. The new features of the Series 2 are nice. If you are a swimmer or an outdoor runner, then they will be really important for you. For me, the speed is the main reason that I am happy that I upgraded from the original Apple Watch to the Series 2 Apple Watch, although the brighter screen and being waterproof are also nice.
Note that you can get the speed increase in the Series 1 Apple Watch, which is cheaper than the Series 2. However, the Series 1 Apple Watch only comes in the aluminum model. I greatly prefer the look of the stainless steel model. After all, a watch is not just a useful device, it is also jewelry, and if you are going to wear a piece of jewelry all day long every day, you want for it to be something that you like. Also, the stainless steel model has a Sapphire crystal face, while the aluminum watch uses the not-quite-as-good Ion-X glass. I suppose I'm a clumsy oaf because I cannot even count the number of times that I accidentally hit the face of my original Apple Watch on an object — wall, fence, lamp, chair, table, pretty much you name it. But after almost a year and a half of abuse, there isn't a single scratch on the face. Would the Ion-X glass have held up as well? Who knows, and I don't want to find out.
If you own the original Apple Watch and you are thinking of upgrading, you'll need to decide whether the cost of the Series 1 or Series 2 makes sense for you. If swimming and the GPS features are not particularly important for you, then speed is the main reason to upgrade. The Series 2 (and I presume also the Series 1) speed increase is noticeable and very nice. But to be fair, it is not Earth-shattering. For me, every noticeable speed increase is a welcome speed increase. If I am holding up my arm to look at my watch, the last thing I want to do is hold up my arm even longer to wait for something to happen. But if you are satisfied with the speed increase that watchOS 3 brings to your first generation Apple Watch (the Series Zero?), then perhaps it makes the most sense for you to put off a watch upgrade for another year or so when the Series 3 is released.
What's old, but still great
Those are my thoughts if you are interested in what is new in the 2016 edition of the Apple Watch. But if you don't currently own an Apple Watch at all, feel free to pat yourself on the back for waiting for Apple to work out the kinks in its first generation watch. You now have some great options with the Series 1 Apple Watch (if you want aluminum and don't care about GPS or being waterproof) or the Series 2 Apple Watch that I have. (Or you can be even fancier and get the white ceramic "Edition" model, which is even more expensive.)
The Apple Watch is a fantastic iPhone companion. When notifications come in, you no longer have to locate and look at your iPhone. Just glance at your wrist. Better yet, you don't have to listen for a beep or feel for a buzz on the iPhone; the Apple Watch silently taps on your wrist when it wants your attention. Nobody else will ever know.
Sometimes, a notification of a new message or email or other item will prompt you to reach for your iPhone. But often, the notification itself was sufficient. Or if a response is required, it is easy to send one from the Apple Watch by tapping on one of the suggested responses, or using your finger to draw a few letters. Or, if you are in an environment where you can make noise, it is easy to dictate a response on the watch using Siri.
I also love that I can glance at my wrist to quickly get the information that I need. When I'm at work, I use a watch face that shows me the time, date, and my next appointment, plus shows in a small circle my activity for the day. On the weekend when I'm being active with my kids, I switch to a watch face that has a larger activity circle — or, if I'm feeling silly, to a Mickey Mouse watch face. Thanks to watchOS 3, I can press the button on the side of the watch to quickly get information from, or use the features of, other apps. For example, I love that when my iPhone is playing music or a podcast, I can use the Now Playing app to play, pause, skip forward or backward, etc.
With the Apple Watch, I don't even have to worry about having my iPhone in my pocket. Sometimes my iPhone is somewhere else in the room. Or, my iPhone can be in my house while I am doing work outside, and my watch will let me know if I get a call, an email, etc. (because the Wi-Fi at my house extends out far enough).
I also love Apple Pay on the Apple Watch. Being able to pay for a sandwich just by moving my arm closer to the little machine next to a cash register is both fast and fun.
If you use devices in your home compatible with Apple's HomeKit, it is really nice to be able to tap a button on your watch, or speak to Siri on your watch, to turn lights on or off, dim lights when you are ready to watch a movie, etc.
And finally, I love that the Apple Watch motivates me to be more active. Thanks to my Apple Watch, I have been using my treadmill or otherwise been active virtually every single day.
If you have been thinking about getting an Apple Watch but were waiting for a second generation model, your wait is over. I encourage you to get one. You'll get all of the advantages of the original Apple Watch, plus the new bells and whistles, plus much less of the aggravation associated with the slower hardware and less refined 1.0 software.
If you already have an original Apple Watch, you don't need to upgrade — unless you are a swimmer or an outdoor runner, in which case this new watch is made just for you. Having said that, even if the GPS and waterproofing are less important to you, if you upgrade anyway, I'm sure that you'll still appreciate the increase in speed, and the brighter screen will be nice when you are outside.