(Pocket-lint) - As the Apple Watch continues to polarise opinion, Apple has released a new version of the smartwatch which hopes to address many of the concerns of the first outing. It's called the Apple Watch Series 2.
The new watch features a much greater focus on fitness; it's a device that tries to bridge the void between a basic fitness tracker, like products from Fitbit, and a full-blown dedicated sportswatch, such as those from Garmin.
Does the Series 2's shift towards fitness, with its inclusion of built-in GPS tracking and water-resistance for swimming, pay off? Is there enough new to appeal to those who couldn't fathom why they should buy the original model in the first place?
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Apple's shift from pure fashion accessory with some smarts to a device that supports a range of different sports and activities in the Apple Watch Series 2 is a welcome advance.
With built-in GPS, a better battery (although it's still very much one day per charge), water-resistance and a much greater focus on fitness, the Apple Watch finally works at workouts.
That's a massive gain over the first-generation device and one that is likely to appeal to those wanting more than a Fitbit, but who are scared by an all-powerful, athlete-focused watch from Garmin or Polar. However, for those who take their sport very seriously, we still can't see the Watch 2 replacing a dedicated sportswatch just yet. It's really for those looking for a do-it-all device that could easily go with a suit or some Lyrca.
Over the last two years the Apple Watch improved to offer plenty - and the Series 2 is the current pinnacle of that. From notifications and Apple Pay, to heart-rate monitoring and fitness tracking; it can also act as a remote to control your HomeKit smarthome devices, or even quickly unlock your Mac.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is so much more than just a pretty smartwatch. It's now a smartwatch with a purpose.
Apple Watch Series 2
- Now 50m water resistant
- Built-in GPS
- Better battery
- Unlock your Mac is fun
- Two-button workout pause option
- WatchOS 3 makes for a better overall experience
- No always-on display option
- No 'Cinema Mode' can be annoying
- Some won't like square design
Apple Watch Series 2 review: Design
When it comes to looks, the Watch Series 2 is virtually identical to the original. It comes in the same two sizes (38mm and 42mm), features a rectangular display, a digital crown control, and a single button on the side.
The straps available for the first Apple Watch still fit the Series 2 and, if you're an upgrader, you'll notice nothing different in terms of the look and feel on your wrist.
We like the square design, and some of the new watch faces being introduced in the latest WatchOS 3 operating system now make much better use of the space available to them compared to some of the first iterations.
For 2016 the Apple Watch range has changed slightly, too, now offering a few more partnerships to appeal to different users.
That ludicrously expensive £10,000 gold Apple Watch has been retired, and in its place a slightly more affordable glossy white ceramic model - which has been buffed for over two hours, of course - sits in the range, costing a mere £1,249-£1,299 instead. Still not exactly a bargain, but it does look nice.
There are also new Hermes models with exclusive straps and watch faces. And pushing the fitness angle even further there's a dedicated tie-in with Nike, which comes with a very holey, and therefore flexible, strap, along with two bold watch faces that use the Nike design language and iconography. The latter will be available slightly later in the year, in October.
Aside from the exclusive watch faces and straps, there is no difference in technology between all the different models. An owner of the Hermes edition gets exactly the same on-the-wrist experience as the owner of the Nike Watch+ version. Nike has confirmed that the Nike Watch app will be available to all on release, whichever Watch you buy.
Apple Watch Series 2 review: Upgrades
It might look the same, but virtually everything inside the Series 2 has been upgraded or changed compared to the original.
There is a more capacious battery (that's why the Series 2 is around 1mm thicker - but you won't notice), there is a brighter screen, there is a faster processor, and there is GPS.
The Series 2 is also completely water-resistant down to 50m. And while Apple is clearly not expecting you to dive to Advance Padi levels with the Watch, it is designed to withstand the pressures of swimming.
Apple claims the new S2 Watch processor is 50 per cent faster than the original, too, and that is certainly noticeable in the speed at which apps can load. From a cold start they can still take a few seconds, but if you've got them in your "dock" then they load instantly.
Load times are nowhere near as long as they were on the first Apple Watch, and the days of the screen going blank before the app had even loaded are now a thing of the past.
As the Watch Series 2 is expected to be used under water or on a run, it now sports a much brighter screen - two times brighter, in fact.
In our testing - in the office, in the pool, while swimming in a lake, running in the midday sun, or chilling out in the pub in the evening - the screen certainly looks a lot brighter. It's crisp and clear, too.
While such brightness is perfect in the pool it can have a negative and distracting affect at times, certainly in dark environments like a restaurant or the cinema. The Activity Analogue Watch face towards the end of the day for example, glows bright like a heavily decorated Christmas tree. Some greater control based on ambient light surroundings, beyond three options buried in the Settings menu would be useful, even Android Wear offers a Cinema Mode.
One of our biggest bugbears about the first Apple Watch is that it didn't have built-in GPS. That meant you still had to carry your iPhone with you when out on a run. While that's now a force of habit for many people, being able to lose the phone is hugely welcomed from a fitness perspective.
The simple addition of GPS makes the new Apple Watch a much more capable device. The GPS, which also includes GLONAS support, is fast to pinpoint you the moment you disconnect from the iPhone. It's able to do that because, and like many other dedicated sportswatches that connect to your phone, the Watch is actually using a number of data sets to track you before you even set off - be it Wi-Fi, a GPS signal, or your iPhone. Gone are the days days of GPS watches without a phone connection and waiting for a signal before you set off.
In use and the GPS works just as expected. On our runs the route has been virtually spot on (there is some variation due to tree cover), but certainly within the expected parameters. Interestingly when on an open water swim the GPS is only able to work while out of the water, meaning you'll have to swim freestyle rather than, say, breast stroke with your arms always submerged in order for it to work at its best. But the software does its best to fill in the gaps between those registered signals to create a full map of your swim.
The original Apple Watch wasn't in any way water friendly, which meant the first sign of rain, sea, or a pool, would send most wearers into a mild sweat.
That issue has now disappeared with the addition of water-resistance. You can run in the rain or go swimming, take a shower or jump in a fountain. It opens up a whole new avenue of training options.
Included in the Workout app are two dedicated swimming workouts: Pool Swim and Open Water Swim.
The Pool Swim workout allows you to set a pool length distance before starting so you can track your lengths. The distance is tracked by your stroke movement with the Watch using the in-built accelerometer to determine when you've made a turn. Very clever. Swim 1,500m and you don't have to remember whether the last pool length was 55 or 57 strokes. We like that a lot.
The accelerometer is also used to automatically determine your stroke and then determine the calories you've burned based on the type of strokes you use. It sounds bonkers, but it works. The Watch has been able to determine if we've swam mixed, freestyle, butterfly, breast stroke, and back stroke without us telling it.
On an Open Water Swim you lose the length guidance, but then gain GPS support - as long as you swim freestyle, as the GPS tracking won't work underwater. Knowing you swam 500m at a certain pace and still have another 500m to go is very handy.
The only caveat to using the Apple Watch in the water is that you can't use your fingers on the screen as the water confuses things. To solve that issue you can lock the screen so it doesn't go crazy.
And once you're done in the water the unlocking process goes as far to use the speaker to play a sound to eject the water that's inside its chamber. You don't see any of this mind you (you might hear a sound), but it is a cool fact to bore your mates with.
Battery life is also better than in the first-generation watch. Apple claims you'll be able to do a slow marathon (5.5-hours) on a single charge, or more likely the case, a decent run and still get to the end of the day.
In our experience so far, a 1,500m pool swim and a 1km open water swim uses roughly 15 per cent of the battery. Or we've found the battery is good enough to cope with a 10km run and a full day of notifications. That wasn't possible with the first-gen Apple Watch.
You will still need to recharge every night though. The Apple Watch Series 2, just like the original, is very much a one day per charge smartwatch.
Apple Watch Series 2 review: WatchOS 3
Like the iPhone, the Apple Watch also gets a complete software revamp with a lot of changes being made for the better. WatchOS 3 brings huge performance boosts and enhancements.
Press the side button on the Watch and instead of the on-screen wheel designated for only your friends who've also got a Watch, you now have a "dock" that allows you to scroll left to right through your favourite apps. And having the apps accessible from there means you can load them instantly. The main cluster design is still accessed by tapping the digital crown, but we've found we hardly bothered with it once we picked out our favourites.
Fitness apps from Runkeeper to Strava allow you to gee your friends into action by sharing your activity with them, and now you can do the same with the Apple Watch. Here though, it is not just about workouts, it is all about your daily activity, be it a friend or a fitness instructor.
Those you are sharing with get told when you've hit your goals or completed a workout and, likewise, you can see what they are up to too - making it really easy to send motivational messages (or otherwise) their way.
We aren't sure how long the excitement will last, but we've already found ourselves making sure we hit our targets, just to say we are fitter than those we are sharing with. Which, at the moment, is only one other person - we might get even more competitive when more friends update to OS 3.
The irony of the Breathe app is that it tries to make you take a minute out of your life to just focus on your breathing. Doing so calms you down. Of course you wouldn't perhaps be so stressed if messages weren't coming at you from all angles - like, say, on your Mac, your iPad, your iPhone, your Apple TV, and your Apple Watch.
Still, it's a great way to slow you down if things get a little heated, and it's very much like counting to 10 to cool down a situation. A minute gives you seven breaths, while five minutes (the maximum) gives you 35. Peaceful.
Unlocking your Mac
If you've got a MacBook you now have the ability to unlock it with your Apple Watch - as long as you are on the same network.
The process takes a couple of seconds, about the same time as it does to type in a password, but is very cool. We wish Apple would offer this for the iPad too (mobile computing and all that).
Don't panic, if colleagues access your computer while you're in the kitchen making a cuppa, you'll get a notification on the Watch. Gotcha! And the communication distance between Watch and laptop is limited, too, so it won't work if you're more than a number of metres away.
Apple Watch Series 2 review: Glanceability
There are still some niggles, however. Apple still hasn't fixed what we call the "glanceability" of the Apple Watch.
There is no "always on" or off option for the main display, or a secondary display as found in Android Wear watches. If you like sneaking a peek mid-meeting out of the corner of your eye, you'll still be disappointed that you can't do that.
The screen does feel like it jolts into action a lot quicker on the S2 model, so we haven't had to do a strange flick-of-the-wrist as in the first-generation smartwatch, but you do still have to move.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is now a device that is so much more than a pretty smartwatch that you are struggling to find a reason to use. It's now a smartwatch with a purpose.