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(Pocket-lint) - The Apple Watch Series 8 was announced alongside the next generation of the Watch SE and the rugged Apple Watch Ultra. With the Ultra model stealing the limelight for being the new and shiny toy, the Series 8 sits humbly in the background. 

Offering a similar design to its predecessor, along with the same chipset, the Apple Watch Series 8 has played it safe this year, like the iPhone 14 has compared to the iPhone 14 Pro

But does that mean it's a model to skip over? Or is the Apple Watch Series 8 a great upgrade for those on older Apple Watch models, and the perfect start for those looking to take the leap into Apple's smartwatch ecosystem? Here is our review.

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Our quick take

While the Apple Watch Series 8 doesn't offer huge change compared to the Watch Series 7, there's still a lot to be said for this smartwatch. If you're considering upgrading from the Series 7, then no, it's possibly not worth it this time around unless you really want that body temperature sensor, international roaming or car crash detection.

For anyone looking to take the Apple Watch leap though, or looking to upgrade from an older model, the Series 8 offers plenty. It's got a great design, heaps of sensors, more features than you'll probably know what to do with and while its battery life isn't the best on the smartwatch market, fast charging makes charging it daily a little less painful.

The Apple Watch Series 8 is a solid upgrade for those with a Series 6 or older, and a great starting place for those new to the Apple Watch world who have decided the Watch SE isn't enough.

Apple Watch Series 8 review: Same but different

Apple Watch Series 8

5 stars - Pocket-lint editors choice
For
  • Familiar design
  • Comfortable
  • Great display
  • Good sleep tracking
  • Some new features like Car Crash Detection
  • Solid performance
  • Fast charging
Against
  • No huge changes from Series 7
  • Action button from Ultra would have been nice

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Familiar design 

  • 41mm or 45mm options
  • Aluminium or stainless steel options
  • IP6X rated
  • Nike, Hermès options

You'd be forgiven for mistaking the Apple Watch Series 8 for the Apple Watch Series 7. While the Watch Ultra is clearly distinguishable from its siblings, the Watch Series 8 adopts an identical design to its predecessors.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it right? The Apple Watch design has been pretty much the same since the first model launched in 2015 and that's no bad thing. There's a rectangular face with rounded corners and curved edges, offering a soft and approachable design with no harsh angles. Would we have liked to see flat edges like the rest of Apple's most recent products? Sure, but mainly for a little change.

The Apple Watch design works well as it is though so it's no huge surprise it has not changed again. Like the Series 7, the Series 8 is very comfortable to wear and lightweight enough that it doesn't cause too much distraction, even when sleeping. The aluminium models are lighter than the stainless steel models, as you might expect, but the stainless steel models do offer a more premium appeal, especially in the case of the Hermès edition.

The Digital Crown with an electrical heart rate sensor is positioned at the top of the right edge with a button beneath -both of which are easy to use - while a speaker sits on the left edge. There's no extra programmable Action button on the Watch Series 8 like there is on the Watch Ultra, which is a shame as we'd love to have seen that for being able to start a workout quickly for example, or pause a workout when we have wet hands.

On the underside of the casing is an optical heart rate sensor, along with several other sensors and the buttons for detaching the Watch straps, which is nice and easy to do. 

As with all previous Apple Watch models, previous Watch straps remain compatible, which we always love to hear. The Apple Watch straps are by no means cheap, especially when you consider the stainless steel or leather options so it's good to know your favourite strap can remain useable.

There are aluminium and stainless steel models again for the Series 8 - as we briefly mentioned - both of which are IP6X dust resistant, as well as offering 41mm and 45mm casing options. There are also a number of new colours, coupled with Hermès and Nike models.

Display

  • 1.7mm borders, same as Series 7
  • Always-on Retina display
  • 45mm model: 484 x 396 pixels
  • 41mm model: 430 x 352 pixels

On the top of the Apple Watch Series 8 casing is the display, which like the Series 7, pushes into the edges, maximising the space available. The Series 7 expanded the Series 6 display by an extra 20 per cent, but the Series 8 doesn't add any extra on top of that expansion.

The Series 8 therefore, offers the same display as the Series 7 with 1.7mm borders and a resolution of 484 x 396 pixels on the 45mm model and 430 x 352 pixels on the smaller model.

It's a lovely punchy display with vibrant colours and black blacks, and there's decent brightness too at 1000nits. We've not struggled to see the Series 8's display in bright conditions during our review period and the overall viewing experience is great, especially on the larger 45mm model that offers that little bit extra information compared to the 41mm model. 

Like the Series 7, the Series 8 also has an Always-on Retina display, differentiating it from the Apple Watch SE. It means you can always see important information, like the time and your Activity Rings for example, in a simplified format. It's not an essential feature - more of a nice to have - but it's good if you don't want a black rectangle on your wrist when you aren't using your Apple Watch. It's also one of those features that once you have it, you'll struggle to go back.

Hardware and performance

  • Dual core S8 chip
  • Electrical heart rate sensor, optical heart rate sensor, SpO2 sensor
  • Body temperature sensor
  • Gyroscope, accelerometer, altimeter, Compass, built-in GPS

The Apple Watch Series 8 runs on the dual-core S8 chip with 64-bit architecture. It's the same processing unit as the Series 7, which is the same as the Series 6, so there's not been an upgrade on this front for a couple of years now. Is that a problem? Well, no not really. The Series 8 has no issues with performance in our experience, just like the Series 7 didn't.

On the sensor side of things, the Apple Watch Series 8 has an electrical heart rate sensor within the Digital Crown, as we mentioned, along with an optical heart rate sensor on the underside of the casing. 

There's also an SpO2 sensor, gyroscope, altimeter and accelerometer on board, as well as a compass and built-in GPS. The accelerometer has been upgraded to recognise up to 256 g-forces compared to 32 g-forces, allowing it to detect if you were in a car crash - more on that in a minute.

The Series 8 also adds a body temperature sensor to its list of attributes. This is used for helping detect ovulation in women, rather than being able to detect a fever for example. We are still testing this element of the Watch Series 8 so we will update this review when we have used this feature fully and gained data over a couple of cycles.

Battery

  • Up to 18 hours
  • Fast charging support
  • 0-100 per cent in an hour

In terms of battery, there's the same 18-hour promise on the Series 8 as there was with the Series 7. It's lower than competitors, some of which have between three and four days, and it means you'll have to charge the Watch Series 8 every night, especially the 41mm model.

The 45mm model performs well though in our experience. It uses around 10 per cent for sleep tracking and you'll easily get through the day and evening, but it won't last much into the next morning if you don't charge it. We ended most days at around 40 per cent during our review period, which then saw us through to around 12pm the following day once we had used it for sleep tracking.

There is fast charge support though so you won't have to wait quite as long as you did with the Series 6 to get your device charged back up, which is good now that sleep tracking is more useful. In our experience, the Watch Series 8 charges from flat to full in an hour.

Features and software

  • watchOS 9
  • Body temperature, Car Crash Detection, International Roaming 
  • Fall detection, Emergency SOS, Multi-sport tracking, sleep tracking 
  • Apple Watch App Store

When it comes to features, the Apple Watch Series 8 packs them in, like its predecessors do. There are some extra features with watchOS 9 - which you can read all about in our separate feature - like more advanced sleep tracking, improvements to the Workout app and changes to the Health app.

Sleep tracking is good on the Apple Watch - now offering sleep stages. It's still not as advanced as the likes of Fitbit, which not only offers you sleep stages, but analysis of the results too, but Apple has at least made some solid improvements in this area and wearing the Watch Series 8 to bed is surprisingly not noticeable. In fact, we barely noticed it on our wrist at all.

The watchOS 9 software build is available on all Apple Watches from the Series 4 and later, but some features, like the body temperature readings are exclusive to the Watch Series 8 and Watch Ultra models.

There are also some other features that are hardware dependant, like the Car Crash Detection feature that uses the accelerometer, barometer, GPS and the microphone to detect if you have been in a car crash. The Watch Series 8 will call the emergency services if it detects this, as well as send your location and it will alert your emergency contacts too. We didn't test this during our review period and to be honest, we hope we never find out how well this feature works.

The Watch Series 8 also has Fall detection on board, noise monitoring, Emergency SOS and International emergency calling, as well as high and low heart rate notifications and irregular heart rhythm notifications. There is also International roaming on board the LTE models.

Additionally, the Watch Series 8 offers the ability to track multiple sports like running, cycling and swimming, among plenty more, and it does this brilliantly, as its predecessors have done. The Apple Watch has always been accurate when it comes to heart rate tracking, and the Workout app offers a multitude of options, from Yoga to Weights and most things in between. 

If you're new to Apple Watch, you'll be hooked on closing your rings almost immediately. For those that already have an Apple Watch and are considering upgrading, the Watch Series 8 is very accurate in its tracking in our experience so it won't let you down here.

You'll also receive smartphone notifications on the Watch Series 8 and actually be able to do something with them, and you can perform an ECG and track blood oxygen too. There's the Apple Watch App Store too with thousands of apps if you want more from your wrist - something it does a lot better than competitors.

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To recap

While the Apple Watch Series 8 doesn't offer huge changes compared to the Watch Series 7, there's still a lot to be said for this smartwatch. If you're considering upgrading from the Series 7, then no, it's possibly not worth it this time around unless you really want that body temperature sensor, international roaming, or car crash detection. The Watch Series 8 is a solid upgrade for those with a Series 6 or older though, and a great starting place for those new to the Apple Watch world who have decided the Watch SE isn't enough.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle.
Sections Apple Smartwatches