Review: Apple Watch Series 2

AWS2 42mm Space Grey Aluminium

After just over 2 years since my daughter was born, I finally have the energy and time to get back to the gym. I haven’t exercised in any meaningful way since she was born. Prior to becoming a dad, I hit the gym 4 times a week and would even work in a run on 1 or 2 more days in between sessions. I really enjoy exercising. Not necessarily for the health benefits (weird huh) but more for the challenge and pushing to see what I can do.

Therefore, I gamify my gym sessions. How long did a session take? What was my max weight on that exercise? What’s my streak like? What’s my average pace? I like to quantify and measure what I do. I even journal. That also means I use a lot of different apps to help me in this, endeavour, I would call it. I recently discovered the ultimate life-quantifying app, Gyroscope, it integrates with apps like Moves and RescueTime and uses Apple’s own HealthKit as a major source of data. For exercising, I use Argus (I subscribed to the Premium Plan) as it allows me to track running and gym workouts from a single app.

So when I decided I wanted to get back into the gym, my quantification obsession drove me to search for a wearable that could help me gather all that data. I only use Apple products in my personal life, so I was never going to look at anything else than the Apple Watch. My problem initially was that I either had to wait for the launch of the Series 2, which was 6 weeks away or get the original Apple Watch which was already being discounted. I literally got the point of paying for the purchase through the online store, only to cancel it.Twice.

So when I decided I wanted to get back into the gym, my quantification obsession drove me to search for a wearable

Finally, the Series 2 launched in South Africa on Friday 14 October, only for the universe to conspire against me and my watch was only delivered on the Monday. Never have I wished a weekend over before then. The courier arrived at around noon, and all else was forgotten as I settled in to unbox Apple’s newest wearable. I was not disappointed.

Apple really knows how to to make you feel good about your purchase. No buyer’s remorse here. Slick and svelte packaging, tactile materials and snug fits. Glorious. My initial reaction to picking up the watch was its weight, it weighs almost nothing. Coming from a chunky stainless steel Police watch, it felt like I wasn’t wearing anything on my arm at all. Obviously you can purchase different bands, ranging from the included silicone Sports bands to the metal and leather varieties which will all change the weight of the device.

Skipping the included setup instructions, as I always do, I slapped it on my wrist (very easily I might say) and started to prod and push at the screen, the digital crown and the side dock button. Then I realised that I would need that annoying Watch app that I’ve hidden in the Apple folder on the very last screen of my iPhone. Once you have a Watch, the app isn’t so annoying anymore. A minute or so later my watch was paired and set up. During setup, you need to log in with your Apple ID and then you also have the option to have the watch automatically install all apps on our phone that have an Apple Watch app. I decided against this, choosing to rather cherry pick the apps I wanted on the watch. That done, I could start playing around.

First off, select a face. There aren’t that many to choose from, more like 5 or 6 base designs and then quite a few variations on each. Most of the watch faces allow you to customise the information on the face so you have quick access to 3 or 4 apps you use most, or like I did, customise a few watch faces for different occasions. I have one watch face I use when at work with the messages, Outlook, battery and weather info on it and a second face for when I’m at the gym (heart rate, music, stopwatch and timer). You can also choose colours for fonts and faces (like for the chronograph and simple designs). I have not yet been able to find a Star Wars or Star Trek themed face. Oh come on, you know that would be cool!

Next up was the dock. By pressing the button just below the digital crown, you can bring up a customisable dock which holds your 10 most-used apps side-by-side and gives a quick peek into the last activity (this seems to be based on if the app on your phone updates in the background). Finally, you can install apps and then arrange where on the apps home screen they appear. If you’ve used a PS Vita, you’ll know exactly what to do. If not, it’s quite fun watching someone do this the first time…

It’s all pretty intuitive to set up and if you’ve ever used a watch and an Apple device, you shouldn’t have too many issues. Once you’ve gone through these setups you can start tinkering around with how you want notifications to work, the intensity of the haptic feedback etc.

It’s a little bit of magic that brings a smile to my face every time I use it.

I’m just going to run down some of the stock apps to give you a feel of what they do and the value they add. The heart rate monitor app is easy to use, tap the icon on the main app screen or on the watch face shortcut and the device will immediately start measuring your heart rate. Note that the watch measures your heart rate continuously throughout the course of the day. The Activity app gives a quick breakdown of steps, calories burned and your Standing score, a function that encourages you to stand and walk around every hour. The Music app will contain all your playlists and tracks in My Music, a quick tap to Beats 1 and a Now Playing shortcut. The Remote app will synchronise to any Apple TV’s or other compatible Apple devices that you’ve paired with the Remote app on your iPhone and seamlessly allow you to control those devices without you having to set up everything again. It’s a little bit of magic that brings a smile to my face every time I use it.

Making and receiving phone calls is just as easy and actually works quite well. The sound through the built in speakers is fine if you’re in a quiet setting and the microphone picks up speech well. The Messages app (and current watch compatible email and messaging apps) allow basic replies right off the watch, you won’t be replying in full sentences, though. The voice dictation works very well so you really don’t need to type. The stock Weather app also functions well and when integrated into a watch face will give you temperature and current conditions which is useful.

The third party apps I use that have Watch apps all work well and provide good functionality. There are a few omissions, though:

  • Moves doesn’t have a native Watch app. It would’ve been nice to see step count and places visited right on the screen or be able to add tags to places
  • Gyroscope also is absent. There are many opportunities here for a native Watch app, hopefully, they release one soon
  • Audible is also missing, I listen to a lot of audiobooks, so not having a native app bugs me a little
  • I use a budgeting app called 22seven. It’s localised for South Africa and works with almost all local financial institutions. There are a plethora of opportunities here. Svens, if you’re reading this, hit a brother up and I’ll share some ideas
  • I use Sleep Cycle. Also no app. This is one of the weirdest ommissions, I thought an acceleremoter-equipped device would be perfect to use in sync with the sound based iPhone app.

 

Notifications ping through nicely and the haptic feedback (you can set the intensity of the vibrations) don’t distract too much. The screen is very responsive and, without ever having used the original Watch to compare, is very crisp and clear. Battery life is really good compared to what I read of the first model. I get 2 days off a single charge and that was with a lot of playing and fiddling as it goes with a new device. Don’t go there…

All-in-all a very good device, with the exception of third party developers whose apps I use that haven’t released native Watch apps yet (hopefully), I cannot think of a single thing that has not met or exceeded my expectations. In fact, at least once a day now for the last week I, or the watch, do something that makes me smile and go “Apple do have wizards working there.”