Apple Watch Series 2 full review
This review was originally published on our sister site Macworld UK.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is no longer sold by Apple but is available at some UK retailers still. We reviewed the Apple Watch Series 3 here. Read on for our original Series 2 review.
Update 19 March: Amazon is offering the Series 2 in rose gold for £308 in its Easter Sale - the deal is available for one day only.
It's been a while coming. The constantly evolving iPhone and iPad line-up has taught us to expect Apple products to be updated on a yearly basis, but the first-gen Apple Watch was on the market for 16 months before Apple delivered its successor. And here it is: the Apple Watch Series 2, which attempts the classic second-gen tech product trick of correcting everything that went wrong with the original, retaining everything that went right, and expanding its appeal from early adopters to the elusive mainstream.
The Apple Watch Series 2, Apple's new flagship wearable, takes the niche-popularity Apple Watch and adds much-needed features such as GPS; improves and ratifies its waterproofing capabilities; and ups the processor clock speed so that (in concert with the streamlined watchOS 3 software) the device should be noticeably faster in use.
In our Apple Watch Series 2 review, we look at how the new Apple Watch Series 2 performs and compares to its predecessor, and to the Apple Watch Series 1 (a cheaper and more minor update, unveiled at the same time as the Series 2, which replaces, and is closer in design and feature set to, the original watch, but does get an upgraded processor).
We review and rate the Apple Watch Series 2's design, build quality, new (and old) features, general performance, tech specs and value for money - all in the name of helping you to decide whether to buy a new Apple Watch Series 2 (or Series 1), and whether it's worth upgrading from a first-gen Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 2 review: Design & build quality
Depending on the model, colour finish and watch strap you plump for, you may not be able to tell the difference between the Series 2 and the original Apple Watch.
There are new colour options and straps (and the Apple Watch Edition now comes in fairly extravagant ceramic rather than extremely extravagant gold), but the exterior chassis design is essentially the same - just very slightly thicker (a barely noticeable 11.4mm vs 10.5mm). Most of this extra thickness seems to have gone into the screen, on which more soon.
It's a strong and attractive design, in our opinion, albeit one that divided opinion at launch and continues to do so. Many people prefer the traditional aesthetics of a round watch face (such as the Guess Connect semi-smartwatch), although a rounded-corner rectangle is more practical for text display purposes… and more Apple, of course.
The minimalist design includes just two discreet hardware controls: a small rotatable dial that can also be pressed (called the Digital Crown), and the Side Button. These are both on the same side of the device. We found that the Digital Crown got a bit sticky over 16 months of sweaty and often fitness-focused everyday wear - of late we often tap it and accidentally activate Siri, which is supposed to respond to a long press. It's clearly too early to say whether the Series 2's improved waterproofing will make it more resistant to this kind of thing, but we hope so. More on that, too, in a moment.
Back to those new colour options… There are new straps from Hermes, and we were impressed by the looks and design of the new ceramic Apple Watch Edition (below). This beautiful enclosure will set you back a cool £1,249 for the 38mm version, but on the plus side you do get what can only be described as a 'solid block of unicorn horn' on your wrist. The off-white sport band that comes with it might not feel quite 'premium' enough to reflect the price of the watch, but aesthetically it's a decent fit for the overall look of the ceramic Apple Watch Edition.
Given the different straps and material available for the Apple Watch Series 1 and 2, there's really something for everyone: which is important when you're talking about something as personal as a watch. The Apple Watch still comes in a 38 or 42mm version, this size referring to the height of the body rather than a diagonal measure of the screen. See which size best fits you in our Apple Watch buying guide 2016.
Whereas the first-gen Apple Watch was water-resistant to a depth of 1 metre for 30 minutes, a rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529 (unofficially it may have been considerably more waterproof than this), the Apple Watch Series 2 has a water-resistance rating of 50 metres under ISO standard 22810:2010. In other words, we've gone from wearing it in the shower - it's an undeniable luxury being able to see the time and know how long until we have to get out - to wearing it while swimming, and to celebrate this fact Apple has added two swimming options to the Workout app.
Partly this improved water resistance is achieved by the use of stronger glue and more gaskets, as revealed in iFixit's teardown. And partly it's achieved with a clever new feature that 'spits' water out of the speaker cavity after the watch makes it back to dry land.
A new Water Lock feature stops the touchscreen being activated underwater (or in the shower - we've often noticed creepy, finger-like tendrils of warm water changing the watch face, opening apps etc). Water Lock is accessed manually by pressing the 'drop' icon in Control Centre, but will be turned on automatically when you start one of those swimming routines in Workout.
After you get out of the water/shower you rotate the Digital Crown: this turns off Water Lock and plays a noise from the speakers in such a way that the vibration ejects liquid from the speaker cavity. This bit is quite fun.
Despite the improved water resistance credentials, Apple is still quite cautious about the aquatic activities it recommends: soapy water, steam, scuba diving and water skiing are all discouraged. You can read about the various Apple Watches' watery attributes here.