Gadget fans after a smartwatch have always had to ask themselves a big question: do I care more about sports tracking or smart functionality?
That’s because they all favour one over the other. You can get a sports watch that’s got some basic smarts like phone notifications, or a smartwatch that dabbles in sports tracking. Think along the lines of the Garmin Forerunner range for an example of the former, and the original Apple Watch for the latter.
Both are great, but they force you down a bit of an alley. We’ve been waiting for a watch to bridge the gap between sports and smarts, and - to cut a long story short - that wait is over.
It might look almost identical to its predecessor, but the Apple Watch Series 2 is packed with little tweaks that make it something of a sports star.
Seeing as it was already the smartest watch in town, that makes it a real watershed wearable.
Apple Watch Series 2 design: waterproofing for the win
YIt’s hard to tell, but the Series 2 is nearly a millimetre thicker than the original Apple Watch. Is the extra millimetre a big deal? No, you just don’t notice it, even with both models side-by-side.
Having said that, the Apple Watch was already pretty thick by ‘normal’ watch standards, so a slimming down would have been better.
Given the extra features, it’s easy to see why going a little chunkier was the only option. The Watch Series 2 packs a much faster CPU and bigger battery, but the GPS and water-proofing are bound to add bulk as well.
Still, if you own a first-gen Apple Watch you won’t notice a difference when switching to the new one. If you’ve never tried an Apple Watch on, you just need to know that it’s supremely comfortable to wear - especially if you opt for one of the basic Sport Bands. A certain tightness is necessary for accurate heart-rate monitoring, but it'll feel natural in no time.
That’s far from the only type of strap available, though. There are now 10 different designs, available in numerous colours - and that’s just the official straps.
For some people, that means buying a few different straps and tweaking the look of their Watch on a whim, but for others it presents the opportunity to show off by forking out for something fancy.
If you really want the world to know that you're loaded, you can take it even further and plump for the White Ceramic Watch. It starts at an eye-watering S$1820.
In fairness, having seen and touched it myself, I can attest to this finish being absolutely beautiful.
I couldn't personally ever justify spending the extra money over the standard Series 2 Watch, which is, lest we forget, feature-identical, but to these eyes it’s a far prettier and classier finish than the £10,000 (S$17,700) Gold Watch Edition. Apple has now thankfully banished that garish wearable to gadget history.
...is the Apple Watch Nike+. This is actually the same price as the entry-level Series 2, but comes with an exclusive strap and Nike-specific Watch Faces.
The faces aren’t terribly exciting if you ask me, but the strap is actually pretty great - essentially a lighter, more flexible and cooler version of the fantastic Sport Band, thanks to those air holes.
If you’re a serious runner or Nike fan, you might want to wait and pick up this special edition when it launches in late October.
Apple Watch Series 2: getting swimmy with it
If you’re a swimmer - and I am - the Series 2’s waterproofing is a very big deal. Swim-tracking is obviously about more than simply not drowning at the first sign of a dunk, though, and Apple has made sure your swims are properly recorded.
Unsurprisingly, swim workouts are started from the existing Workout app. From here, you choose between pool and open water swimming - the only real difference being lap-counting for the pool and GPS for open water.
In both cases it has proved very accurate, with the accelerometer doing a brilliant job of counting strokes and lengths when pool swimming, and the GPS sensor producing almost precisely the expected distances outdoors.
Just keep in mind, that GPS only works when the watch is out of the water. It’s great for front-crawl, as it pings the satellite every time your Watch arm performs the recovery part of the stroke, but much less so with breaststroke.
All the electronics are sealed, but the speaker port isn’t, because physics. You need air to make noise - that's just how speakers work. Said port inevitably fills with water when the watch is submerged, but thanks to a feature we’re calling “tinkle mode”, that water can be ejected by twisting the digital crown while on the pause screen.
Don’t worry if you forget - that water will eventually be vibrated out through normal use, but the speaker will sound pretty muffled in the meantime.
Apple Watch Series 2: an all-round sports star
No matter the sport, the Workout app is extremely simple to use and has all the features you’re likely to need - plus it gives you plenty of stats to pore over once you get back to your phone and open the Activity app.
Here you’ll find calories burned, distance travelled, average speed, average heart rate and even a map, colour-coded to immediately show you the parts of your session where you were over or under your average by 10%. I’ve been using a Garmin Fenix 3 for over a year now, and while I love that watch, I'm genuinely finding the Workout and Activity duo's combination of simplicity and stat-crunching far more appealing.
What’s harder to tell is just how accurate the Watch’s number crunching is.
As anyone who’s dabbled with calorie-counting will tell you, practically every device and app will give you a different figure for the same activity - often wildly so. Apple, perhaps unsurprisingly, reckons the Workout app on the Watch is as accurate as these things come, and that the vast amount of research it’s been conducting on hundreds of people at its secret fitness facility allows it to tailor its calorie-counting to a practically individual level.
It’s extremely hard to put that claim to the test without a lab of our own. All I can say is that it feels about right - a little more generous than the very stingy Strava, but a good deal less so than Garmin.
Of course, if you’re doing a sport that isn’t swimming, there are already loads of tracking apps available for the Watch, with Strava being a particular favourite for both cycling and running. Most of these already benefit from the Series 2’s addition of GPS, which gives you an extra reason - along with the built-in heart-rate monitor and music storage - to leave the phone at home when you set off on your run.
And unlike many other sports watches, the Apple Watch Series 2 locks onto GPS satellites in a matter of seconds. Believe me, there are few things more enthusiasm-sapping than hanging around outside your house in your running gear, staring at a watch that’s fruitlessly searching for a darn satellite.
The Series 2’s sporting credentials are boosted yet further by a display that’s twice as bright as the original Watch. At home or in the office that doesn’t really make a difference, but it’s far easier to read in bright sunlight. That makes a massive difference when you’re attempting to get an instant update on your cycle/run/swim progress.
The screen is otherwise the same, and that’s absolutely fine - it's sharp, punchy and vibrant, in typical Apple fashion.