Monday, 4 September 2017

Apple Watch Series 2: A short review

I've owned an Apple Watch Series 2 for about 8 months now and given that I have tested and written about a fair few activity trackers in the last 18-24 months, it seemed appropriate to share a few thoughts.

Apple Watch Series 2 - I didn't own the Series 1 so can't really compare the two from a personal perspective. However, the Series 2 is both waterproof and has improved battery life over the first version.

Health

In terms of fitness trackers, it is up there with some of the best when it comes to tracking running, cycling and swimming.

When running the watch reports total time, average pace, heart rate and distance travelled.

Apple's own activity application is impressive (or depressing depending on how you look at it) because it separates active from non-active calorie burn. Most of the energy we use simply keeps us alive on a day-to-day basis, and as a result this serves as a regular reminder of how little extra energy is actually expelled from exercise. These calculations are based on heart rate and movement/distance covered.

The activity tracker application. The pink circle is movement, green represents minutes of exercise, blue is time spent standing.

Personally, I found the heart rate readings to be pretty accurate after comparing these with a Polar heart rate strap, which sits around the chest. For accurate readings however, the watch does need to sit tight on the wrist and sports like squash or football for example, might pose a problem if its not securely held in place. In saying that, some people have struggled to get accurate readings regardless.

Beyond Health

Apple Pay is cool and being able to pay for things just by tapping your wrist is handy. While contactless payments aren't universal and max out at £30, I am now comfortable to leave my wallet in the office at lunchtime.

Battery life is a lot better than expected. Over a weekend, provided the watch is turned off overnight, it can easily last from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. It does use a lot more power when further away from the iPhone (at the time of writing you need an iPhone 5S in order to use the Apple Watch), and when taking exercise. For example, runs are location tracked via GPS and heart rate data is updated more regularly. This functionality can be turned off, but to me that sort of defeats the purpose of owning an Apple Watch.

Siri, Apple's voice assistant is onboard, but it hasn't ever been particularly useful and struggles a bit with my Scottish accent. It only really gets used for setting timers when cooking.

For what it is, The Apple Watch remains an excellent fitness tracker, but there is a distinct lack of applications out there to do other things. itunes can also be controlled via a Remote, but no applications tap into other smart home devices. Even within the fitness domain, Strava, while popular is remarkable similar to Apple's own activity application. The main difference here is that Apple's activity application lacks a social media aspect.

My heart rate during a squash match using Apple Watch captured by the Heartwatch application (I made the graphic myself however)

Given the amount of data generated by the Apple Watch, some more applications to visualise this would be welcome. One good example of this is Heartwatch, which has a ton of extra features that can track changes in activity and heart rate.

Beyond health, this data remains valuable for consumers and I'm surprised that more algorithms haven't been created that could improve the user experience. For example, it would seem sensible if rules could be set up so that if someone is obviously engaged with sport, an incoming call will be sent straight to voicemail, if not, feed the call to the watch as normal. Similarly, locations could be used to activate certain features. In other words, there is a long way to go until these devices become as smart as the manufactures like to claim.

Conclusion

I guess the question people might want answered here is should I buy one?

If you want a really good fitness or sports tracker then yes, beyond that it's a bit of a brick.

In terms of an Apple product that goes beyond a fitness tracker, I am not quite convinced it is there yet. Perhaps I am being impatient and it is worth remembering that the original iPhone didn't really pick up the batten until the second or third iteration. Like an early iPhone, the watch requires some refinement if it is ever to become an essential purchase.