Apple Watch Series 8 review: cohesiveness that counts

The latest Apple Watch comes with features like new temperature sensors and crash detection

The Apple Watch Ultra might have hogged the limelight (and rightly so) at the Cupertino giant’s big launch event, but that doesn’t mean the regular Watch didn’t get any love. The Apple Watch has now moved on to Series 8, and while it comes across as an incremental upgrade, it does bring several noteworthy goodies, including a temperature monitor and a new lifesaving feature in the form of crash detection. The design stays the same, and that is, in my opinion, both a good and a bad thing. Let’s delve into aspects where the Apple Watch Series 8 shines and those where it falters.

What’s good

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  • From the get-go, it’s clear that the Watch Series 8 is indistinguishable from its predecessor in terms of looks and design. It’s an iconic design no doubt, with countless other wearable brands mimicking it over the years. As usual, the Apple Watch Series 8 is available in two different sizes — 41mm and 45mm, in GPS-only or GPS + Cellular variants. The case material choices include aluminium and stainless steel, both available in different colours and with different band options. The back of the watch has various sensors, the left side is home to the speaker, and the right hosts the rotating crown, the side button and the mic. Up top is the 396 x 484 pixel Retina display (352 x 430 pixels on the 41mm variant), and the LTPO OLED screen is a delight to see and interact with. With brightness levels of up to 1,000 nits, it gets quite bright and is easy to read even under the harshest sunlight. Apart from the fact that the design feels extremely familiar, the Watch Series 8 uses the same proprietary mechanism for its bands as before, so if you have any bands of matching width lying with you, those should work just fine. Build-wise, the Apple Watch Series 8 is said to be crack resistant, features IP6X rating for dust resistance, and is also swim-proof thanks to its WR50 water resistance.

  • Apart from the design, the Watch Series 8 inherits its smarts and fitness features from its predecessor. As a lifestyle smartwatch, the device slots into the Apple ecosystem nicely and complements your phone usage by faithfully mirroring your app notifications and letting you handle calls directly. You can reply to emails and messages too. Apart from all the usual and expected pre-installed apps like Weather, Messages, Mail, Stopwatch, Calendar etc, the latest WatchOS 9 update add other useful bits too. The new Medications app for example, lets you set up reminders for any medicines you need to take on a regular basis. The Compass app has received a big update too, and now lets you backtrack and retrace your steps in case you find yourself lost — say while on a hike, in a large park, or in any other unfamiliar territory. Useful stuff, really.

  • The Apple Watch’s already comprehensive repertoire of health and fitness features has a few new additions too. The inclusion of new temperature sensors brings new capabilities to health monitoring, especially suited for women. The temperature sensors add on to women’s health features by tracking temperature during sleep, providing insights into changes over time, retrospective estimates on ovulation, period predictions etc. I couldn’t test this out, but it does sound pretty useful. Yet another, potentially lifesaving addition is crash detection. The device has the ability to detect if you’ve been in a car crash, and if it does, it can automatically alert your emergency contacts and emergency services. There are several user accounts on how the Apple Watch has helped save their lives, and the inclusion of crash detection adds one more big feather to its already well-adorned cap.


    Related read: 8 Ways in which the Apple Watch Series 8 Can Save Your Life


    Apart from this, the Apple Watch Series 8 has all the health features from before — including high and low heart rate alerts, ECG, fall detection, blood oxygen monitoring etc. The smorgasbord of features related to tracking physical activity and workouts are there too and notably, a new addition is detailed sleep analysis that shows you how much time you’ve spent in REM and deep sleep. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the Apple Watch remains one among the only two smartwatches that offer ECG — the other one being the Fitbit Sense.

  • Overall usage and performance is smooth and breezy, thanks to the dual-core S8 chip. The refreshed platform that comes in the form of WatchOS 9 adds goodies like the new Medications app and backtrack feature I mentioned earlier. Then there are enhancements to the Workouts app, new accessibility features, new watch faces, and more. Speaking of watch faces, the Watch app has a fairly elaborate collection available now, and since most of them are customisable in terms of colours and complications, the permutations and combinations are almost endless. Moreover, there are third-party apps like Facer that let you add additional watch faces as well.

  • It’s worth mentioning that the Health app that comes preinstalled on iPhones is among the most comprehensive ones out there. While Apple Watch users get to see detailed insights and trends on their health and physical activity, the app is also quite handy even if you don’t have a watch. A case in point is a feature like walking steadiness, which monitors how steady you are on your feet while walking. Similarly, there are quite a few features in the Health app that can make it an extremely useful companion if you utilise its functionality to the fullest. 

What’s not so good

  • The new temperature sensors I mentioned before do seem pretty useful for women’s health, but don’t seem as beneficial for other users. The key thing to note is that the Apple Watch measures wrist temperature, which can be different from body temperature. And in any case, the numbers for these can vary between different individuals and also based on other factors like the environment, diet, exercise, alcohol consumption etc. Because of this, the Apple Watch Series 8 doesn’t provide a temperature reading on demand. Instead, it establishes a baseline temperature which is specific to the user, provided it’s worn to bed for at least five consecutive nights. Once the baseline is established, it can provide a daily reading on the variations that happen from that baseline. In theory, the user can utilise these to figure out if something is wrong with them health-wise, especially if the variation seems significant. This sounds handy too, though I do wish Apple finds a way to make those new temperature sensors and related data more useful to non-menstruating users.

  • The battery life still remains a concern. Don’t get me wrong — it’s improved significantly from the days of the first few Apple Watch models, and as things stand now, is rated for a day and a half. It’s able to deliver that too, with regular usage. However, if your usage is heavy and you end up using battery-guzzling features like outdoor workouts for longer periods, you could end up looking for the charger earlier. I also think that the 1.5-day battery life figure is a tad confusing, since realistically, you’d need to charge it once every day anyway… especially if you’re stepping out of the house regularly. And then, there would be instances when you need it juiced up so you can wear it to a dinner or a party, or just need it to monitor your sleep… and find that it needs a top-up charge right when you need it. The Fitbit Sense, in comparison, can last up to a week on a single charge, while the Samsung Galaxy Watch5 Pro can last about three days. I’ll be happy if the Apple Watch can deliver that much, so there’s definite scope for improvement here.

  • The price tag shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but let’s just say it isn’t cheap. A new Apple Watch Series 8 will set you back by Rs 45,900 for the base model, making you the proud owner of a 41mm, GPS-only model that comes with an aluminium case and a sport band. Bumping up the case size to 45mm adds another Rs 3,000, while opting for the GPS+Cellular model adds another Rs 10,000. The top-end variant comes in the form of the 45mm, GPS + Cellular model that boasts a stainless steel case and is bundled with a Milanese Loop band, priced at a cool Rs 84,900. In one word, pricey.

Verdict


Much like the tiny, innumerable components of a quartz watch, each of which fits seamlessly into the mechanism and plays its own vital role in keeping things ticking, the Apple Watch uses pieces of hardware and software to deliver a solid, all-round experience. Encompassing aspects of health, fitness and smarts, the Apple Watch acts a benchmark for a device that helps complete an ecosystem and slots into place, adding value to the chain in its own special way. For an iPhone user looking for a premium lifestyle smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 8 should be the defacto choice. From Apple’s perspective, however, nothing could be better if each component of the ecosystem can play a role in roping in new users on its own. So does the Watch Series 8 by itself offer enough to pull a new user into Apple’s ecosystem, and possibly entice them enough to buy an iPhone just so they could have a Watch on their wrist? I think so.

Editor’s rating: 4 / 5

Pros:

  • Solid all-rounder
  • Focus on women’s health
  • Backtrack & crash detection
  • Nice display & smooth performance

Cons:

  • Comes across as iterative
  • Battery life needs improvement
  • Pricey