For its latest outing, the Series 8 Apple Watch will bring just that little bit extra to the same slick design we’ve seen preciously. Is it worthy of your wrist?
With the launch of this year’s iPhone range also came at least one more complementary gadget commonly sold alongside that phone: the Apple Watch. A new model is here, as Apple releases the Series 8 in the range, among others.
Yet despite the name of Apple’s latest watch being the Series 8, it’s actually been seven years since the first model popped up in 2015, and my have things changed. Little improvements year on year have allowed Apple to do more to track your health, to tweak the style, to increase the screen size, and so on and so on.
Much like how the iPhone can do much more than simply be used as a phone, the Apple Watch does more than let you check the time, and this year — like with others — there’s more coming, as well. What’s new in the Series 8, and does it look any different at all?
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Design and features
If you’ve seen the last Apple Watch, and maybe the one before that, you’re not going to see a heap of differences this time. Or really any.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is another Apple Watch, and nothing about the design has changed. We reviewed the enter model with its aluminium chassis and strengthened glass top, and it looks the spitting image of its predecessor, though it’s clearly different under the hood.
That includes the new Series 8 System in a Package or “SiP”. In this model, it’s the S8 SiP, a dual core processor married to 32GB storage for the small amount of music you might plan to store (though streaming is more likely), plus the new tracking tech, covering temperature tracking and crash detection. There’s also an emergency calling feature that works in the US and Canada, not to mention all of the old stuff, too.
The “old” Apple Watch stuff include an SpO2 blood oxygen sensor, a heart-rate sensor, an electrocardiograph (ECG) sensor, and fall detection, alongside GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, and if you pay a little extra, 4G on the cellular models.
It all sits under an LTPO OLED display that works with an always-on variant (though not quite as impressive as the iPhone 14 Pro’s take on always-on), and arriving in either a 41mm or 45mm screen and case.
On the standard Apple Watch Series 8 we’re reviewing, it’s the 45mm model in a case made from aluminium, but on the more premium models, you’ll get a stainless steel body. Regardless, the design is largely the same sporting IP6X water resistance, so good luck telling the difference between the old and the new.
The similarities in design also keep the usability more or less the same. You can raise your arm to glance at the time, touch the button on the Digital Crown to get to the menu, scroll with the crown itself turning and rotating it, and use the button underneath for multitasking, jumping across apps and closing them down.
All up, it’s pretty simple to use, and some of those watch faces even play nicely with the Digital Crown, as the rotation makes rainbow strings dance or changes the other animations.
With the new S8 chip inside, it’s yet another solid performance you have to look forward to, with virtually no lag as you jump across apps or heaven forbid check the time.
Surprising absolutely nobody, the S8 Apple Watch is as fast as the wearable has ever been, but you’re probably not going to notice it.
Basically, it just works the way it should, with no venting of frustration needed, and some extra tracking along for the ride.
For instance, you’ll still find the electrocardiograph checking from previous generations, plus the blood oxygen sensor if you want to use it, just like in the Series 7. The heart rate tracker is here, too, and Apple is basically just tracking things as you go about your day. Human intervention is needed for the ECG and SpO2 blood oxygen sensor, but everything else just happens in the background, as the Watch responds to you, and you go about living your life.
Weirdly enough, we can’t actually test the two features new to the Series 8 Apple Watch: the temperature sensor and crash detection.
The first of these is only used for women’s health and requires two months worth of data to provide any insights. You can’t just get your temperature by finding an app on the watch, though it is there in settings.
It’s supposed to be included as part of your Health information on the phone and compiled after two weeks of tracking, but after a month of reviewing the Series 8 Apple Watch, it wasn’t there, either. You can, however, find it in the Apple Watch screens, giving you some look at temperature, but unless you’re ovulating, there don’t seem to be a whole heap of insights, if any.
Long term, if your biology supports the technology, the use of temperature for ovulation tracking and fertility estimates is intriguing, but as this reviewer is male, seems largely wasted on him. Therefore that sensor isn’t much use to him right now, though if it could later on be used to diagnose illness or other ailments and other maladies, much like how Whoop’s wearable has been used with temperature tracking amidst covid.
That takes care of one new feature, while the other requires some pretty serious requirements: crashing a car.
Apple’s crash detection, which also exists on the iPhone 14 range, requires the Watch to pick up on gravitational forces you can’t shake your wrist at, while also using the GPS to track position. We don’t have a car to demolish for the sake of an Apple Watch review, and so aren’t game to test this feature, but again, it’s one of the extras found in Series 8 and beyond.
Battery life isn’t one of the extras, though, and you’ll find roughly the same battery life as previous models found in the Series 8, possibly a little bit more.
Throughout our time with the S8 Apple Watch, we found a day of life was possible, with 36 hours easy from the wearable, though we’ve come to expect a nightly charge on that second night.
One approach that works well is to give the Watch some extra charge before you jump into bed, taking it off for a good ten minutes, and letting the Fast Charge capability refuel your battery, which should track you comfortably as you sleep, whatever that is.
The price can still be a bit of a hard argument, with a minimum of $629 getting you the Apple Watch Series 8, and that’s without the 4G connection or sapphire glass. It’s a lot of money for a wearable, one of the more costly out there, and that’s for the aluminium variation, with the stainless steel model with sapphire glass on top costing a good $470 more, from $1099.
Your price also differs based on the size and support for the mobile tech, with our review Series 8 Apple Watch fetching $839 locally. That’s not cheap, especially given it’s still a somewhat obviously breakable watch.
The value isn’t terrible, that said, as Apple’s Watch is among the best out there, packing in features and tech that puts it beyond arm’s reach of the competition, but it’s still expensive given the lack of durability for the price.
What needs work?
We’re clearly frustrated by the lack of sapphire glass as a standard feature, something that affects the price through the range of the Series 8 Apple Watch in a big way.
We’re coming to grips that Apple will seemingly never support any other operating system on its otherwise excellent wearable, a criticism we’ve had year on year. Apple makes its Watch solely for owners of its phones, and while frustrating, it’s a move Google is taking with the Pixel Watch, something else we disagree with.
It’s a sign of the times, but one area for Apple doesn’t seem to be moving with the trend: durable glass.
While Samsung is including sapphire by default on its Galaxy Watch5 models and Google is doing the same in its one Pixel Watch, Apple asks you to spend extra on the stainless steel model.
Within days of getting the Series 8 Apple Watch review unit, there was a scratch. It was small and occurred from a very small drop, the sort which shouldn’t have made much damage, but this bothered me. Even though you can’t see in photos, I know it’s there, and I’ll know it’s there until the next review unit drops in, likely the Series 9 in 2023.
It’s frustrating because if sapphire had been made standard as it is on other wearables — as it is on the rear camera for the iPhone 14 Pro — the scratch wouldn’t have happened. And yet it still did because Apple’s “Ion-X” enhanced glass isn’t as scratch-resistant as the sapphire alternative.
Our 45mm aluminium midnight review model with 4G is priced at $839 while the stainless steel equivalent adds $340 to the equation, bringing the cost to $1179, just $120 shy of the top end Apple Watch Ultra, which is titanium, includes more sensors, better ruggedisation, improved battery life, and yes, sapphire glass.
Meanwhile, the $399 Apple Watch SE only comes with Ion-X Glass and fewer sensors, which given the comparatively inexpensive price of the entry-level Apple Watch isn’t a total surprise.
We’re not Apple, and clearly its marketers are going to do what they want to do, but you can find sapphire crystal on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch5 from $549, the $699 Withings ScanWatch Horizon, and others. Granted, none of these are the Apple Watch, but it’s still frustrating that sapphire is extra premium for Apple when for everyone else it’s just becoming normal.
Simply put, if you’re opting for the aluminium Apple Watch Series 8, consider a watch screen protector, because the Ion-X glass isn’t much compared to the quality of sapphire.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Minor grievance about the price and durable differences aside, the Apple Watch Series 8 is still one of the best wearables you can get your wrist on, and a really clever addition to someone looking for a watch that does a little more.
While the extra stuff in the Series 8 may not be make or break for most people, it all adds up to a thought-out and feature packed smartwatch, capable of providing more observational information about your health in a nice and slick design.
There are clearly things that could still be better, but if you’re after a full-featured wearable that looks good, too, it’s hard to go past this year’s Apple Watch. Recommended.