Apple Watch Series 2 Review
Pros: Waterproof, amazing display, widest range of app compatibility
Cons: No automatic brightness adjust, short battery life
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Apple Watch Series 2 is waterproof, integrates perfectly with your iPhone, and is available in ceramic, stainless steel, and aluminum cases in a handful of different colors. This watch has a solid battery life, built-in GPS module, and is compatible with a selection of bands to match your style for any occasion. All in all, this is a fantastic piece of wearable technology --- as long as you use iOS.
We took the top 12 smartwatches currently on the market today and put them to the test to crown the winner. In total, we spent over 160 hours researching and testing these products and conducted over 25 tests to determine the overall scores, ranging from 0-100.
Our testing process was split into five weighted metrics: Ease of Use, Smart Functions, Display, Fitness impact, and Battery Life. We compared the performance of the Apple Watch Series 2 to the competition in a handful of tests for each metric. We gave it a subscore in each metric that contributed to the overall score and the following sections detail exactly what it did well and where it fell a little short.
Ease of Use
This was the highest-weighted metric of our test, comprising 30% of the overall score. These are not necessarily the most intuitive products and there is a slight learning curve to figure out what these can and can't do for the first time user. The Apple Watch scored very well, tying for the top score with an 8 out of 10. You can see how this compares to the other models in the chart below.
To test this, we compared how responsive the watch was, how intuitive it was to navigate through all of the menus and submenus, how reliable it would charge, its water resistance, and how much work it was to swap wristbands.
We tested the responsiveness of the screen in two ways: touchscreen effectiveness and time for the screen to wake. This model had one of the nicest touchscreens of the group, making it extremely easy to scroll through the menus and hit the right icon, no matter how small they were. This product, along with most smartwatches, will enter a sleep mode when you have your hands by your side, turning off the display to conserve battery power. These should automatically wake when you raise your wrist to view it, ideally with little to no delay. The Apple Watch does an admirable job, instantaneously illuminating the display as soon as your wrist in a position to view it.
In addition to the touchscreen, this model has a crown scroll. The main button on the side of the watch will rotate, allowing you to use that as an alternative (and preferable!) method of navigating the menus on the watch.
The Apple Watch charges inductively using a connector that mounts to the back of the watch, using embedded magnets to align it properly and hold the cord in place. While this connection is sufficient for minor bumps and jostles, it can come disconnected with moderate movement.
It's also extremely easy to take a screenshot of the content displayed on the watch by pressing both buttons simultaneously — probably the easiest out of the entire group. While the selection of compatible wristbands is noticeably smaller than other models, it is by far the easiest model to swap the bands on, allowing you to quickly match the wrist strap to your outfit before you head out.
Finally, this watch is waterproof to 50 meters, meeting ISO standard 22810:2010. This translates to shallow water activities like swimming or snorkeling. This watch shouldn't be used for high-velocity activities, such as water skiing or diving. You should always check the manufacturer's recommendations before using the watch for your specific watersport.
Following behind our Ease of Use metric, Smart Functions made up 20% of the total score. We compared popular app compatibility across different models, whether or not you can make phone calls from the watch itself, if you can use it as a payment method, control your music, and if there was a built-in GPS unit. The Apple Watch Series 2 once again did very well, earning the second-highest score of 7 out of 10. The following charts show how the remainder of the watches stacked up.
The Apple Watch was compatible with 9 out of 10 apps in our sample group — the highest number of the entire group. It worked with Uber, Facebook Messenger, Strava, IFTTT (If This, Then That), Evernote, Shazam, Instagram, Twitter, and Spotify — though the functionality for Spotify was reduced compared to other models.
This model does allow you to make phone calls directly from your wrist and had about average sound quality with your arm bent at a 90° angle. While the sound quality may be mediocre, nothing compares to feeling like a secret agent talking into your wrist communicator. You can open Pandora from the watch or control your other music right from your wrist.
This smartwatch has NFC (Near field communication) and is thus capable of using Apple Pay. This means that after setting up your payment information, you need only to double-tap the side button on your Apple Watch near the pin pad or payment terminal to complete the transaction.
Finally, this model has a standalone GPS that will activate if the iPhone it is paired to is out of range. However, GPS modules are power-hungry devices and the battery life of the watch will be severely reduced when using it.
Being able to clearly and easily read the display can be the deciding factor between your smartwatch becoming an essential part of your life or a constant irritation. Our Display metric made up 20% of the total score, with the Apple Watch once again leading the pack with its 8 out of 10.
The Apple Watch uses an OLED Retina Display, with the 42mm size having a 312x390 screen with 303 ppi (pixels per inch) and the 38mm size having a 272x340 screen with 290 ppi. We used the 42mm screen in our tests, using a panel of observers to rate each screen compared to the others. This model rated the highest out of the group with its amazing screen quality, just barely beating out the Samsung Gear S3. The Apple Watch Series 2 is also very easy to read in bright conditions as well as in dimly lit ones.
The square display with rounded corners has no obvious truncations or cut out areas. However, this watch lacked an automatic brightness adjusting an always on mode — the only real complaints that we had with the display on the Apple Watch.
These products all have rudimentary fitness tracking abilities and the Apple Watch is no exception. While is does have an impressive set of fitness tracking capabilities, the Apple Watch was finally unseated as the top scorer by the Samsung Gear S3, earning a 7 out of 10 to the Gear S3's 8. The chart below shows how the rest of the models ranked in terms of their fitness impact.
We compared the accuracy of the step counter and heart rate monitor to controls, as well as the ability of each watch to track different workouts and calculate the number of flights of stairs climbed throughout the day to tabulate scores. We took each model on a mile long walk on flat ground, tallying the exact number of steps with a mechanical counter and compares the results to the count on the watch. The Apple Watch has a very accurate step counters, only displaying a 0.8% discrepancy from our manual count.
We performed a similar test to compare the accuracy of the heart rate monitor, comparing it to a chest strap heart rate monitor while at rest and on a brief walk. The Apple Watch was within five beats of the chest strap while at rest, with the watch refreshing every five seconds.
This watch has a handful of different workout profiles, using GPS to track outdoor and indoor walks, runs, and cycling trips, as well as having a profile for elliptical, rowing, and stair stepper machines. It also has an "Other" profile if your activity doesn't align with any of the presets and count calorie burn. Throughout these workouts, the Apple Watch will track start and end time, distance, duration, active and total calories, pace, and heart rate.
However, it will not track how many flights of stairs you climb.
Finally, our set of battery life tests made up the last 15% of the total score. We conducted three different tests, seeing how long each model lasted with normal use, how long it took to charge to 50% battery, and time to completely charge. The Apple Watch did alright, earning a 6 out of 10. The following chart shows how this compares to the rest of the models in our review.
We sent an identical schedule of texts and call to each model each day, along with a handful of social media alerts to count as normal use. The Apple Watch lasted for 36 hours before turning off, comparable to the rest of the models in the group. It took just under an hour to hit the halfway point when charging, and a little over two to finish, once again ranking in the middle of the pack.
While this model is pricey, the smartwatch options are quite limited for iPhone users. If the list price is causing you some heart palpitations, you may find the Apple Watch Series 1 to be a better value, foregoing the waterproofness and some other features to save $100.
The highest scoring model of our test and the clear choice for iPhone users that want the best, the Apple Watch Series 2 is all-around a fantastic smartwatch. It's easy to use, waterproof, has an amazing display and does a good job as a fitness tracker. While it is a little on the expensive side, this aligns with the rest of the Apple ecosystem of products — paying a slight premium for products that are sleek, stylish, and integrate seamlessly with each other.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer