The one change that everyone expected for the Apple Watch Series 8 was improved battery life; however, when Apple unveiled the wearable at its 2022 autumn gadgets event, there was no such increase. The Series 8 Watch has the same “18 hours of all-day battery life” as the Series 7 (£399). Neither more nor less.
In fact, upgrades are scarce in this year’s Apple Watch, with no noteworthy changes to the screen size, internal hardware specifications, or manufacturing materials. Apple apparently spared all of its R&D resources to lavish on the new Apple Watch Ultra (£849).
Still, the Apple Watch Series 8 is a high-quality wearable that, in my opinion, is the best traditional wristwatch on the market. You still can’t use it with an Android phone, which is unfortunate given that Wear OS wearables – and most other wearables – are platform-agnostic. Yet, for iPhone owners, there’s little reason to look elsewhere; aside from the short battery life, which other traditional smartwatches also suffer from, the Apple Watch Series 8 is the smartwatch to buy.
Normally, at this stage in a smartwatch review, I’d devote equal time to the design and new hardware features. But, because the former is identical to the Apple Watch Series 7 (£399), I’ll concentrate on the latter this time.
The Watch Series 8 has two key hardware changes. The first is the new twin temperature sensors (one on the back, one on the front beneath the display), which are supposed to gauge skin temperature more accurately. Its sensor takes your wrist temperature every five seconds while you sleep, and Apple claims it can detect changes as little as 0.1%.
The objective here is to improve the Watch’s menstrual cycle tracking functionality with the added ability to estimate ovulation dates retrospectively. In terms of science, this isn’t really novel. Monitoring BBT (basal body temperature) has long been used by infertile couples to determine the best time for sexual intercourse.
Yet, it does, at the very least, simplify data collection, which means you’re less likely to forget to take your temperature in the morning before getting up, as the old technique of monitoring BBT requires.
The new accelerometer, which can measure forces of up to 256g, and an updated gyroscope are the other major additions. These, together with other sensors on the watch, such as the GPS radio, microphone, and barometer, are utilized to detect if you’ve been in a car accident. Now, I don’t have the ability to test this, but others have, and with some success, and it appears to work.
If the worst happens, the Watch will automatically connect you to emergency services (through your phone) after a brief delay. If you don’t respond, it sends them your location and notifies your specified emergency contacts.
Of course, Apple has also upgraded the Watch Series 8 to its new S8 chip, although there is no discernible improvement in performance. It’s as responsive and smooth to operate as the Series 7 and Series 6 before it.
2. WatchOS 9.0
These new functions are indeed stunning, but they have little effect on how you use the watch on a daily basis. That’s where watchOS 9 comes in, with a slew of additional features.
The most notable is Low Power Mode, which is designed to extend the battery life of the Apple Watch. This can be easily enabled by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, clicking the battery icon, and then tapping the toggle, but most users will enable it when they receive the low battery notice at 10%.
According to Apple, Low Power Mode provides up to 36 hours of use, effectively doubling the usable battery life of 18 hours, but only when used while the battery is completely charged. According to Apple’s promises, turning it on with 10% remaining can increase your overall battery life by around 1hr 48mins.
That doesn’t appear to be much. Yet, you may be tempted to activate it before the 10% mark because it does not fully disable everything you can do with the Watch, like the old Power Reserve mode did.
As expected, it disables certain features. The always-on display, as well as background heart readings, heart notifications, and blood oxygen measurements, are no longer available. It disables workout reminders as well as automatic workout recognition. It restricts sensor use and mobile data activities, and it bundles notifications and sends them out once every hour. But, you can still use the Watch Series 8 in this mode to track workouts and access applications. You can make and receive calls, travel using Maps, and even listen to music using Bluetooth.
Knowing that the sensors and GPS hardware in the Series 8 are roughly the same as they were in the Series 7, I expected similar performance, which was confirmed during my testing. I discovered that it was quite close to my Stryd Wind pod and the MyZone MZ-Switch chest belt I was using for comparison across all of the runs I completed with the watch, with average differences of 2.3% for average heart rate and 1.5% for total distance run. That’s quite good.
The important thing to remember here, at least if you want to ensure reliable heart-rate data, is to make sure the watch is snug on your wrist before you start a workout; otherwise, it can take a while to get a lock – sometimes longer than a minute – and thus give you skewed data during your workout. The wristband you choose can have an impact on this, which is why I recommend the Sport Loop for the best fit.
While I’m on the issue of obtaining a lock – on heart rate or GPS – this continues to be a hit-or-miss affair with the Apple Watch Series 8, owing primarily to the design of the workout app.
Apple still has some work to do to perfect several parts of the Apple Watch, especially if it wants to compete with the major hitters of the sports/running watch industry. With the release of Watch OS 9, that appears to be the way it is taking.