It’s September, which means a variety of things: footy finals, having Here Comes September by Waikiki stuck in my head and new Apple Watches and iPhones. This year’s Apple Watch Series 8 has big shoes to fill, and the new problem of being the oldest child and the middle-model.
So, how does it stack up against the competition? And do you need one?
What’s new in the Apple Watch Series 8?
Compared to the Series 7? Not much. In terms of hardware: the new S8 SiP (a faster chip), a temperature sensor and new sensors that can detect when you’ve been in a car crash and call emergency services. But how much of a difference do they really make?
While my first instinct is to just dismiss the crash sensor, having used the fall sensor it’s quite clear that it’s probably going to save someone’s life this year. Hopefully, 90 per cent+ Apple Watch owners will never use it, most of those who do use it probably wouldn’t need it because they’re conscious enough to make the call themselves. But the handful of people who do truly need it will owe their lives to it.
Whether that makes it a worthy upgrade for you, personally, depends on how much you drive and what safety features your car has. If I was still driving my 1997 Ford Mondeo, I’d absolutely need it, but if I still had my 2016 Holden Cruze, I’d be willing to wait until I needed to upgrade my watch anyway. But your risk assessment will vary.
The big thing for me is the temperature sensor. This has been a year where smart watch makers have been pressured into putting temperature sensors into their devices, but no one really seems to know what to do with them. Samsung put temperature sensors in the Samsung Galaxy Watch5, but then didn’t activate them, and Apple has put them in, but you can’t use them to check your temperature.
What you can use the temperature sensor for is finding out that you ovulated five days ago. If you have ovaries and a vested interest in conceiving (or not conceiving), then this is medium-useful information. It isn’t so great for that month’s cycle, but plotted out in the Health app, it can give you trends to give you a better idea of when to use an over-the-counter ovulation test, or alert you to having issues with PCOS or fibroids. As someone who recently had pretty significant issues with fibroids, having that kind of warning before they get too bad is invaluable. Maybe this will help a few people avoid getting a hysterectomy, or help them have a kid. Either way, it’s great for ovary owners.
Apple Watch Series 8 performance
Strictly speaking, the Series 8 screen is the same as the Series 7 and there’s no hardware difference. That said (and I’d really appreciate any Apple PR people skipping this section), I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve hit my (loaned) Series 7 pretty hard a few times falling off my bike or sandwiching it between weights at the gym (it’s fine, barely a scratch, that sapphire crystal is no joke), the Series 8 screen seems much brighter and clearer. I find it easier to read at a glance, and the colours seem a touch more vibrant when I look at them side by side. But, again, I’m unsure of whether that’s just hardware or hard use.
I also find that the S8 SiP is a bit faster. The watch is a more responsive going into workouts. The Series 7 was already extremely fast and the performance was great, so there wasn’t really much to improve on. But it’s good.
Technically, the battery life of the Series 8 is supposed to be the same as the Series 7 without turning on battery saver. Apple claims 18 hours. However, I’m getting much more than 18 hours and have noticed a significant increase in battery life. With my Series 7 I would take it off the charger in the morning, go for a 2-hour bike ride, and need to charge it by dinner time. With the Series 8 I took it out of the box, set it up, and then wore it for a little more than 27 hours before it got to 4 per cent and I charged it for 15 minutes on fast charge.
In that 27 hours, I took it for seven walking workouts, a half-hour bike ride, two 45-minute Pilates classes, a 45-minute traditional strength workout and used sleep tracking overnight. I did plan on also taking it for a super long bike ride that day, but I was tired and ran out of time. However, that’s a pretty brutal test. I probably could have gotten more out of it if I’d charged it a bit more. In the days since, I’ve been wearing it for 23 hours, charging it for about 15-30 minutes, and then going about my day with multiple workouts, no problems. I rarely slept in my Series 7 because the battery simply couldn’t handle it.
I don’t know how much of that is WatchOS 9, or how much is efficiencies from the new chip, but it’s great and I love it.
The design is largely unchanged from the excellent Series 7 design. But, I would like to draw attention to the new Graphite stainless steel colour. I love this shade of stainless steel. This is the nicest looking stainless steel Apple Watch yet. While my heart longs for the Apple Watch Ultra (review coming soon), I’m almost tempted to keep going between the two just because I love the way this looks so much.
I’m now sorely tempted to spend the almost ridiculous $759 on the Space Black metal link band. Or maybe the $149 Graphite Milanese Loop, that would also look good. Basically, this watch looks sleek, expensive and begging to be paired with premium accessories. It goes with everything.
If you’re looking at the aluminium end of the scale, the Midnight colour from last year is back, and that one also looks excellent. It’s a blue so deep it’s practically black, but black with mystery. It’s the colour you get when you want a colour, but want to be subtle about it. It’s like that colour you dyed your hair in high school when they said you could only have natural colours, and it only glowed blue in direct sunlight.
So, who is this watch for?
If you have an Apple Watch Series 6 or newer, and don’t have a burning need for crash detection or temperature sensing, then you do not need this watch. Folks with Series 5 and perhaps even Series 4 are on the border of how much difference they would notice with an upgrade. This is for folks who have a Series 3 or older, are having battery issues with their current watch, or don’t yet have an Apple Watch, but want more than the SE has to offer (see below).
Apple Watch Series 8 vs SE
This is a tough call to make, because the “budget” SE is just so good this year. Last time the SE lacked some of the key features, but this generation has almost everything the Series 8 has.
The things the Series 8 has but the SE doesn’t are:
- IP6X dust resistance
- Always on display
- Blood Oxygen app
- ECG app
- Temperature sensing for retroactive ovulation tracking
- Fast charge
Now, if you’re someone who is constantly in dusty/sandy environments, would really actually benefit from always on display, or ovulation tracking is important to you, then getting the Series 8 is a no brainer. The usefulness and accuracy of wrist-based blood oxygen and ECG measurements is medium at best, so I wouldn’t consider them to be a major factor, but your mileage may vary.
Personally, because of how much I cycle and do other fitness activities that mean I need to be able to check what’s going on on my watch without raising my wrist, means that the always on display is really important to me. But if your main form of exercise is walking or running, you’d need to raise your wrist to see it anyway. I also find the new “colour matched” bottom of the SE to be absolutely hideous, but you don’t really see that much.
For most people, though, that saving of around $230 is going to be pretty compelling. Honestly, though, both watches are a great choice and you can’t really go wrong here.
Should I buy the Apple Watch Series 8?
While the Samsung Galaxy Watch5 gets much closer to what I want to see in an everyday smartwatch, I still haven’t met a regular smartwatch that could live up to the standard set by the Apple Watch. It’s just too good. It’s simple, it does exactly what it needs to do and it does it intuitively.
Now, as covered above, if you have a relatively recent Apple Watch, you do not need the Series 8 or SE. But if you have an older model, or haven’t got a smartwatch yet and have an iPhone, and don’t need the features of the upcoming serious fitness-focussed Apple Watch Ultra, then I wholeheartedly, without reservation, recommend the Apple Watch Series 8. It’s a truly excellent watch.
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