Apple Watch (Series 2) Initial Impressions

Here are my first impressions of the Apple Watch Series 2, after a 3h run yesterday. I will be doing more testing later, particularly checking the sensor accuracy and third party app performance.
aw2

Physical Form Factor

While the form factor hasn’t significantly changed (it’s 1mm thicker than the first-gen), it’s significantly more svelte than most running watches. The only models that are comparable are the Microsoft Band 2 and Garmin Vivosmart HR+. And that’s compared to the 42mm version I have (it comes in a smaller 38mm also). The metal body and glass screen give a material edge for everyday wear.

The screen is more readable than the conventional LCD’s found in other running watches. Set to 50% brightness, it’s perfectly legible in bright, direct sunlight. The layout and typeface make the five-field display better than its competitors.

The one disadvantage is it is not always-on, in order to reduce battery drain. That said, it’s very reliable in detecting when you’ve held your arm to read the watch and will turn on the display. There’s a bit of lag, but it’s not bad.

Battery Life

In a 3:30 workout, I used 74% of the battery, with GPS and optical HR on. This extrapolates to 4:45 with GPS-on, which matches well with Apple’s claim of 5h w/GPS. I didn’t use Bluetooth music streaming, so that will cut into the battery life further. This is only one data point and I will be doing more testing.
If you have your phone with you, the watch will use the phone’s GPS and this will extend the battery life, vs. using the internal GPS.

Sensor Accuracy

GPS: Looks to be good. In ideal (non-obstructed) conditions, it’s excellent. In the downtown core, it seems to be equal or slightly better than other GPS watches. There is some wobble in the track, but not bad. It supports GLONASS. My Sunday run was not very demanding and I will be testing in more demanding conditions later.

HR: Looks to be good in steady state conditions. In a long run when a steadily increasing HR, it kept up with my other watches, at least with visual comparisons during the run. I still need to check the charts to confirm. More importantly, I will be testing it during internal workouts with rapidly changing HR. That’s where the original Apple Watch did not perform well. The series 2 is supposed to have the same sensor, but perhaps the software has changed. We shall see.

Apple’s Running App

The built-in Apple workout app is surprisingly usable. As mentioned before, the display is excellent and gives 5 key metrics without scrolling (elapsed time, pace, HR, total distance, avg. pace). As for some of the commonly-used running features:

  • It will vibrate every km and briefly show you the lap split. The vibration is more of a tap on the wrist and easy to missed if you’re focused on something else while running.
  • There are no other fields available, like lap time, lap distance, etc.
  • There are no interval workouts, simple or otherwise.
  • There is no run/walk option for those doing 10 and 1’s.
  • There is an auto-pause when stopped option.

You can run the workout app in the background and do other stuff on the watch, like check notifications, turn-by-turn navigation, etc. Most of the other apps will need to have an iPhone paired, however.

Post-workout, you have to view it on the phone, there is no web version. It only gives basic metrics and a track map. It does not give an HR chart.

There’s no way of exporting data from Apple’s built-in workout app. Your runs are stuck inside that platform. It may be possible to get data out of Apple Health, but it will require hoops to be jumped through.

Third Party Apps

I’ve briefly tried most of the major third-party running apps – Strava, Runkeeper, MapMyRun, RunGO, Nike+. It’s a mixed bag. Some are good and some are not.

  • Most are lacking advanced features.
  • The Nike Run Club app, in particular, is absolute shit and totally deserving of its 1-star rating on the App Store. It shows one field at a time, has completely unreliable pace and basically no meaningful post-workout metrics. If this is what Apple is rolling out with the Nike+ version of the watch, they need to think again.
  • At this point, NONE of them can access the watch’s internal GPS and still require an iPhone to be present. This is major limitation and needs to change; it would solve the data export problem.

Limitations

You need an iPhone running iOS10. The watch will not even set up without pairing to a phone first. Once paired, you can leave the phone behind for the run.

If you’re on Android, go with the Polar M600.

At this Point…

I think this is a solid watch for which the lack of data export and battery life may be a deal-breaker for serious athletes. For iOS users, it’s a better non-running daily-wear experience than Garmin, Fitbit, et al., due to the app integration.

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