I put the Apple Watch Series 8 back on my wrist recently in preparation for the impending — and inevitable — release of the Apple Watch Series 9. It’s no secret that the Apple Watch is great, but I wanted to see if it’s really as good as I remembered.
After a few months of wearing other smartwatches, I’d only used the Apple Watch Series 8 on a few different occasions, but I’d always considered it the benchmark. Well, it’s not as good as I remembered — it’s even betterand I can’t believe I haven’t worn it more this year.
Returning to the Apple Watch
Over the past year, I’ve worn the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra fairly consistently, whether it’s to review, compare, revisit, or test. But since mid-2023, I’ve reviewed and tested various other smartwatches, so the Apple Watch didn’t get worn as much. When I put it back on in August, I was immediately reminded why it’s always such a joy: It’s absolutely effortless to wear, use, and own in every respect. This is a huge deal, as when a health and fitness product is needy, annoying, or poorly designed, you won’t want to wear it.
I love wearing the Apple Watch. It’s quite astounding that the Apple Watch’s core design hasn’t changed since the very first version was released, proving Apple got it exactly right the first time around. Other, less confident manufacturers constantly play with the shape, design, and fit of their wearables, but not Apple. It has stuck to a broadly similar formula throughout, refining it and improving the underlying technology instead. The Apple Watch Series 8 looks fantastic on my wrist, and with the right band, I barely know it’s there.
The band is crucial to the Apple Watch’s success. The quick-release system, although proprietary, is neat and versatile and avoids messing around with fiddly pins when you want to swap bands. It’s done in the blink of an eye, and the complete avoidance of lugs keeps the case compact and comfortable while maximizing screen real estate. It adds something special to the Apple Watch’s almost unique, 100% recognizable design too.
I’ve long paired my Apple Watch Series 8 with a Braided Solo Loop band, which I think is the most comfortable band I’ve ever tried. It’s lightweight, strong, washable, and looks brilliant too. It also lessens the visual impact of the Apple Watch on your wrist. I have no interest in flashy metal bracelets for the Apple Watch Series 8. For me, they ruin its simplicity and try to make it a statement piece. I don’t see it as a statement watch, so dressing it up like one isn’t for me, but it’s another testament to Apple’s design that it can be dressed up if you want.
The Braided Solo Loop is perfect for when I want to wear the Apple Watch with an actual statement watch. It’s probably controversial, but I don’t mind wearing a traditional watch on my left wrist and the Apple Watch on my right wrist. Because the Solo Loop is understated and supremely comfortable, it doesn’t look odd (well, not that odd), and it doesn’t become bothersome when you pair it with another watch. Change the Watch face to an all-digital one, and I get to enjoy my current favorite mechanical watch and still keep “closing my rings.”
What about fitness?
The Apple Watch Series 8 is truly functional, and it’s extremely good at almost everything it does. My own smartwatch needs are relatively basic. I want interactive notifications, easy mobile payments, and a way to control my music — plus health and fitness tracking that I can understand and that will motivate me. I also want a selection of cool watch faces, good performance, and the chance to add to all this as my needs change.
All of this is covered without any problem at all. The Apple Watch shrugs it all off when other smartwatches make such a meal out of everything from connectivity to setting up health tracking, when features are disabled due to a desire to maximize battery life for the sake of slapping some big numbers on the promotional material. I find this unacceptable, as not only do I not want to dig through menus to find if a feature is turned on or not, but I shouldn’t have to do it. There are no such concerns with the Apple Watch Series 8.
It auto-tracks workouts without fail, the movement alerts and medals when I meet my goals are fun without being intrusive, and it’s easy to see how I’m progressing towards these goals too. All my notifications are delivered reliably and with the option to interact with them, and I happily switch between the GMT, World Time, Contour, and sometimes the Gradient watch face. A choice of excellent, free watch faces is pretty rare. I’m looking forward to the Snoopy watch face in watchOS 10, a character with a long history of being featured on watches.
Where the Apple Watch fails
If I think the Apple Watch Series 8 is so good, does it do anything badly? The battery life isn’t fantastic, and with a single 30-minute workout tracked and no sleep tracking, it still doesn’t last two full days — with the 10% warning coming up in the early evening. Two full working days are possible without a workout or sleep tracking. If you want an Apple Watch with longer battery life, the Apple Watch Ultra is for you, as it will double the time you get from the battery even with activities tracked.
Sleep tracking isn’t good either, and Apple has fallen well behind Samsung here. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 and Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic’s new sleep tracking platform is excellent, with masses of detail and even a sleep coaching program if it sees a need to improve. The Apple Watch is more than comfortable and light enough to wear overnight, but there’s little reason to do so, as the data it provides is very basic.
I get around this by wearing an Oura Ring, which is a superb sleep tracker. I also like the way the Oura Ring reliably links with Apple’s HealthKit, meaning workouts tracked and data gathered through either product appears in the respective apps. This faultless integration, which is so simple to set up, is a big benefit of Apple’s tightly controlled ecosystem. The only downside is it’s an expensive combination.
Finally, in a recent update, Apple decided to activate Siri’s voice guidance when tracking some workouts as standard. It’s a hateful decision, as Siri will yell out some basic stats at various intervals when you’re outside. It happens even if you have the volume on the Watch turned down and you have to dig into the settings to turn Siri off. There’s nothing wrong with the feature (it’s handy for cyclists or headphone wearers, I suppose), but it should be off by default, as it’s pretty embarrassing and easy to forget about until it happens again.
The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch there is
If you own an iPhone and want to buy a smartwatch, you should only be looking at the Apple Watch. You even have a choice that extends beyond case size or color. If the Series 8 isn’t quite hardcore enough, the Apple Watch Ultra will likely fit the bill. If you don’t want an electrocardiogram or an always-on screen, then save some money and buy the Apple Watch SE 2. Regardless of which one you buy, you’re rewarded with the same simplicity, the same broad customization options, and the same frictionless ownership experience.
There are other smartwatches I’ve loved this year, with the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic coming very close to replicating the Apple Watch’s brilliance for Android, and while it is undeniably more impressive when it comes to health tech, it’s still not quite there with performance, software, or reliability. I also like the Tag Heuer Connected Calibre E4, but I can’t wear that on the opposite wrist to my Tudor Black Bay.
When I put the Apple Watch Series 8 back on recently, I thought to myself that I simply haven’t worn it enough this year. It does everything I could want, with no fuss, and is versatile enough for me to wear on its own and be proud of it, or even treat it almost like a glorified fitness band and wear it with another watch. I am looking forward to seeing the Apple Watch Series 9 along with other products on September 12, but it has a very hard job ahead of it, as it needs to somehow improve on what is the absolute best smartwatch available, despite having been around for a year already.