Though maybe not at the same time.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is the best mainstream smartwatch you can buy. This is true even though it is a merely incremental, much more expensive update on last year’s Watch Series 7.
Price: from €499 (41mm); from €539 (45mm)
Pros: new sensors provide additional features
Cons: steep price rise on Series 7, fewer upgrades than previous years
After a few days’ use, it’s clear that the Watch Series 8 is still easily the most accessible, multi-functional and powerful smartwatch currently on the market. It’s a finely-tuned machine, now, that excels for health, is unmatched for everyday stuff like payments and is also more than competent for fitness.
It also now has the option of significantly better battery life (though it’s still relatively modest at 36 hours) through a new low power mode that lets you do most of the Watch’s everyday stuff.
Other than the obvious limitation of it being iPhone-only, and that still-modest battery life, the only real drawback to the new model is the huge, inflation-linked price rise currently sweeping across all of Apple’s products sold in Europe.
But even so, if you’re an iPhone owner, this is the undisputedly clear choice for an all-purpose smartwatch companion (unless you have €1,000 to drop on Apple’s just-announced Watch Ultra, which may be a little like overkill for anyone other than extreme sports enthusiasts).
That said, what are the actual improvements on this year’s Watch Series 8 over the Series 7?
It mainly boils down to a handful of new sensors, though it also benefits from other headline improvements — like extended battery life through a new Low Power mode — that are applicable to most Apple Watches through the WatchOS 9 software upgrade.
The main sensor-led feature upgrade that Watch Series 8 gets over any other model is temperature sensing. This kicks in at night, taking a wrist temperature sample every five seconds. While there are some general health pointers to be gleaned from this, the biggest potential benefit may be to those seeking to track ovulation and menstrual cycles. Although it’s a retrospective measurement tool, the Watch will start to give you ovulation estimates after two menstrual cycles.
Apple says that the feature can also help to predict when periods will start, as well as contribute to data collection (you can create a PDF of your cycle history) on what might be an underlying health condition such as a thyroid disorder or fibroids. I don’t ovulate, so I couldn’t test this part of the temperature sensor in any meaningful way. But it might be useful for those who do, or who are involved in family planning.
The other principal sensor upgrade on Watch Series 8 is a motion sensor that gives the Watch the ability to detect a car crash and then report it to emergency services and your own emergency contacts.
This happens courtesy of an improved high-g accelerometer (up to 256 g-forces compared to 32 on previous Apple Watches) and a better, more accurate gyroscope. The watch also uses a few other on-board sensors in this process — the microphone (to measure for a loud, sudden noise such as screeching or glass shattering), the GPS (to detect a sudden abrupt halt in speed) and the barometer (to record an instant change in the car’s cabin pressure from the activation of an airbag).
Combined, these system elements are said to have the ability to detect when you have been in a “severe” car crash, one typically that causes serious injury. At that point, the Watch gives you a notification suggesting that “it looks like you’ve been in a crash” and proceeds to call emergency services unless you tap ‘cancel’.
Once again, this is not something I can feasibly test. For its part, Apple says that it has been honed with over 1m hours of real-life driving and crash data, as well as controlled test-dummy crash exercises.
While these are the only two main upgrades from the Watch Series 7 (and only one of them — temperature sensing — is exclusive to the Watch Series 8; crash detection is also newly available on the updated, cheaper Watch SE), there are still some other new features worth talking about. These mostly come from the WatchOS 9 that will apply to any Watch after (but not including) Series 3.
My favourite, so far, is the new low power mode.
This effectively doubles your Watch’s battery life — from just over one day to around two days — by turning off things like the heart rate and blood oxygen measurements, as well as your Watch’s always-on display (for anyone with a Watch 5, 6, 7 or 8; the Watch SE doesn’t have an always-on screen).
Crucially, it still lets you do almost all of the other everyday things you might want, like payments and playing music and navigation; it’s not like the more extreme ‘power reserve’ mode the Watch offers when it has almost no battery life left, which doesn’t give you access to any of the Watch’s features other than the time.
The only real compromise I’ve noticed using the low power mode is the requirement to now flick my wrist again to activate the Watch’s display; I have taken the always-on screen for granted as something discreetly glanceable since it was introduced three years ago.
Nevertheless, I can see myself using this feature a lot when travelling. The single biggest downside of any Apple Watch remains its relatively modest battery life compared to almost every other smartwatch in the market. While the trade off is that Apple’s Watch is far more powerful and sophisticated than others, it’s still an irritation to have to charge it almost every day. This is even more so when one of the Watch 8’s cornerstone features is a temperature sensor designed to work at night, when many people might naturally charge their Watch alongside their iPhone.
There are a few other nice little updates from WatchOS 9.
As well as a redesigned Compass, a new feature called Backtrack lets you use the Watch’s GPS to mark a trail as you walk it, making it easier to retrace your steps if you need to.
There are some decent Fitness updates, too, mainly featuring advanced metrics for runners, but also including a new multisport workout that could be useful for triathletes as it can automatically switch between running, swimming and cycling.
And it’s worth mentioning that some of the standard features on recent Apple Watch models, like ECG and ‘fall detection’, are still very useful, attractive things to have in your lifestyle health arsenal, especially for older adults.
There are one or two updated features that Watch owners will only get if they live in countries such as the US or UK. Chief among these is international roaming for Apple Watch cellular models. Alas, no Irish operator yet supports Apple Watch cellular models, an increasingly bizarre and archaic scenario. I am hearing that Vodafone Ireland may not be far from a cellular announcement with Apple, but neither side will confirm that yet.
The lack of cellular connectivity here shuts out the very practical, handy Family Plan features that allow the Watch to be used as a communications and safety tool between parents and kids.
Meanwhile, Apple’s new ‘automatic track detection’ feature, which can automatically detect 400-metre tracks you use for running, will also only be available in the US.
Like all of Apple’s new products in 2022, there is a humongous, inflation-hit price rise. Last year’s flagship Watch (Series 7) cost €429 and €479. This year it’s €499 and [€539, despite no change in US prices from last year. As I’ve explained in a number of other Apple reviews, this isn’t a profiteering move, but is purely down to the 15pc collapse of the euro against the dollar, which is the currency Apple links its new products to.
But given the arguably slim number of updates to Watch Series 8, might it be a savvier move to buy a Series 7 instead, before regular retailers run out of stock? Are the upgrades mentioned above worth the additional €70?
It mainly depends on how long you think you’ll have your Watch for. Apple Watches are generally kept for longer than iPhones, which means you may have it for five years or more. Apple’s latest software update, WatchOS 9, supports only the last five years’ of Watches, back to Watch Series 4. That doesn’t mean that Series 3 (and previous) stop working, but it does mean that you don’t get any feature or efficiency bonuses that come from the updates.
In other words, if you get the Series 8, you’ll likely get an extra year of updates, if that means much to you. Other than that, the advantages of the Series 8 over the Series 7 are quite marginal and focused in a few specific areas: it would be quite tempting to get a Series 7 model — still better than any other smartwatch for a general iPhone user — and spend the savings on a really nice second strap.