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swadeadday magazine 😦😲🤔 Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE Review: Wrist Protector | WIRED
Apple Series 8
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Rating:

8/10

WIRED
It’s an Apple Watch. Crash detection offers peace of mind. Temperature sensing is accurate. WatchOS 9 updates are wonderful. Low Power mode means it stayed alive for almost a whole weekend. 
TIRED
Still spendy. You can probably find a Series 7 on sale with nearly the same features. Navigating through your fitness and health data can be confusing. 

I intended to write this review earlier, but after almost three years of avoiding it, I finally contracted Covid-19. I was the only person in my house who got sick and I recovered quickly, but I still underestimated how seriously my kids would take it. As I was putting her to bed, my 7-year-old asked, “Mama, what happens to us if you die?”

This was more pragmatic phrasing than I had expected, but I walked her through it anyway. I told her, first off, I wasn’t that sick. I showed her the temperature sensing chart from the Apple Watch Series 8 and how my fever had gone down; I took an electrocardiogram and an SpO2 test, and the results were both fine. My Apple Watch would call her dad, her grandparents, and our neighbor if something happened to me. I showed her the emergency contact list. Maybe she might even live with her uncle and his cool dogs!

Photograph: Apple

I initially poked fun at how overwrought Apple’s marketing of the Series 8 was. Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself relying on an Apple Watch to fight off a bear or shark. But I think I also underestimated how stressful the past few years have been. My kids have lived half their lives in a global pandemic and under the threat of devastating wildfires in the US Pacific Northwest. “It’s too much!” my daughter said. I know, kid. We could all probably use a little peace of mind.

One After Another

That’s largely the continued proposition of the Apple Watch. This year, Apple has two new models: the Series 8 and a second-gen Apple Watch SE, which is cheaper with limited features. If you’ve seen one Apple Watch, you’ve seen them all. The Series 8 comes in a familiar rectangle display shape, in a 41- or 45-mm case size. It’s IPX6-rated water resistant, just like last year’s Series 7, with the same familiar edge-to-edge display. That display is 27 percent bigger than the Apple Watch SE, and the big, thick bezel on the SE is now very noticeable.

Besides being smaller, the SE has a nylon back that makes it lighter, in theory. The SE that I tried seems lighter mostly by virtue of having a much smaller 40-mm case compared to the Series 8 at 45 mm. It also doesn’t have the Series 8’s durability (though it’s still IPX6 water resistant), nor does it feature blood oxygen monitoring, the ECG app, or the new skin temperature capabilities.

Photograph: Apple

Speaking of temperature sensing, every year Apple introduces a new health feature with much fanfare, more or less ignoring that other wearables have had a similar feature for years. The company usually tweaks it in some way to make it just slightly better. Rather than just one sensor, the Series 8 has two. One sits next to the skin and one is just under the display, to counteract the confounding effects of ambient temperature.

Skin temperature sensing is one of the main reasons I recommend an Oura ring, which is sensitive enough to track the slight drop in body temperature when your period starts. Theoretically, you should be able to do the same with the Series 8, but I wasn’t lucky. You usually need to establish a baseline for a few weeks, and my period did not cooperate, timing-wise. Also, my temperature was all over the place from being sick.

It’s important to note that you can’t, for example, check your Series 8 and see that your temperature is over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not acting like a traditional thermometer, and that’s because your skin surface temperature is slightly lower than your body temperature. For example, an ear thermometer showed my temperature to be over 100 degrees, while the Series 8 said my skin temperature was 98.3. However, unlike with many other wearables, you can see exactly what temperature each sensor recorded and when, instead of deviations from a baseline. I was able to see my temperature steadily dropping over the course of a few days as I recovered, so I trust that it’s reasonably accurate.

Photograph: Apple

This year, the other new standout feature is Crash Detection. The SE, the Series 8, and the upcoming Apple Watch Ultra all have a new high-g accelerometer and an improved gyroscope to detect severe car crashes, along with a new sensor-fusion algorithm that takes into account inputs from the barometer, GPS, and microphone to detect whether you’ve been in a car accident. If you’re unresponsive after 10 seconds, your watch calls emergency services (you also need a cell connection or Wi-Fi calling from a nearby iPhone).

I don’t drive that often, but given that my most frequent use of Apple’s Find My is to figure out whether my spouse is dead in a ditch or just late home from work, I can see why it is reassuring.

Solely Software

The majority of the exciting updates for the Apple Watch are in the upcoming Ultra, and in WatchOS 9. For example, the new Low Power mode isn’t limited to the Series 8 but works on the SE (and every Apple Watch Series 4 and newer). Low Power mode turns off features like the Always-On display or workout autostart, and when it was on I stretched the Series 8’s battery life through almost a full weekend without having to recharge—Friday afternoon almost through Sunday afternoon.

Photograph: Apple

I also found the new Lunar watch face, which shows you what phase of the moon you’re in, to be beautiful and educational, and a perfect use of that large edge-to-edge display. The redesigned Compass app was nifty—you scroll with the digital crown to see more navigational information—and the new running workout metrics were useful. 

Photograph: Apple

As I recovered from being sick, I tracked my heart rate to keep it out of the hardest heart rate zones for a few days. I did identify a pain point, though: It’s hard to keep track of whether your workout or health stats are in the Health or Fitness apps, or even what they’re called. Activity? Workout? They’re in there somewhere, I guess. It’s great that there’s finally a Fitness app on the iPhone, but my data still feels all over the place.  

Every year, you (and by you, I mean we) have to decide whether this year’s additions mean that it’s worth upgrading your Apple Watch. If you have just yourself to consider, there’s no reason to not go for last year’s Series 7 (if you can find it at a price close to $300). It’s just as durable as the Series 8 and lacks only skin temperature sensing and Crash Detection, which you might not even need. The SE is perfectly fine if you just want a basic watch, or to be able to check on your kid (your elderly relative may need the Series 7 or Series 8’s more advanced health features).

It has become increasingly clear that Apple doesn’t want you to think of just yourself when buying an Apple Watch. With Family Setup, ECG, and emergency response features, your Apple Watch is more and more becoming a tool to tie us all to each other. This is the first Apple Watch that I wished my spouse had, instead of me, and the first time I’ve considered that my kid might want an Apple Watch of her own. In fact, I’m going to finish writing this review and set up an old one for her. It’s rough out there.