The resemblance is uncanny. But this year, things are a little different for the Apple Watch as it no longer needs to justify an upgrade. That workload has been effortlessly shouldered by the Apple Watch Ultra (it’s up for pre-orders now; arrives in a few weeks). Therefore, the Apple Watch Series 8 (the number denotes the generation) can go about taking a couple of steps forward, while keeping the familiarity intact.
There are two material choices to pick from – aluminium and the more expensive stainless steel. Though combination choices are endless, there are 11 standard configurations Apple sells the Watch Series 8 in. It is a bit disappointing that the shades of blue and green aren’t around anymore – the former particular looked gorgeous, with unexpected versatility when paired with bright colour strap options.
Question of price, value, and a more affordable sibling
Prices aren’t dissimilar from last year’s watches. The aluminium colour choices are midnight, starlight, silver and (product) red. The stainless steel watch options are silver, gold and graphite. Prices start at ₹45,900 depending on material, strap, and connectivity (Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + LTE) specs. The material’s a step up, but the colour choices also give a hint that Apple’s positioned this for the more discerning audience (those who may pair this with formal wear more often than not).
For the Apple Watch Series 8, there may be a slight complication from the improved Apple Watch SE, which is now in the second generation. That’s priced upwards of ₹29,900 but the differentiation attempts are very clear. The Watch SE doesn’t have blood oxygen or ECG monitoring, and also misses out on the additional temperature sensors. But it’s still more smartwatch than required for a large demographic and running the same S8 chip as the Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra.
If you see the evolution of the Apple Watch, at least over the last 3 years, it’s all been about improving things where improvement was needed, while leaving the rest as is. No surprise then that the overall design hasn’t changed (it’s now transcended well into the realms of being iconic), and that’s meant all your old watch straps still work too. Even when the overall size increased from 38mm and 42mm to 40mm and 44mm, respectively, (that was post the Watch Series 3 if memory serves us well). That’s effortless continuity.
How different does ‘different’ need to be?
You’d be hard-pressed to identify the differences between a 45mm (we specifically refer to this based on our experience) Apple Watch Series 7 and an Apple Watch Series 8. The display sizes are the same as well, but with the new watchOS 9, there are new watch faces which do hide the bezels better.
Then there’s the question of what’s beneath the hood. The new Apple S8 chip is an evolution from last year’s S7 chip. It isn’t necessarily faster (the real-world experience doesn’t indicate any perceptible changes). The changes revolve around making it more power frugal, while adding new sensors into the fold.
There’s a new low power mode which turns off a few things (always-on display, Wi-Fi, and LTE connectivity, etc.) which can extend run time (up to 36 hours, Apple claims). But this is still a watch that you’ll have to charge every day, with the low power mode being the trump card in case you’ve had a busy day and the bedside table is away.
On the Apple Watch Series 8, there are two new temperature sensors, a new gyroscope, and a more capable accelerometer. These are crucial to two of the newest features – cycle tracking, sleep stages and crash detection.
Widening the scope of health, wellness, and safety
This is where the Apple Watch Series 8 takes big strides. The smarts that track more, guide better and can potentially be a saviour (in case things go pear shaped, all of a sudden).
We’d said it in our review of the latest generation Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max and the iPhone 14 that Crash Detection is one of those features you would hope to never use. But knowing it’s there adds a blanket of assurance. The Apple Watch Series 8 integrates the same functionality (it can work in tandem with an iPhone, or without).
Car crashes are detected in case of sudden speed changes (accelerometer’s reading of G-forces), alongside one or all of cabin pressure changes (the barometer detects this), sudden direction or orientation changes as well as detected changes in sounds from the car’s cabin. Apple says more than 1 million car crash data sets have been used to optimise the feature, and this can detect as high as 250 Gs of impact (the peak G force range of a Formula 1 car while braking and cornering is around 6 Gs).
The temperature sensors are now adding to the guidance Cycle Tracking offers. There are two sensors – one placed beneath the display to register ambient temperature, while the other on the underside of the watch. The temperature collection, at least for now, is passive. Unlike heart rate sensors, blood oxygen readings or the EKG data, you cannot manually run a scan. It’ll take a few days of wearing the Apple Watch to bed every night before a baseline temperature is set for you.
The subsequent readings will be linked to that baseline. Do not think of this as an on-demand digital thermometer, but weave in with menstrual cycle data – this can alert if the body temperature readings are off the usual. But as with most health data that wearables collect, it is reactive (as it should be; predictions aren’t always accurate) and you need to also factor in your own health history when basing any decisions on what a smartwatch suggests.
Wines, bottles and similar references don’t apply here
The Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t an old wine in a new bottle. Neither is it a new wine in a new bottle. It has everything you’ve known the Apple Watch for all these years. Detailed health metrics, extensive activity tracking, one of the best smartwatch displays and the most vibrant wearable platform there is. Yet, more’s been added.
The watchOS 9 update is a fresh coat of paint, but at the same time, new hardware has widened the Apple Watch Series 8’s scope of health metrics collection. Whether you want those in your daily routine or not is subjective. Temperature tracking, now that the sensors are in place, will likely be further expanded in the next iteration. They have to as that’s the logical next step.
If you are on an Apple Watch older than the Watch Series 6 for instance, this is an upgrade big enough to justify a splurge now. But for Watch Series 7 in particular, this is still not very different. If you’re a first time Apple Watch buyer, perhaps on a limited budget, can do without extensive health data (but a wide scope for fitness tracking) and don’t menstruate, the Apple Watch SE in its second generation may just be the ideal step into the ecosystem.
Yet without any doubt, what is very different (and better in every sense), is the watchOS 9 update. The Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade. It is evolution at its best, piece by piece. For that, as it should, software leads the way forward. It makes sense. Most consumers wouldn’t spend on a new smartwatch every year.