Apple Watch Series 2: The real fitness smartwatch is here

The new Apple Watch 2 is displayed during an event in San Francisco, California on Sept 7, 2016.
The new Apple Watch 2 is displayed during an event in San Francisco, California on Sept 7, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

It has been nearly 18 months since I bought my Apple Watch in Tokyo. And now, the second generation is here. It is simply called Apple Watch Series 2.

Like the iPhone 7, the Series 2 does not differ much from its predecessor in terms of design. It is the inside that gets all the upgrades.

The Series 2 now comes with built-in GPS. So it can track distance and speed for walks and runs without the need to bring along your iPhone for GPS tracking.

It is also now water resistant down to a depth of 50m. So no more worries when washing hands or showering. Indeed, you can now go swimming in the pool or ocean with the new Apple Watch. And it can even track your pool or open water swims. But it is not meant for diving.

The Series 2 still comes in the 38mm and 42mm case models, with different colours and case materials. The case materials range from the entry-level Sport models that come with an anodised aluminium case, to the new Edition models that have a smooth and pearl white ceramic case. I reviewed the space grey aluminium Sport model, though I would love to have reviewed the new ceramic model as it looks the most sleek and chic.

Design-wise, Series 2 models look exactly like their predecessors, with a Digital Crown and a Side Button on their right. The watch face remains rectangular. So watch purists who prefer a round watch face might have to wait another 18 months.

The display of the Series 2 is much brighter than its predecessor. I can see it much more clearly now under bright sunlight.

The Side Button below the digital crown used to be a short cut that brings up your favourite contacts. But in the new watchOS 3, pressing this button will pull up your favourite apps. This is much quicker than pressing the Digital Crown to go to the home screen, where all apps appear as circular icons, to look and tap on the app you want.

In addition, you can now swipe up from the display's bottom to get to the panel that gives you quick access to settings like Airplane, Sleep and Silent modes. Apps also start up much faster than in the original, thanks to the new dual-core processor.

Like the original, notifications mirror that of your paired iPhone. You can make calls from the watch or activate Siri by just saying "hey, Siri".

Unlike many GPS running watches that I have tested, the Apple Watch Series does not need the usual 30 seconds to one minute to get a GPS signal lock. All you need to do is to select outdoor run, and off you go. It is quite amazing.

After the run, just place the watch near your iPhone to update the Activity app on your iPhone, to get the route map and vital statistics of your run. I found the distance tracking readings to be not much different from my TomTom Spark Cardio.

To track a swim workout, select the Pool Swim option and input the length of the pool, say 50m. And you are ready to go. I did not test the watch in open water.

The watch will automatically detect your swimming stroke, swim distance, number of laps, lap times, calories and even your average heart rate. It was spot-on in tracking my laps and distance. And I didn't even have to calibrate it like I have to with my TomTom Spark Cardio.

The Series 2 will auto-lock the display to prevent accidental screen touches from water splashes during a swim workout. Upon  completing your swim, you need to rotate the Digital Crown to disable auto-lock and trigger the speaker to eject water that has entered it. You can really feel the water rushing out from the speaker. Pretty neat.

Battery life remains relatively similar to that of its predecessor. Going for a 400m swim and a 3km walk and 2km run on the same day with notifications turned on, I found half of the watch's battery drained by the time I went to bed. So it should be good enough for two days of use.

Verdict: The Apple Watch Series 2 might look like the original. But with built-in GPS and 50m water resistance, it is the only smartwatch that you will ever need. And it is seriously going to give regular GPS running watches a run of their money.

Tech specs

Price: From $548; available from Sept 16

Case material: anodised aluminium or stainless steel or ceramic

Connectivity: Bluetooth

Weight: From 28.2g (case only)

Rating

Features 5/5

Design 4/5

Performance 5/5

Battery life 3/5

Value for money 4/5

Overall 4/5 [ST Digital Editor's Choice]