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Apple Watch Series 8: A week with the new best smartwatch

The new Watch Ultra could very well dethrone it.

The Series 8 is the middle child in Apple’s selection for the 2022 Watch, and regrettably, it may be the one that is most likely to be disregarded. The Series 8 feels like a minor upgrade to the Series 7, with its primary improvements being crash detection and a new skin temperature sensor that enables ovulation tracking. At $399, it also has more fierce competition from the Watch SE, which not only had its price dropped to $250 this year but also has many of the same features as the Series 8 as well. And it’s difficult to envision anyone being enthused about the Series 8 given the impending release of the expensive Watch Ultra.

A generational comparison isn’t the most helpful to make, though, as the majority of consumers don’t upgrade their smartwatches every year. The Series 8 is a fantastic watch on its own and makes a fantastic multifunctional wearable with amazing health and fitness tools. I’ve tested the Series 8 for approximately a week along with the Watch SE and the Series 7. I have a lot of watches on my wrists (really, I do). And while I don’t feel ready to give a final judgement, I can confidently say that the Series 8 will satisfy the majority of customers.

I was given a larger size to test than normal, so it’s difficult for me to accurately compare the Series 8 to the Series 7. The Series 8 I have is the 45mm option, whilst the older model I have is the 41mm variant. Although the size difference didn’t translate into a significant functional difference, it did make testing several aspects more difficult.

I’m already more sensitive than most people when it comes to sleeping with a watch on my wrist, for instance. Because the 45mm Series 8 is larger than my Series 7, I found it more difficult to test its sleep tracking than normal. As a result, I have been delaying writing this section of the review. Instead, I had a bearable experience because I was wearing the new 40mm Watch SE to bed.

I’ve worn the Series 8 so far on a late-night flight to see if I might get some temperature readings there, but even though I had set up a Sleep Focus as instructed, the watch didn’t monitor sleep. I’ll need to conduct additional testing, but between that and overnight testing of the Watch SE, I won’t be able to assess features like the present-day skin temperature sensor.

Apple establishes a baseline for your body temperature using the information it gathers while you sleep, and over time it examines variations to determine whether or not you were ovulating. The Series 8 needs at least five nights of data to establish a baseline, and more time is needed to calculate your cycles after that.

I’ll have to wait a little bit longer before I can determine how valuable this feature is given everything that goes into testing it. I also can’t test crash detection safely, so I can’t vouch for it either.

But for now, using the Series 8 is very similar to using the Series 7. I’m not thrilled about the new beige Starlight color choice, but it does help the Watch feel less like a black stone on my wrist.

Although using the more recent S8 system-in-package CPU, the Series 8 didn’t seem noticeably speedier than its predecessor. Overall, it did last a little bit longer, but I would need to test it for a longer period of time to be sure. Also, I think the bigger size may be a factor in this. One morning when the Series 8 battery was at 20% and I still needed to run to the gym for an 8am workout, I employed the new low power mode in watch OS 9. It was able to track my performance during the HIIT class and last for at least two more hours. I was astonished by how little it seemed like I was giving up to get the extra juice.

I also loved exploring some of the other watch OS 9 changes, such as the new watch faces and cardio zone pages for use while exercise. The fact that I could plainly read the date in Mandarin on the page on the Lunar screen specifically helped me recall that the Mid-Autumn Festival was this past weekend. (The festival’s date is also referred to as the moon in colloquial Chinese.) The equivalent symbol appeared at the top of the Series 8’s screen to indicate it adopted that profile when I changed Focus Modes on my phone. I loved being able to use the watch to record the pills I took and the reminders to take the drugs I’ve uploaded to Apple Health were very useful.

Once the software update is completed, the majority of these functions will be accessible to users of previous Apple Watch models.

Although it’s convenient that the Series 8 can measure blood oxygen levels and ECGs, I didn’t use the gadget much for those tests during my time with it. I wouldn’t use these tools frequently enough to justify investing an extra $150 for the more expensive model. If you don’t need an always-on display or IP6X dust resistance, the Watch SE is a great value for the majority of people.

My job demands me to be current on the newest gadgets and features, so I’ll probably continue using the Series 8 as my main smartwatch (after trading it in for a smaller model). However, I won’t do so because I actually need the skin temperature reading or crash detection. But if I were choosing for myself (rather than my career), I’d probably choose the Watch SE. Even so, the Series 8 is perhaps the most complete and feature-rich smartwatch on the market. Until we obtain the forthcoming Watch Ultra.