Our quick verdict on the Apple Watch Series 2 as a fitness tracker

More than a year since the original watch was announced, last month Apple finally launched the next generation of its wearable. The Apple Watch Series 2 as its called, delivers solid improvements over its predecessor, including a few updates which make it more useful for health and fitness tracking.

41apdz6yxul-_sy300_The first generation of the watch was a little pricey to buy purely for its activity monitoring features and this was a very big problem when viewing the it as a fitness device. The watch was far too basic, and too expensive, to be considered as a rival to some of the dedicated fitness trackers on the market. It did, however, offer a gateway to the large proportion of the public that had not yet considered actively monitoring their health and fitness activity.

But do the upgrades in version 2 make the Cupertino company a more serious threat to the likes of Fitbit and Garmin?

Apple’s new watch is 50% faster than the predecessor device, it includes water proofing up to 50 metres, on-board GPS, a brighter screen, longer battery life and a few other updates. In a way, it is what the 2015 version should have been.

The device now sits somewhat uncomfortably between an all purpose smart watch and a sports watch. While the addition of GPS means you can leave your phone behind when you go for a run, the signal is by no means perfect and can, for example, have an effect on estimated pace or total distance. This should not be a big deal for the vast majority of its users (the walkers, hikers and casual joggers), but if you are a dedicated runner you will probably be better off with a dedicated GPS sports watch.

Essential reading: Top 10 GPS watches for running and training

The other big news is waterproofing. The watch is now water resistant up to 50 metres and can be used for monitoring open and pool water swimming. The company has developed all-new algorithms to count laps, track average lap pace and auto-detect stroke type to measure active calorie burn. The model has been tested with machines to prove it can withstand constant use in the pool or sea, as Apple proudly showed us in the launch video. But again, while all this is excellent news, if you are a serious swimmer and want more accurate data there are better options out there.

Even as a 24/7 basic fitness tracker, there are some notable omissions. The Apple Watch Series 2 does not have an altimeter for tracking floors climbed, a feature that can be found these days on even some budget wearables. Some third-party apps, like Altimeter+ or the ViewRanger app, will show elevation on the watch, but that’s only if you have your iPhone with you.

Like the first generation device, the new watch does not monitor sleep, unless you opt for a third-party app which you will then need to manually switch on before you go to bed, and off when you wake up. It is odd that Apple has not included a native app as it has the same combination of sensors that other activity trackers do, many of which claim to be able track sleep.

More importantly, while its optical heart rate sensor is excellent, Apple does not provide you with any sort of analysis. Resting heart rate is the most obvious omission, as it is one of the best indicators of your health and fitness. You could try a third-party app like Cardiogram for that, but there is no native app.

Fitbit’s latest Charge 2 tracker, not only provides you with your resting heart rate, but also gives you a cardiovascular score – a snapshot of your fitness level based on your heart rate data. You will then get guidance to take action and improve your score over time by increasing exercise frequency, intensity, or by reaching a healthier weight. And this serves as a great indicator of things to come.

Essential reading: Best fitness trackers and health gadgets you can buy today

The market is now awash with manufacturers each fighting for a slice of the wearable pie. A flood of statistics is churned out by these devices but, for the most part, it is left down to the users to sift through this data and draw meaningful conclusions. In an ever-expanding market, wearables manufactures will need to go beyond just displaying health metrics and look to provide much more meaningful analysis of our vitals data.

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Apple Watch Series 2
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We do, however, need to keep in mind that Apple Watch offers many other things in addition to being a fitness tracker. Its health and fitness features should therefore be viewed as a bonus rather than the main reason for purchase. As a fully featured smart watch, there are few wearables on the market today that can rival Apple.

As a dedicated fitness tracker? The Apple Watch Series 2 is fine but there are better options out there. As a sports watch? Even with the waterproofing and built-in GPS, it still has a way to go.

 

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