Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Gear Friday: Apple Watch Series 2

Apple Watch Series 2 with the new watchOS 3 Minnie Mouse face. Photo / Juha Saarinen
Apple Watch Series 2 with the new watchOS 3 Minnie Mouse face. Photo / Juha Saarinen

With the new Series 2, Apple has made its wearable far better than the first version by adding features that probably should've been there in the first place.

The Watch Series 2 looks the same as the first-generation Watch, but it's now waterproof up to fifty metres depth - yes, with the right band, you can take the Watch for a swim and there's a workout included to keep track of the splash.

There's also a global positioning system (GPS) receiver in the new Watch, to track speed and location while running, walking, cycling and more accurately. The Watch is now less dependent on your iPhone, which is exactly how it should be - who wants to carry a big smartphone with them while exercising?

Once downloaded, the GPS information is cached in the Watch so you don't have to do that weird wrist-out thing when you start a run or walk, to make the device latch onto a satellite. One thing that I thought Apple would add is a "map my run" feature where the GPS tracks your route, which can then be drawn on Apple Maps, but no, that's not there yet.

Apple added a bigger battery for the new Watch, which helps keep it going with the GPS and the also new faster, dual-core processor (the Watch Series 1 also gets this) inside. The bigger battery means the Watch Series 2 is a tiny bit thicker than the Watch Series 1, but the difference is hard to notice.

What you notice immediately though is the new, 1,000-nits bright display on the Watch Series 2.

It makes content projected on the Watch screen visible even in sunlight, and it's more than twice as bright as the 450-nits display on the Series 1 Watch. The display is so bright that I have it turned down to the lowest setting most of the time.

The Watch Series 2 focuses on sports and exercise; while I'd hesitate to buy a Nike+ themed Watch with their eyeball-searing strap colours and design even if you do get a special watch face, the new scratch-resistant ceramic casing would be great.

Except you only get a dollar change from two grand for the 38mm Watch Series 2 with a ceramic case, and the 42mm one costs $2,079. The most affordable Watch Series 2 starts at $649 for an aluminium case device; more rugged stainless steel case Watches start at $979.

The Watch Series 2 is not cheap in other words, especially since you need an iPhone as a companion device to use it.

If you want to use the Watch Series 2 for sports and outdoors, it's worth noting that the stainless steel and ceramic case variants gets the new sapphire crystal screen that's less scratch-prone than the IonX glass on the aluminium case models, and the Series 1.

The Watch Series 2 is not cheap in other words, especially since you need an iPhone as a companion device to use it.

It doesn't look like New Zealand will get the Hermés edition Watch Series 2, with leather straps and watch faces designed by the French fashion house. That's not a huge loss in my opinion, as they're expensive and indifferent looking and you can't take them for a swim anyway. You can buy them in Australia if you feel like dropping at least A$1,779 on one, or A$2,349 on the ugly double-strap variant.

New watchOS 3 makes a big difference

It's not just the new hardware, but the software that drives the Watch that makes it nicer overall. Apple's watchOS 3 operating system (the Watch is a little computer for your wrist after all) has a much more sensible layout of apps and functions than earlier variants, making them easier to find and use.

The watchOS update turned the button into way to switch between apps and features, which now are stored in memory so that they start up quickly. This applies to the first generation of Watch as well, and it's well worth your while to update it.

Updating the Watch would be much faster if there was a way to force the wearable to stay on Wi-Fi while connecting to your iPhone, rather than using the much slower Bluetooth protocol. The only way I've found so far is to turn off Bluetooth on your iPhone: if you see a small, green cloud icon on your Watch screen rather than the square device one, you're connecting with Wi-Fi and not Bluetooth.

One feature that I was looking forward to trying out is using the Watch to unlock your Mac. That is, no need to type in a username and password to log onto your computer; the only thing you do is to authenticate yourself with a PIN on the Watch once, and then it'll automatically unlock the Mac within three metres distance of the computer.

The new 2FA feature also provides a notification with a map showing the approximate location of the device that's used to sign on with.

This works, and it's a neat feature, but be warned that it can be a bear to set up if you're security conscious and have two-step verification that asks for an additional code, sent via a text or other message to your smartphone or iPad.

If you do, you have to switch to two-factor authentication (2FA) to use the Watch unlock for Macs. Yes, the two may sound like the same thing and they are, kind of, but they're different features.

Setting up 2FA meant turning off two-step verification, Apple's first version of, uh, 2FA.

That set in motion a painful process that involved changing my Apple ID password, setting up three security questions, entering passcodes on devices and adding a trusted phone number.

It's easy to get lost in the process, and I'm surprised it passed Apple's normally strict quality control. The convoluted process explains why the support page is so long and detailed though.

The new 2FA feature also provides a notification with a map showing the approximate location of the device that's used to sign on with.

This is only moderately useful as it uses the registered business location of the public internet protocol (IP) address that your internet provider assigned your device to map where the sign-on happened. If you're in Auckland, but your ISP's business address is in Wellington, guess where 2FA thinks the login happened?

Next challenge for Apple: longer battery life

The more powerful processor, brighter screen and GPS don't seem to have made a dent in the battery life for the Watch. You still get around 18 hours' worth of use, or roundabout the same as with the first version of the Watch.

This is annoyingly little, and while I admit that the Watch has won me over and I charge it religiously every day (and haven't replaced the battery in my old wristwatch yet), I wish it'd last longer. Once a week charging would be on the top of my list of improvements for the Watch Series 2.

For now though, if you want an Apple Watch, spend the extra money and get the Series 2 instead of the cheaper Series 1. You'll be happier with the new model.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

Read more by Juha Saarinen

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