Apple has announced its latest smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 8, last week at the “Far Out” event in Cupertino. As new Apple Watches go, the 8 is just an incremental improvement over its predecessor, the Apple Watch 7 from last year. But the new features may make sense to some people, and you’ll get them for the same price as last year’s model.
The Series 8 starts at $399. It looks identical to the Series 7 and the battery is the same size.
What’s different is under the hood. The Series 8 gets some new sensors: an improved accelerometer and a gyroscope. Apple has added a new High-G accelerometer to enable the new crash detection feature, which can identify when you’ve been in a car accident and automatically call for help. (I haven’t been able to test the feature without serious injury, but I have no doubts that it works as billed.)
In addition, there is a new temperature sensor, which supports the new retrospective ovulation estimates feature in the Cycle Tracking app. This sensor can also be used in the sleep tracking app to measure your body temperature while you sleep. Sometimes I wake up sweating, and I don’t know why. But I would like to know when it happens so that I can try to relate it to possible causes (diet, stress, etc.).
The Apple Watch 8 also has a new chip, the S8 SiP, which I found to have an overall positive effect on the responsiveness of the touchscreen for navigation and launching apps quickly.
The best new features in the Apple Watch 8 are software features in watchOS 9. One of the most important is a new power-saving mode, a software innovation that can extend the battery life of the device from 18 hours to 36 hours. This mode disables some features, such as the always-on display, but I found this to be a worthwhile trade-off. The normal 18-hour battery life and the need to charge every night or morning have always cramped my style a bit.
A completely redesigned compass app includes a new feature called Backtrack, where your watch will automatically drop GPS markers as you travel somewhere. If you get lost, the watch can guide you back to these little GPS breadcrumbs so you can find your way home even without a cellular connection. Or you can manually drop the markers in certain places along your route. I tested this on my daily route to the coffee shop near me and then followed the waypoints home. On the watch screen, I could see when I was moving closer or further away from a particular waypoint. When I reached one, I moved on to the next and soon I was home. The interface made sense to me and was easy to use. The real test, however, is how well Backtrack works when I’m far from the network with no cellphone and only spotty line-of-sight contact with GPS satellites.
The Apple Watch 8 is a very solid and mature piece of hardware. You know what you get and everything works. But unless you have a very old Apple Watch and plan to upgrade anyway, I don’t see a good reason to rush to the Apple Watch 8 and upgrade. The new features are meaningful additions to the watch’s growing detection and processing power, and it’s good that Apple has decided not to pass the cost on to consumers.