Back in the first half of 2015 Apple released the first version of the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch was a long-rumored product, often referred to as the iWatch before its release. At the time, it represented the best attempt that I had seen to provide a compelling smartwatch experience, but it was clearly a first generation product with flaws and shortcomings. It was not unlike the iPhone 2G or the iPad 1 in that regard, and for all the things it did well, there were other parts of the experience that really didn't deliver. While this shouldn't have been unexpected given the nature of first generation products, when a device is surrounded by so much hype for so many years, expectations can begin to run wild. On top of that, certain aspects like application performance were not up to the standards that are expected of a shipping product. In our review of the original Apple Watch we concluded that it was a good first attempt, but obviously flawed, and that ordinary consumers should wait for future iterations.

Jumping to the present, Apple is back with the second generation of the Apple Watch, the aptly named Apple Watch Series 2. The launch of Apple Watch Series 2 comes two years after the original announcement of the Apple Watch. Even when you consider the six month gap between the first Apple Watch's announcement and launch, this still represents a longer time between versions than the yearly cadence that we've come to expect for many other products. Having a product in the market for one and a half years is a good span of time to observe how users are making use of it, what features they are and aren't using, and what parts of the experience create friction. For a first generation product this kind of information is essential to make the necessary improvements in future iterations, as taking the product in the wrong direction could doom its future prospects entirely.

In addition to the improvements made in watchOS 3, Apple Watch Series 2 includes a number of hardware improvements. While one might think that specs are entirely irrelevant in a smartwatch, that actually couldn't be farther from the truth. Many of the issues with the original Apple Watch stem from various limitations in the hardware, particularly the slowness of the CPU and GPU. With Series 2 Apple has a chance to address many of these problems. I've compiled a table below with the specifications of both sizes of the original Apple Watch compared to their successors in Series 2.

  Apple Watch 38mm Apple Watch 42mm Apple Watch Series 2 38mm Apple Watch Series 2 42mm
SoC Apple S1
CPU: 520MHz Cortex A7
GPU: PowerVR Series5
Apple S2
CPU: 2 x 520MHz Cortex A7
GPU: PowerVR Series6 'Rogue'
RAM/NAND 512MB LPDDR3 (?) RAM / 8GB NAND
Display 1.32" 272x340 OLED
450 nit brightness
1.5" 312x390 OLED
450 nit brightness
1.32" 272x340 OLED
1000 nit brightness
1.5" 312x390 OLED
1000 nit brightness
Size / Mass 38.6x33.3x10.5mm
25/40/55g
(Alu/Steel/Gold)
42x35.9x10.5mm
30/50/69g
(Alu/Steel/Gold)
38.6x33.3x11.4mm
28.2/41.9/39.6
(Alu/Steel/Ceramic)
42.5x36.4x11.4mm
34.2/52.4/45.6
(Alu/Steel/Ceramic)
Water Resistance IP67 "Splash proof" Water resistant up to 50 meters
Battery 0.78Whr 0.93Whr 1.03Whr 1.27Whr
Connectivity 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0 2.4GHz 802.11 b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0, GPS
Launch OS watchOS 1 watchOS 3
Price $349/549/10,000
(Alu/Steel/Gold)
$399/599/12,000
(Alu/Steel/Gold)
$369/549/1249
(Alu/Steel/Ceramic)
$399/599/1299
(Alu/Steel/Ceramic)

The exterior design of the Apple Watch is clearly something that has been locked in for several generations. As you can see above, Apple has increased the size of watch slightly with Series 2, but it's not something that can really be noticed in practice, and it doesn't break compatibility with existing watch bands which is good news for anyone upgrading from the original Apple Watch. The water resistance of the case is also greatly improved, having gone from the vague "splash proof" rating in the original model to being rated for water resistance up to a depth of 50 meters. The jewelry-focused gold Edition models are also gone, replaced by a ceramic model at 10% of the price.

Apple S2. Source: Chipworks

Internally, Apple has made some key changes that have a profound impact on the user experience. The most obvious is the new chip powering the watch. Apple's S2 SiP now has a dual core processor and an improved GPU. Apple rates it as 50% faster for CPU-bound workloads, and twice as fast for GPU-bound workloads. Apple has been known to state smaller gains than the theoretical doubling of performance when moving from a single core to a dual core CPU, and based on some investigation it appears that Apple has simply doubled up on CPU cores, adding another 520MHz ARM Cortex-A7 core to complement the first. Single-core/single-threaded performance appears unchanged, so getting better performance out of the S2 means putting that second core to work.

As for the GPU, this is much harder to pin down. It's most likely the case that the Apple S1 SiP used the PowerVR GX5300 GPU, and I suspect that Apple is using Imagination Technologies' newer PowerVR "Rogue" architecture - likely some variant of the G6020 GPU - in the Apple S2. I say variant, as Apple's recent work with GPUs in their SoCs could be indicative that Apple does not need to use Imagination's reference design.

Like the S1, the S2 is paired with 512MB of RAM. It's again hard to verify that this is LPDDR3 memory so I've marked that as speculative in the chart. I did want to note that other sources have reported 1GB of RAM for the S2, but I am fairly sure that this is not the case. iOS, and subsequently watchOS, provides an API for developers to query the number of CPU cores and amount of RAM available in the device, and it confirms that Apple has not increased the amount of RAM available in Apple Watch Series 2.

Apple Watch Series 2 42mm battery. Source: Chipworks

Another major internal change is the battery. Apple has increased the battery capacity on the 38mm model by 32%, and the 42mm model by 36%. This will do well to offset the increased power requirements with the introduction of GPS in the Apple S2 SiP. Apple still rates the battery life for Series 2 at eighteen hours, and in my experience you could wear the watch for two days before having to recharge as long as you don't do too many workouts. However, I still charge it each night, and we're still not close to the point where you can wear a smartwatch for a week with both daytime tracking and sleep tracking.

The last major hardware change in Series 2 is the display. Apple still uses a 326ppi OLED panel on both models, with the 38mm casing having a 1.32" display and the 42mm casing being a larger 1.5" display. What has changed is the peak brightness. One of the issues I encountered with the original Apple Watch was an inability to see what was on the screen when there was heavy glare. This was even more pronounced on the steel versions that use sapphire glass, which is more reflective than the Ion-X glass on the aluminum models. Apple rated the original Apple Watch displays at 450 nits of brightness, and with Series 2 they claim to have increased this to 1000 nits, which is an enormous improvement.

Given that the Apple Watch is still a relatively new product, it's likely that many people have still not interacted with one before. Because of that, and the very personal nature of watches, it's worth covering the design in more detail, and so I'll talk about that next.

Design
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  • ddriver - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    It has got to be the shortest lived fad so far. Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    And IMHO you have no idea what you are talking about. This is EXACTLY the same as the nonsense we heard when the iPhone came out: "why do I want a phone that can run a browser when my PC has a bigger screen? my feature phone already runs apps fine. and it's sooo expensive".

    If you haven't used an aWatch you don't have a right to comment on it, it's that simple.
    Brandon actually left out a huge number of use cases.
    - He left out Siri -- I frequently use this especially for reminders "when I get home, remind me to pick up the alcohol swabs", "add soy milk to list Costco", "how many grams is 3.5 ounces".

    - He left out notifications which again are really nice on the wrist.

    - I have five different watch faces: sleepytime which tracks my sleep and uses big red numbers so less sharp when I see it in the dark; everyday which is dense with info - time, date (tap to get today's calendar events), weather, activity rings (small) next alarm, time in one other time zone; workout --- big activity rings, heart rate, button to get to workout app, battery left; space and time which allows easy access to Maps, where my friends are (Find my Friends) , and HomeKit control; and Photos (random photos of adorable baby animals that make my smile every time I see them).
    I swipe between all of these every day.

    In the dock I have "Now Press Record" which records what it hears and stores it to the cloud --- ready in case I have an encounter with police or other bolshy authority. Next is the audio controller app. (Unfortunately the one BIG missing feature on aWatch today is decent handling of audiobooks as opposed to just music. Hopefully in WatchOS4 ...) Next the Nest Camera app. It doesn't do much (in particular it does NOT send you a snapshot of what the camera is seeing) but it DOES allow you very easily and quickly to validate that the camera is correctly armed when you expected it to be. Next Automatic (just gives direction to where you parked, but that's all you want on the wrist). Next Homekit which I, for now, primarily use to check out the temperature in my bedroom.

    Some other subtleties the article missed. In addition to replying to texts via voice, you can also write one letter at a time. This might sound dumb but is occasionally useful for a short reply that needs to be exact. (Like giving a price or a time.) And with WatchOS 3 and Series 2 the device FEELS delightful in a way that Series 0 did not because the performance just wasn't there.
    Oh and Apple Pay is really convenient (modulo the on-going stores too stupid or too cheap to support wireless payments).

    It's not all perfect. The one HUGE case that doesn't work well is if you want to go on an outdoor walk/run to somewhere you don't know, so you want both Maps and Workout to be active simultaneously. In this case both apps want to control the screen, there's no ideal way to flip between them and in one case their fighting landed up wedging my watch (that was with an older version of the OS so hopefully it's fixed now). There seems room for at least some special-case intelligence here to appreciate that this is a common situation and to handle it better.

    As for how well they are doing, like other commenters on the internet, I'm starting to see them more and more. For the first year I never saw one in the wild, now I see one at least once a week, on the wrists of people like cashiers or waiters.
    Reply
  • negusp - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    But for $400? I made my argument against premium priced wearables. Reply
  • fanofanand - Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - link

    "If you haven't used an aWatch you don't have a right to comment on it, it's that simple."

    Interesting logic. So nobody is allowed to have an opinion about anything they don't personally own or haven't experienced? I suggest you start out by telling all of the protesters who were never in a war that they don't have the right to an opinion. To all the folks protesting police for questionable behavior, if they haven't personally been shot then they have no right to an opinion. If you don't own a 2014 Ford Mustang, you have no right to have an opinion on it. To all the vegans who think meat is murder, if they've never had a steak they have no right to their opinion.

    Simple as that.
    Reply
  • monopodman - Friday, December 23, 2016 - link

    A world would definitely be a better place with fewer opinions from people who have no idea. But yeah, that's just a dream. Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    I bought a Series one for $190 on Black Friday. I like it quite a bit for that price, and I've tried other bands as well. I like that I can keep my phone on silent all day long, and I don't even have to dig it out of my pocket (or even have it on me) for many things. It's also compatible with my work's Outlook setup, so I have my calendar events right on the face. Having an extra motivator to be active is nice as well.

    I get that these aren't for everyone, and I think $400 is too much, but I like the Apple Watch for what I use it for.
    Reply
  • amdwilliam1985 - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - link

    my wife just got a XiaoMi fit 2 for $200HKD.
    It got like close to 1 month of battery life(wtf), tells time, heart time, sleep tracking, vibrate with phone call and notification.
    Reply
  • Midwayman - Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - link

    I don't have an issue paying $400 for a watch. I have plenty of those. They even do far less. The real issue is the lifespan. I can expect decades out of a quality traditional watch. A smartwatch I'm probably lucky if it lasts 3 years between battery issues and plain getting outdated. Its just another fairly large recurring cost. You have to pick and choose which tech products are worth keeping up with I guess. Reply
  • jaydee - Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - link

    It's all about Apple trying to convince you that your time an effort is such a valuable commodity, that you have to buy a $400 device to do 20% of what your $800 iPhone can do, just by looking at your wrist instead of the arduous and back-breaking task of pulling something out of your pocket.

    Hence Brandon's comment in the article:
    "Being able to check the time, the weather, the date, and other information simply by raising your wrist is just a convenience, and it's nothing your iPhone can't do as well, but it's a convenience that I wouldn't want to give up now that I have it."
    Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Thursday, December 22, 2016 - link

    I see wearables everywhere now. The most common are Apple Watches and Fitbits. Reply

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