Apple launched the Watch Series 8 last year, upgrading the Watch Series 7 with a new S8 chip, crash detection, and temperature sensor. And since rumors point to the Watch Series 9 carrying over the same design we figured we should inspect how the Watch Series 8 holds in the long run.
Should you wait for the Watch Series 9, which could cost more without offering much, or should you get yourself a Watch Series 8 once it gets discounted? Here’s our long-term review of the Apple Watch Series 8 after over six months of usage to help you decide.
The Apple Watch Series 8 looks similar to its predecessor. The 41mm Aluminum (GPS + Cellular) model, which is the subject of this review, even has the same dimensions (41 x 35 x 10.7 mm) and weight (32 g) as its Watch Series 7 counterpart. As already evident from its name, the Aluminum version’s case is made from 100% recycled aluminum, while the 1.69″ screen is covered with Ion-X glass (Sapphire crystal on stainless steel models).
On the left side of the Apple Watch Series 8 is the speaker, and on the right is the microphone, flanked by a recents/side button and a Digital Crown with a red accent. The button and the crown have nice feedback, with the latter offering responsive scrolling, which was smoother than the swiping on the screen in my experience. Both have retained their tactility well after all these months of usage. The crown is also used to take ECG measurements, but more on that in the Performance section.
The shiny back panel – made of ceramic – supports magnetic charging, with the heart rate sensor and SpO2 sensor placed on an elevated plate. That helps prevent the accumulation of grime over time and ensures proper contact with the skin for accurate measurements. There’s also a temperature sensor on the crystal, with another one sitting under the display.
The back of the Watch Series 8 has two buttons to release the straps. Our unit came with the black-colored regular Sport Band package, including S/M and M/L strap pieces, which can fit 130-200 mm wrists. These are made from a “custom high-performance fluoroelastomer,” which, Apple says, makes them “durable and strong, yet surprisingly soft.”
Well, the bundled straps are indeed soft, and given the watch’s weight, wearing them to sleep at night and during workouts was a comfortable experience. The bands have a pin-and-tuck closure, which made wearing the Watch Series 8 quite a chore for me initially and created comical scenes since it had been a while since I put something on my wrist with such straps (it was the Oppo Watch a few years ago, and I had a similar experience). It can take some time to get used to for those who have no prior experience with straps of this design, but once you learn the trick, it’s pretty easy and quick to put the watch on your wrist.
However, due to the bundled straps’ design, which created rashes on my wrist, and my preference for a more traditional design, I ended up getting myself a couple of third-party straps. And since we are talking about Apple, there are accessories galore, so there was no dearth of choices.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Apple Watch Series 8 is IP6X dust resistant and has water resistance up to 50 meters, making it “swimproof.” That obviously means you don’t have to take it off your wrist when going for a shower.
I like the overall design of the Apple Watch Series 8. Yes, it looks similar to its predecessor, but it’s sturdy, and despite a few drops on the floor during months of usage, it didn’t pick up a single scratch.
The Apple Watch Series 8’s 41mm model packs a 1.69″ screen of 430×352-pixel resolution, while the 45mm version features a 1.9″ display with a resolution of 484×396 pixels. However, both use Always-On Retina LTPO OLED panels having up to 1,000 nits peak brightness and Sapphire Crystal Glass protection.
The Watch Series 8’s Retina display is vibrant and has a 3-level brightness adjustment. And at 100% brightness, I was able to see the on-screen content outdoors under strong sunlight without any issues. The smartwatch also has an ambient light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment, which works well.
The Watch Series 8’s screen has a nice touch response with good haptics, and typing on such a small screen didn’t turn out to be as difficult as I thought, primarily due to the swipe gestures, which worked nicely for a screen of this size.
That said, the smartwatch comes loaded with just one watchface, but you get tons of other options through the Watch app on the companion iPhone grouped in over two dozen categories.
Many of these watchfaces are compatible with the Always-On Display (AOD), which can be enabled/disabled from the Settings app on the smartwatch and through the Watch app on the companion iPhone. It also has wear detection to turn off AOD when you aren’t wearing the Watch Series 8.
However, AOD can’t be scheduled to turn on and off automatically every day at a given time, so the screen remains on at night during sleep. This could cause inconvenience to others in the room at night even with lower brightness and also drain the battery unnecessarily in addition to increasing the chances of mistouch on the display.
That doesn’t mean there’s no solution to this. You can use the Cinema Mode (aka Theater Mode) feature on watchOS to keep the Apple Watch Series 8’s screen dark during sleep. It can be enabled from the smartwatch’s Control Center accessible with a swipe-up on the homescreen. It’s represented by the two-mask icon.
The two-mask icon next to the bell icon represents the Cinema Mode
Here’s hoping Apple will let users schedule Always-On Display with the next version of watchOS and Apple Watch to improve the experience.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is compatible with iPhone 8 or later with iOS 16 or later. It was launched with watchOS 9.0 and is currently running watchOS 9.6.1. The Series 8 relies on three apps – Watch, Health, and Fitness – which were pre-installed on the iPhone 13 I used for this review.
The Watch app is used to set up the Watch Series 8 and tinker with its general settings, while the Health app pertains to all your health data, including sleep, heart rate, ECG, blood oxygen level, and step count, among other things. The Fitness app, as evident from its name, shows all your indoor and outdoor workout information. It also displays all the awards you’ve earned and your data about the Mindfulness activities – Reflect and Breathe.
The Watch and Fitness apps have a simple and clutter-free UI, which I found pretty easy to use. The Health app isn’t complex either, but Apple could’ve done a better job of displaying some health data.
Besides, I’d have liked to see one single app for everything as a one-stop solution instead of having to juggle between three different apps. We’ve seen some other brands – including Amazfit – do it for their wearables, so it’s not impossible.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is powered by Apple’s S8 dual-core processor, which, together with the watchOS 9, offered a smooth experience since the smartwatch had a consistently snappy performance during all these months of usage.
The Watch Series 8’s UI is simple and straightforward, like the aforementioned apps. A swipe down on the homescreen brings up the notification center, while a swipe up opens the control center that lets you access customizable quick settings. Swiping left or right doesn’t do anything, and I find that wasteful. Apple could’ve let users access their favorite apps/features by swiping left/right on the smartwatch’s homescreen.
Installed apps on the smartwatch – including the Settings apps – are accessible by pressing the crown. By default, the apps are presented in a grid view, but you can change it to a list view. The crown is also used to exit the app. The side button, on the other hand, lets you switch between recent apps.
You can change the App View from Grid View to List through the Watch Series 8 or companion iPhone
Most of the UI navigation on the Watch Series 8 with watchOS 9 depends on these two buttons, especially the crown, since it’s used to bring up the app list, return to the previous screen, and exit the app. A more open approach towards gesture-based navigation would’ve been appreciated since it’d have allowed for better customization of the physical buttons. One example is swiping left on the homescreen to access all the apps and swiping right for the app switcher.
The Watch Series 8’s reliance on the crown to return to the previous screen or exit the app proved more inconvenient when dealing with the notifications.
If you tap on the grouped notifications from an app in the notification center, you see a list of notifications, and if you click on a particular notification to expand it, you are presented with related quick actions for some apps. But if you don’t want to take any action and go back, you can’t just swipe right like you can on an iPhone. You have to tap on the “Done” button in the top-left corner of the screen or press the crown or side button to go back. And if you swipe down when viewing an expanded notification or a group of notifications from the same app, the notification or the grouped notifications get cleared from both the watch and the connected iPhone.
I’d really like Apple to let users swipe right to go back to the previous screen, whether it’s the notification center or some apps, including Settings and the App Store. Besides, the notification management could also use some polishing.
The UI navigation is similar to the iPhone since a right swipe doesn’t always take you back to the previous screen. You have to press the arrow/back button in the top-left corner of the screen, which, like on the iPhone, feels inconsistent and counterintuitive to me.
Features and Performance
The Apple Watch Series 8 is largely identical to its predecessor but comes with a new chip (S8 vs. S7), a temperature sensor, and crash detection. It also comes with the usual slew of health and fitness features, including real-time heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen level measurement, sleep tracking, ECG, sedentary reminder, steps counter, and indoor and outdoor workouts.
Aside from that, the Apple Watch Series 8 comes with camera and music controls, weather forecast, compass (with Backtracking), phone finder, stopwatch, countdown timer, fall detection, noise monitoring, and GPS (L1). The Watch Series 8 also has temperature sensing, which is only useful for females since it’s used for Cycle Tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates to help women better understand their menstrual cycle.
The Apple Watch Series 8 has 32GB of storage onboard, allowing users to download music on the smartwatch for offline playback. You can listen to them through the watch’s speakers if you feel adventurous, or connect the watch to any Bluetooth earphones to listen to music through the Apple Watch without requiring your iPhone.
This is useful when going for an outdoor workout since you don’t have to carry your iPhone with you, more so if you own the LTE model, which lets you make and answer calls without being connected to an iPhone.
Speaking of, the Apple Watch Series 8 comes with Apple’s W3 wireless chip and the U1 chip and supports Bluetooth 5.3 and Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz) connectivity.
Talking about the health and fitness features, the Apple Watch Series 8 measures the heart rate automatically at an interval of one minute, and there’s no way to change it, which isn’t ideal since letting users increase the gap by even a few minutes would help extend the battery life. However, automatic heart rate measurement at an interval of one minute is recommended on most wearables for more accurate results, so I understand why Apple didn’t provide that option.
That said, if you don’t want to rely on data from automatic tracking, you can measure your heart rate manually whenever you wish through the Heart Rate app on the smartwatch. It’s fast and displays the resting heart rate, with a detailed analysis available in the Health app on the companion iPhone. The heart rate sensor recorded the pulse accurately most of the time, but it’s still best not to use it for diagnosis.
The Watch Series 8’s ECG sensor can generate an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram with the ECG app on the smartwatch. All you have to do is put your finger on the crown for 30 seconds, and like heart rate monitoring, you can find the ECG data in the Health app. I didn’t have any means of checking its accuracy, but regardless, we recommend you don’t use that data as a basis for diagnosis or treatment.
Put your finger on the Digital Crown for ECG measurement
The SpO2 sensor on the Watch Series 8 can also measure blood oxygen levels throughout the day like the heart rate sensor, including in Sleep Focus and Cinema Mode. However, you can also take on-demand readings using the Blood Oxygen app on the smartwatch, which takes 15 seconds for the measurement. The readings were mostly accurate, and you can find the related data in the Health app. Just don’t use it for diagnostic purposes.
Next up is sleep tracking, which breaks down the total sleep hours into four stages – Core Sleep (aka Light Sleep), Deep Sleep, REM Sleep, and Awake. You get the previous night’s sleep metrics on the Apple Watch through the Sleep app, which shows your total hours of sleep, fall asleep and wake up times, and the time you spent in the aforementioned stages during your sleep. It also shows you the average sleep time for two weeks. A detailed analysis is available through the Health app on the iPhone, where the Sleep section also displays information about your respiratory rate and heart rate during sleep, along with other data, including the time you spent in bed, which I found interesting.
However, sleep tracking on the Apple Watch Series 8 was disappointing and unreliable in my experience. It did track the Awake times accurately, but not the fall asleep time.
The Watch Series 8’s sleep tracking algorithm clocks the sleep time even when you are lying on a couch or a bed watching videos on a phone/tablet and moving regularly. I’ve used smartwatches in the past with similar behavior, and I’d have been fine with the Watch Series 8 as well for that if it didn’t give me Stand Reminders when the algorithm thought I was asleep. It’s weird. The Health app also doesn’t let you edit the sleep record, meaning you are left with an overall inaccurate sleep analysis since the data used for that is incorrect. Apple lets you add sleep data through the Health app, so I hope the company will let users edit existing sleep records with future updates.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Apple Watch Series 8 doesn’t track afternoon naps even after you turn on the Sleep Focus mode, which is a bummer since even watches that cost less than half of the Apple Watch do that. Here’s hoping Apple will bring that functionality to some – if not all – of its smartwatches with a software update.
The Apple Watch Series 8 supports several indoor and outdoor workouts. I obviously couldn’t try all of them. I mostly used the Indoor Walk and Outdoor Walk workouts. And while the steps counted by both modes weren’t entirely accurate like most other smartwatches, the margin of error was minimal enough not to be a concern. However, the Indoor Walk used GPS for some reason, which I find unnecessary as that’s something more useful with outdoor workouts. The Outdoor Walk mode used GPS, but it didn’t trace the route of my walk and instead only pinned the starting point of my walk on the map, which I didn’t find useful.
Moreover, the Apple Watch Series 8 also asked me if I’d like to end my Indoor/Outdoor Walk despite me not slowing down or pausing for a few minutes for the algorithm to show that prompt. This started with the watchOS 9.2 update and still happens with watchOS 9.6.1.
Talking about the Watch Series 8’s LTE feature, I made and received calls through the smartwatch, and the people on the other end could hear me clearly when I brought the watch closer to my face when relying on the built-in microphone. The same goes for its speakers to listen to the folks on the other end. However, in a noisy environment, you can always connect the Watch Series 8 to any Bluetooth earphones for calls without requiring an iPhone due to its LTE connectivity. This also worked when I moved the SIM card from the companion iPhone to another device (provided it isn’t connected to the companion iPhone via Bluetooth), but that didn’t work for text messages.
The Apple Watch Series 8 LTE’s ability to let you make/receive calls, send text messages, and compose emails, in addition to doing a few other things without being connected to an iPhone, makes it a true extension of the iPhone.
The Backtracking on the Apple Watch Series 8 worked fine, but I obviously didn’t test its crash detection feature. However, over the months, we’ve found reports that it proved useful.
My only major complaint with the Apple Watch Series 8 after over six months of usage is its sleep tracking, which needs significant improvements. I hope this will be fixed with the next update. I’d also like Apple to introduce afternoon nap tracking.
The Apple Watch Series 8 Aluminum 41mm (GPS + Cellular) packs a 282 mAh battery, advertised to offer 18 hours of endurance on “4 hours of LTE connection and 14 hours of connection to iPhone via Bluetooth” with “90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use and a 60-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth.”
My usage was comparatively more conservative, and many times, there weren’t even 30 minutes of workout. However, the Watch Series 8 had an LTE connection all the time and was also connected to the iPhone 13 via Bluetooth. With that kind of use, the Apple Watch Series 8 got me through the entire working day but needed a top-up before sleeping since it requires at least 30% battery for sleep tracking.
After the Watch Series 8’s battery was completely drained, it took a little over an hour to go from flat to 100% with the bundled charger, of which the first 9-10 minutes were taken to turn on.
The Apple Watch Series 8 with cellular connectivity is a nice extension of an iPhone since it allows you to make and receive phone calls, send and receive texts, and do a few other things like checking and composing emails without being connected to an iPhone. You can also download music for offline playback and listen to it through the watch’s speakers or Bluetooth earphones without keeping it connected to an iPhone, which could come in handy when going for a run or working out.
The Watch Series 8 has a bright screen that’s legible outdoors under strong sunlight and sturdy build, which has held up well after over six months of usage. The same goes for the bundled straps. The smartwatch’s performance is also snappy, which, paired with good haptics, offered a pleasant experience.
However, notification management needs polishing, and UI navigation could be improved for a more convenient experience. I’d also like to see Apple release an app that serves as a one-stop solution for everything related to Apple Watches, eliminating the need for users to juggle between three different apps for different purposes.
So, a year later, should you buy the Apple Watch Series 8 or wait for the Watch Series 9? If rumors are to be believed, the Apple Watch Series 9 won’t come with significant upgrades since it’s said to be “basically unchanged” from the Watch Series 8. It’s expected to get a new chip based on Apple’s A15 SoC, which could bring performance and efficiency improvements to the smartwatch.
Considering that, and if you trust Apple to fix the software issues we mentioned with the subsequent software updates, I don’t see any reason not to buy it if you find a great deal on it, which is likely to happen soon as we inch closer to the September 12 Apple event since retailers would want to clear their old stocks at discounted prices before the Watch Series 9 arrives.
Apple Watch Series 8
Apple Watch Series 8 Aluminum
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Sturdy build
- Bright screen with nice touch response
- Snappy performance
- 50m water resistance
- Nice haptics
- LTE connectivity is one very convenient feature to have on a smartwatch
- Requires three different apps for use
- Notification management needs polishing
- Sleep tracking is inaccurate
- No afternoon nap tracking
- Battery life