The Apple Watch Series 8 might look relatively similar to last year’s Apple Watch 7 and, well, internally, it’s quite similar too.
The upgrades are so few, it feels like Apple is purposely not trying to take focus from the new Apple Watch Ultra, and the impressive performance of that watch means the new Watch series 8 won't be troubling the top spot in the best smartwatch list any time soon.
So what's actually new here? Should you really just go for a Watch Series 7 or are there some clever tweaks in here that mean the newest model is the one to go for?
Apple Watch 8 price and release date
You’re not going to be too shocked here (unless you live in the UK... thanks, inflation) - the Apple Watch Series 8 price has been set at $399/£419/AU$629 for GPS and $499/£529/AU$749 for cellular model.
Of course, this is the base price for the 40mm frame - the smaller of the two - and if you wanted to go bigger for the 45mm variant, you’re looking at starting off at $429/£449/AU$679. In short, this is not one of the cheapest smartwatches out there by a long shot.
In terms of the Apple Watch 8 release date, that was announced at launch for September 16, 2022.
Apple Watch 8 design and display
If you’ve used the Apple Watch 7 in even the smallest of ways, you’ll know what the Watch 8 looks like. It’s identical in every possible way. In fact, if you’ve every tried the Apple Watch 5 onwards, you’ll be pretty much there too - only the small increase in screen size will hint that this is a different timepiece.
But let’s assume you’ve either not used an Apple Watch before or have just forgotten what one looks like as you’ve put your old one in a drawer since you lost the charger.
The design and display are precisely the same as on the Watch 7 - the same curved rear with bulbous-yet-comfortable heart rate monitor, a bright and legible screen that curves delicately into the chassis, and a smooth-scrolling digital crown on the right-hand side of the display.
This is typical Apple Watch design, and looks almost identical to the very first iteration, apart from being a bit bigger. If you’re looking for something that’s going to stand out on the wrist, then the Apple Watch Ultra is the one to be going for.
All of this is the same as in previous years, and the only changes coming are entirely under the hood. That doesn't mean it's a bad design at all - it fits nicely on the wrist, the screen (an OLED affair) is clear and bright as before, and easily flips around under the finger.
It's just that we've seen this all before in the Watch 7, so this is very much an iterative upgrade designed to attract Apple Watch users who are still using a Watch 4 or 5 and thinking that it's time to upgrade.
In terms of the screen, it's got the helpful always-on display that will show basic information when dormant, before lighting up when the wrist is raised - in our testing, this was swift and accurate as usual, as the new S8 chipset inside powers things along quickly and efficiently.
It does stay bright when you're in a cinema or in bed and haven't set the Watch into sleep mode - this is something Apple needs to improve still.
A new temperature sensor and fitness
As mentioned, the big changes to the Apple Watch 8 are inside, where there's a new temperature sensor for reading your body's heat and the new S8 chip that brings a few little benefits.
Let's look at the temperature sensor: when used over time, it'll learn your body's base rate, and for those attempting to get pregnant it will be able to spot when you began ovulating, which can help with your family planning.
Apple took great pains to point out that this was retroactive, and wouldn't be able to predict ovulation in the future, but rather give a direction to those looking to track said movement within their bodies.
The brand also made it abundantly clear that only with express permission could this data ever be shared with anyone, so any person worried that their menstrual data could be exposed or seen has total control themselves – even Apple can't see it.
The temperature changes are spotted using a sensor on the skin and another just under the display on top of the Watch 8, meaning it can more accurately predict overnight how your body is responding to things like ovulation, illness, jetlag, and more.
It's very much a tool to use, rather than something that can give specific guidance, but the Watch 8 temperature sensor does seem to be pretty precise, able to spot fluctuations to 0.1 degree change.
If you're not family planning, the temperature sensor feels a little redundant - yes, it'll show you fluctuations, but until other apps manage to use this sensor in new ways, it'll stay a bit redundant.
In terms of fitness, we found the Watch 8 to be pretty good at holding onto our distance and heart rate throughout the testing with, both the GPS accuracy and heart-rate monitoring were inch-perfect compared to the Garmin Fenix 7 we were using to benchmark against.
However, the Watch 8 does feel far less like a running watch than the Watch Ultra, as it lacks the same GPS connectivity on board, and the lack of a dedicated button to start and stop workouts irks - the Action button shouldn't just be limited to the Watch Ultra.
Using the Watch 8 to stream music on a long run is an underrated feat, with it coming to our aid one day when the phone wasn't available and we just stuck some AirPods in, pressed play and hoped for the best - that saved a terrible hour being boring and just listening to our breath.
The new features of watchOS 9 are really great for fitness, and over the variety of runs we enjoyed the interval training a lot - although it still lacks compared to Garmin.
Being able to set up dedicated, structured workouts where we pushed hard for some sections and took breathers for others was nice, but ultimately we want to see pace or heart rate targets during these periods, with the watch telling us to speed up or slow down accordingly.
The heart rate zones monitoring that’s been brought in with watchOS 9 is a real boon too, and something we instantly switched to - but it would be nice to see these used as guides more readily.
Car crash detection
Another new feature, but not one that we can test at all, is the car crash detection feature. Using an enhanced gyroscope and an accelerometer that can now sense G-force changes up to 256G, Apple is pretty confident the new Watch 8 will be able to tell when you've been in a crash and will instantly alert the emergency services, giving all the data should you be unconscious.
This will only work when in motion, so it's using GPS and connection to the iPhone to fully understand whether the wearer is in a car - think of this feature as something that brings peace of mind, rather than a dedicated reason to buy the new Watch 8.
It's a hard sell when you can still get the Watch 7, or even the Watch 6 in some retailers, for much cheaper – buying the Watch 8 now feels like just investing in that really comprehensive insurance just for peace of mind.
When every Apple Watch that one can buy has car crash detection, it'll be a real swaying reason to join Apple's smartwatch camp, as this is a brilliant feature. It's just not enough to buy the Watch 8 alone (especially when you can also get it on the Watch SE 2 for a lot cheaper...)
In terms of health features, all those from before are there: atrial fibrillation detection, blood oxygen, an ECG, and more that will be able to alert you of any anomalies.
Again, this is nothing too new: given the plethora of older Apple Watch models still on sale, it's hard to get excited about these new features as reasons to buy the new Watch 8.
Apple Watch 8 battery
Battery life has been both slowly improving on Apple Watch models, while staying the same. How so? The improved battery life that comes from the more efficient chip and (likely) larger battery pack inside has offered more power, but then more feature like a blood oxygen sensor and always-on display come along to make things better and take more power.
In our initial testing, the Watch 8 battery can hold on for 38 hours on a single full charge - far in excess of Apple’s 18-hours prediction.
That said, that number is predicated on running, music playback and more - where, as we were laid up with an unfortunate illness, our 38-hour achievement came with a lot of lying down and only one single commute and a small portion of music control from the phone.
Further testing yielded more interesting results - in short, you'll still need a daily charge, but how long you'll need to charge will (unsurprisingly) depend on how much you use it.
After17 hours off charge, with around 70 minutes of GPS-powered running, a short cycle ride and some music control of the phone, the Watch 8 dropped about 55%. That's pretty meaty and you'll probably get about 30 hours' use if that matches your daily routine.
If you’re using an older Watch charger, then you’ll juice up at about 1% per minute, meaning you’ll get a full charge in just under two hours.
But, hey, why mention an older charger puck when the Watch 8 comes with a new, fancy speedy charging block? Well, that block uses a USB-C connector at the end, rather than the blocky and traditional USB-A most people will know.
And as per Apple’s new environmental initiative, there’s no charging block in the box, so most people will likely have no way of using this fancy new charger without an extra purchase… so they’ll default to an old Apple Watch charger they have lying around.
While we back Apple’s move on environmental grounds, not offering a free USB-C charging block if needed seems unfair, even if it has been doing this for a year.
Should I buy the Watch 8?
It's really hard to get too excited about the new Watch 8, especially with the Watch Ultra showing how much more can be achieved from the device.
Apple's habit of just mildly upgrading the device from the previous year is still clearly on display here, playing on the fact that users will just be going to the Apple store to get the latest model rather than purposely going out to buy one specifically.
That is, of course, unless you're currently family planning and would relish the thought of not needing to manually track your ovulation cycle, letting the Watch on your wrist do the job for you.
Given the Watch SE 2 has many of the new features of the Watch 8, and is a lot cheaper, that might see a spike in popularity for the entry-level model, as there's very little new about this latest device from Apple.