Apple Watch Series 8: Watches don't come much smarter than this

There are small changes this year, but the Apple Watch Series 8 is still an excellent smartwatch overall.

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

There's little in the Apple Watch Series 8 to tempt people to upgrade from recent models, but it remains an excellent balance of health, fitness, productivity and app support overall. Battery life is still much lower than dedicated fitness watches, but overall this is the smartest watch around.

For

  • Bright always-on screen
  • Growing mix of health sensors
  • Crash detection feature
  • Fast and smooth performance

Against

  • Temperature sensor has limited uses
  • Battery life lower than fitness watches
  • Feels like slow upgrade progress
  • Only works with iPhone still

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Apple Watch Series 8: Specs

Case material: Aluminium/stainless steel
Sizes: 41mm and 45mm
Processor: Apple S8
Battery life (quoted): 18 hours

The Apple Watch Series 8 is the latest flagship model in the line-up… depending on whether you include the new Apple Watch Ultra, we suppose. But that's designed to be more niche – the Series 8 is the elite Apple Watch for the rest of us.

The Series 8 hasn't changed much compared to the Series 7, with the addition of a new temperature sensor (that's mainly used for ovulation prediction) and a car crash detection feature as its main temptations over the previous versions.

That doesn't seem like much, but it's not really in competition with the previous version in reality. It's in competition with the cheaper Apple Watch SE (2022), because most buyers will either be new to Apple Watch, or will be upgrading from an older model. And compared to the Watch SE, you get a suite of aesthetic upgrades and health sensors here, making it both more complete and more stylish as an offering.

But it's also a more expensive offering, especially if you go for the stainless steel model (which is where it's at its most beautiful and durable). With several Apple Watch models already among the best smartwatches (opens in new tab) on the market, the question is whether the Series 8 is really necessary for you, or whether you'd be happy with the Apple Watch SE – so let's dig into what the Series 8 does, and how well it works.

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 8: Design

If you're looking for any outward difference in the Series 8's design compared to the Series 7 from last year, you'll be hard-pressed to find one. The only real evidence is on the rear, as part of the sapphire sensor array. The new temperature sensor is visible here… and then you put the watch back on, and even that becomes hidden.

The Series 8 even comes in fewer colours than the Series 7: in the aluminium version, you can get it in Midnight (black with a touch of blue), Starlight (silver with a touch of gold), Silver, or a new bolder red; but the Series 7 came in these colours, plus green and blue as well. In the Stainless Steel material, it comes in the same finishes as before: Graphite (dark grey), Silver, and Gold (quite a yellow gold).

It's worth noting here that the stainless steel models come with a sapphire screen, while the aluminium models use toughened glass. The sapphire option is incredibly hard to scratch, but we've seen plenty of the aluminium models pick up marks on the screen – if you want to ensure longevity, go steel.

In terms of the overall design, the Series 8 is very much in the standard Apple Watch vein – it's a rectangular overall design, with the Digital Crown control and a button on one side. The screen extends close to the edge (under the curve of the glass, in fact), and the use of an OLED display means that with black backgrounds, there's no visible join between the display and the body.

As ever, you can switch out the straps, and there's a wide range available, with Apple releasing more seasonally.

It looks like a smartwatch rather than a regular watch – Apple has avoided using the kind of circular screen you get on the Google Pixel Watch, and likely will continue to do so in the future. This is probably best from a smart side of things – it's much easier to put a useful and reliable interface on a rectangle screen – but it may mean some people are less keen on the style.

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside

The always-on display in its dimmed mode is still visible even in direct sunlight. (Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 8: Features

The screen on the Apple Watch Series 8 hasn't changed this time, and that's just fine. It's an OLED display reaching up to 1,000 nits of brightness, which is enough to be visible in almost any environment, including lots of sunlight. The Apple Watch Ultra offers even more brightness, but that really isn't going to be necessary for most people.

The 41mm model's screen has a resolution of 352x430, while the 45mm has a resolution of 396x484. Both look sharp and perfectly clear from a normal distance. They also give you punchy colours when they're warranted, and generally look great.

It's an always-on display, which means that when you're not actually using the Watch Series 8, the display dims rather than turning off completely, which is what the Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen does. 

Having an always-on display has three advantages: it's practical because it makes it easy to check the time or your workout stats without turning your wrist, which is sometimes necessary. It makes the Watch Series 8, feel more personal because it means your choice of watch face comes through at all times, so it doesn't just become the same design as everyone else's when you're not using it. It also feels more premium and advanced, and who doesn't want that from a cool new gadget?

When in this dimmed mode, it does a few things to save battery – the refresh rate drops to 1Hz, some elements of the faces are removed, and some block colourful elements will be swapped for a darker (or black) tone. It'll still look like your choice of face, but a remixed version.

It makes some changes for privacy reasons too: any complications showing info will blank out, and new notifications will just show basic info and not the actual message.

It's not transformative to the overall experience of the Apple Watch, but it certainly makes it feel like a step-up experience. It's also a practical upgrade for those who want to be able to subtly check the time or a type of notification during a meeting without turning your wrist, or for those who do workouts where your hands might not be free (such as cycling or rowing). 

Speaking of fitness, as usual, this Watch is full of fitness software features, both for people who are really into it as well as those who are more casual. At the basic end, it can nudge you to hit basic exercise and movement goals each day and can track your trends over time.

For the more active, its range of workout tracking options is largely the same, but there's better support for activity switching during triathlons, some new swim tracking, and – perhaps most popular – there are now deeper running stats, including stride length, contact time and power. It's pushing closer to what people want from the likes of Garmin watches.

There's a heart-rate sensor on the back, and also a pulse-oxygen sensor, so you can see recovery rates in great detail. Although it's worth noting that none of this is new to the Series 8 – if you have the Series 7, you get all this, including the new features mentioned above because they're just in watchOS 9.

It's also a more general health device, and the Series 8 includes an ECG as well as the pulse-oxygen sensor, which the Apple Watch SE doesn't. Both be deployed as needed to see if everything's looking okay if you should feel faint.

And if you were to feel too faint, the fall detection and car crash detection will always be welcome. If the Series 8 detects a trip/slip or a car accident, it will ask if you're okay, and if you don't respond it'll tell emergency services what happened on your behalf. These last two features are also in the Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen, we should note – but the ECG and pulse-ox sensors are not.

The pulse-ox sensor will also work when you're sleeping, as part of the new and improved sleep-tracking system. It could help you to identify sleep apnea, for example, by highlighting periods of low oxygen levels overnight. It can also tell you about your general fitness trends, and whether your ability to oxygenate during/after exercise is above or below average.

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside

(Image credit: Future)

The Series 8 does have one new health sensor over all previous Apple Watches: a temperature sensor. This isn't designed to read outright temperature, because the wrist is a poor place to do that. But it's designed to detect and report on notable changes in temperature, and that's what it reports. 

If you noticed an increase while feeling ill, it might encourage you to look for a fever using other tools. But the temperature sensor's main use that's built into the Health app is for retrospective ovulation tracking and fertility planning. If you wear the Watch Series 8 for sleep tracking as well as during the day, it will be able to build up a good profile when you're likely to have ovulated, and in combination with other notes about menstruation you can keep there, this can provide a lot of potential info for people trying to conceive.

I'm not equipped to test the ovulation tracking overall, and outside of that, unless you do get a fever, there's not much to be gained from it. During the testing period, my temperature fluctuated entirely within the expected margins. There's no larger insight to be gleaned.

One thing we should note is that Apple says that all health data is end-to-end encrypted based on your Apple ID, meaning even though it's possible to sync it between devices using Apple's iCloud servers, the reproductive data should be unreadable to anyone who isn't you, including Apple and government agencies, assuming Apple's security and encryption works as advertised.

Other sensors in the Apple Watch Series 8 include a GPS for location data, an altimeter for height detection, a compass, and noise detection, so it can warn you if there's a danger to your hearing health from your environment.

It's powered by a dual-core Apple S8 chip, which proves to be very fast and very smooth – though in any way that's notably improved over the Apple Watch Series 7.

When it comes to upgrades in watchOS 9, we've actually already covered most of them – it was a very fitness-focused release. But in general, watchOS continues to be the most flexible and well-integrated smartwatch system, built to expand what your phone does into another, potentially more convenient, device.

Even if you never use a single Apple Watch app, you get so many useful extras from the Watch, such as being able to quickly read and triage messages as they come in, or being able to answer a phone call even if your phone isn't to hand. You can choose what kind of notifications should bother you on the wrist, and what would be too overwhelming (sorry, work email, you're out).

And then the apps provide all kinds of extra utility. Walking directions? Sure. Remote camera control with a subtle tap on the wrist? Handy. A little map computer for a hike in the country? No problem. A more advanced cycling tracker than Apple's own? It's an option.

And you can get the Series 8 with or without 4G connectivity built-in too, if you buy an aluminium model. If you buy a stainless steel model, they all have 4G in anyway.

To use 4G for data in the same way you would on your phone (meaning that you could leave the phone at home and still receive calls and messages, and even data in apps), you'll need to pay extra for an add-on to your phone contract, and not all network providers support this, so check beforehand if it's something you want.

But even if you don't want this add-on, it's still good to have the 4G connectivity, because it can be used for emergency calls. The Series 8 includes international roaming for the first time, so it can do this around the world.

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 8: Battery life

With the always-on screen active, the Apple Watch Series 8 doesn't offer any major improvement over the Apple Watch 7 for battery life. 

Apple's claim of 18 hours is low  – it's capable of more than 24 hours in our experience. On days of light usage, we saw about a 60% drop after a full day, including wearing it overnight for sleep tracking. Throw in an extra activity such as a decent run with GPS tracking and you'd lose a bit more on top of that.

In reality, we're talking more like 30 hours from the Apple Watch easily, which isn't bad at all, but you're unlike to get two days from it… except now there's the new Low Power Mode if you need it to last longer. 

This turns off the always-on display and stops some of the passive health sensing, so you don't get as accurate background pulse detection (unless you actually activate a workout).

With Low Power Mode odd, usage over 24 hours (still including sleep tracking) falls to more like 50% – it's realistic to get two complete days from it. Nowhere near the week or so you get some more dedicated fitness trackers, but they're not as smart.

And the Apple Watch Series 8 has fast charging, meaning that you can essentially keep it going by just stealing a daily 20- to 30-minute charge while you shower and get dressed.

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 8: Price

The Apple Watch Series 8 starts from $399/£419 for the 41mm version with aluminium casing and no 4G connectivity. If you want the 45mm version of that, it's $429/£449.

You can get the aluminium version with 4G too – that costs $499/£529 for the 41mm, and $529/£549 for the 45mm.

The stainless steel version always comes with 4G included, and starts from $699/£729 for the 41mm and $749/£779 for the 45mm.

We mention that they start from these prices because it depends on the strap you choose. The prices above are with the most basic options, such as a Sport Loop. But if you want a leather band or Milanese Loop, you'll need to add more.

The price is at the higher end of mainstream smartwatches – it's a notable amount more than the Google Pixel Watch ($349/£339), for example – but it's much less than specialist brands such as the Tag Heuer Connected (about $1,800/£1,500).

Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 8?

The Apple Watch Series 8 is the continued (but now rather gentle) evolution of the Apple Watch. It's better than the Series 7, which it replaces, simply by having more tools in its box. It's better objectively than the Apple Watch SE (2022) by having so many extra sensors, and an always-on screen) – but it won't be able to justify its increased price over that model for everyone.

If you have an Apple Watch 6 or 7, there's little impetus to upgrade unless you're really looking for as deep ovulation tracking/advice as possible, which some people certainly will be.

Compared even to the Apple Watch Series 5, it will mainly be worth an upgrade for fitness fans or sleep-tracking fiends, because the pulse-oxygen sensor is a very useful addition in these areas.

Compared to Apple Watch Series 4 or before, it will definitely represent a major upgrade, and if you want the most advanced and flexible Apple Watch so far (without getting into the chunkier and larger design of the Apple Watch Ultra), it fits the bill.

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The Verdict
8

out of 10

Apple Watch Series 8

There's little in the Apple Watch Series 8 to tempt people to upgrade from recent models, but it remains an excellent balance of health, fitness, productivity and app support overall. Battery life is still much lower than dedicated fitness watches, but overall this is the smartest watch around.

Matt has been testing technology for over a decade, working in specialist Apple publications as well general technology and creative journalism. By day, you can find him covering TV, audio, smart home gear and more at T3.com, as Home Tech Editor. By night, he's probably updating or pairing or installing some new piece of technology in the quest for the perfect setup.