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Like its predecessor, the Series 8 model comes in 41mm and 45mm stainless-steel aluminum cases.
The case's narrow bezel helps the display shine as the 41mm panel encompasses most of the watch's face. And there's a subtle curve surrounding the Apple Watch, giving a soft, pebblelike impression.
The digital crown and home button remain on the right side of the watch case and continue to be the easiest way to navigate through the watch interface, scroll through notifications and apps, and even adjust the audio volume.
The Series 8 comes in seven different aluminum case colors, four of which the Series 7 does not have: Gold, Silver, Graphite, and Space Black.
Coming from a 38mm Series 3 to the 41mm Series 8, I was initially worried that the watch would look or feel bulky on my relatively smaller wrist. The 3mm difference, however, turned into a positive -- I could now see notifications and my live fitness metrics more clearly, and the watch still felt sleek rather than bulky.
Unlike Samsung's Galaxy Watch series or more classic, round-faced watches, Apple continues to keep its staple squircle design. While Apple released a few new bands with this year's model, both the 41mm and 45mm sizes are backward-compatible -- in case you currently own a Series 7 Watch and want to elevate the look without paying up for the Series 8.
The Apple Watch Series 8 has the same display and brightness as last year's model, which means it's still impressive to interact with and look at. The brightness, in particular, also made it easier for me to enjoy the six new Apple watch face designs, including Lunar, Astronomy, Modular, and Metropolitan. Like on the Series 7, the background colors adapt to the light of your environment when the watch is on your wrist, shifting from light and dark modes to optimize battery life and keep things in focus.
The Always-On display also continues to get better and better. The combination of the improved battery life in the Series 8 and WatchOS 9 optimizations has made the Always-On display more usable than ever. Apple's early implementation of the Always-On display on the watch was not always worth the battery hit.
Depending on what watch face you were using or what app you had open when it went to sleep, the Always-On display used to act more like a screensaver with a clock on it. Now, for example, it can simply dim the watch face or Fitness seconds counter -- minimizing the battery hit, so it's worth turning on the feature.
The latest version of WatchOS introduces enhanced health and fitness features, including in-depth sleep tracking, cycle and basal temperature tracking for women, split pace notifications for cardio workouts, and a more custom workout display. Always-On display and its notification functionality have also gotten a lift; rather than piling up and then quickly disappearing, notifications pop up at the top of the watch face and roll away without overwhelming your feed.
It's worth noting that Apple Watch models dating back to the Series 4 are eligible to receive the WatchOS 9 update, but not all the features -- specifically, the health and fitness ones -- will be available. For that reason alone, it may or may not make sense for you to make the upgrade to the Series 8.
As fitness continues to be at the core of the Apple Watch experience, the Series 8 wearable introduces a catalog of new tracking and measurement features.
For cardio-based exercises, the smartwatch can now track the "Zone" that your heart rate drops to during a workout. Like on a professional-grade heart rate monitor, you can see if your heart rate falls in Zone 1, 2, 3, or 4. For instance, when I felt out of breath during my spin class, I noticed that my heart rate had dropped to Zone 3 but nothing lower, so I pushed harder to get it racing again and exercise more efficiently. Since WatchOS 9 calculates these zones with your resting and max heart rate taken into account, each Zone is tailored to your specific heart rate and updated monthly. You can view how the specific zones correspond to your heart rate levels on your watch settings and learn a lot about your cardio health.
Additionally, the Apple Watch Series 8 now shows your mile split, which is handy if you're a long-distance runner. While I'm not training for a race, I found it just as practical for my everyday walk to work. By tracking how much time it would take for me to walk a mile or two, the watch basically set a benchmark for my walking speed, which pushed me to push my pace.
The new metrics tracking helps you see workouts differently. Since there are now more stats you can sift through, with the addition of heart rate zones and split pace, you can better customize your watch face to display the information that's most important to you. Within the exercise app, you can, say, switch the typical "calories burned" metric on your watch face to the split pace numbers instead. If you, like me, are borderline obsessive about closing all your rings, you can even set the watch to display the three trackers at a glance. There were plenty of times when I'd see that I only needed 50 more calories to close my move ring and it motivated me to put in a few more reps when working out.
It's also possible to add more variety to your run with the Apple Watch Series 8. Instead of using your watch to simply log a run, you can now account for warmups and recovery and set drills and repeats for your main "work" intervals. For runners training for a 5K or half marathon, this tool can make your runs more structured and reliable.
You can even become your own biggest competitor by racing yourself on an outdoor track that you've already completed. Again, if you have a favorite training spot and want to build off your benchmark time, this feature alone may be worth the splurge.
Finally, for the true multitaskers out there, the Series 8 also has a "multi-sport" function that allows you to quickly transition from running to biking or swimming without having to completely end the workout -- like on the Series 7.
It's worth noting that the Apple Watch Series 8 still cannot measure blood pressure and body composition standalone, two metrics that Samsung's latest Galaxy Watch 5 series, with its BioActive sensor, can calculate. If those numbers matter to you, and you don't want to have to buy additional equipment to find them out, then the Apple Watch 8 may not be the best choice.
New this year, the watch tracks how long you spend in deep sleep, core sleep, REM sleep, and awake. You can then access the data in the iPhone's Health app to learn just how efficient or inefficient your sleep really is. As someone who chronically wakes up every night around 3 a.m., I was impressed to see that the Apple Watch was able to perfectly mark those times and the depth of my sleep after the fact.
However, the biggest thing he missed from the under-the-mattress sensor was the data on sleep stages to help understand the quality of sleep. He now regularly uses that feature on the Series 8 and is impressed with the accuracy and the visualizations. But, the Apple Watch's sleep app would be much better if it also integrated HRV, blood oxygen, and other data -- and he added that Apple is overdue to launch a companion Sleep app for the iPhone as well.
The features I didn't test
Like the iPhone 14 line, the Apple Watch Series 8 can detect a severe car crash by measuring changes to the environment's sound, pressure, and motion, and help connect you to emergency services. In the event of a car crash, the Apple Watch will ask if you're OK or if it should call emergency services. It will do the latter if there's no response within 20 seconds. By default, crash detection is on.
Women's health features
Perhaps one of the biggest upgrades to come with WatchOS 9 is the upgraded health features, specifically for women's health. As a woman, I found it convenient that I could track my cycle by answering a few questions and wearing my watch daily. While this technology is useful for women who just want to be more in tune with their bodies, it's worth noting that a smartwatch is not smarter than your physician. If you have an irregular cycle or suffer from medical anxiety, the Apple Watch may be a useful first assessment, but you should not base your medical decisions on just that.
While I personally am not using the watch for family planning purposes, I know many look for tools to do so. WatchOS 9 also tracks changes in basal temperature while you sleep (after five days) and can monitor your ovulation.
You can expect a similar battery life performance with the Apple Watch Series 8 as last year's model given the similarity in battery size. Having switched from the Series 3, however, I was even more impressed with the Series 8's endurance.
I typically wear the watch from morning to night, walking about 2 miles to and from work, exercising for 30 minutes to an hour, and then sleeping for about 7 hours. I've found that time and charging management are needed if you plan on using the Apple Watch day and night.
Fortunately, the new Apple Watch charges fast. I've been using Anker's 511 Charger (Nano 3) and Apple's USB-C charging cable, which takes the Series 8 to a full charge after an hour. Since I've been using the watch during my sleep, I've been occasionally trickle-charging it during the day, like when I'm sitting in a meeting.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is an incremental update to the classic, squircle smartwatch -- and I'm not complaining. The same catalog of good-looking and practical watch faces is still there and, with the enhanced health and fitness tracking features, the watch is more useful than ever for helping me stay in tune with my body both during activity and at rest.
My only callout is of WatchOS 9 and its abundance of updates and features: They may be overwhelming and not applicable to every user. But if you want the most comprehensive Apple Watch experience -- other than the Ultra -- then the new Series 8 is the one to get. As we often say with the latest products, if you have last year's Series 7 then there's little reason to upgrade to the Series 8. But if you're on the upgrade-hunt and have the Series 6 or earlier, the Series 8 offers a boost in features and battery life.