Apple Watch Series 2 Review: Putting GPS Fitness Tracking to the Test

Apple Watch Series 2, announced at Apple’s September special event, comes with an upgraded dual-core processor, brighter display, slightly larger battery, dedicated GPS and is water-resistant (up to 50m).

IMG 0051

Aside from these new additions, Series 2 looks the same as the original Apple Watch, with the bands still interchangeable between both models. The original got a dual processor upgrade and was renamed to Series 1, along with a slight price drop.

IMG 2712

We’ve been using Apple Watch Series 2 in the silver aluminum body in 42mm with white sport strap since launch day. We wanted to put the new features to the test and see just how much of a difference this watch fared against the original, mainly when it came to fitness tracking.

IMG 2713

If you already own an Apple Watch, unboxing the aluminum Sport model is pretty much the same. The box comes with an extra S/M band to accommodate those with smaller wrists. The Apple Watch unboxing experience for the Aluminum Sport models is still very nice, as the cardboard box has some weight to it, making it feel justified spending $529 + tax for a smartwatch (sort of, but not really).

IMG 2714

IMG 2715

As you can see, you get the Apple Watch magnetic charging cable (it’s extra long) plus a USB AC adapter to charge your watch. You’ll most likely want to invest in an Apple Watch stand (we’re using Belkin’s PowerHouse).

The first thing we noticed after putting on the Series 2 was it looked slightly thicker versus the original. In our image comparison below, you can spot the different easily:

Apple watch vs series 2

For the 42mm Series 2, its depth is 0.9mm thicker, while overall it’s 4.2 grams heavier; the 38mm Series 2 also increases its depth by 0.9mm, while its weight is 3.2 grams heavier; of course, it’s all due to the slightly larger battery for the weight increase.

New Brighter Display

As for the new display, it now is able to display up to 1,000 nits, twice the brightness compared to before. To our eyes, it was hard to notice the difference, but if auto-brightness is on, that’s when the screen will ramp up its brightness outside in sunny conditions. But indoors, we couldn’t really tell that much of a difference versus the original Apple Watch.

Performance-wise, Apple Watch Series 2, with its dual-core processor upgrade plus watchOS 3, feels much snappier versus the original. While loading apps does still require some waiting (at least a couple seconds), it’s faster than the extreme lag times of watchOS 2 on the first Apple Watch.

Fitness Tracking Using the GPS in Series 2

With the original Apple Watch, I’ve used it to track the odd run or bike ride, just for the sake of having it log as a workout in the Activity app. But after a while, I stopped bothering due to the inaccuracy of the Apple Watch. I usually use Strava for iPhone during runs, and my Garmin Edge 520 for weekend road rides.

But what about Apple Watch Series 2 and its built-in GPS, versus the original Apple Watch? I took a chance to compare it to Strava for iPhone (using my iPhone 6s Plus GPS) for runs and my Garmin Edge 520 for road rides.

Here are some screenshots below for the run, with Series 2 on the left, and Strava using my iPhone on the right. You’ll notice the distance on Strava was a bit longer, since it auto-paused when I reached for the phone out of my pocket.

There are some differences, such as the Active and Total Calories and the Total Time, but for the most part, I’d say Apple Watch Series 2 and its GPS performed pretty well versus the iPhone’s GPS:

IMG_0195 IMG_0196

Here’s the road bike tests with Apple Watch Series 2 versus my Garmin Edge 520 bike GPS (my Garmin data auto uploads to Strava by the way), on a short test ride. The calories are closer matching here, but the distance and time are off (I stopped the Garmin first, then the Apple Watch), but not by a whole lot. As for Average Heart Rate (Strava data measured by my Garmin heart rate monitor) and Speed, I would say it’s within reason.

IMG_0219 IMG_0220

With Apple Watch Series 2, you’ll also now have your workouts plotted on a map thanks to the GPS. According to Apple, colours show variations in speed (not GPS signal as some have reported), which is fairly accurate, as the far green line on the left was where I was doing a short sprint:


What I really want is an ‘auto pause’ feature for Workouts within Apple Watch, to track active time versus total activity time. The lack of auto pause means on a bike ride, my average speed is based on total activity time, not active time. For this reason, I rarely turn on Apple Watch to track rides (plus it’s quite the battery drain on 3-4 hour rides).

Cycling without my iPhone and just using Apple Watch Series 2 just isn’t possible yet, though ( especially on longer rides). I always carry my iPhone with me, for emergencies. Until Apple Watch gets cellular connectivity, I will forever be tied to my phone.

Apple Watch Series 2 in Water

Yes, Apple Watch Series 2 is definitely water proof. I’ve showered with the watch on and washed it under the tap, which isn’t really pushing its water resistance properties to the limit. But I hope to test the Series 2 in the pool, soon (I’m more of a sinker, not a swimmer), to see how it really fares as advertised.

If you’re going to shower with Apple Watch Series 2, the company says “we recommend not exposing Apple Watch to soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and perfumes as they can negatively affect water seals and acoustic membranes. Apple Watch should be cleaned with fresh water and dried with a lint free-cloth if it comes in contact with anything other than fresh water.”

What’s really cool is how Apple Watch Series 2 ‘ejects’ water from its speaker. When you start a swim workout, Water Lock enables to disable the touchscreen from accidental taps. To exit Water Lock, you turn the Digital Crown and Apple Watch will emit a series of beeps to push water out of the speaker cavity. You can also activate Water Lock manually by swiping up from Control Center at any time.

Battery Life

I wore Apple Watch Series 2 and Apple Watch simultaneously for a few days (on the same wrist), looking like a real winner. At the end of the day, battery life, I would say, remains about the same or slightly better (Series 2 has a bigger battery; iFixit said the 38mm battery has 33% increased capacity). GPS use most likely negates the increase in battery size.

The bottom line, by the time we put our Series 2 down in the charger every night, we always hover around 50% battery life remaining or so, which is pretty decent. But workouts and GPS use will run the battery down more than just a regular work day. Either way, we rarely run into battery anxiety with Apple Watch.

Should you buy Apple Watch Series 2?

If you’ve never owned an Apple Watch and to track your activity for better health, yes, Series 2 is finally calling your name. You missed out on being an early adopter and your patience has paid off with new upgrades such as dedicated GPS, water resistance, a brighter display, larger battery, extra microphone, and the option to purchase a Nike+ edition (which we’re going to get instead of this ‘boring’ aluminum model). This is the watch you probably were hoping for the first time around.

If you don’t care about fitness, get the Series 1 with its processor upgrade and price drop. Apple Watch Series 1 in aluminum gained a price drop of $90-120 CAD plus received a dual-core processor upgrade, now priced at $359/$399 for 38mm/42mm models. Apple Watch Series 2 in aluminum starts at $489/$520 for 38mm/42mm, respectively.

For existing Apple Watch users—should you upgrade? I’d only do it if you’re a fitness freak and want to be able to track runs without being tethered to your iPhone, and have a watch that can track your swims in the pool.

Otherwise, if you’re a sloth, watchOS 3 actually breathes a new half-life into your 18-month old Apple Watch. It’s not as fast as Apple Watch Series 2, but you can notice a slight difference, plus you get more customization features, when it comes to watch faces and complications.

The bottom line? I still enjoy my Apple Watch as it’s the best way to receive and reply to notifications from iPhone, while it seamlessly integrates into Apple’s ecosystem (sadly, it cannot unlock my aging 2012 MacBook Air’s older Bluetooth), and the GPS latches onto satellites quickly to track fitness well.

The only problem? It’s not exactly ‘cheap’ compared to other trackers like those from Fitbit, but the design looks better than anything else out there.

Apple Watch may not have cellular capabilities yet (who knows when it’ll come), but Series 2 may hold you off until the next upgrade cycle, for now.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

    Those are some respectable times. Averaging > 30km/h on the bike is quite impressive.

  • Duff

    Gary you don’t live too far from me, Running partner? I currently have the first gen stainless steel apple watch and do a lot of running and can say i avoided upgrading because to get an accurate pace, distance, and calorie you need to calibrate your watch with your iPhone for at least 1 or 2 runs so the watch knows your average to calculation.

    I will say WatchOS 3 made my current watch soooo much better. I run the victoria half marathon each year and last year was the first with just my watch and beats powerbeats wireless over bluetooth and can tell you the information for pace, distance, calorie and BPM were almost dead on for the year before with just my iPhone 6 and wired headset.
    The calibration from my new iPhone 7 plus has improved my first gen apple watch accuracy.

  • Thank you, sir. Been riding a lot this summer, did some fondos too like the Tour de Victoria. The golf clubs are collecting dust. You ride?

  • No way? I just started running…like literally a month ago. It’s hard, but good cross training for the bike! So this was the first time I took out Apple Watch to track runs. I actually will be sending this one back, and I’m waiting for the Nike+ version to arrive. I will try my first gen AW with watchOS 3 vs AW2 and see what happens after calibrating with 7 Plus.

    Nice…you’re too hardcore for me! I signed up for the GL 8K coming up.

  • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

    Yup, discovered it 5 years ago and fell in love instantly. Been doing triathlons since, love the mix of the 3 sports.

    Great review too. I picked up the Series 2 on day one. Loved the swimming and GPS additions. Used the original Apple watch through several 2-3 hour triathlons. Never skipped a beat!

  • Duff

    Your Running an excellent pace for 5’34. That’s only 9 seconds behind my current pace. My best time was last year at 1 hour 47 min for the half.

    I’m looking forward to looking at the Nike AW. The straps alone are nice, and wish they would just sell those for current AW owners.

  • Duff

    I wonder though if the GPS would help for snowboarding, skiing accuracy on the hills? I’m stoked for this season and got a brand new board itching to get on the slopes, and possibly a new AW if the GPS would help 🙂

  • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

    Lol was thinking the same thing with the 5:34 pace. That’s excellent for someone who hasn’t been running for long.

    I have a feeling we may eventually see the Nike bands sold separately. Purely based on them having them in the try on areas where you can mix and match watch cases with bands to see how they fit and look.

  • Timrules

    Hi Gary,

    Thanks for the review! I’m hoping you could answer a couple of quick questions:

    When you say “quite the drain on 3-4 hour rides,” how long can you actually go with GPS running before it dies (say, if you started at 100%)?

    The bit about still needing your iPhone for rides – is that just due to battery life & emergency calls, or are there other reasons (does it pre-cache maps)?

    Have you tried and compared any 3rd party watch apps (i.e., Strava on watch vs Strava iPhone), or do they still need the phone to work?


  • Hello Tim! As for the battery drain, I only had tested the original Apple Watch on long rides (3-4 hours)…and by the time I got home…the watch would have about 25% remaining. Which is why I ended up getting a Garmin, because my phone would drain just as fast too if I was tracking my ride with Strava.

    I still bring my iPhone to for emergencies…that’s about it (and to take pictures).

    The last time I tried to use Strava on Apple Watch without iPhone, it did not work (this was in July). I did not get a chance to try Strava on AW2 by itself.

  • I would think so, haven’t hit the slopes in a while…just buy it and find out before you go haha!

  • Thanks…the screenshots above were for my first 8K, like I said, total newb runner here. I did finish a recent MEC 5K in sub-25m though (barely!) 😀

  • Nice! What tri distances have you been doing? Yeah, you really get hooked once you combine them altogether.

    I am hoping to enter a mini sprint tri next spring/summer (Sprint but only 500m swim), but my swimming is hideous. Once I get the Nike+ AW2, that will be my motivation to hit the pool.

    Thanks, it’s mostly a preliminary review I would say, as I haven’t covered the swimming part. The GPS works really well, which is the important part! Glad you’re enjoying AW2.

  • Duff

    Yeah I’m thinking Nike AW but i’ll go for the 38mm this time just for running and other sports and keep my Stainless Steel for work and occasions. I’ll share my findings once the winter season hits. 😉

  • Okina

    Good thoughts Gary. Can I add a couple of things after two weeks with mine?

    I did notice an auto pause when I went on my runs. I usually take a course that’s about 1.5k and do it three plus times and usually take a minute for some water after every lap, that’s when the auto pause kicks in, albeit delayed. I think it waits for a complete stop to do so. But because of that my average speed is somewhat skewed for the same reasons you mentioned. But I did notice it

    What still bothers me right now is the lack of syncing or inconsistent syncing of the activity/workout app on my iPhone with the third party app I use, MapMyRun. The activity app noted logged treadmill workouts done in 2014 and 2015, but nothing recent. Even a dog walk I took on Sunday, which I started recording on the MapMyRun app on my watch (with my iPhone in my pocket), ultimately wasn’t recorded in the activity/workout app. The fact that you had Strava synced with the activity app in your screenshots really caught my attention because of the frustration I’ve been experiencing there. Is there a setting I got wrong?

    Ultimately I still would prefer third party apps to work with the watch’s GPS so I could run those without being tethered to my iPhone. MapMyRun as of now still needs the phone

    Anyway, I only within the last month started trying outdoor jogs too. Although with the weather starting to cool, I get the feeling I’ll be back on the treadmill and elliptical soon enough. And call me impressed Gary, my best k was just under 6min, but my average is closer to 7. My own goal is to get my own 5k closer to 30mins instead of 35

    Also bought a few third party bands from Amazon. Those haven’t been bad either, although initially I kept putting them on the wrong way. Obviously those will be swapped depending on the occasion.

    Right now though, no regrets on the stainless steel purchase, but get back to me when the credit card bill comes in

  • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

    I’ve been doing a lot of sprint distances (750/25-30km bike / 5-10km run) and a few olympic distance ones (1500m/40km/10km).

    Go for it next year, you’ll get hooked. Don’t worry about the swimming, lol. A lot of time to practice and always improve.

  • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

    Just as an FYI – I’ve tested the running using GPS a handful of times. With the Watch only (no phone) and playing music over bluetooth, it was using about 18% of battery per hour of running. Apple did mention that for running with GPS it would last about 5 hours. I assume their goal here was to be able to use it to complete a marathon.

  • swotam

    Great review Gary, solid job. I’ve been enjoying my Series 2 and am using it to motivate me out of my sloth-like ways. I’ve found it to be a solid GPS tracker for walks and things of that nature, and when out and about with the phone in my pocket they team up well to give me an accurate enough view of my calorie burn, distance, etc. Definitely a major upgrade from my Fitbit, lol.

  • swotam

    Agreed, there is a setting to auto-pause on runs. It’s in the Watch app in the Workout settings. Just enable Running Auto Pause. There’s also a setting there to disable the heart rate sensor to conserve battery on long walks or runs.

  • Nate

    have you noticed any scratches on the face of your watch?

  • Rube

    5:34 =Waf and 30k average =Saf
    Can’t swim? #htfu
    Nice review .

  • Timrules

    Cool – thank you, just what I was looking for!

    FYI, I had a TomTom, but took it back as it barely got to three hours before it died (and am using my old Garmin Fenix for now …).

  • Timrules

    Ah, OK … might make for an interesting future post (Strava Watch vs Strava iOS, Runkeeper watch vs Runkeeper iOS, etc.), if you’re looking for ideas …

  • SOB

    I committed myself to the Fitbit ecosystem when the first Apple Watch came out. The Fitbit app, and the Fibit Surge were more compiling then what Apple was offering. I even got a Fitbit Aria bathroom scale. So it would be hard to switch now. If Fitbit would start importing Apple data then I would consider switching.

  • Okina

    Oh I forgot to add my other issue with the watch. Playing music directly from it.

    To be fair, with the addition of GPS, this might be the first time the spotlight is placed on the watch’s locally stored playback. I’m thinking in the past, because of the iPhone tethering, music playback was still ultimately on the phone with the watch as nothing more than a remote or second screen.

    But it’s a real pain to pair up bluetooth buds with the watch (took me 20mins to successfully pair one, and I have two paired up now). And a pain to sync music onto it since it takes only playlists. You need to have your watch charging, then choose the playlist from the watch app from your phone (not to mention have it already set in the music app). And really I can’t say that works. I’ve tried and failed to change the first playlist locally stored on my watch multiple times so I can enjoy a new set while running.

    And yes, the playback isn’t tailored for podcasts and I really think that’s a missed opportunity.

    But the biggest issue with the playback is that it can actually be spotty, and sound like a skip. Your watch has to be reasonably close to your earbuds for you to hear your music fully, like when you put up your arms while running. However the second you put your arms to the side, it disappointingly cuts. And before you say it’s the bluetooth buds or headphone, I did have this problem with both of the bluetooth devices I tried this with.

    Is it the watch? Is it the headsets? Is it the nature of bluetooth right now? Has anyone else noticed this?

    I love this watch and it fits most of my everyday. But frankly I expect a better experience for an updated product that touts the GPS, and not needing your iPhone while working out.

  • Kirk

    I love my series 2 watch. The responsiveness of my fitness apps are great. I’m one of those fitness freaks so I HAD to upgrade. I swim with it every now and then in my pool and it does a great job tracking laps swam and calories burnt. The turning of the dial to eject water is pretty cool as well. I’m glad I upgraded. nice review Gary. I agree with most of your points. I got the black stainless steel with black sports band.