Apple Watch Series 8: A week with the new best smartwatch (for now)

·Deputy Editor, Reviews
·5-min read
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The Series 8 is the middle child of Apple’s 2022 Watch lineup, and unfortunately it might be the easiest to overlook. With its main updates being crash detection and a new skin temperature sensor that allows for ovulation tracking, the Series 8 feels like a small update to last year’s Series 7. At $399, it also faces stiffer competition from the Watch SE, which not only saw a price reduction this year to $250, but also shares the same processor as the Series 8, among many other features. And with the high-end Watch Ultra arriving soon, it’s hard to imagine anyone is feeling excited about the Series 8.

Still, since most people don’t upgrade their smartwatches on a yearly basis, a generational comparison isn’t the most useful to make. On its own, the Series 8 is a superb watch that makes a great multipurpose wearable with excellent health and fitness tools. I’ve spent about a week testing the Series 8 alongside the Watch SE, as well as the Series 7. (Yes, that is a lot of watches on my wrists.) And, while I don’t feel ready to pronounce a full verdict, I can comfortably say most people will be satisfied with the Series 8.

It’s hard for me to truly compare the Series 8 to the Series 7 because I received a larger size to test than usual. The older model in my possession is the 41mm version, while the Series 8 I have is the 45mm option. It doesn’t translate to a major functional difference, but the size discrepancy did make some features harder to test.

The Apple Watch Series 8 showing a workout tracking screen, on the wrist of a person looking at their watch in a gym.
The Apple Watch Series 8 showing a workout tracking screen, on the wrist of a person looking at their watch in a gym.

For example, I’m already more sensitive than most about sleeping with a watch on my wrist. That the 45mm Series 8 is bigger than my Series 7 meant I hated testing its sleep-tracking even more than usual – so much so that I’ve been putting off this part of the review process. Instead, I wore the new 40mm Watch SE to bed, which made for a tolerable experience.

I have so far worn the Series 8 on a redeye flight to see if I’d get some temperature readings then, but despite my having set up a Sleep Focus as required, the watch didn’t track sleep. I’ll have to do more testing, but between that and also testing the Watch SE overnight, I can’t evaluate features like the new skin temperature sensor for now.

Apple uses the data it collects while you sleep to calculate a baseline for your body temperature, and over time it looks at deviations to assess if and when you ovulated. The Series 8 requires at least five nights of data to determine the baseline, after which more time is required to gauge your cycles.

An Apple Watch Series 8 on the wrist of a person gripping a red kettlebell, showing its Always On Display.
An Apple Watch Series 8 on the wrist of a person gripping a red kettlebell, showing its Always On Display.

With all that’s involved in testing this feature, I’ll need to wait a little longer before I can get a better idea of how useful it is. I also can’t safely test crash detection, so that’s not something I can vouch for either.

For now, though, living with the Series 8 is a lot like using the Series 7 . The new beige Starlight color option isn’t something I’m excited about, but it does make the Watch feel less like a black stone on my wrist.

Though the Series 8 uses a newer S8 system-in-package processor, it didn’t feel dramatically faster than its predecessor. It did last a little longer in general, though I need more time testing to know for sure. I also suspect that the larger size might have something to do with this. I used the new low power mode in watchOS 9 one morning when the Series 8 was down to 20 percent battery and I still had to run to the gym for an 8am workout. It managed to last another two hours at least while also being able to track my performance during the HIIT class. I was impressed by how little it felt like I had to sacrifice in exchange for the extra juice.

The Apple Watch Series 8 on a person's wrist, showing a paused workout tracking screen.
The Apple Watch Series 8 on a person's wrist, showing a paused workout tracking screen.

I also enjoyed checking out some other watchOS 9 updates like cardio zone pages during workouts and the new watch faces. The Lunar screen in particular helped me remember that the Mid-Autumn Festival was this past weekend, since I could clearly read the date in Mandarin on the page. (The date for the festival in Mandarin is also a colloquialism that refers to the moon.) When I switched Focus Modes on my phone, the corresponding symbol showed up at the top of the Series 8’s screen to indicate it also adopted that profile. Reminders to take the medications I have saved to Apple Health were also helpful, and I liked being able to use the watch to log pills I took.

Most of these features will be available to those using older Apple Watches once the software update is installed.

While it’s nice that you can get ECG and blood oxygen readings on the Series 8, I didn’t run those very much during my time with the device. These aren’t tools that I’d use regularly enough to warrant spending an extra $150 on the higher-end model. For most people, the Watch SE offers plenty for a nice price — especially if you can live without an always-on display and IP6X dust resistance.

The Apple Watch Series 8 on the wrist of an arm held up in mid-air with a bike seat in the background.
The Apple Watch Series 8 on the wrist of an arm held up in mid-air with a bike seat in the background.

The Series 7 and 8 both charge faster than the SE, but the cheaper watch never took longer than 45 minutes to get enough juice for a day’s use. Also, I have yet to misplace my Apple Watches, so the U1 chip that’s missing from the SE hasn’t felt as important. On the Series 8, that ultra wideband feature will enable more precise location via Apple’s Find My app.

I’ll most likely keep using the Series 8 as my primary smartwatch (after trading it in for a smaller model), but not because I really need the skin temperature sensing or crash detection; my job requires me to stay up to speed on the latest devices and features. But if I were making the decision for myself (and not my career), I’d most likely buy the Watch SE. Still, the Series 8 is well-rounded and full-featured, and arguably the best smartwatch around. That is, until we get our hands on the upcoming Watch Ultra.