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Wednesday, January 18, 2023 - 9:50 PM

Apple Watch Series 8 - More is More

Written by Matt Maurer

Note : This article is all about the standard Apple Watch Series 8. I’m not going to talk about the Apple Watch Ultra because it is a whole new beast. But I did want to mention - if you have a 45mm Apple Watch Series 8, you CAN use the new Apple Watch Ultra bands and they look pretty good. I’ll link a video below.

Like many of you, I’m still figuring out the right cadence to upgrade my Apple Watch. I upgrade my iPhone every two years, which is a bad habit formed from the days of carrier phone contracts. I don’t do that with my Watch though. The passiveness of the Apple Watch means that unless the device is broken or noticeably slow, I don’t actively want to change it. Why risk messing up a good thing?

With this in mind, my Watch upgrade history goes something like this. I went from an original Apple Watch (Series 0) to a Series 3. That was obvious, as it had a major speed increase and cellular support. Having cellular support in the Watch was awesome and sounded super useful (spoiler : it wasn’t). The next year I upgraded again, from a Series 3 to a Series 4 and it’s wonderful, massive new display. I dropped cellular on this model due to the lack of use it received over the previous year. That Series 4 is where I stayed until the Series 8 came out last fall. I thought the always on display and speed increases were nice, but it wasn’t going to make a tangible difference in how I used my Apple Watch.

I will also confess that I originally planned on upgrading to a Series 7 in 2021 with it’s rumored flat edge redesign. The design change was my motivation to upgrade and when that didn’t materialize I went back into hibernation. So why jump on the Series 8? The temperature sensor was the straw the broke the camel’s back, but more on that later. I finally realized that all the things I had skipped over the last 4 generations added up to a pretty nice upgrade, even without a huge “wow” feature that I had conditioned myself to wait for. I would still be getting the always on display, improved performance, improved battery, and fast charging. I also wanted to switch back to a cellular model, as I had started running and found that connectivity way more useful now. These upgrades would also let me take full advantage of sleep tracking, with would go hand in hand with the newly announced temperature tracking and how it worked. I swear that discussion is still coming.

What’s New

Lets talk about what differentiates the Apple Watch Series 8. As previously mentioned, it now features a temperature sensor, which I promise we are almost ready to talk about. Also new this time is Crash Detection, which can alert emergency services if you have been in a car wreck (or apparently also if you are riding a rollercoaster). What else? Not much.

Now like I mentioned earlier, you also get all the features from previous Apple Watches, which makes this a compelling package. That includes the always on display, dust and water resistance, fall detection, fast charging, sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring and ECGs, blood oxygen monitoring and more. Not to mention just the table stakes of having phone calls and text messages, streaming music and activity tracking on your wrist.

Ok, we’ve finally arrived - let’s discuss temperature sensing. I was really excited for this initially. The big ideas that have been thrown around sound amazing. With frequent passive temperature monitoring your watch could theoretically alert you when you’re getting sick - before you know you’re getting sick. Whoa, now that is a next generation technology.

Remember how you checked your heart rate before the Apple Watch? Either you didn’t, you jabbed two fingers into your neck and started counting or you had specialized equipment to do it. Now it happens almost instantly anywhere. How do you check your temperature now? Hold your arm to your forehead? Stick a sensor in your ear? If you could just tap your watch and say “Oh yeah… my temp is high” that would be a great leap just like heart rate monitoring was. This is not that - yet.

I want to stress that you should NEVER buy technology with the thought of “maybe it will do something else in the future.” That said, I totally bought the Series 8 with the hope that temperature tracking will be expanded in the future. Apple has essentially taken the safe route with this feature and severely limited it. As of now, it will only check your temperature during sleep (so you must wear your watch to sleep to use temperature sensing at all) and it will only display deviation from baseline. So the watch reads your average temperature, but will never display it. Instead it will tell you that your last reading was 0.75° higher than your average temp. As limiting as this sounds, it was actually useful for me in diagnosing when I was getting sick over the winter. I could see my temps rising a few nights in a row and once I began getting sick I realized my body was fighting something off.

For women, there are more features related to ovulation tracking, meant to help with family planning. From a male perspective I can’t speak to how useful or accurate it is, but it seems like it improves upon the existing cycle tracking features of the Apple Watch. I think if you are a woman and are looking for more insight into your cycle, this could be a useful tool.

I am hoping when Apple unveils watchOS X they’ve had time to refine the algorithms to enable temperature display and on-demand temperature checks. Maybe they never will. I don’t think anyone will say that reading temperature from the wrist is easy, but I have hope this will be expanded in future versions of watchOS.

The other major Series 8 feature is Crash Detection. Through rigorous testing Apple has devised a way to use the enhanced sensors in the Series 8 Watch (and also the iPhone 14) to tell if you have been in a car crash. If you are unable to call emergency services, Siri can handle that for you, potentially saving your life. It sounds like there is some more refinement still needed, as I have read reports of Crash Detection being triggered by people on rollercoasters. While I’m sure Apple is tweaking those settings as you read this, maybe turn off Crash Detection when you arrive at Disney World.

Wrap Up

Much like an iPhone, year over the year the improvements aren’t gigantic anymore. These are mature technologies that will occasionally have a big new feature, but most of the time are improving incrementally. This was my year and I absolutely love my Series 8, but to me the Series 8 has four years of upgrades packed into one device. Nilay Patel probably isn’t as excited about the Series 8 because he reviews a new watch every year. Most of us aren’t in that position, and so I recommend buying a new Watch when those features add up for you.

Should you buy an Apple Watch Series 8? I think the complete package of the Series 8 is great. Part of that is watchOS 9 updates which are coming to older watches (Low Power mode comes to Series 4 and up!) and part of that is hardware updates. For me, all of those hardware updates didn’t come from this year. When purchasing new hardware, I always ask myself “what can I do that I couldn’t do before?” That answer is going to be different for everyone, but if you haven’t bought an Apple Watch in a few years, the Series 8 makes a compelling case. If your watch is currently serving all your needs and the Series 8 isn’t adding anything, don’t fret - you can save your cash and remember the Series 9 will be here in a few months and this whole dance will begin again.

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