You have to feel for the Series 8 a little bit. If this were any other year, it would plainly be the "best Apple Watch you could buy," but now that the Apple Watch Ultra ($799) — Apple's huge, rugged behemoth of a smartwatch — been entered the fold, the Series 8 has been relegated to the role of middle child. It's better and more beautiful than the Apple Watch SE ($249), but substantially less capable and (arguably) less attractive than the Apple Watch Ultra.
Of course, not everybody wants to wear a huge smartwatch on their wrist. Nor do they want to spend nearly as much on their smartwatch as they are on their new iPhone. So, for the vast majority of people looking for an Apple Watch, the Series 8 will be the go-to option. And it's still an excellent smartwatch.
The Series 8 is very similar to the Series 7
As somebody who has worn the Series 7 for the past year and who has now been wearing the Series 8 for the past week, I can tell you that they are very similar. In fact, they're basically identical. They have the same display, same battery life, same charging abilities and pretty much the same everything else.
The only real difference is that the Series 8 has a new body temperature sensor and a few updated sensors (specifically its accelerometers and gyroscopes). However, both these things enable health and safety features that I admittedly don't use.
The body temperature sensor isn't designed to tell you if you're sick, but it's instead meant to help women better track their period cycles. This ability to gauge body temperature helps women more accurately predict their next ovulation, which is vital for couples looking to conceive and start (or grow their) families.
The Series 8's updated accelerometers and gyroscopes don't enable any new fitness or activity tracking features, but instead enable the new car crash detection feature (just like in the new iPhones). If you get in a crash and you don't respond to the Series 8's notification, either because you can't reach it or you're unconscious, then the watch will call emergency services for you. It's a really cool feature, but also I hope I never have to use it. (And no, I did not get in a car crash for this review.)
When deciding, it's really between the Series 8 and new SE
When deciding on a new Apple Watch, the choice most people will have to make is between the Series 8 and the new SE. They are basically identical — and if you want the Ultra, you already know it — but like in years past the Series model has a couple big advantages over the SE model.
Like before, the biggest advantage is that the Series 8 has an always-on display, which allows you to check the time or peep a notification at a glance; you don't have to turn your wrist upward so that the watch lights up.
The Series 8 has a few other notable advantages. It has a superior heart-rate monitor and a blood oxygen sensor (which the SE lacks), so it can more accurately track your health. It has the new body temperature sensor (which the new SE lacks) for female health tracking. It supports fast charging (which the SE lacks). And it's available in both cellular and GPS-only models, while the SE can't be bought in a cellular model. Both watches support car crash detection.
The only other factor is price. While the Series 8 starts at the exact same price as the Series 7, Apple has actually lowered the price of the new SE by $30 — it now starts at $249. That $150 price gap is pretty huge and, on paper, the new SE looks like a heck of a value.
The killer feature is low-power mode
The truth is that the best new feature of the Apple Watch isn't exclusive to the Series 8. With watchOS 9 — available now — Apple has rolled out a new low-power mode that will extend the life of any Apple Watch (must support watchOS 9, so Series 4 or later). When turned on, lower power almost doubles the "all-day" battery life of the Series 8 (and SE), taking it from roughly 18 hours to 36 hours.
Apple has had a "power reserve" mode for years, but that is different because it basically turns off all apps and is meant for more emergency situations. The new low-power mode turns off a lot of the Series 8's normally-on features, such as its always-on display, automatic workout and heart rate detections. If you're away from your iPhone, it pauses some notifications, too. But it'll still log your steps, keep track of your data and even do workouts.
Essentially, the new low power mode goes a long way to solving one of the biggest issues that the Apple Watch has had pretty much forever.
Apple Watch Series 8: The Verdict
The Series 8 doesn't feel like the new hotness this year, admittedly. The Apple Watch Ultra stole a lot of its thunder and, considering how similar it is to last year's Series 7, a lot of people won't feel the need to upgrade this year. That said, the Series 8 is great for the exact same reasons that the Series 7 was great. It's beautiful, versatile and feature-packed. And its new health tracking and safety features could sway some folks over.
But the Series 8 is really designed for people who haven't bought an Apple Watch in a few years and don't want the huge and expensive Ultra. For those people, the Series 8 will definitely feel like an upgrade. And its combination of features and fitness-and-health tracking still make it the best option for most people.