The Apple Watch Series 8 shows why Apple is still the smartwatch champ

The Apple (AAPL) Watch Series 8 hits stores Sept. 16, bringing with it a number of upgrades including new temperature sensors, the ability to contact emergency services if you’ve been in a car crash, and software improvements like enhanced workout tracking.

Available starting at $399 for a watch with a 41mm casing and $429 for a 45mm casing, the Apple Watch Series 8 once again proves why Apple’s smartwatch is the best around.

That said, if you’ve got an Apple Watch Series 7, there’s not much reason to upgrade to the Series 8 unless you really can’t do without the temperature sensor and crash detection functions. Otherwise, you’re getting more or less the same features as last year’s model.

If, however, you’ve got a Series 6 or older, you might want to consider making the jump to the Series 8 for its improved performance and larger display relative to those older watches.

Apple Watch Series 8 can take your temperature, sort of

The Apple Watch Series 8 packs a pair of temperature sensors designed to provide users with their ovulation history. Apple says it does this by tracking the biphasic shift that occurs when a person ovulates. It’s important to point out that the feature doesn’t provide forward-looking guidance on ovulation and fertility, but rather offers a look at past ovulation patterns.

The temperature sensors work silently in the background, measuring the wearer’s temperature while she sleeps. The idea is that the sensors, one under the watch and one on top, will provide a baseline temperature that can then be compared against any deviations to get a sense of the person’s ovulation history.

The Apple Watch Series 8 features the same look as the Series 7. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 8 features the same look as the Series 7. (Image: Howley)

The feature goes hand-in-hand with Apple’s previously released cycle-tracking capabilities. That function requires users to enter when they’ve had their period and can then provide an estimate on when they’ll have their next cycle going forward.

Crucially, in the wake of the fall of Roe v. Wade, Apple says that like other health features, cycle tracking is encrypted on the device and only accessible via a passcode, Touch ID or Face ID, and any health data stored in iCloud is end-to-end encrypted so no one can access it without your permission.

Of course, the sensor can also provide you with an idea of your overall health, like if you might be ill, by looking at any deviations from your average temperature.

Safety first

The Series 8’s second major upgrade is its crash detection capabilities. An updated accelerometer and gyroscope combined with the watch’s microphone and barometer mean the Apple Watch can detect when the wearer is in a car accident.

Apple says the watch can determine if you’ve been in a head-on, rear-end, side-impact, or rollover collision. When the Series 8 determines that you were involved in an accident, it will automatically send you an alert asking if you were in a crash, and, if you don’t respond, will call emergency services and contact your emergency contacts.

I, thankfully, haven’t been able to test crash detection, and hope I never do. But if you want the feature and don’t want to spend the cash on the Series 8, it’s also available on the Apple Watch SE, which starts at $249, as well as the entire iPhone 14 lineup.

The Apple Watch Series 8 sports two temperature sensors, though you won't be able to see them from the outside of the smartwatch. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 8 sports two temperature sensors, though you won't be able to see them from the outside of the smartwatch. (Image: Howley)

In addition to crash detection, the Apple Watch comes with fall detection, as well as emergency SOS and, for cellular models, international emergency calling. As my colleague Allie Garfinkle pointed out, Apple is positioning the Apple Watch and iPhone as safety necessities.

I can certainly see the appeal. Parents of new drivers and people with older relatives can take comfort in knowing that they’ll be alerted if there’s an accident. My family purchased an Apple Watch Series 7 for my father last year specifically because it had fall detection after he took a particularly dangerous fall.

Working out, finding your way, and messaging with watchOS 9

In addition to temperature sensors and car crash detection, the Apple Watch Series 8 gets a number of improvements via Apple’s WatchOS 9 software. Don’t expect a wholesale redesign of WatchOS, though. This is more evolution than revolution.

The biggest changes to WatchOS 9 include an updated Compass app, new Medication Reminder app, and a slew of Workout app upgrades.

The Compass app now gives you the ability to add waypoints to the Apple Watch. So if you’re out hiking and find a spot you want to check out later, you can quickly make a waypoint and save it for later. You can also manually enter specific waypoints to set them as your destination by inputting their coordinates into the watch.

The Apple Watch's updated Compass app adds the ability to mark waypoints and a Backtrack option to retrace your footsteps. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch's updated Compass app adds the ability to mark waypoints and a Backtrack option to retrace your footsteps. (Image: Howley)

Backtrack mode, meanwhile, lets you create a digital breadcrumb trail using your watch’s GPS signal. I tested the mode out walking to a nearby park and back, and it was accurate right down to the side of the street I was on. Apple says the feature can be automatically activated if you’re in an area without cell service that you’ve never visited before.

The Medication Reminders app is incredibly helpful if you’re the type of person who forgets whether you took your meds in the morning or at night, like me. You can put your medication into the Apple Health app and set up specific reminders that will go off when you need to take them. It’s proved very useful for me so far, ensuring I don’t accidentally forget my medicine or take one too many doses.

Then there’s the expanded Workout app, which features more in-depth details for tracking everything from your runs and yoga sessions to your swims. Later this year, Apple will release an update that will save your best previous run and let you compete against your past self. And a new track recognition option can instantly tell if you’re at a track using Apple Maps, and prepare for a workout.

Should you get it?

The Apple Watch Series 8 is an excellent smartwatch, just as the Series 7 was before it. If you’ve got a Series 7, though, it’s hard to recommend making the upgrade. The temperature sensor is certainly a great feature, as is car crash detection. But many of the updates you’ll get from watchOS 9 will be available on the Series 7 including those improved workouts and Compass app.

If you’ve got an older Apple Watch, however, the Series 8 is a great excuse to make the jump to a new smartwatch. Its 41mm and 45mm displays are larger than the 40mm and 44mm displays found on the Series 6 and older watches, and its processor will easily keep up with your constant swiping.

Now I’m going to go back to sleep. To, uh, do more research for the watch. Yeah, that’s it …

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