The original Apple Watch felt incomplete – almost as if Apple released a product they were testing in the lab to see what the market thought. Lacking integrated GPS and waterproofing, they nonetheless tried to pitch it as an activity tracker using Christie Turlington to spruik its credibility.
But the new Apple Watch Series 2 running watchOS 3 changes that considerably. It’s now a viable, if imperfect alternative, for runners.
I ran with the original Apple Watch a few times, and then packed it away. It was simply not accurate enough when tracking distance.
Apple updated the system software for the Apple Watch a couple more times and, with the release of the Apple Watch Series 2, boasting waterproofing and integrated GPS as well as a partnership with Nike, they have produced a smartwatch that builds on the Apple Watch’s capability for delivering notifications with solid features for athletes of all persuasions.
|Model tested||Space Grey Aluminium Case with Black/Volt Nike Sport Band (42mm)|
|Source||Purchased from Nike store, Las Vegas|
|Cost||AU$579 (inc GST), US$399 (plus local taxes)|
|Pros||Looks good, waterproof, GPS, multi-sport capable|
|Cons||Chunky, doesn’t play nice with other services|
The Apple Watch Nike+ is the fourth Apple Watch I’ve used – Apple has sent me several review units in the past – but this is the first I’ve bought. The original Apple Watch wasn’t a bad device although once the initial thrill of playing with a new platform faded I found its utility limited.
The Apple Watch Series 2 was a different proposition. My review unit, provided by Apple, was the base model but it won me over as I could take it for a run in the morning, rely on it for notifications during the work day and wear it dinner in the evening. It looked good and fulfilled the different functional requirements of my day as I transitioned from exercise to work to relaxing.
The Nike+ version of the Apple Watch Series 2 has the same processor, memory and display as the other Series 2 Apple Watches but adds several different watchfaces, featuring the bright “Volt” colour. Volt is a bright yellow/green that is very easy to read while exercising.
Fit and comfort
The Apple Watch Series 2 is marginally thicker than the original Apple Watch. This is to accommodate the larger battery that’s needed to run the GPS receiver.
The Apple Watch Nike+ comes with an elastomer band that is perforated in order to allow perspiration to dissipate quickly and not gather under the band. It’s soft and comfortable.
I did find it tricky to choose the right hole for the catch that balanced a tight fit with comfort. In particular, as my wrist changes size due to swelling, and becomes wet from sweat I found it did move around a little while running.
Back when I was testing the original Apple Watch (note that the Apple Watch Series 1 that is also being sold by Apple is not the same as the original Apple Watch) I purchased a plain, black elastomer band. I switch between that and the Nike+ band depending on what I’m doing.
During the day, the Apple Watch was barely noticeable – no different to a conventional watch in my view.
Apps and integration
One of the big problems with the original Apple Watch wasn’t the watch itself but the software running on it. The operating system, watchOS, effectively made the Apple Watch a dumb terminal for the iPhone. No matter what you wanted to do, you needed your iPhone close by. For example, if you were going for a run, launching a running app such as Strava on the Apple Watch would initiate a connection to the iPhone where the iOS version of Strava would monitor your run and send display for display on the Apple Watch.
The result of that approach was disappointing. Performance was slow.
Today, we are on watchOS 3. The most significant difference between today and the early days is the Apple Watch can now run apps natively – without the need for your iPhone to be close by.
The Apple Watch Nike+ is tightly integrated with the Nike Run Club app. I can launch that app on the Apple Watch – part of the collaboration between Apple and Nike has delivered several watch faces with a Nike Run Club “complication”. A complication is an icon that displays information.
So, going for a run using the Nike Run Club is simply a matter of tapping an icon and you’re off. It uses GPS to track your runs so you get accurate distance stats. It also calls out, using the watch’s speaker, your total time and average time per kilometre or mile depending on whether you prefer metric or imperial measures.
If you’re not a fan of the Nike Run Club, you can run, swim, ride, or do other exercise using Apple’s Activity app directly on the Apple Watch.
The downside – neither Apple nor Nike play nice with other exercise tracking services. Almost everyone I know uses Strava to track their runs and rides. Apple and Nike are doing their best to lock you into their ecosystems. Although Apple has a reputation for operating their “walled garden” (which is kind of like a luxury hotel you can never leave – it might be nice but it does sometimes feel like a prison) Nike’s long obstinance to lock your data is perplexing – particularly when every other major fitness tracking company on the planet, including Garmin, Tom Tom, Suunto and others are happy to work with Strava, MapMyRun and other third parties.
If you’re a Strava user, there are ways around this such as the Nike to Strava exporter. And there’s official word from Strava that they will natively support the Apple Watch Series 2 early in 2017.
You can also export activity from Apple’s Activity app with a third party app called Workouts by SpectraRun. It provides a alternative visual representation of your workout data and lets you export runs as tcx files that can can imported by Strava.
Training with the Apple Watch Nike+
I’ve taken the Apple Watch Nike+ on several runs now including road and trail runs between 5km and 12km, as well a treadmill run. I’ve also used it while weight training, cycling, and on an elliptical trainer.
Until recently, I was a Fitbit user. Using various different Fitbit devices I had a pretty good idea of my heart rate both when resting and while active. What I’ve found is my resting heart rate is routinely measured as a few beat per minute faster with the Apple Watch Series 2.
There’s some recent research that has compared various wrist-base heart rate monitors with a chest strap sensor (which is still the most accurate device for regular trainers) and a EKG. Apple’s monitor was acknowledged in that study as being amongst the most accurate.
While running, I like knowing my per kilometre splits. On long runs I like to keep track of my times so I don’t push too hard too early and it’s also handy to know I’m working hard enough on shorter distances.
Using the Nike Run Club app on the Apple Watch, I get audio cues at the end of each kilometre so I can keep track of my splits and to let me know when the app’s auto-pause and resume functions are activated when I stop for a drink or at traffic lights.
When I stop running, raising the watch displays buttons for ending the run or resuming manually.
When running with Apple’s Workout app, double-tapping the screen signals when I’ve completed a manually measured lap – handy when running on a track – and swiping brings up pause, resume and end workout buttons.
Of the two apps, I preferred running with the Nike app as it was easier to see the information I wanted and the auto-pause feature was handy. But it lacks the lap timer of the Apple app. If the two could be combined into a single app with all the features then it would be great.
As it is, there are two half-done apps for tracking running. Neither is particularly awful – but both could be a lot better.
I also took the Apple Watch Nike+ out for a couple of bike rides. Not needing to have my iPhone out, even for navigation is handy. Although I’ve used a couple of different handlebar mounts, I much prefer having directions on my wrist and the trip tracking handled by the watch.
But, I’m not a serious cyclist. My riding is strictly recreational or for commuting so I’m not an expert in what a competitive cyclist would want from a watch.
I’m planning to take the Apple Watch Nike+ for a swim in the near future so I can comment, yet, on how it performs in the pool.