Nike+ Apple Watch: A Good-Enough Activity Tracker (Fitness Review)

This is the Apple Watch Series 2. Apple has tried many different marketing strategies trying to sell as many as possible, with the latest one focusing on fitness. Many companies have tried to merge the smartwatch and fitness tracker, but most of them failed spectacularly. Is Apple any different then?

Hardware

Looking at the watch itself, it seems like it is perfectly equipped to track any activity. All versions of the Apple Watch have the same optical sensor on the bottom, and a high-precision accelerometer for tracking movement. If you prefer using a chest HR monitor, you can connect an external Bluetooth chest-strap. The Series 2 now also has built-in GPS, making tracking activities, with relatively precise position, possible even without a phone.

Speaking of that, it is also possible to transfer up to 2 GB of music from the iPhone Music app to the storage on-board the watch itself, so you can listen to your favorite tunes by connecting Bluetooth headphones directly to the watch.

When it comes to water-proofing, the Series 1 is water-resistant, while the Series 2 is fully waterproof up to 50 m.

The new display in the Series 2 might have the same resolution, but can get about twice as bright, making it much easier to read in sunny outdoor conditions. I don’t think I need to mention, that we are talking about a touch-screen. Many professional athletes prefer buttons to avoid accidental input. Luckily, Apple goes around this problem by providing an option to lock the touch screen. The device can be later unlocked by simply twisting the “Digital Crown”.

Battery life with continuous heartrate tracking and GPS on is approximately 5 to 7 hours on my 42 mm Apple Watch. If I take the Watch off the charger at 7 in the morning and do 1 hour of exercise without GPS I still end up with about 60 % of the battery left by midnight.

Experience

All of that is useless, if it can’t be utilized correctly. This being an Apple product, you can get many apps to track many different activities with the Watch. Out of the box, Apple offers a set of multiple apps, but more on that later. They can track the most common types of workouts: outdoor / treadmill running, indoor / outdoor cycling, pool / open water swimming, walking, elliptical, rowing, stair-stepper, and “other”.

Compared to let’s say a Garmin sports watch, the Apple Watch doesn’t record as many metrics as these dedicated fitness watches. However, ask yourself a question. Do you really need all that data? For runners, I am talking about stuff like vertical oscillation, cadence, stride length, etc. If you are an average runner, you might not even know what to do with these metrics.

On the positive side, the tracking accuracy is pretty good for most cardio activities. I always run with my phone, so I cannot comment on the GPS accuracy, because when the iPhone is connected, the system defaults to using the phone for positional data, to save battery on the watch. The HR sensor takes a couple of seconds to acquire the first reading, but after that it usually reads within a couple of bpm compared to my Garmin chest HR sensor (given the sensor housing of the watch is clean). Problems start cropping up when you start doing strength training or short burst of high-intensity activity. When doing sprints, the HR sensor lags behind a bit or loses the heartrate completely. And forget about using it for something like cross fit and lifting weights. Extremely bumpy roads also seem to upset the HR sensor when cycling, even with the watch snug against the wrist.

Comparing to an “all-day activity tracker” like a Fitbit, the Apple Watch stacks up very well. It counts calories, active minutes, “stand hours”, steps, total distance, and heartrate. Since watchOS 3, you can also add friends to compete with. This simple representation of data is much more useful and motivating than just looking at a bunch of numbers.

Apps

The whole situation starts to lack the traditional Apple simplicity when looking at all the pre-installed apps, on both, the iPhone, and the Watch.

Activity

The already mentioned Activity app is the one which organizes the most important daily fitness data into 3 rings, acting as goals, you are supposed to reach every day:
#1: Move – a calorie goal changing depending on how many calories you burned the previous week
#2: Exercise – minutes of activity more intensive than a brisk walk
#3: Stand – goal of 12 hours a day; 1 hour is won if you walk for at least 1 minute in an hour

The same app on the phone goes into a bit more detail, giving you the history, a list of past workouts, achievements, and the sharing tab is the same one as the one on the watch.

Workouts

Is used for tracking an exercise session, like a run or a bicycle ride. It is sleek and you can set it to show up to 4 pieces of information at a time.

Health (phone)

Shows more detailed breakdown of data recorded by the Apple Watch, the phone itself, and provided by other apps.

Heartrate & Breathe

Are new apps introduced in watchOS 3 and they do exactly what one would think. The first one just displays the current heartrate and the second guides you through breathing sessions ranging from 1 to 5 minutes to “calm you down”.

3rd-Party Apps

Are supported as well, but from my personal experience, not all of them run as well as the ones built by Apple. On the plus side, you can most probably just keep on using your fitness app of choice, because most of the big names, like Nike+ Run Club, Runtastic, Runkeeper, Strava, etc. utilize the Apple Watch in some way or another.

Ironically enough, none of the 1st-Party apps gives you detailed data about your workout session, not to mention graphs for heartrate, pace, and other metrics. Other companies have proven, that it is possible to create charts, which can be easy to understand and act upon. Oh, and have I said there is no sleep tracking?

Conclusion

The Series 2 Apple Watch (this Nike+ version in particular) carries a lot of positive points. It is designed to be functional, without being bulky, or looking / feeling like a brick. The all-day tracking with move reminders and goals, which are mostly achievable, really motivate you to do something else than just sit in front of a screen and watch YouTube. The optical HR sensor is surprisingly accurate (coming from the LG G Watch R), and thanks to the waterproofing, this is one of only a handful of smartwatches capable of tracking swimming. The straps can be interchanged within seconds to go from sporty, to somewhat fancy look. And for me, the built-in GPS is just an icing on a cake.

There are 2 negatives, which might be deal-breakers for some. The lack of detailed data in the stock apps and the sheer number of them. Plus, sometimes, you might think the Watch is trying to kill you, because even after an intensive session at the gym, the calorie goal doesn’t change for the next day. I must give it that it takes into account “afterburn calories”, but that isn’t a good enough excuse for not providing a single day of rest per week.

The optimist in me says that these are only software issues, easily fixable in the next system update. However, looking at how Apple has been performing lately (and the fact that even after 3 years on the market, the Apple Watch still randomly restarts), I wouldn’t bet on that…

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