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Apple Watch has long been a staple for iPhone users, thanks to its seamless connection to all devices and basically working as a phone, in watch form. It’s also a good go-to for encouragement on adding more movement to your day, courtesy of the three rings (stand, activity, and exercise) that silently heckle you until they’re fully closed.
But where Apple Watch has lacked, compared to competitors, is its battery life and workout features. The Apple Watch Series 8 (out now) aims to fix those two things, among other upgrades.
After about a week and a half of testing, here’s what I’ve loved about the Apple Watch Series 8. Keep in mind, many of these features come with the watchOS 9 update, meaning anyone with an Apple Watch Series 4 or later can access them.
While the watchOS 8 update introduced automatic tracking and auto-pause—features I find crucial, as the Watch prompts you to start your Outdoor Cycling workout, it pauses when you stop, and restarts when you go again, all so you don’t have to remember to do so—watchOS 9 now allows you to see more in-depth measures from your ride.
For example, you get more metrics right on your wrist, including the option to scroll through several screens so you can see not only distance, average speed, elevation, and heart rate, but also active calories, heart rate zones (a brand new workout feature), and splits. If you’re one to stick to a certain pace on your rides or aim for even splits on long miles, this can certainly come in handy. Heart rate zones are also especially helpful to make sure you’re switching up workout intensity and training to your goals.
If you want to analyze your numbers after a ride, you can also see more details in the workout app on your phone. Clicking into the details, you’ll find five-mile and one-mile splits, which include time, speed, and heart rate; the estimated amount of time you spent in each heart rate zone throughout your ride; and average elevation gain, heart rate, and speed throughout the entire ride, plus where those fluctuations happened. I don’t currently use a power meter, so I find heart rate zones super helpful, especially to see that I rode most of my recent 30-miler in zone 1, signaling I can certainly kick my intensity up a notch.
Instead of simply choosing open goals or those based on time, distance, or calories, you can now also create custom workouts right on your Apple Watch, and it’s pretty easy to do so. (Simply hit the three dots in the corner of Outdoor Cycling, scroll down to “create workout” and hit “custom” to start building your workout.) This is helpful for interval training if you want to push it for a certain distance or time, recover, and repeat. The watch will alert you to those intervals periods, without having to manually stop or start or check your watch every few seconds.
What’s more, if you participate in triathlons, the watch now has multisport mode so you can easily transition from a swim to a bike ride to a run.
Coming later this fall, the Apple Watch also plans to have a new mode, Race Route, which both cyclists and runners can access. It’ll let you compete against yourself on a specific route, going against your best or last time, and offering updates if you’re behind on that goal. I’m looking forward to this release mostly so I can get faster for group rides.
Other Health Updates Beneficial for Cyclists
In-depth sleep tracking
While the Apple Watch isn’t quite up to the standard of the Oura ring, Whoop, or even Fitbit when it comes to feeding you recovery metrics, it did upgrade its sleep tracking capabilities. In the Apple Health app, you’ll now see your wake-ups throughout the night, as well as REM, deep sleep, and light sleep or what Apple Health calls “core” sleep. (Comparing the sleep tracking to Fitbit and the Oura ring, the numbers were pretty on par with the former, with Oura judging my sleep a little harsher.) You can also see your resting heart rate throughout the night, but not your heart rate variability as other apps offer.
The Apple Watch Series 8 itself has two temperature sensors, unlike past Apple Watches, which is meant to give you better insights into your menstrual cycle. The info it gathers from those temperature reads, along with the details you input about your period, allows it to offer retrospective ovulation estimates. (You can also input stats like period symptoms, sexual activity, ovulation tests, and pregnancy tests.) It takes about two cycles for these estimates to work, so I can’t speak to its accuracy after 1.5 weeks.
Apple redesigned its Compass app to make journeys to the backcountry a little more navigable. While I didn’t get to head to the woods to give it a first-hand test, I’m particularly excited about the Backtrack feature, as someone who’s constantly getting lost. This feature uses GPS to record the path you take (and it automatically tracks when you go off the grid if you forget to turn it on), so you can use that path to retrace your steps. You can also drop Waypoints along the way, marking important spots on a mountain ride.
Helpful Updates to the Series 8 Overall
One of my favorite things about the Series 8 is likely Low Power Mode, which helps the Apple Watch battery go a little farther. I set the watch to automatically turn on Low Power Mode during workouts, as well as sleep, so it stops background apps and the always-on function, but still tracks and provides the stats you need.
According to Apple, with Low Power Mode and your phone nearby, the Series 8 should last 36 hours. While I can’t attest to that specific number, I’ve found myself charging the watch for about an hour as I work at my desk, and being good to go until the next day. Also, recording an Outdoor Cycling workout (while on Low Power Mode) for nearly four hours, with lots of stopping and starting, used just about 40 percent of the battery.
Finally, new watch faces are always one of my favorite updates on the Apple Watch. I love that I can put all the apps I use most right on the home screen so they’re ready at a finger tap. Or if I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I can choose a mindfulness background to help me focus on breathing. Or I’ll feed my nostalgia with a montage of photos, viewable from my wrist.
While the biggest news out of the Apple product presentation on September 7 was likely the release of the brand new Apple Watch Ultra (available starting September 23)—designed to withstand rugged trips to the backcountry, complete with an Action button that’s easier to use on the go, and with other next-level features—the Series 8 (available now) costs much less, selling for $399 for GPS and $499 for GPS + Cellular, while the Ultra goes for $799 for GPS + Cellular.
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