Apple Watch Series 2 hands-on: Faster, brighter, swim-proof

The next-generation Apple Watch is finally here.

Apple (AAPL) on Wednesday unveiled its anticipated Apple Watch Series 2. Available Sept. 16 for $369, the wrist-bound device will come in two more flavors: a Nike+ version with its own watch face and watchband colors, as well as a sleek, high-end white ceramic watch that will set you back a whopping $1,249.

Here are our initial impressions after a half-hour of tinkering around with it:

It looks exactly the same.

Consumers clamoring for a thinner, lighter Apple Watch this time around will be disappointed to learn the Series 2 looks virtually identical to the Series 1, so much so that if someone conducted a blind side-by-side test, you (and just about everyone else) would fail.

Watch
The Apple Watch Series 2.

The Nike+ version, however, sets itself apart with a unique neon watch face and its own set of perforated watchbands that will be easy to spot in the wild. The much pricier white, ceramic Series 2 is a much more subtle choice, despite that stratospheric sticker price, and it’s really only noticeable upon close inspection. Is it nice? Yes, absolutely. But it’s a delicate touch that won’t turn many heads.

It’s much faster.

One of the biggest (and most valid) complaints lobbed at the first Apple Watch was around performance. Even opening and swiping between apps could be a poky experience — an issue that was only somewhat fixed with the roll-out of Watch OS2 in September 2015.

The Series 2 nixes that concern thanks to a dual-core processor Apple claims is 50% faster and a graphics chip twice as speedy. That translated to a much smoother experience using the Series 2. Apps opened faster, and swiping from app to app was also a swift, seamless experience.

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Apple Watch Series 2 styling
Apple Watch Series 2 styles

It’s too early to tell yet just how that graphics chip will make using the Series 2 better. During our hands-on, we tried a stargazing app called Night Sky 4, which points out different stars, planets and constellations. According to an Apple spokesperson, the app can’t run on the previous Apple Watch.

Moving and rotating your wrist inside Night Sky 4 adjusts your view of the stars in the app. The app is a nifty little experience, but it’s unclear how other app developers plan on taking advantage of that improved graphics chip.

It still needs to sync-up with your iPhone.

Another complaint with the first Apple Watch? For it to do most things, users have to keep it connected to their phones with Bluetooth. Break that connection, and the watch is limited to just a few tasks, including tracking workouts, listening to synced-up music playlists, viewing photos from the Photos app, checking the time, and setting alarms.

The Series 2, unfortunately, doesn’t deviate much from that. Users still have to keep their watches connected to their phones, for the most part, but an added GPS frees things up slightly, especially for runners and hikers. (No longer will you need your phone around to track your location on a trail, for example.)

Because of our limited hands-on time, we weren’t able to dive into other Series 2 features, like battery life, which is expected to still get you through one day in-between charges, for better or worse. But stay tuned for our full-length review coming soon.