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I have a particular aesthetic when it comes to jewelry: thin, dainty, and gold. Despite my interest in personal health and fitness, I have never met a wearable tech device whose features tempted me enough to tamper with that preference. The Apple Watch Series 8 — despite looking like most other chunky wrist gadgets — is the closest I’ve come.
I couldn’t pass up the chance to test out the new Apple Watch, because the investment and commitment were low. Apple provided a loaner review unit to BuzzFeed News, so no money spent, no money wasted if I decided it was not worth muddying my vibe.
Here’s what I — an exercise enthusiast, sleep lover, health writer, and person who menstruates — think so far.
There are a handful of features that I have been using most days: the activity goals, sleep tracking, and workouts. I like the little celebration my watch generates for me, including vibrations and virtual fireworks, when I reach one of my movement goals, whether it's hours standing, minutes of exercise, or overall active movement.
It gives me a little boost in motivation, and it’s nice to know that the walking I do to get to my destinations in New York counts as a workout. I have also been sharing my activity with some friends, which triggers my competitive spirit to get me to move more.
None of that is new, though the sleep tracking is more advanced on the Series 8 than on previous versions. I can see how much time was spent in all of my sleep stages, including how long my REM cycle was and how many minutes I was awake throughout the night. I can’t say I check it every morning, but it is interesting to peruse every once in a while, noting any patterns and speculating what could have been causing any changes.
The real pièce de résistance for me, however, is the updated cycle tracking on this version of the Apple Watch. You’ve always been able to track your period using the Health app, but now there are two sensors within the watch that track your temperature while you sleep to help estimate when you’re ovulating. This is far more advanced than previous versions, and also could be used for tracking fertility.
In order to accurately predict ovulation, you need to monitor your basal body temperature, which is your body temperature when you are completely at rest.
Your basal body temperature rises by half a degree or less when you ovulate and stays elevated for the second half of the menstrual cycle. Many things, including lack of sleep, alcohol consumption, or even physical activity can influence body temperature. If you’re using a traditional basal body temperature thermometer (a special type that allows you to measure very small fluctuations, down to one-tenth or one-hundredth of a degree), you have to get the reading immediately after you wake up, before any physical activity takes place. So basically you can barely move until you’ve measured your temperature. Every morning.
Also, you’re most fertile around two to three days before your temperature rises, so you don’t really know until after the fact that conditions were ripe for procreation. The whole idea is that if you’re diligent enough month after month, you’ll be able to predict which days you’ll be fertile based on previous rises and falls in basal body temperature.
In theory, this method could be used for birth control by avoiding sex during the fertile window, although it sounds a bit terrifying and chaotic to me personally. (Apple specifically says the Cycle Tracking app should not be used as a form of birth control or to diagnose a health condition.)
However, if there’s one thing I learned during my search for a good nonhormonal birth control option, it’s that it’s not easy to find a contraceptive method that works for you. I can appreciate that some people may use the temperature method, in general, to prevent pregnancy, despite the questionable reliability, because there are honestly so many pros and cons to every single method. (It’s one of the least reliable methods of birth control; 1 in 4 people who use it as a contraceptive method for a year experience a pregnancy.)
It’s no secret that I landed on a copper IUD for long-term contraception, and that I have no plans to remove it any time soon, but I can see how helpful the tracking feature could be for family planning. Wearing the watch to bed every night allows it to gauge your basal body temperature, which may have a lower risk for human error than using a thermometer while remaining as still as possible before your morning pee. It’s not the most comfortable to sleep in at first, but if you’re using this functionality, it’s worth getting used to. (You have to wear the watch for five nights to get wrist temperature data and two menstrual cycles to get retrospective ovulation estimates; these functions are also not available in every country.)
The temperature readings help the watch and your Health app get to know your cycle and alert you with predictions for when you’ll be ovulating or get your period. You can even download your cycle data in a PDF chart to send to your doctor at any time.
Period tracking and all other reproductive health data have become riskier after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, so privacy is of course a concern. Apple says that all health data is encrypted on your devices and only accessible to others with your permission. (You can also turn off the wrist temperature tracking function.)
Another new feature that caught my attention is the redesigned Compass app with Waypoints and Backtrack. Essentially, you can drop a pin (AKA Waypoints) at any point, and no matter how far you get from that point, your watch will be able to direct you back to it (Backtrack). You also don’t need Wi-Fi or phone service for it to work since it uses GPS.
I love to hike, but I definitely start to panic about getting lost as soon as a trail becomes unclear, so I’m excited to have this functionality on my wrist. I also immediately started trying to talk my boyfriend into getting the Apple Watch Ultra because he fancies himself an outdoorsy type and has a proclivity for going on remote backpacking trips, and I’d feel more confident in his chances of survival if he were wearing this watch.
Finally, there are some features I've been fortunate enough not to have experienced firsthand but take comfort in knowing that they exist. The first is crash detection, which uses a bunch of over-my-head technology (along with GPS and the microphone) to detect severe car crashes and automatically connect you to emergency services.
Obviously I’m enamored with the health functionality here, but I also think it’s very cool that the Series 8 can take an ECG, or electrocardiogram — a measure of your heart’s activity that can point to certain irregularities — and monitor your blood oxygen level. That, along with the fall detection (which is similar to crash detection in sensing a fall and contacting emergency services if needed), makes it seem like a no-brainer for older adults to have Apple Watches and share their data with doctors, loved ones, or caretakers.
I’m not going to make any promises that I’ll wear this watch every day for the rest of my life. However, I can appreciate the purpose it serves. It has its benefits, some that are exclusively fun or subtly motivational and some that are potentially life-saving.
I’ve explored what feels like never-ending options for the face display (many of which are new in this iteration and show however much or little info you want, ranging from subtler, classic watch faces to intricate colorful chaos) and that has aided to some degree in the aesthetic appeal. It’s still sometimes distracting in a mildly intrusive way, so I guess I haven’t quite accepted or embraced the fact that I might be an Apple Watch girl now. But if you see me in a workout class or just walking around the city with one on my wrist, don’t be surprised.
You can buy the new Apple Watch Series 8 from Target for around $400.
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