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Apple Watch 2 doesn't track elevation, and other stuff fitness nerds will want to know

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Apple Watch won't help you get swole

Earlier this week The Verge published a full review of the new Apple Watch Series 2 smartwatch, which has been positioned largely as a health and fitness tracker. I wrote about its improved water resistance, the addition of a built-in GPS antenna, and some of the fitness-focused changes in the software.

Since then, though, a lot of readers have sent followup questions about the new Watch, specifically around its health and fitness tracking. Lucky for you, I am still working out with the darn thing, and have either been able to test some of the functions you've asked about or have done some digging to come up with answers. For anyone who is considering this primarily as a workout watch, here's what you need to know.

The Apple Watch doesn't track elevation

Okay, so we've established that the Apple Watch Series has GPS. That means you can track your epic hikes and hilly bike rides with it now, right? Not exactly. The watch doesn't track elevation, so while you'll have a record of miles traveled you won't see how high you climbed. (The first-gen watch didn't have an altimeter either.) Some third-party apps, like Altimeter+ or the ViewRanger hiking and cycling app, will show elevation on the Watch, but that's only if you have your iPhone with you. When the Watch is independent of the phone, elevation is a big nope.

Apple Watch Series 2 Facebook crop Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

It doesn't really record weight lifting sessions

One of our Verge commenters asked about this, and it's a good question. Right now the most you can do with the built-in Workout app on the Watch is start a generic "Other" workout session, lift weights (you'll be able to see your heart rate during this), and after you hit "End" on the Watch, save the workout session as "Strength Training." This last part is a new option — previously all "Other" workouts were saved as exactly that — and it's nice that you can now choose from a very long list of possible workout categories. But the Watch isn't really tracking your movements, your reps, your breaks in between reps, or any of that. The compatible Activity app on iPhone doesn't even let you add notes, which I know is a thing people like to do during weight training sessions. Apple apps aside... there are some third-party app makers that are offering weight training-specific apps, but I haven't tried them yet.

You also can't upload photos to the Activity app

Wanting to take photos after a sweaty, intense workout session might seem like a weird ask, especially in the age of carefully angled selfies, but this is something that a lot of popular workout apps offer. Sometimes you just want to add a pic of you and your friends to that race entry in the app, or you woke up at a stupid hour and saw a life-affirming sunrise on your morning bike ride. Unfortunately, you can't add photos to Apple's Activity app. I really don't know why, since I hear photos are kind of a thing at Apple, on Apple devices. Maybe in The Future.

No, it doesn't have a built-in function for tracking sleep

The Apple Watch doesn't track sleep. Is it technically capable of it? I would guess so, since it has the same combination of sensors that many other activity trackers do, and some of those claim to track sleep. But there still isn't a native app on the Watch that will do this. I suspect this has more to do with limited battery life than anything else, but also, the jury is still out on exactly how accurate these things are at tracking sleep, and Apple may be more concerned with quality over feature quantity. One of the downsides to this, especially for athletes, is that the Watch also won't tell you your resting heart rate when you first wake up in the morning, but again, you could try a third-party app like Cardiogram for that.

Apple Watch Series 2 Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Yes, the heart rate sensors are the same

I asked about this a few times, and Apple says the heart rate sensors on the new Watch are the exact same heart rate sensors on last year's Watch. You might notice that there are now silver rings around the LED lights on the underside of the aluminum watch, but I was told these were purely aesthetic, not functional in any way.

There still isn't a multi-sport mode

Sorry, triathletes. If you're going from swimming to cycling to running, you're going to have to end and save each Workout on the Watch before moving on to the next.

The Nike-branded model isn't all that different

But what about the Nike Apple Watch? people have asked. Does it do anything differently? Mostly no, a little bit of yes. Most of the differences are aesthetic. The Nike-branded Apple Watch has perforated watchbands, some engraving on the underside, and comes with Nike watchface options. Oh, and it costs $369 just like the "regular" aluminum Apple Watch, and ships in late October. The functional differences are around the actual Nike+ running app. It comes preinstalled on this Watch, and you can use Siri to launch it. That's about it. For what it's worth, I installed the Nike+ RunClub app on the "regular" Watch, too. For what it's worth, the Nike+ RunClub app currently only has two stars in the App Store :/.

Apple Watch Nike+ Announcement photos

Data sharing from third-party apps gets weird, but on a per-app basis

I mentioned this in the main review, but some people are wondering whether Apple Watch will work with their favorite non-Apple fitness app. There are a couple things required in order to make this work: one, the app maker has to optimize the app for watchOS, so it runs directly on Apple Watch; two, the app maker has opted to sync data with Apple Health, the software that pulls and pushes your fitness data between Apple's own apps and other apps.

Still, it seems like Apple is currently pulling in a lot of data, but it's not always being shared to other apps. For example: I used RunKeeper directly on Apple Watch while running the other night, and the data synced to Apple's Activity app, but not the RunKeeper app. And, a bunch of my Garmin Connect and Strava-recorded workouts from earlier this summer have been sucked into Apple's Activity app, but my Apple Watch workouts won't share to Strava unless I use the Strava app directly on the Watch.

There might be an "early days" explanation for this, and I still have some testing to do. But so far this has been one of the more frustrating aspects of testing, especially since Garmin's Connect app shares data easily with a lot of other health and fitness apps, as does Fitbit.


Apple Watch Series 2 review