Watches and smartwatches have primary jobs. Telling the time is an obvious one, and in the case of the smartwatch, delivering messages, tracking workouts, and being an always present digital assistant. But watches always have, and always will be, wrist-worn statements about your personality.
The Apple Watch Nike+ design broadcasts aspects of my personality: I work in tech, I’m a passionate runner and sportsman and dedicate a large chunk of my time to fitness. It looks good (in my opinion) and I enjoy wearing it – the bedrock of any good watch. But does the functionality match up to the reality?
In the main, the Apple Watch Nike+ is an Apple Watch Series 2 with a lick of paint. If you’re here wondering what the Apple Watch is about, go read our Apple Watch Series 2 review. The headline change is built-in GPS, and the Nike+ leverages this for a focus on running.
As a runner, this is music to my ears. An all-in-one fitness watch and smartwatch, which looks as good as the Apple Watch (in my opinion) is hard to come by. This could be a truly groundbreaking device.
Running baked in
And all the signs are good. The strap is a tad garish but sporty, but remember the main benefit of the Apple Watch is how quickly you can swap out straps, and how cheaply they can be picked up. It matches up nicely with the space grey finish, which also makes it easy to pair smarter bands.
The home screen is also a splash of garish yellow and there are two dedicated Nike watch faces. Not only do they show the time, but also have a complication showing you your last run, and ask ‘when are we running?’ when a significant time elapses between workouts. It puts running front and centre and that’s neat.
So out I headed for a run. As I hit my stride and looked down to the Apple Watch, only time and distance were shown on the face. Surely the watch face is swipe-able to display pace, heart rate, and all the other stuff I love? Nope. Swipe left to pause and right to control music.
You can add pace and a live bpm read-out by choosing Advanced, by swiping down from the main menu, which does make for a complete experience, if a little basic. There are different modes too – distance, time and open workouts – as well as a speed mode, which kicks you out to the Nike Run Club app, and seems to have little relationship to the Apple Watch at all.
Running is baked into its DNA and overrides the standard Apple Watch experience, and it draws immediate comparisons to the Polar M600 Android Wear running watch. But in a way, these two devices are chalk and cheese. The Polar M600 is a serious running watch that neatly doubles as a smartwatch. The Apple Watch Nike+ takes almost the opposite tact, and its running features are very much aimed at beginner runners.
Like much of what the Apple Watch offers, the Nike edition offers a distilled version of the features you might find on a proper Garmin or Polar running watch. The data is minimal, as heaven forbid it might be too scary for the beginner. That’s not exactly great for me as a running enthusiast, and I could easily see people out-growing their Apple Watch fairly quickly.
A few missing features are heart rate zones, a differentiation between live pace and average pace and an altimeter for elevation.
Post run analysis also feels a little light when you’re used to running with a Garmin synced up to Strava. You get minimal feedback on the wrist post-run, with distance, pace, time and average heart rate all displayed.
There’s more available via the Nike Run Club app on your iPhone. It’s actually a decent app, with most of the post-run metrics you’d expect, alongside built-in training plans, Spotify integration, a cool interval training mode and plenty of features to get stuck into.
There’s also a link between Nike tracked and the Activity app, and you can get split times for your run there, as well as basic run data. Oddly, you don’t get split data in the Nike Run Club app on phone or watch, which is an odd state of affairs.
Overall, we still much prefer – and recommend – Strava as a running service, and believe it offers more for runners of all levels. But Strava hasn’t updated its app to take advantage of the new Series 2 sensors and, to date, Nike Run Club is certainly the best option for Apple Watch users.
Mid-run the Apple Watch Nike+’s screen doesn’t stay always-on, but we found the wrist raise to be seamless and the watch defaults to the stats screen with a press of the crown. It feels like a decent running experience, and that’s borne out by the battery life. A 5 mile (40 minute) run cost us 20% of battery life, and as the 42mm watch only tends to burn about 50% of its battery in a working day, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a good session under your belt in the evening.
We were also impressed by accuracy, in the main. Most of our runs were within 0.2 miles of a Garmin GPS. However, one run inexplicably came up short by a tune of 0.25 miles over a 5 mile workout, which actually caused a 1 min/mile difference in average pace. That’s a real issue for someone like me, who obsesses over pace more than any other metric.
Should you buy it?
The Apple Watch Nike is a fantastic smartwatch, but offers a running experience skewed to beginners, in a way that feels out of kilter with the emphasis it places on running. All the basics are covered with accurate GPS and heart rate tracking, and the partnership with Nike Run Club is seamless.
But we feel that passionate runners will outgrow the Nike Apple Watch quickly. The caveat with the Apple Watch is that new apps will always offer more choice, but at the moment, there are little guarantees. What’s more, an improved Strava won’t offer the deep integration of Nike Run Club.
If you’re a runner looking at the Apple Watch, the Nike edition is a good buy at a decent price – it offers a decent, accurate experience that you’ll enjoy. But if you’re looking for a real training companion, the likelihood is you’ll feel short-changed.