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Apple Watch Series 2 Nike+ review: The Apple Watch for Nike addicts

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If you're ready to run and want an Apple Watch, you should know there's a Nike edition available this year. Do you care? Should you care? Well, no, not unless you're addicted to Nike+, the shoemaker's fitness tracking system.

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Apple Watch Series 2 Nike+

The Good

A bright display, onboard GPS and waterproof to 50 meters. Integration with Nike+ Run Club. Comfortable strap and comes with two exclusive Nike watch faces.

The Bad

GPS battery life is short. No altimeter for measuring elevation. Workout data can't be exported to other services. Lacks always-on display.

The Bottom Line

If you're a loyal Nike user, this is the Apple Watch to get, but it's really just an Apple Watch Series 2 with a few minor changes. There are cheaper alternatives for pure fitness and run tracking.

The Apple Watch Nike+ Edition isn't all that different from the Apple Watch Series 2. It's the same size and weight, and it can be used to make phone calls (when your iPhone is connected) and run apps. It also features the same ultra bright display, dual-core processor, GPS and swim-proof design as the Series 2.

The difference is the integration with the Nike+ Run Club app. You also get an exclusive silicone two-tone strap and two exclusive Nike watch faces. Essentially, this is the same Apple Watch we already like -- you can read our full review on the Apple Watch Series 2 here.

I've logged more than 100 miles testing both the Series 2 and Nike+ Edition over the past few weeks. Both watches get the job done, but unless you're set on a full-blown smartwatch, there are arguably better and cheaper alternatives to consider for running and overall fitness tracking.

What's different?

The Apple Watch Series 2 and Nike+ Edition both start at $369, £369 or AU$529, but that's for the smaller 38 mm model. Most people will likely opt for the larger 42 mm model, which will cost you $30, £30 or AU$50 extra. Here's everything the Nike+ model can do over the Series 2:

  • The Nike+ Run Club app comes preloaded on the watch and works with exclusive Siri commands, such as asking her to start a run. The app also offers daily motivation through run and weather reminders -- exclusive to the Nike+ Edition -- and will show when a friend has ran more miles than you.
  • The watch comes with a lightweight, breathable (i.e. it has holes in it) two-tone silicone strap that's exclusive to the Nike+ model. Color options include black and silver bands with accents in either gray, white or yellow-green (a shade Apple calls "Volt").
  • It also has two exclusive Nike watch faces (a digital one and an analog one) that can be personalized to show activity data and heart rate, or provide quick access to the Nike+ Run Club and weather apps.
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Features

The Apple Watch is waterproof up to 50 meters (164 feet), has GPS, an optical heart-rate sensor, all-day fitness tracking and can run dozens of third-party apps. There's also 8GB of storage, 2GB of which can be used for music storage (about 500 songs). When connected to your iPhone, it can be used to make calls, respond to messages and view incoming notifications from apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Running features vary from app to app. I used both the default Apple workout app and the Nike+ Run Club app, which includes auto pause and auto lap, and will display pace, distance, elapsed time and beats per minute. That's all most people will want (and need), but given the high price I was expecting the Apple Watch to do a little more. The Garmin Forerunner 35 offers all of these features, can display notifications from your phone, and includes structured interval workouts and information on specific heart rate zones -- all for half the price.

Good, but not perfect

My time testing the Nike Apple Watch was mostly pretty fun. The display was bright and easy to read in all weather conditions and the GPS accuracy was comparable to watches from Garmin. I did run into the occasional problem and found some features (or lack thereof) frustrating compared to other fitness trackers:

  • The watch doesn't automatically detect activities like Fitbit and Samsung trackers do.
  • It doesn't tell you when the GPS signal is locked on. When you begin a workout, the watch simply counts down from 3 and starts the timer. You won't know if the Apple Watch is using GPS to track you or the internal accelerometer until the run is complete.
  • There's no barometric altimeter so it can't measure elevation. That means there's no ascent and descent information, and it can't track floors climbed like the Fitbit Charge 2.
  • The touchscreen display can be difficult to operate with sweaty fingers or while wearing gloves.
  • The display isn't always on. It is supposed to turn on when you turn your wrist, but that wasn't always the case. The Nike+ Run Club app has the added ability to announce your pace, distance and time at every mile, but I still like to look at my watch at random times during workouts to make sure I'm on pace.
  • You can't control music stored on the Apple Watch through the Run Club app. You must instead open the Music app, hit play, close the app, open the Run Club app and start your run. I ended up not running with music.
  • There's no way to customize the data screen in the Apple workout app or Run Club app to show different metrics. All you get is pace, distance, elapsed time and beats per minute.
  • You can't export the data you record from either the workout app or Run Club app, which annoyed me given I usually export all of my data to Strava.
  • There were occasional syncing issues with the Run Club app. While the watch would track the run, the information sometimes wouldn't sync with the Run Club app on my iPhone.
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A view of the Nike Run Club app on my iPhone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life is too short

While battery life has improved, it's still an issue. The Series 2 and Nike+ Edition will last about two days with normal usage, but that's before you start using the GPS. Apple has said with an active GPS signal, the Apple Watch will last up to 5 hours. Battery life will vary depending on how much you use the GPS, but I had to charge it nightly.

Most of Garmin's watches can measure all-day fitness, track heart rate and display notifications from your phone for up to a week on a single charge. With an active GPS signal, the Forerunner 235, our favorite running watch, will last up to 11 hours. Meanwhile, the Fitbit Charge 2 (which doesn't have GPS) will last up to five days, while the Surge can get four days, or 10 hours with GPS.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you buy it?

The Apple Watch Nike+ Edition isn't a bad product. If you're a casual runner and looking for a full-blown smartwatch, it will get the job done. But there are cheaper alternatives for fitness tracking from Fitbit and Garmin.

The Apple Watch Series 2 is easily my favorite smartwatch, and I would recommend it to anyone in the market for one. A part of me believes that maybe everyone interested in fitness and shopping for an Apple Watch should opt for the Nike+ Edition. That way you get the Siri integration with the Nike+ Run Club app, the exclusive watch faces and the breathable band. You don't lose a thing by choosing this watch, and you can still equip it with Apple Watch apps and accessories.

If you go with the Series 2 and start running later, you can still download and use the Nike+ Run Club app. But, you can't get that Siri-to-Nike connection, or those watch faces. If that matters, go for this model. You'll survive without it, though.