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Here's what reviews say about the new Apple Watch

Software, fitness take big step forward, but it could do more.

Apple's updated wearable, the Apple Watch Series 2, will hit stores in more than 25 countries on Friday.

The new Watch has gotten serious about fitness tracking, with a GPS that reviewers say is quite accurate, a new fitness-sharing interface and better water resistance.

With a 50 percent faster processor and new software, Apple has also made the day-to-day conveniences of the smartwatch much more desirable, reviewers write, with third-party apps and a new look that makes scheduling, calling, messaging and payments easier. But the operating system and a faster processor are also coming to the older model.

Still, the Watch Series 2 is not yet a "must-have," writers say, as the brighter screen doesn't yet eliminate the "squint" factor, and you still can't go completely phone-free. Here are some of the highlights:

The Wall Street Journal

While the new Apple Watch's GPS effectively lets the gear fade into the background of your workout, it comes as a cost — the battery life, the Journal's Joanna Stern writes. Getting Apple Music to sync wireless also required an hour on the phone with an AppleCare representative, Stern writes.

"A 20-minute run with music playing knocked out 20 percent of my watch battery's juice," Stern writes. "While there is a bigger battery inside this slightly thicker watch, those who plan to use GPS for a daily jog won't get longer battery life."

On the plus side, Apple Pay went off without a hitch and and it has improved its speedy, helpful all-day utility, Stern writes. Still, she writes, the Series 2 is what the first Apple Watch should have been.

"After more than a year, Apple isn't using my information to push me further. Should I be varying my workouts? Should my heart rate be lower? The future of health tracking is machine learning, and Apple isn't leading the way," the Journal says.

USA Today

"The new Apple Watch ticks closer to being the techie timepiece it was always clocked up to be," writes USA Today's Ed Baig. Functionally and appearance-wise, the new model is a "dead-ringer" for the prior version, he said.

Given the $369 starting price, Baig suggests the Apple Watch Series 1, now revamped with WatchOS 3 and dual-core processor, is a viable option for non-swimmers.

He does praise the new louder speakerphone and Apple Pay, but a longer battery life is still on his wish-list. And the operating system is the real star, Baig writes:

"One of the my favorite navigational features comes with the new dock. You can park favorite apps there, making them easier to find and faster to launch."

The Verge

In a lengthy review, The Verge's Lauren Goode concludes that the decision to focus on fitness in the Series 2 makes a little more sense within the Apple ecosystem. Not that anyone will know you've got the newer version, since it looks so similar to the original.

The waterproofing is useful, but the GPS is a much bigger deal, Goode writes — though it's difficult to tell when it is activated. She, too, notices the battery only lasts five continuous hours while pulling down a GPS signal.

While the new interface, with activity "rings" rather than step counting and a social component, may be a matter of personal preference, the overall software update makes the Watch experience more fluid, she said.

"The new, distilled software means it doesn't have ambitions of acting like a 'smartphone replacement,' and instead it feels more like a useful accessory. Is it as essential as the smartphone? No, it may never be," Goode writes.

CNET

The Watch Series 2 gets an 8.1 from technology website CNET, which praises the speed, operating system, display and waterproofing, but dings the battery life and the necessity of the iPhone.

"The Apple Watch returns in a made-for-sports upgrade that adds swim functions and GPS, but anyone who's not a runner or swimmer should consider the Apple Watch Series 1 instead," writes CNET's Scott Stein.

The new Watch comes with many different material upgrades, like ceramic, aluminum and stainless steel, and partnerships with Hermes and Nike. But Stein suggests the basic aluminum is the way to go if you're looking for a lightweight fitness watch.

I have a feeling that that new Series 1 Apple Watch may be the real go-to pick for a lot of people who don't need GPS or swim tracking. Maybe it's the watch everyone should wear .... Yes, you need an iPhone to use the Apple Watch, same as always. If you do have an iPhone, the best smartwatch you can get is the Apple Watch Series 2.

The larger picture

The device is the "first real watch" from Apple, Cowen and Company analyst Timothy Arcuri told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Wednesday. It comes as Apple lags its Apple Watch partner Nike when it comes to share of the fitness wearable market, Arcuri estimates.

"This is the first product with GPS that has a real use case," Arcuri said. "I think that the product is fine. ... I think if Apple can take some of that share that Nike currently has, I think that can move the needle."