Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3

Macworld - - Contents - Michael Si­mon

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Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 has re­lieved my For­got­ten Phone Anx­i­ety. You know the feel­ing: You reach your des­ti­na­tion and paw at the out­side of your pocket to feel the phone­sized lump and it isn’t there. And you panic.

Mind you, my stom­ach still drops when I re­al­ize my phone isn’t with me (even times when I had pur­pose­fully left it at home), but now my fears quickly sub­side. With an LTE-equipped Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 on my wrist, I don’t need to turn around and head back to my house. I know that if some­one is try­ing to get in touch with me, they can, and if an ur­gent email comes in, I can an­swer it.

That be­ing said, I didn’t need more than a cou­ple days with my LTE-equipped Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 to see that it’s not meant to be away from an iPhone for very long. Its main sell­ing point might be in­de­pen­dence, but it’s still a gen­er­a­tion or two away from be­ing a full re­place­ment for your iPhone.


Re­views of Ap­ple prod­ucts gen­er­ally de­vote many words to de­sign, but there’s not a lot to say about Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3. It’s the same di­men­sions as Se­ries 2 (38.6x33.3x11.4mm or 42.5x36.4x11.4mm, de­pend­ing on which size you choose), and there’s just one new colour, grey, in the £1,299 ceramic Edi­tion model, as well as a tweaked gold alu­minium to match the iPhone 8. That means all old bands, stands, and charg­ers will work fine.

If you want to be picky, it’s about a mil­lime­tre thicker than the Se­ries 1 model Ap­ple is still sell­ing. But that’s with more stor­age (16GB ver­sus 8GB), a big­ger bat­tery, GPS, 50m wa­ter re­sis­tance, a baro­met­ric al­time­ter, and, of course, cel­lu­lar. I’ve tested sev­eral LTE-en­abled An­droid Wear watches that make the 42mm Ap­ple Watch look small, so

putting such ca­pa­bil­i­ties in the 38mm model is noth­ing less than a re­mark­able feat of en­gi­neer­ing.

Some peo­ple are likely to fix­ate on is the red dot on the Dig­i­tal Crown. There doesn’t ap­pear to be any tech­ni­cal rea­son for it, so it’s safe to as­sume it’s strictly there to dis­tin­guish it­self from the non­cel­lu­lar mod­els. And that it does. I never re­ally no­ticed the colour of the Dig­i­tal Crown be­fore, but the red cir­cle (see above) was hard to miss against my test model’s sil­ver alu­minium body and seashell sport loop band.

I like it, but I could see why peo­ple de­spise it so much, es­pe­cially if you’re the kind of per­son who con­stantly changes bands. It’s a cu­ri­ous de­sign choice, but I wouldn’t be sur­prised to see sim­i­lar flour­ishes on fu­ture mod­els. Ap­ple Watch’s de­sign is al­ready iconic, and I don’t see a mas­sive re­design in the cards for Se­ries 4 or 5. Ap­ple po­si­tions its watch as a Rolex or Omega, so the fa­mil­iar­ity of the de­sign is im­por­tant. The red dot is a per­fect way to show­case new­ness, even sta­tus, with­out chang­ing what makes Ap­ple Watch so rec­og­niz­able.


While it might look the same as mod­els that came be­fore, Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent on the in­side. Along with LTE, there’s also a new S3 pro­ces­sor and W2 wire­less chips, which give it a tremen­dous speed boost.

Nav­i­ga­tion and an­i­ma­tions are much smoother now, but most im­por­tantly, apps open much quicker. The speed of third-party apps was a pretty ma­jor pain point with pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of Ap­ple Watch (par­tic­u­larly the orig­i­nal model, which most peo­ple will be up­grad­ing from), and the new in­ter­nals make a huge dif­fer­ence. I didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence any lag when launch­ing stock apps, and third-party ones rarely showed the spin­ning load­ing ring while up­dat­ing. Even raise-to-wake seems quicker (though the lack of an al­ways-on dis­play is still an­noy­ing).

That makes Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 much more of a stand­alone de­vice, even with­out LTE. Where I mostly re­lied on my old Ap­ple Watch for quick no­ti­fi­ca­tions, by the end of my test­ing I was in­stinc­tively us­ing my Se­ries 3 to re­spond to mes­sages, check sports scores, even read head­lines. Siri’s re­spon­sive­ness is par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive, but ev­ery­thing from stocks to sports to weather now load within a sec­ond or two. By the time the S4 chip comes around, watch apps will be just as fast as the ones on our iPhones, if not faster.

Bat­tery life

Ap­ple claims the same 18-hour bat­tery life with ei­ther the LTE or non-LTE Se­ries 3 Ap­ple Watches,

but as with all bat­tery claims, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ap­ple doesn’t like to give tech­ni­cal specs for its bat­ter­ies, but iFixit’s tear­down found a 279mAh cell in­side the 38mm LTE model, a mi­nus­cule up­grade over the Se­ries 2’s 273mAh bat­tery. iFixit didn’t open a 42mm model, but pre­sum­ably its bat­tery is also a lit­tle larger than the Se­ries 2 model’s 334mAh one.

But while Ap­ple Watch’s bat­tery is a good deal smaller than most of its com­peti­tors’, it pretty much blows them all away. With a phone nearby most of the time, I breezed through a full day and most of a sec­ond. That in­cludes wear­ing it while I slept, mak­ing calls, check­ing scores, re­spond­ing to mes­sages, get­ting di­rec­tions – all of the usual things you’d do while wear­ing it. While Se­ries 3 might pale in com­par­i­son to Fit­bit Ionic’s four- to five- day bat­tery life, OG Ap­ple Watch up­graders will surely see a nice boost in bat­tery life.

Granted, those num­bers de­te­ri­o­rate pretty quickly when re­ly­ing ex­clu­sively on LTE. When I left my phone at home and used my watch for ev­ery­thing – in­clud­ing a lengthy stretch of lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, a cou­ple Ap­ple Pay pur­chases, driv­ing di­rec­tions, and lib­eral use of the Siri face – I barely got through 8 hours. When I made a straight hour of phone calls, my bat­tery dropped to 68 per­cent. An hour of mu­sic mixed with mes­sages and emails cost a lit­tle more than 10 per­cent.

But that’s not a typ­i­cal use case. When jump­ing be­tween phone and LTE con­nec­tion as most peo­ple will do, I was eas­ily able to make it through

a full day. With the ex­cep­tion of mak­ing calls and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, I mea­sure my Ap­ple Watch in­ter­ac­tions in sec­onds, not min­utes, but even when us­ing it far more than I nor­mally would (both teth­ered and in­de­pen­dently), I never needed to re­sort to Power Re­serve mode.

A healthy boost for ath­letes

Ap­ple has packed its Se­ries 3 watch with some new fit­ness fea­tures as well, and it stacks up well to Fit­bit’s New Ionic watch, with an ex­panded and en­hanced Work­out app, and a baro­met­ric al­time­ter

de­signed to mea­sure el­e­va­tion. Older watches still mea­sure flights climbed, but it’s that much more ac­cu­rate on Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3.

Ap­ple hasn’t ac­tu­ally up­dated the heart-rate sen­sor for its Se­ries 3 watch, but it’s ex­tract­ing a whole lot more out of it. Launch the Heart Rate app, and you’ll get a bunch of new data, in­clud­ing your cur­rent beats-per-minute read­ing as well as your rest­ing rate and walk­ing av­er­age. Even as a non-ath­lete, I found it use­ful, es­pe­cially the fea­ture that alerts you to any ab­nor­mal­i­ties (thank­fully I didn’t get to test it, how­ever).

But mu­sic is Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3’s killer new fit­ness fea­ture. All through­out watchOS 4 there are lit­tle touches that make it eas­ier to lis­ten and con­trol your mu­sic: You can swipe left in the Work­out app to bring up mu­sic con­trols, a Now Play­ing box ap­pears on the Siri watch face, and the mu­sic app will au­to­mat­i­cally sync playlists while charg­ing. How­ever, you still can’t play mu­sic through the Ap­ple Watch’s speaker, and proper LTE stream­ing won’t ar­rive un­til the up­com­ing 4.1 up­date.

LTE brings it all to­gether

All of the above up­grades are nice, but Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 is all about one thing: its cel­lu­lar con­nec­tion. For the first time, an Ap­ple Watch can op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently of your phone, and it’s a lib­er­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

I’ve used a va­ri­ety of LTE watches from Sam­sung, LG, and ZTE, and Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 is the first that de­liv­ers on its prom­ise. Setup with the eSim

and my mo­bile ac­count was re­mark­ably sim­ple, tak­ing less than a minute, and the only set­ting to speak of is an on/off tog­gle. LTE takes over when your watch is out of range of your phone. I was very aware of when it was run­ning at first, but af­ter a cou­ple days I stopped ob­ses­sively check­ing to see if my watch was con­nected.

It’s not per­fect, how­ever. I didn’t have any­where near the con­stant prob­lems with unau­then­ti­cated net­works that some early re­view­ers ex­pe­ri­enced, but there were still in­stances where my watch showed a red ‘x’ while roam­ing to in­di­cate that it was dis­con­nected from the cel­lu­lar net­work.

Re­set­ting my phone’s net­work set­tings and delet­ing some old saved net­works my Mac helped im­mensely, but that’s not some­thing you should have to do to en­sure a sta­ble con­nec­tion. Ap­ple is­sued the 4.0.1 up­date while writ­ing this re­view to cor­rect it, but it didn’t fix some of my other oc­ca­sional prob­lems.

In poor cov­er­age ar­eas, I found that the watch rou­tinely dropped its con­nec­tion where my phone was able to hang on with a bar or two. If I was on a call when I left my house, it con­sis­tently dropped when switch­ing from Wi-Fi to cel­lu­lar. And once it re­quired a hard re­set to get LTE go­ing on my watch again.

In strong cov­er­age ar­eas, how­ever, my watch worked great. Over­all my is­sues were in­fre­quent and as ex­pected for a first gen­er­a­tion prod­uct. I did want the abil­ity to add a cel­lu­lar com­pli­ca­tion to any watch face. The an­tenna isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the iPhone, and un­less you’re us­ing the Ex­plorer face, you can’t quickly tell how strong your con­nec­tion is with­out head­ing into the mini Con­trol Cen­tre first. I’m hop­ing this is a new fea­ture in watchOS 4.1, along with a fix for my Wi-Fi hand­off is­sues.

But even with the above hic­cups, LTE on Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 is game-chang­ing. I rou­tinely left my phone on the charger while leav­ing the house for quick er­rands or to pick up my son from school, and my watch du­ti­fully kept me up-to-date with no­ti­fi­ca­tions. I never missed a mes­sage, call, score, or break­ing news brief, and Siri’s im­proved

re­spon­sive­ness let me quickly send mes­sages over LTE with­out need­ing to scrib­ble let­ters on the screen. And at times, my watch ac­tu­ally re­freshed faster than when it was teth­ered to my phone.

watchOS still a work in progress

Just be­cause you can use Ap­ple Watch with­out your phone doesn’t make it an iPhone re­place­ment. Even with watchOS 4, many third-party apps still de­pend on the phone for data re­trieval, and things like check­ing my Twit­ter time­line, con­trol­ling my Hue lights, or peek­ing at my Ring video door­bell feed just weren’t pos­si­ble. De­vel­op­ers have slowly been mov­ing away from build­ing Ap­ple Watch apps – just re­cently Twit­ter dis­ap­peared from the store, and I had ma­jor is­sues with it even be­fore that hap­pened – but I’m hope­ful LTE com­pels them to get back on board.

And here’s some­thing that would help spur in­ter­est: an on-watch App Store. It’s one of the best fea­tures of An­droid Wear 2.0, and it would be awe­some to quickly find and in­stall a watch app while away from our phones. Also miss­ing is a stock Notes app. While there are a few

third-party op­tions, I wanted a way to quickly ask Siri to take a note and have it sync back to my iPhone. As it stands, that can’t hap­pen.

I love hav­ing a list view for apps, but the new Dock isn’t as great. It’s ba­si­cally a task man­ager/ app switcher, and I much pre­ferred the orig­i­nal Glances or watchOS 3’s snapshots, which would let you get lit­tle bits of info with­out ac­tu­ally open­ing the app. With the new method, apps need to be launched be­fore they’re up­dated, like the iPhone’s app switcher. Fast app switch­ing isn’t nearly as use­ful on the watch as it is on the phone, and I’d like to see Ap­ple re­vert to the old ver­sion in watch OS 5. Glance­abil­ity is im­por­tant, and it’s not re­ally there in watchOS 4.

My favourite new watch face on watch OS 4 was al­ready the Siri one (sorry Buzz and Woody), but Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 takes it to a new level. With LTE con­nec­tiv­ity, the Siri face is even more use­ful when my phone’s not around, as it con­tin­u­ously shows a stream of news, weather, stocks, and pho­tos. LTE and the Siri face didn’t seem to have a no­tice­able im­pact on bat­tery life. Third-party app sup­port would make the Siri face that much bet­ter, but some­thing tells me we’ll have to wait a while be­fore that ar­rives.

But mostly watchOS is merely a step, not a leap, for­ward. There are still oc­ca­sional bugs. For ex­am­ple, I couldn’t take a screen­shot de­spite tog­gling, restart­ing, and re-pair­ing, and the side but­ton is less use­ful than ever. But you’re still not go­ing to find a bet­ter wear­able plat­form.


For my pur­poses, Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 is a soft­ware up­date and a cou­ple apps away from be­ing my dream de­vice. But even in its cur­rent form, it’s miles ahead of its clos­est com­peti­tor when it comes to func­tion­al­ity and par­secs ahead with de­sign. There’s a rea­son Ap­ple hasn’t visu­ally changed its watch in three gen­er­a­tions: It’s nearly per­fect.

You can quib­ble over price, but it’s a bit like com­par­ing a Ca­sio watch to a Tag Heuer or a Rolex. You can save a few bucks by get­ting a cheaper An­droid Wear or Fit­bit watch, but you’ll def­i­nitely get your money’s worth by choos­ing an Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3. At £329 for the GPS model or

£399 for LTE, it’s hardly a lux­ury item any­more. Granted, you can spend £1,199 on a ceramic Edi­tion or Her­mès dou­ble tour, but the af­ford­able en­trylevel sport mod­els look and act just as good.

Ap­ple is the only com­pany com­mit­ted to de­vel­op­ing a solid wear­able plat­form. Fit­bit’s Ionic is ini­tially un­der­whelm­ing as a smart­watch, Sam­sung’s Tizen OS is still strug­gling with se­cu­rity and adop­tion, and we’ve yet to see a mean­ing­ful An­droid Wear 2.0 watch af­ter six months of pub­lic avail­abil­ity. LTE has its is­sues – most of which will be snuffed out in the first soft­ware up­date – but Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 with LTE is the first cel­lu­lar smart­watch to get it right. Ap­ple Watch Se­ries 3 might not be an iPhone re­place­ment, but it’s the clos­est thing to an all-day, in­de­pen­dent wear­able you’re likely to find.

And it’s the best rem­edy for For­got­ten Phone Anx­i­ety.

When you walk away from your phone with an LTE Ap­ple Watch, you don’t need to freak out any­more

Say good­bye to the hon­ey­comb screen with watchOS 4’s list op­tion

The Dig­i­tal Crown’s red dot will tell ev­ery­one you’re spe­cial

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