We've been wearing, exercising, calling, texting, and plenty of other things using the new 4G-equipped Apple Watch Series 3 to find out whether now is the time to start wearing it, or whether you can pass this one by.
While much remains the same in the new Watch as the earlier devices, there are also some important changes both with the hardware and software. Indeed, it's more Dick Tracy than ever before...
Same design, more more features inside
- 38mm and 42mm watch sizes
- 4G/Cellular option also available
- New colour options: Gold Aluminium, Silver/Space Black Stainless Steel
- New Sport Loop band options
- Red dot on digital crown (4G devices only)
The design of the Apple Watch Series 3 stays the same, available in both 38mm and 42mm watch sizes, with no noticeable difference to the Series 2 currently available, aside from a red dot on the digital crown. That's your lot.
The dot symbolises the new cellular 4G/Cellular functionality added to this year's version (if you chose that option, anyway), and will be the badge of honour to (barely) show you've got the latest features. For the most part the spot of colour is a playful bit of fun, but it does clash with some of the band colours.
In addition to the Silver or Grey colours available on the Series 2, the Apple Watch Series 3 now comes in a new Gold Aluminium, along with Silver/Space Black Stainless Steel case options.
For those with a bit more cash to flash, Apple will now offer a Grey Ceramic model to sit alongside the White model. This Grey Ceramic appears more as a gunmetal grey in the flesh - and will certainly appeal to those who feel the white finish was a bit to "clean".
Also new is a choice of new Sport Loop bands to go with the new models, and for the Spring, a range of new colours including a lemon silicon band and a striped woven one (pictured below) that is very "Hamptons". There's now a woven nylon, along with bright colours. The new bands are very comfortable, stay in place when you exercise and bring back a bit of nostalgia for the Animal watches that were popular in the 90s.
As there's zero design change to the Series 3 case, if you have existing bands from the original or Series 2 these will still fit.
4G connectivity on the Apple Watch Series 3
- Only available on EE in the UK
- Will work with existing EE contract for £5/month extra
One of the new stand-out features of the Watch Series 3 is 4G connectivity, allowing you to ditch your iPhone completely (apart from the initial set-up of the Watch 3 - so it's still no good for those outside the Apple ecosystem). The new watch features a full 4G LTE and UMTS cellular radio antenna hidden in the display, which kicks into action the moment you step away from your iPhone. A non-4G version is also available, priced from £70 less.
Only available to EE customers in the UK at launch - although promised to come to other networks such as Vodafone and O2 when technically possible - the system works by insisting you share the same number as your iPhone. It's this move that means you don't need to have a second number, but also means the Watch Series 3 doesn't have an interchangeable SIM that you can swap out at a whim.
The built-in eSIM is over one-hundredth of the size of a traditional SIM, which is one of the reasons Apple hasn't needed to increase the size of the device. Other 4G-enabled devices, like the Huawei Watch 2 for example, take a nano SIM, so need to give space over to that card and the tray it sits in.
In the UK, EE will charge customers an additional £5 a month to enable connectivity, but that's the only cost you'll have to incur aside from your regular phone bill. (In the USA all four major networks are covered).
If you want the 4G Apple Watch, it's safe to say you'll need to be on EE for the foreseeable future. That's not because of some paid-for exclusivity deal, but because it's the only network in the UK that supports the new technology Apple is using. How long it will take for Vodafone, O2, Three, and others to catch up is anyone's guess, but don't expect it to be any time soon. This isn't just about signing a deal, but a shift in how the networks operate.
How useful is 4G?
- No need for iPhone to connect
- Uses eSIM with same number as your phone
Such connectivity can be used to make calls, receive messages, stream Apple Music, or access Maps.
The call interface is basic but easy-to-use thanks to a number pad. However, favourite contacts is an even more straightforward way of calling friends, even more so if you've got a Bluetooth headset connected to the Apple Watch - such as the Apple AirPods.
A swipe up from the bottom of the screen shows you the Watch Control Center, and it's here the Watch 3 tells you what the connectivity is like - whether that's Wi-Fi, phone, or 4G.
With its own SIM connection, the idea is that you can ditch the iPhone completely. That's perfect for a run, or if you just want some time away from Facebook and Twitter.
Call quality is clear, surprisingly so given the size of the device, and if you don't have headphones then you'll find yourself holding your watch arm up to your shoulder across your chest - we certainly did.
For the most part the technology works as you would expect. The antenna in the Watch Series 3 works fine, but depends entirely on available coverage. For us, based in the UK, we've found that it's not as strong as the antenna found in the iPhone. If you are already an EE customer, you'll know if the coverage is good in your area.
While the initial problems of connecting to captive Wi-Fi networks, like those found in Starbucks, have now been fixed. There are still some problems that exist with the Apple Watch. Many of the Watch apps available, like Twitter or Instagram, still require you to have the phone connected. One of the greatest features, streaming music via Apple Music started off not being available, but now is and it great, especially if you want to listen to something on the spare of the moment that you've not previously had the foresight to download onto the Watch.
The Apple Watch can't roam either, because it doesn't support global bands outside of its country. While we admit this is a first world problem and one that isn't likely to affect the majority of users, but it's worth mentioning that if you travel out of the UK or US you won't be able to go solo with your watch.
What is cool, though, is that you don't have to have your iPhone anywhere near you for the Watch to work after the initial setup, and the iPhone doesn't even need to be on. That opens up lots of possibilities, like still being able to call a taxi when your phone has died, being able to make an emergency call if you have an accident on a run, and just being able to not have your phone on you all the time in fear of missing that important message or call.
When the Apple Watch 3 Series first launched it felt like the launch had come a month or two too early. While you'll never be able to roam with the device, many of the missing parts, or standout features where missing. Since the launch Apple has fixed the captive Wi-Fi and added music streaming making this a much more complete package.
A new watch gets new upgraded power
- New S3 processor
- New W2 processor
- Barometric altimeter
While the design doesn't change, Apple has made plenty of changes inside. Powering Apple Watch Series 3 is the S3, Apple's third-generation dual-core processor. The new upgrade helps app launch times, enables smoother graphics and brings talking Siri to the watch using the built-in speaker. She is as clear as on iPhone.
The company has also improved the wireless processor too. The W2 chip delivers 85 per cent faster Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, and is 50 per cent more efficient - something that will no doubt help the Apple Watch when being used with 4G. Connecting to a pair of Bluetooth sports headphones took a fraction of a second, while connecting to the AirPods was also seamless.
In daily use last year's Apple Watch Series 2 happily lasts more than a day. Having used the Series 3 for a week, we've not seen any battery issues, even when making calls on the go. As always, it's how you use it, but so far we've not seen anything that we are concerned about. Just remember to take your charger for those long weekends away from home.
The Apple Watch Series 3 also features a barometric altimeter that assists with tracking activity, flights of stairs climbed and outdoor workouts, including elevation gain. The new addition should be really interesting to cyclists, skiers and boarders, or those keen to see how high they've climbed during the day. It's a popular feature on high-end sports watches, like the Garmin Forerunner 935 or TomTom Adventurer, giving you more data. Apple doesn't really make a fuss of the new data, but it can be found at the bottom of your Activity data. We climbed five floors today. Whoop!
Apple Music on your Apple Watch
- Stream Apple Music to the Watch (from TBC date, October 2017)
- Other apps will follow
The new WatchOS 4 software brings an improved Apple Music experience with quicker access to playlists and your music. Those with the 4G/Cellular version can stream Apple Music's 40 million songs on the go - without having to use an iPhone. This means you won't have to worry about what you've specifically loaded onto the device, which is hugely appealing. In practice and it's a great feature but not an essential one, especially if you are good at planning. What it does mean and what we've certainly enjoyed is that mid run or workout you can change the music without having to worry whether or not you've synced that song to the watch already. That's pure decadence, but it works really well.
There's no word as yet whether music will be available from other services like Spotify, but we expect more apps will come over time.
WatchOS gets an upgrade to WatchOS 4.3
- New watch faces
- Better heart rate data
- Improved activity tracking
- Ability to control music playback from your phone
The Apple Watch will get a number of new software tweaks and features with Watch OS 4, which are mainly focused on fitness and health. There's an even greater focus on the built-in heart-rate monitor and the data that it delivers, as well as an even easier setup process thanks to Apple's new Quick Setup approach.
Beyond setup, the company has now expanded the data available. Data points will include your resting heart rate, how quick you recover, and if the watch suddenly notices that your heart rate shoots up for no reason, to alert you of the fact. All this moves the Watch 3 closer to sports watches in its abilities.
For Atrial Fibrillation sufferers, the watch will now help to notify users if something is wrong, which Apple is hoping should mean the Apple Watch can play a bigger part in identifying heart problems.
On the new watch faces front there are plenty of additions to entertain. A tie-in with Toy Story will see Woody and pals animate their way into your day, while an "Explorer" watch face will show your call signal and other "phone centric" shortcuts.
A simple addition, but one we really like, is a "Flashlight" feature that turns your watch into a torch. There are three settings: white, flashing white, and red, and we've already found ourselves using that more than once to navigate the bedroom rather than disturb the other half.
Other tweaks include the ability to scroll through your apps in a list mode rather than the Apple Watch grid, and a greater fitness focus by telling you that you're doing well on the exercise front.
WatchOS 4.3 brings more tweaks, including reinstating music playback controls to allow users to access, browse, and control playback of the iPhone's music library. The controls also let users "love" and "dislike" songs, delete tracks, and route audio to AirPlay devices, and means you'll also be able to control the Apple HomePod from the Watch too. The Software update also adds a new portrait view for Nightstand mode, showing the display in the correct orientation when you charge the Apple Watch on a vertical stand.
When the Apple Watch Series 3 launched it didn't feel ready. Now 3 months later its a very different story. In many ways it works as an improved version of the already good Series 2 offering with the big stand out feature being the 4G connectivity.
But if, in the UK, you aren't an EE customer, then all that extra excitement disappears. To get the most from the watch you'll have be on or move to EE. if you travel a lot you'll still have to take your iPhone with you at all times because this version of the watch doesn't internationally roam, showing there is still room for improvement.
The Apple Watch is still the best smartwatch on the market - despite the likes of the Samsung Gear Sport making rather a lot of noise - and the addition of 4G connectivity on the go will, in time, only make that better.
When we first published this review we said wait till November. The good news is now that November is here, many of the irritations we first encountered have now been fixed, but unless you are on EE or are planning to move to them, certainly in the UK, then you're unlikely to see any real difference from this over the 2016 model.
£399 (4G/Cellular) | £329 (GPS)
Alternatives to consider
Apple Watch Series 2
It might not have 4G, but then you'll swerve any associated issues and save some cash in the process. Plus, with GPS on board, there are still lots of fitness benefits. Or look to the Series 3 (GPS) and save £70 compared to the 4G option, if that's not for you.
Reads the full article: Apple Watch Series 2
Samsung Gear Sport
We're going off on something of a tangent here, as most Apple users aren't going to get the utmost support out of Samsung's Tizen watch. It is compatible from launch to some degree, however, and with attractive straps, that round face and some app support, it's a decent outside-the-box option.
Read the full article: Samsung Gear Sport