The release of the Series 3 of the popular Apple Watch didn’t come with any big surprises or huge changes. This is, of course, excepting the LTE version. However, rumors of the cellular-enabled Apple Watch have been swirling for months, so it was nothing too shocking.
While the LTE version of the watch is pretty exciting and likely to be pretty popular, many consumers are still wondering whether the non-LTE version is worth buying.
We took the Apple Watch Series 3 on a test run to see what we think about the new smartwatch.
Set up is a breeze, which is no surprise because its Apple. If you don’t already have it, you’ll need the Watch app from the app store. I easily paired my watch to my iPhone in no time, then went through a few different questions to set up fitness tracking and Apple Pay.
After enabling workout tracking and a passcode, the watch sets up the activity tracking options. For starters, you can plug in your birthdate, sex, height, and weight. You don’t have to put in any/all of that info, but the calorie burns and long-term tracking will be more accurate if you do.
Next comes the “Daily Move Goal,” where you determine what kind of movement and calorie burn you want to set as a goal for yourself. The options are: Lightly (300 calories), Moderately (600 calories), Highly (900 calories). You can update this (and get more specific with calories) by pressing on the screen in the Activity app. From there you can arrow up or down to change the calories.
The last few steps in setting up the Apple Watch are Apple Pay (which you can bypass and set up later through your phone if you’d like), Emergency SOS, and installing available apps. The Watch determines which apps you have on your phone that are available on the watch and offers to download those immediately.
Any steps you skip or features that you want to change are available either via the watch or the app. The Watch app also has the watch app store and the face gallery so you can customize your watch.
The data syncs to your iPhone and is available in the Activity app or on the Health app. I’ve had trouble with consistency between those two apps, however – the Health app usually shows fewer steps than the watch and Activity app show.
While we didn’t test the LTE version, it sounds as though it’s fairly simple. You’ll need an iPhone 6 or later and the most recent version of iOS. You can set up a plan with your wireless carrier (they are all offering a plan for $10 per month). The control center looks similar to the new iOS 11 control center on the iPhone, so just pull that up on your phone to check that you’re connected to cellular and to check signal strength. The LTE watch will toggle between cellular and Wi-Fi depending on what’s available and which is the most efficient.
There are two kinds of consumers who might be considering the new Apple Watch: Those who have never had one before and those who are considering an upgrade from the Series 1 or Series 2.
If you have an older watch, here are some things to know about the features of the Series 3.
Series 3 vs. Series 1 and Series 2
If you’re coming from a Series 1 (or thinking about buying one instead of the Series 3), here are the key features the Series 3 includes that the Series 1 does not:
- Built-in GPS
- Water resistance (to 50 meters)
- Barometric altimeter
- 2nd generation OLED Retina display
- Better processor (S3 dual-core processor, W2 wireless chip S1P dual-core processor)
If you are coming from a Series 2, you won’t see as much of a difference between the two models. One of the biggest additions on the Series 3 is the built-in barometric altimeter, which tracks elevation change so you’ll get a better read on workouts of all kinds, as well as credit for climbing flights of stairs. Otherwise, the only difference you’ll see is potentially faster and better performance – that’s according to Apple – unless you opt for the LTE version.
New to Apple Watch
Those comparisons don’t mean a whole lot if you’ve never owned an Apple Watch before, so let’s take a look at the device on its own.
The Apple Watch Series 3 works as a phone replacement in some senses (via notifications and apps on the watch itself) and it also functions as a fitness and wellness tracker. Here are some of the key features of the Apple Watch:
- Heart rate sensor
- Activity tracking
- Barometric altimeter, accelerometer, and gyroscope for accurate tracking
- Built-in GPS and GLONASS
- 18 hour battery life
- Smart notifications
- App add-ons
- Workout and training features
- Contactless payments via Apple Pay
Without the LTE option, you have to either keep your phone near you or be connected to Wi-Fi (that you first connected via your iPhone). The watch buzzes or chimes when you have a text, email, calendar event, and so forth. It also keeps track of your steps and movements and encourages you to stand up and walk around if you’ve been sitting too long.
The fitness and tracking features are pretty comprehensive, though many Watch owners download additional apps for more specific tracking. Let’s dig into those features.
Fitness & Health Features
On the watch, there are “the rings” – movement, exercising, and standing. The Apple Watch challenges you to “close” those rings, that is, meet each of the goals the rings track. The movement ring is based on your setup (the Daily Move Goal) I mentioned earlier). The exercise ring is always 30 minutes, and that’s not a goal you can change (you can only adjust your move goal). The third and final ring is the stand goal (or roll goal, if you specify that you use a wheelchair). For the stand goal to be met, you’ll need to move for at least a minute once per hour for 12 hours.
The water resistant design of the watch means that swimmers can expect good tracking capabilities. Additionally, the watch has plenty of options both on its own and with additional apps to help you track, train, and get active.
The standard built-in workout app includes essentials like indoor and outdoor running, cycle, elliptical, and so forth. For anything that’s not on there, you can select “Other.” This goal gives you the “calorie equivalent of a brisk walk.” In some cases, that might be fine, but if you’re doing weight lifting or something like that, this tracking might not be very useful.
The other ongoing tracking that happens is the heart rate monitor. You can get your current, resting, and walking heart rate from your wrist, and you can take a look at your history and averages via the Health app on your iPhone. It is a little annoying that you have to go so many places to get the sum of your health data.
Another feature on the watch that I admit I underutilized is something called Breathe. This app walks you through taking a break (either one or five minutes) to breathe and relax. The one (yikes!) time I used it, I watched as my heartrate calmed down, and I did feel better afterward (it helps that I did it toward the end of a really stressful day). You can use it at any time, of course, but the watch will also offer a gentle reminder periodically.
Overall, the fitness features on the Apple Watch Series 3 are useful and consistent. Apple has put a lot of time and money into bettering their sensors and fitness-related technology.
When it comes to Apple Watch designs, Apple seems to like what they’ve got going on. The Series 1, 2, and 3 all look basically the same. This is especially nice for accessories – they will work from one iteration to the next, which is good news if you are moving from an older model (and permitting you stick to the same size; i.e. 38mm or 42mm).
The OLED Retina display is lovely, and there are endless options for customizing the face. The interface is easy to use and similar enough to other Apple products (iPhones and iPads) that most users should have no problem with it. I’m not overly impressed with the interface, however. I just don’t really like it. I haven’t seen too many other reviewers saying this, so perhaps I’m alone in this feeling.
While not totally related to design, I do need to bring up the whole battery life thing. In short, the battery life (still) sucks. Apple says it should get 18 hours, which was about right for me. But compared to the Fitbit Ionic (a real winner with 4+ days), it’s a bit frustrating to have such a short battery life. It also means that sleep tracking isn’t really a thing with the Apple Watch. You can get apps to do it, I guess, but it doesn’t work out well due to the battery life, and the watch itself isn’t optimized for it.
The Apple Watch Series 3 offers little in the way of upgrades from the Series 2, with the big exception of the addition of LTE on one version. For newcomers to the Apple Watch, there are plenty of things that make it a useful gadget – if you’re interested in the features it offers.
Many athletes are fans of the Apple Watch for the fitness features. However, in this area, the Fitbit Ionic might have an edge and be more appealing. We’ll have a hands-on comparison coming soon.
If the features appeal to you, or you really think the LTE will be useful for you, we say go for it. If you’re new to the watch, it’s worth considering the Series 1, however. You can save a bundle of cash going that route. (Apple pulled the Series 2 as soon as the Series 3 launched, but there are some available on the Amazon Marketplace.)
The Apple Watch is spendy regardless, and so many who buy it end up using it only a few times before packing it away. It’s definitely most appealing to the gadget obsessed, to those who really do want to be untethered from their phone, and to those who appreciate the fitness features.