Review: Apple Watch Series 3 | iLounge

Review

Review: Apple Watch Series 3

A-
Highly Recommended
Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular)

B+
Recommended
Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS)

Company: Apple

Model: Apple Watch Series 3

Price: $329 – $1299

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Jesse Hollington

Pros: Series 3’s cellular capabilities untether the Apple Watch from the iPhone in a significant way. The addition of a barometric altimeter fills in the workout tracking gap from last year’s Series 2. New processor offers a 70 percent performance boost over Series 2 and enables Siri to offer voice responses. New W2 chip increases Wi-Fi performance by 85 percent while cutting power consumption in half and resolving former issues with some Bluetooth headphones. Cellular plan can be activated directly from iPhone in seconds without even requiring a call to your carrier in most cases. Provides almost two-day battery life when kept in range of iPhone.

Cons: Cellular data is only available on a limited number of carriers at launch, and will add $5 – $10 to your monthly phone bill. Significantly shorter battery life when used away from iPhone in cellular-only mode. Non-cellular Series 3 not available in stainless steel version. Many third-party apps don’t yet provide untethered internet connectivity. Despite cellular capabilities, Apple Watch still remains an extension of your iPhone rather than a standalone device.

The marquee feature in this year’s Apple Watch is the ability to connect to the cellular network directly from the watch, without needing to have your iPhone anywhere nearby. The Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) packs an integrated eSIM that — provided your carrier supports it — allows it to be easily provisioned from your iPhone and share your main phone number so you won’t actually need to set up a separate cellular plan.

Of course, most carriers are still charging an extra cost to associate your Apple Watch with your iPhone plan. All four U.S. carriers are charging an extra $10/month to activate the new Apple Watch, while ironically in Canada and the U.K., where only one carrier in each country is currently supporting the new Apple Watch, prices are actually lower, with Bell Mobility in Canada charging $5 CAD per month (~$4 USD) and EE in the U.K. is charging £5 per month (~$6.50 USD).

The good news, however is that Apple and the carriers have managed to make the process of setting up the Apple Watch to be about the simplest we’ve ever seen. When setting up a brand new cellular-enabled Apple Watch out of the box, you’ll be prompted to activate it on your cellular plan as part of the set up routine, which will take you to a short series of carrier-specific pages taking you through the process of signing into your carrier account, acknowledging the fees, and confirming you want to activate it. On Bell Mobility in Canada, the entire process took us about 30 seconds to have the Apple Watch up and running. Of course, your mileage may vary depending on what carrier you’re on, and at least some carriers will also require that your iPhone already be on a compatible plan before you can activate your Apple Watch.

Once cellular service is activated on the Apple Watch, it works transparently in the background, remaining dormant until you actually need it. The Apple Watch continues to connect via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi when in range of your iPhone or a known Wi-Fi network, only switching over to cellular data when those other options aren’t available.

A new option also appears at the top left of the Control Center on the cellular-capable Apple Watch to provide quick access to turn cellular data on or off and help to show the status of your cellular connection — the button will appear white when cellular data is enabled but not in use and will turn green when your iPhone is actively connected to the cellular network. A status icon in the top left corner also shows your connectivity status, with an iPhone icon indicating that you’re communicating with your paired iPhone over Bluetooth, a Wi-Fi icon if you’re disconnected from your iPhone but on a known Wi-Fi network, and four dots showing your cellular signal strength when you’re connected to a cellular network.

The iPhone Watch app also now includes a “Cellular” section that appears when using a cellular-capable Apple Watch, providing options to check your data usage, manage your carrier account, or even remove your carrier plan from your watch. While you can see your data usage on an app-by-app basis from here, you can’t actually switch off data usage for individual apps like you can on the iPhone.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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