Review: Apple Watch Series 3 | iLounge


Review: Apple Watch Series 3

Highly Recommended
Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular)

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.

For the most part, the Apple Watch will figure out by itself which data channel to use. In our testing the switch from Bluetooth or Wi-Fi over to cellular sometimes took up to a minute, however the switch back from cellular to a paired iPhone connection was surprisingly fast. Our guess is that Apple has designed this to err on the side of caution to avoid using cellular data needlessly by delaying the switch to cellular until the Apple Watch is sure your iPhone is out of range.

All of Apple’s native watchOS apps now work as you’d expect over a pure cellular connection, so you can check maps and get directions, send and receive e-mails and text messages, get weather information, access your reminders and calendar, control HomeKit accessories, and when Apple launches watchOS 4.1, stream songs and radio stations directly from Apple Music. Siri will also work from the Apple Watch on a cellular connection, so you can set reminders, send e-mails, and even control HomeKit accessories with your voice. Notifications that come through on your iPhone also appear to be forwarded to the Apple Watch over a cellular connection using iCloud, meaning that you’ll still receive all of the usual notifications on your Apple Watch even when out of range of your iPhone.

Another nice bonus is that when the Apple Watch switches over to cellular, it will automatically begin sharing your location from your Apple Watch, rather than your iPhone, so when you’re out for a run without your iPhone, your friends will still be able to track your actual location, rather than just seeing the location of your iPhone sitting at home or in your car. Unfortunately, this doesn’t yet seem to work for HomeKit triggers, which still only operate on the basis of your iPhone’s location, not that of your Apple Watch.

Further, the new Apple Watch also now allows you to place and receive phone calls when away from your iPhone, either directly over the cellular voice network, or using FaceTime Audio. Since the Apple Watch shares the same cellular number as your iPhone, incoming calls will ring on both your iPhone and your Apple Watch, regardless of whether they’re in close proximity to each other, however both devices otherwise work as independent devices on the cellular network, so you can place calls on both devices simultaneously, and if another call comes in while you’re already on a call on your Apple Watch, it will ring through to your iPhone in addition to showing the call waiting notification on the watch itself.

The Messages app can also be used when on a cellular connection to send and receive both iMessages and SMS text messages directly from the Apple Watch. This worked fine in our testing, although it’s worth pointing out that the Apple Watch lacks the Send as SMS feature, so if you send an iMessage to somebody who is out of data coverage or otherwise unable to receive an iMessage, it will end up getting stuck in an undelivered state on your Apple Watch with no way to force it to go out as a text message. Further, the sent iMessage on your iPhone will be flagged as “Delivered” (even though it hasn’t been) and therefore will not fall back to SMS either. We’re hoping Apple fixes this in a future watchOS update, but until then you’ll need to pay closer attention if you have friends who regularly go out of data coverage or switch off cellular data to conserve their data plans.

While Apple’s own built-in apps otherwise work quite well over a direct cellular connection, unfortunately we couldn’t say the same for a lot of third-party apps. Many watchOS apps still expect to connect to their corresponding iOS app, and running most of them when on a cellular connection presented with the standard red icon indicating a disconnected iPhone, while others failed to progress beyond their loading screens. We’re hoping that many of these apps will receive proper native watchOS updates now that a cellular-capable Apple Watch is available.

However, it’s also important to note that the Apple Watch and watchOS 4 don’t provide the same capabilities as an iPhone, so many watchOS 4 apps may still provide limited functionality without an iPhone nearby. For example, while OmniFocus users can view and check off tasks, syncing of OmniFocus still requires the iPhone due to limitations in watchOS. Likewise, Starbucks recently released an Apple Watch app update that allows a user to reload their Starbucks card directly on their Apple Watch, however perhaps due to limitations with Apple Pay, the feature still requires the iPhone to be in proximity.



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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