Welcome to our Apple Watch Series 3 review, in which we check out the watch's design and new features, put it through rigorous performance and battery tests, and rate it for value for money. If you reach a decision after reading this, you can buy from Apple or (on contract) from EE.
It still feels like we're quite early in the Apple Watch's evolution as a product - we're still at the iPhone 3GS stage, so to speak - but there is a danger that the company has already run out of things to fix. The Apple Watch Series 2 was in our view pretty close to perfect, solving all the issues we had with the original model, so for the Series 3 a new approach has been taken: rethinking what a smartwatch can do, and creating a new life for it as an independent device.
Unlike the simple 'find a problem and fix it' strategy of the Series 2, this has down- as well as upsides, and as we will discover in our Apple Watch Series 3 review this is not an uncomplicated step forward - even if it is probably a necessary step on the road to what the Apple Watch needs to become.
For more general advice remember to take a look at our Apple Watch buying guide.
Design & build quality
There's not much to say here, because the Series 3 has the same body design as the Series 2, and the Series 1 before it. There are some new colours (gold aluminium and dark grey ceramic finishes are new for this generation) and strap options, but the shape, the lines, are identical to last year's model.
It's a nice design, mind you - clean, simple, premium-looking, based around Steve Jobs' beloved rounded-corner rectangle - and we wouldn't wish for Apple to change things unnecessarily every year. But it feels like we're in a similar situation to the iPhone handsets between the 6 generation and the 8 generation three years later: making small incremental changes to a design that remains fundamentally the same.
The one really visible and obvious difference between the Series 2 and Series 3 watches concerns the Digital Crown dial on the side, which now (if you've plumped for a cellular-connected model) is bright red. And we're no longer entirely convinced by this.
In photos, the red spot looks nice, and there's something appealing about the way Apple ties this motif in with the accent colour on the packaging. But viewed up close, in person, it's very bright, very shiny (incongruous next to the consistent brushed-metal finish around the Digital Crown) and, speaking brutally, a little bit cheap-looking. Not to mention that having a badge that proclaims to the world that you've bought the more expensive version of a product is unbelievably naff.
We said the design is identical to the Series 2, but it's actually not quite. In the launch presentation, strangely, Apple said it was the same size despite the inclusion of cellular componentry and happily accepted a round of applause for this feat - but then admitted that it is actually (fractionally) thicker. Just 0.25mm, which needless to say is not noticeable.
There are some really nice new straps to choose from. We've been enjoying the Sport Loop (the Flash colour option), which is ultra-light and breathable - although at £49 it must be one of the most expensive products in history to feature velcro.
Apple does itself proud when it comes to straps. We just wish they were a bit cheaper. In a separate article we round up the best Apple Watch straps, including some less expensive third-party alternatives.
For the Series 3 we talked about three new features: longer battery life, better waterproofing, and GPS. This year there's one, but it's arguably a bigger deal than all of those put together: cellular connectivity. You can get a data connection on your watch even if you leave the companion iPhone at home: it's a truly independent device for the first time.
(The Series 2 also had a faster processor, and this component has been upgraded again here. More on this in the specs and performance sections.)
The cellular Series 3 has a built-in LTE and UMTS radio that switches automatically to cellular when you're away from the companion iPhone. The system is clever enough to know to direct calls to your watch instead of your phone when appropriate (the phone number will be the same across both devices), and to use the watch's location for Find My Friends.
Apple has also highlighted the fact that you can use iMessage, Maps, WeChat and Siri away from your phone, and users' new ability to stream music via a phone-less watch using Apple Music. (Note, however, that you cannot send SMS texts without a nearby connected iPhone - you are limited to iMessages.)
It's tempting to assume that any watch app that relies internet data will now be usable away from your phone: that the ECB app your reviewer uses to get cricket scores will now update independently, for instance. And in time we're sure this will be true. But not all apps are designed to work independently, and there may be a delay while developers update their apps to take advantage of the new hardware.
Is cellular a good idea?
Cellular has downsides - battery life, cost, the hassle of setting up a contract - so it's all a question of payoffs. It's roughly the same decision as choosing the cellular option for your iPad. You have to think about how often you'll use it, how important it is that you'll be able to do so, and how much it will cost you.
The Apple Watch's cellular capabilities come into play when you separate it from its companion iPhone; and since they're two highly portable, on-person devices, that probably won't happen a great deal. The main application is when running: if you urgently need to keep in touch while working out, this may be perfect for you.
It also lets you stream Apple Music, although bear in mind that you can already load songs on to the watch for offline playback: how long is your run, that you're going to get bored of your own tunes? (Some might argue that, if Apple made it easier to sync music to the Apple Watch in the first place this application wouldn't seem as exciting...)
Ultimately the decision is yours, but we suspect that for many people cellular will be an extravagance that doesn't make sense in the short term. In the long term, however, for the product line, this is undoubtedly the right direction to go: like the wireless syncing/updating in iOS 5, the importance of which was probably underestimated at the time, this lays the foundations of independence - of cutting the cord from the parent device.
Do you need a SIM and a contract?
Practically speaking, you'll want to know about the SIM and the antenna. Well, there's no physical SIM - it's an electronic SIM or eSIM that's one percent of the size of a traditional SIM - and the display acts as the antenna, both the transmitting and receiving element.
To use cellular features on the Series 3 you need to sign up with one of the small number of providers who are able to offer watch plans in each launch country. In the UK that means EE - which, according to the company, is "the only network with the technology in place to offer Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular capability in the UK".
(You will also need to be using an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone SE or later handset.)
Do note, however, that the Apple Watch 3 with LTE will not support roaming, so any additional functionality afforded by the E-SIM will not be available when you take it abroad.
You can buy the watch from EE on a 24-month unlimited-data contract, which will set you back £25 a month plus an upfront charge of anything from zero to £160, depending on which model you want. Alternatively, you can buy the watch from somewhere else (such as Apple), paying £329 or more for the device up front, and then add it to the EE plan your phone is on; this will add an extra £5 tariff per month, with the first six months free.
The principal predicted downside of adding cellular connectivity to the Apple Watch is battery life, so we're going to give this its own section instead of just tucking it into the specs section. Bear in mind, however, that battery performance is highly subjective and heavily dependent on what you do with your watch during a given day, so we can give only a general sense of how the Series 3 compares to the Series 2 and original watches before it.
The Series 2 (when new) started a day of 'typical use testing' charged to 100%, and made it through the whole day, then a night, and then a second day, without running out of power. At bedtime on the second day it was on 22%. It eventually ran out around 1pm on the third day.
The Series 3 couldn't do quite as well, but it did manage very nearly two days, running out around 10pm on the second day. These figures are not scientific, and the night times distort things a bit, but they are broadly representative of our experience with these products:
- Series 2: 54 hours (includes two nights, light typical use)
- Series 3: 39 hours (includes one night)
(We've not included the original Apple Watch in the above figures because it was so wildly variable in the early days while we were still working out how to use it, but it's worse than either the Series 2 or 3. On occasion, in the beginning when we used apps constantly, it ran out of battery before the end of the first day. After a while it settled down to a comfortable one-day battery life, finishing each day with power to spare but struggling if you missed a night of charging.)
Effects of cellular use
It was fairly clear that cellular use dragged down the Series 3's battery performance. Early in the test, while kept within reach of its companion iPhone, it looked on course to match the Series 2, but taking it out for a 30-minute run - using the Workout app and depending on its own cellular connection to pick up iMessages and check email during a mid-run break - caused an alarming drain from mid-40s to high 20s.
On another occasion we kept the Series 3 away from its iPhone for a morning, and in five hours it dropped 32 percentage points (55% to 23%); as a control, the Series 2 fell just 19% (from 38% to 19%) in the same period.
This pattern didn't always hold, and our experience suggests that searching for a connection in a weak-signal area makes matters worse, and of course app usage affects things - when you're using cellular there's a disproportionate chance you'll be using the (relatively demanding, continuous-use) Workout app, which compounds matters.
Speed & performance
The Series 3 comes with updated innards: the new S3 processor chip, which is claimed to be 70 percent faster than the S2 chip in the Series 2, and the new W2 wireless chip which Apple reckons provide 85 percent faster Wi-Fi, and 50 percent more power-efficient Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, than the last-generation model.
It's difficult to quantify these things, given that there aren't any speed benchmarking apps available for the Apple Watch. But in subjective tests we've observed that our Series 3 opens apps consistently faster than our (admittedly year-old, and watchOS 4-based) Series 2.
Source : https://www.macworld.co.uk/review/apple-watch/apple-watch-series-3-review-3663715/