Watch Review: Bell & Ross BR123 Aeronavale

When the Apple Watch first launched in April 2015 following years of speculation and rumours, many people had mixed opinions over its cellular capabilities (or lack of).

Fast forward more than two years, when the company announced Apple Watch Series 3 last week during its first-ever event at Apple Park. Though the new iPhone models may have stolen the show, the updates to Apple Watch are what jumped out to me as the most intriguing hardware announcements of the event.

At long last, the Watch has cellular capabilities and can be untethered from the iPhone for use. I’ve been using the Apple Watch Series 3 since Apple’s event last week and put its LTE feature, as well as its other hardware upgrades, to the test.

Cellular eSIM, barometric altimeter, Siri and more power

A number of technical hoops had to be jumped through for Apple to get LTE (or cellular) running on the Watch Series 3 in the same form factor as previous generations and without compromising battery life. The company has been working on a solution for a while it says and the end result is rather impressive.

Instead of placing a full or external antenna in the watch, Apple has engineered it so the entire display acts as the cellular antenna (the company says this is an industry first). The Watch Series 3 also uses something called an eSIM (or electronic SIM), which means you don’t need to put a physical card in the device to make it work. In its place is a digital activation process with the carrier that uses the same number as your iPhone so you can continue to message, call and receive notifications on the go without needing the phone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook shows the new Apple Watch Series 3 at the Steve Jobs Theater. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

In addition to its cellular capabilities (more on that below), Apple has beefed up the dual-core processor with what it says is up to 70 per cent more performance, faster app launches and more. The Apple Watch’s W2 chip is more energy efficient and the device knows when to intelligently switch between the most power-efficient wireless available, meaning up to 85 per cent faster WiFi and 50 per cent more efficiency.

As Apple continues to double down on the fitness segment for its device, the company has added in a barometric altimeter to the Apple Watch Series 3 which now measures elevation. This means it can do things such as track the number of flights climbed in a day or get more credit in exercise minutes for going uphill, all without the need of an iPhone thanks to cellular.

Developers can also tap into the barometric altimeter’s set of tools to make apps that can track elevation for hiking, skiing, snowboarding, runnings and other activities to show vertical descent, speed and more accurate calorie burn.

The new processing power also means Siri can speak from the Watch’s speaker now. Previous generations of Apple Watches would only allow Siri to reply through text on the display. You can also now use Siri on the Watch Series 3 while using bluetooth.

Enough with the specs: Does it work?

I’ll admit it, I didn’t realize just how cool it would be to make phone calls on an Apple Watch while its “connected” iPhone was kilometres away until I actually did it. Now that I have, it’s hard to go back.

My review device was connected to Bell’s LTE network as it will be the only launch provider for the cellular Apple Watch Series 3. It will be an extra $5 per month to add the functionality to your existing phone plan. (Telus will be coming shortly after launch and still no word yet on Rogers, but Apple says it is willing to work with all carriers.)

The setup process was painless and before you know it I could leave my iPhone at home and go for a wander around town without much worry. Obviously the Apple Watch’s third party apps have limited functionality, but at least you have the necessities (and then some).

Apple says it has improved the battery so even with all of the extra bells and whistles, the Apple Watch Series 3 should last an entire day without the need for a recharge (I usually get down to about 20 to 25 per cent).

Apple Watch 3 devices are displayed during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

What’s important to remember is the battery isn’t designed to run all day on cellular exclusively but in a mixed setting as you go back and forth between having your iPhone with you and not. The idea is that you can be untethered from your device so you can go for a quick run, swim, do an errand, leave the office for lunch and the like without being disconnected. It seems to work as, again, battery life was never a concern for me.

The audio quality of the phone calls are impressive. When using the Apple Watch Series 3’s built-in microphone and speaker, the person on the other end of the conversation couldn’t even tell I was using a watch and not a phone. I could hold my arm down to my side — so I didn’t look as ridiculous speaking into my wrist — and the person on the other end of the call could hear me just fine. Of course it was tougher for me to hear them as the watch’s speaker wasn’t next to my face, but it still worked.

That said, if you connected a set of bluetooth wireless headphones to your Apple Watch Series 3 (such as Apple’s AirPods, in my case), talking into your wrist is no longer an issue. You can send and receive phone calls, dictate messages, issue Siri commands and listen to music without your iPhone. Right now you can fit several hundred songs into the Watch’s memory, but “soon” Apple Music will come to the device so you can stream its 40-million songs and radio stations without the iPhone (provided you don’t mind using your cellular data).

watchOS 4

Released alongside the new Apple Watch Series 3 is the new watchOS 4, which is also available for older models. There are new watch faces with a mix of fun and functional (including a Toy Story “toy box” one, which I admittedly enjoy).

The Toy Story watch face is displayed on the Apple Watch Series 3 during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There is a redesigned workout app with new workout types that help you track multiple workouts, play music within the app and more accurate tracking. watchOS 4 also has better insight into heart rates including during resting, exercise and recovery. It will also push you a notification if it senses your rate spiked during an inactive period.

There’s an updated Music app which makes more sense from a design perspective thanks to the more natural gesture of flipping through albums, plus it automatically syncs to playlists that you’ve created as well as what the algorithms suggest. News app is available to Apple Watch now in available markets, as is person-to-person Apple Pay payments. 

Final thoughts

The Apple Watch Series 3 comes in a bunch of different sizes, styles and with various new bands, so I’m not going to bore you by listing out all of the pricing details. You can check all of that out on Apple’s website. (The device falls in line with Apple’s pricing strategy of previous generations.)

If you’ve been on the fence for purchasing an Apple Watch, the addition of cellular may now finally be what sways you (provided its available on your carrier). The Apple Watch was a bit disappointing for some at launch (understandably so) and the Watch Series 2 had some welcomed but not drastic improvements.

The new Apple Watch Series 3 is displayed during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

During the first two generations, Apple has been figuring out and refining the Watch’s purpose and seems to be hitting its stride by being more fitness and notifications driven, while also hopping in and out of quick-fix phone functionality. Adding more processing power and the ability to function without the iPhone makes the Apple Watch feel as if it has been set free to a certain extent, a sensation I honestly didn’t expect until I started using it.

Of course, the Apple Watch isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been waiting for the right smartwatch to come along and you already have an iPhone then the Watch Series 3 may finally be it. The device has been improved in most ways since the Watch Series 2 and you can feel it in the experience.

Financial Post

>jomcconnell@postmedia.com

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Source : http://ottawacitizen.com/technology/personal-tech/apple-watch-series-3-review-finally-no-iphone-required-sort-of/wcm/01ae467e-9f31-434b-81b4-ac4be1f682e8

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