Red marks the spot on Apple’s first cellular-connected smartwatch
The Apple Watch Series 3 has arrived, and with it, a whole host of new opportunities thanks to its all-new LTE connection. For the first time, you’ll be able to leave your house for a run without your iPhone or a second thought, now Apple’s smartwatch can play music, receive messages and make and receive calls entirely independently of your synced phone.
There is, however, a non-LTE Series 3 model with GPS too, if making calls on the go isn’t your bag.
If you’re familiar with the previous two generations of Apple Watch, the third model doesn’t stray too drastically from its predecessors in terms of design. Like Series 2, it comes in aluminium or stainless steel versions, or ceramic Edition if you’re feeling flush, and it’s still got that gently-rounded square face in 38mm and 42mm. It’s water resistance up to 50 metres too.
Its circular crown now has a red dot in its centre, but that’s the only major point of difference on the surface – the body and embedded heart rate sensor look and feel effectively the same. The non-LTE version with GPS does not sport the tell-tale red dot.
Thankfully, all these aesthetic similarities mean you’ll still be able to use any bands you may have lying around from earlier models. The major new changes are underneath the hood, in the form of an inbuilt eSIM apple claims is one-hundredth the size of your standard SIM card, and an LTE radio. There’s also a barometric altimeter which helps to track elevation during workouts and as you walk along, and a new wireless chip to speed up Wi-Fi connections and Bluetooth efficiency.
The first major indication you’re using a new LTE model is the new LTE icon within the Control Centre, which looks like a little antenna. The actual antenna is the watch’s display, which transmits and receives LTE and UMTS signals. Apple claims this won’t drastically affect battery life – something I wasn’t able to rigorously test during my brief hands on, so we’ll have to take its word for it until we’re able to write a full review. Similarly, I didn’t get the chance to try out the fitness features, so watch this space.
Using the watch itself is also a familiar process, much like a homecoming. Scrolling through the menus and switching between apps is swift and efficient. Apple promises the new processor is 70% faster than the Series 2, and while it was certainly fast, it was also under ideal conditions. We’ll need to wait to really put the Series 3 through its paces to see if that jump is as noticeable as Apple says it is.
Also on the Series 3 comes the addition of a new Phone app/complication for making and receiving calls directly on your wrist, complete with a teeny tiny keypad and shortcuts to favourites, contacts and recent calls. There’s also the other now-familiar watchOS 4 features: the Toy Story and kaleidoscope faces, the new fitness, Workout and Gymkit updates, redesigned music interface and changes to the dock and Control Centre.
There’s also a new Sport Band in the mix – a feather-light new strap which feels a bit like a softer velcro to the touch, and is secured by several stronger velcro tabs. It’s been designed to allow your wrist to breathe while keeping the watch itself secure, and it’s a cool alternative to the fluoroelastomer band. A ceramic Edition in grey gives the rich among us a greater choice in high-end models, alongside the white model.
Apple Watch Series 3: Early verdict
The non-LTE version costs £329/$428, with the full shebang priced from £399/$519. Whether or not you feel it’s worth the extra depends largely on whether you value the freedom from your phone or not: it won’t be for everyone, but there will be a subsection of people who’ve been eagerly awaiting an LTE Apple Watch, and this could be the answer to their prayers.