The Apple Watch is, as Apple will very happily tell you, the no.1 watch in the world.
That’s pretty astonishing when you think that for a while it felt like Apple was still figuring out what people actually wanted from the Watch.
Thankfully, the Series 2 addressed many of those issues, Apple found its stride and released what was in our view, the best smartwatch you could buy.
Well this is Series 3, and Apple has rocked the boat again by adding a brand-new feature that puts a SIM inside the Watch allowing you to make phone calls and even stream music without your phone.
It’s a great headline to be sure, but over the past week we found that while great, it’s not the sole reason the Apple Watch is still the best smartwatch you can buy.
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We’ll get this out of the way now. In terms of physical appearance it looks identical to the previous generation.
The entry-level aluminium finish is available in Space Grey (Black), Silver and Gold. The stainless steel options include Space Grey (still Black) and Silver.
If you’re looking to spend more money than sense then Apple also makes two ceramic models in Grey (definitely Black) and White that are as eye-wateringly expensive as they are absolutely stunning. All of these are then available in a 42mm or 38mm size.
To make sure the Watch is equally at home out running as it is at a nice restaurant Apple has regularly updated its range of straps with new seasonal colours and materials. If you want a good all-rounder we would recommend the Sport or Woven Nylon. They’re both under £50, are incredibly durable and work in pretty much every social situation.
While the hardware itself might look the same but Apple has made some big changes behind the scenes.
Building on the GPS tracking that was added in Series 2 the Series 3 now comes with an altimeter so you can see your elevation (how many stairs you’ve climbed).
It’s a niche feature to be sure but it’s the last piece of the puzzle that means the Watch can now offer truly comprehensive movement tracking.
Then of course there’s the addition of LTE/4G.
How it works is incredibly simple. When you set the Watch up for the first time it will ask if you want to activate LTE. If you have a compatible carrier (EE in the UK, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon in the US) you’ll then be given the plans that are available.
For example, on EE you’ll get free data on the Apple Watch for 6 months and then it’s £5 per month added onto your bill. If you choose to agree, the Apple Watch will share the same number as your iPhone.
Technically, it all works perfectly. All our calls connected, messages came through, Siri responded as instructed and the setup process itself was seamless. In a few weeks Apple Music users will also be able to stream any song from its library straight to your Watch.
If you run, cycle or generally find yourself doing an activity that could benefit from leaving your phone behind then the Series 3 with 4G offers a frankly unparalleled sense of freedom.
If you don’t do any of these things or can’t think of a situation where you’d want to leave your phone behind then we’d recommend saving yourself the £5 per month and consider the Series 3 without 4G instead.
Here’s why. Even without 4G, the Series 3 is incredibly good at staying connected. For starters, the Watch remembers all the WiFi networks your iPhone has connected to. Secondly, with the exception of the countryside it’s hard to walk more than three steps without encountering a shop that doesn’t come with free WiFi.
In fact, for a good majority of the time we were using our Watch we actually found that it was either tethering to our iPhone or simply latching onto the WiFi networks that we regularly use throughout our daily routine.
To be clear, we’re not saying you shouldn’t get the 4G version, we’re simply saying consider the activities you do regularly and pick the one that works best for what you do the most.
While 4G might have got all the headlines, it’s actually not the thing that impressed us the most about the Series 3.
The Series 3 has a powerful new processor which means that apps now load twice as fast. For a device that’s based around quick, intuitive interactions this can make all the difference.
And it does make all the difference. Not only does the Series 3 feel faster but it enables new features like having Siri actually talk to you on the Watch without relying on your iPhone.
Combine this power with watchOS 4 and you have an experience that provides you with quick yet deeply meaningful pieces of information.
The new Activity experience on Apple Watch encapsulates this perfectly.
As an example we had spent the day sat in the office which meant that we were clearly behind on our movement goal. At around 4PM it popped up with a suggestion that if we did a 20 minute brisk walk we could still easily reach our daily target. As a result of that we took a longer route home that day.
For too long health gadgets have simply been reactive, telling us information we that deep down we already know. By being proactive, Apple has created a relationship between a person and a device that feels genuinely meaningful. Fitbit do something similar with its sleep tracking and both companies should be applauded for it.
Elsewhere watchOS 4 brings improved heart-rate tracking, and can even alert you when it detects an elevated heart-rate but no strenuous activity.
Apple Watch Series 3 might be sold on the headline of being able to make phone calls from your watch but honestly we think that’s just one part of the story.
While they’re not headline-grabbing features, we would argue that in fact it’s the combination of the battery-life, faster processor and software that actually make the Series 3 so impressive.
It helps you manage your physical and mental health in a way that feels effortless and completely normal and that’s exactly what we should be demanding from the modern smartwatch.
Who should buy the Apple Watch Series 3?
If you’re new to Apple Watch or are still using the original then this is without doubt the best Apple Watch yet. Just make sure that when choosing to get the 4G version or not that you’re actually going to get the most out of the extra-functionality as it’s currently only available on EE’s network and does come at monthly cost.
Who shouldn’t buy the Apple Watch Series 3?
If you have a Series 2 with GPS and you’re not particularly active then it’s hard to picture a situation where the addition of 4G is going to be a game-changer, especially when you consider that the Series 3 starts at £329. Then there’s the glaring fact that it currently only works with customers on EE. Other networks will be added soon but there’s no timeline as to when.
Apple Watch Series 3 is available now starting at £329/$329/€369 for GPS or £399/$399/€479 for GPS + Cellular.
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