Hands on: Apple Watch 3 review

Apple Watch 3 price, release date and everything you need to know

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

An incremental upgrade, but one that offers a very different way to use the Apple Watch... for a price

For

  • Integrated cellular
  • Altimeter

Against

  • Similar design and functionality to before

The leaks were all true: the Apple Watch 3 (or, technically, the Apple Watch Series 3) builds on the previous iteration by working without the phone anywhere nearby, as well as a faster processor.

The new device isn't a huge upgrade on the previous iteration by any means, but it does come with some useful updates that make it worth checking out – especially if you like to leave your phone at home for whatever reason when you're heading out the door.

We've just got the box into our testing labs - get ready for our full review very soon! But in the mean time, here's a cheeky unboxing for you to enjoy...

The Apple Watch 3 now adds in LTE connectivity, so you'll be able to stay connected on the move, which will make it a better standalone device if you don't fancy lugging a massive handset with you.

The Watch 3 also completely replaces the Watch 2 - you can't by the latter device from Apple, but there is a non-LTE option if you just want the GPS model of the newest Apple Watch.

Update: Apple has published the battery life expectations for the Apple Watch 3 - with an hour of LTE talk time but improved workout-tracking duration, and we've got more info on the pricing to connect the Watch 3 to your phone contract.

Apple Watch 3 release date and price

The original Apple Watch started at $349/£299/AU$499 when it launched, and the Apple Watch 2 upped the prices to $369/£369/AU$529.

The Series 3 starts at $329/£329/AU$459 if you're content with not having LTE cellular connectivity -  that's if you just want to have GPS connectivity and water resistance. 

If you want to ramp it up to include the headline new feature, that soars right up to $399/£399/AU$559 - the most expensive starting price for an Apple Watch yet.

In the UK, you'll be paying £5 per month on top of your phone contract, with rumored prices of £25 per month to have a new contract with the Phone.

In the US, it'll be $10 per month on T-Mobile and Verizon to connect the Watch on top of your contract, and you can have it on a monthly cost of just over $16 for the base model

As for release date, pre-orders for the Apple Watch 3 begin on September 15. The smartwatch goes on sale on September 22.

This release date syncs up with the launch of watchOS 4 on September 19, which means the new watch will come with the latest version of the OS out of the box. 

This means that enhanced workout features and better Siri functionality will be available to new owners right away.

Same design

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In terms of design, you're not going to see much of a difference between the Apple Watch, Apple Watch 2 and Apple Watch 3 - they're all sticking with the same square formation (so no appearance of the round model we wondered if we might be getting).

And with the Apple Watch 3 disappearing from shop shelves, this upgraded Watch 3 just takes the same display and chassis from that model and looks almost identical.

The 1.65-inch OLED display is still one of the better ones on the market, but you still have to 'raise to wake' the screen to actually see the time, rather than having it on constantly. 

Apple's ability to register when you're raising your wrist is among the best, but it's still not as good as being able to glance down and see what hour it is without a quiver of the limb.

The maintenance of the design is good news in one way, as it means the band ecosystem won't have to be rebooted to account for the altered format - there's nothing worse than a fragmented accessories marketplace.

Actually, check that - there's loads worse in life. Maybe we'll call this just a little irritating.

The only slight design change: the digital crown now has a red dot on the top, marking out that you're using the latest of Apple's timepieces. 

We saw this on Tim Cook's wrist a couple of years ago, so it's clearly something Apple's been thinking about using for a while.

The screen is the same, the shape the same, the band connector the same - it's impressive that Apple has managed to lump in so much tech without increasing the thickness from the Apple Watch 2, but some design upgrades would have made this feel like more than just a slight evolution.

LTE connectivity

The ability to be connected with your new Apple Watch without needing to be tethered to your phone is going to be an interesting offering; will enough people take this up?

The way Apple has integrated it into the Watch 3 is neat - there's a toggle in the Control Center to disable data, complications on the watch face will show your signal strength and you'll be able to navigate instantly using the inbuilt GPS.

However, it's going to come at a cost and be a bit confusing depending on your territory - some countries are still getting to grips with offering multiple connections to the same contract, and it's going to cost extra as well.

The LG Watch Sport offered the same thing, and in the US this cost $5 to $10 per month... that cost has been mimicked with the Apple Watch, with it costing $10 in the US and £5 in the UK to add in the bytes.

On top of that, this isn't going to be a roaming device - you'll only be able to use the LTE connectivity in your home country. That means you'll still need to take your phone on holiday with you, and going for a beach-side run and hoping that the Apple Watch 3 will be a good emergency device will be left disappointed.

There's another slight upgrade in that there's a barometric altimeter in the mix now, which means the Watch 3 can tell when you're heading up and down stairs more effectively - although that's something rivals have had for a while, so this is just tidying up.

It's also got the new higher-power dual core chip inside, one that's capable of running faster and more power-efficiently for when swiping around the Watch. It's hard to tell if this will make things noticeably faster though, as the Watch 2 was already pretty rapid - but it'll definitely be a better experience over the original Apple Watch, which the Watch 3 will compete with on shop shelves.

Will the above be enough to make people want to upgrade to the new Watch? Being able to go for a run and be connected and navigate without the iPhone is cool (especially as you can stream Apple Music on the go, which is a really nifty upgrade) but it's an added expense that some may balk at.

Especially if they're also buying the expensive iPhone X...

Battery

Obviously we couldn't track the Apple Watch 3's battery life just yet during our demo, but Apple has detailed the expected duration following a nightly charge here.

It still claims that you'll get about 18 hours following a single charge (which will take 90 minutes to get to 80%, then another 30 minutes to get to 100%) and from that you can expect a 10 hour workout, five hours on GPS or four hours on GPS and LTE - largely in keeping with the Apple Watch 2.

However, you'll 'only' get an hour's talktime with the Watch 3 over LTE, but then again... it's unlikely you'll be regularly using it for that rather than, you know, your actual phone.

OS and power

The Apple Watch 3 will run the recently announced watchOS 4. New features in for the new software include improvements to the fitness features, the ability to pair other Bluetooth devices and brand new watch faces, too.

Toy Story characters are coming as more animated pals on the new Watch faces

That should also be helped by a new dual-core processor, which Apple states is 70% faster than we've seen in models prior. Apple didn't state what the name of the new chip is, but added that its wireless technology is being enhanced with a new W2 chip, the successor to what's inside of the Apple AirPods.

Apple Watch 3 vs Apple Watch 2

There's so little between these two watches, that it's hard to see what's really different beyond the cellular connectivity.

The Apple Watch 3 has a red dot on the crown to mark out that it has the extra connectivity, and is a fraction of a millimeter thicker to pack in all the extra tech - again, an impressive move.

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Beyond that, it's the same accelerometer, GPS, OLED display mix that we've got on the strong Apple Watch 3 - you really can't tell the difference beyond the dot.

There's a barometric altimeter for working out how high you are at any given time (useful for stairs climbed information or tracking elevation during a run) but LTE aside, this is one of the main feature differences.

It does have an improved processor and can run that much faster though - and we'd expect battery life to be a little better when we get running (without cellular connectivity, of course). In testing, Apple claims that the Watch 3 is capable of running 1.7x faster compared to 2016's model, which would be a decent boost.

Siri can also speak to you on the new Apple Watch, through the same speaker you can make calls on - but we couldn't get that to work in our demo.

However, given the Apple Watch 2 is going offsale soon, if you want the cheaper model from 2016 you'd best act fast - it's going to sell out at other sellers soon, and there's nothing more to replenish those stocks.

Apple Watch 3 vs Apple Watch 1

In terms of your actual choice of Apple Watch, it's going to be between the Watch 3 and the first Watch, first announced in 2014 and launched in early 2015.

There's a big disparity in features and performance... but also, in terms of price too.

The Apple Watch 3 has LTE connectivity, a red dot on the digital crown, water resistance to allow you take the watch swimming, and a speaker to let you hear Siri on the go.

You can take calls, see how many stairs you've climbed, use GPS to track your running and cycling and, well, everything performs that little bit faster.

However, the original Apple Watch (or Apple Watch Series 1) now costs only $249 / £249 / AU$359, which is a fair chunk cheaper than the newer model.

In our eyes, if you're not bothered about LTE connectivity, then the GPS-only model isn't too much more expensive, and offers a far larger amount of features for just $80 / £80 / AU$100 mode.

If you're just looking for a second screen on your wrist, the Series 1 model will work just fine, but if you've got any inclination to exercise or get that little bit fitter (or just want a Watch that performs better with a brighter screen) then an upgrade makes a lot of sense.

Early verdict

The Apple Watch 3 LTE delivers a really minimal upgrade in that it essentially just adds in connectivity to its latest wearable.

However, with the Apple Watch 2 no longer sold by Apple, and stocks likely to run dry quickly in other stores, this is the only Watch it's worth looking at from the Cupertino brand. 

The real choice is between the Apple Watch with or without LTE - having that connection makes things simpler, but in reality we imagine most people will enjoy the cheaper GPS-only model and still get the benefit of enhanced speed, better screen (over the Apple Watch 1) and superior feature-set to get a good mix of convenience and activity tracking each day.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.