Apple Watch 3 review

The new Apple Watch makes the right connections

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

The two versions of the Apple Watch 3 impress - but the cheaper, non-4G version of the wearable delivers good value for money and top fitness capabilities from the wrist.

For

  • Good smartwatch battery life
  • Clear, bright screen

Against

  • Only iPhone compatible
  • Siri still patchy

It might have taken some of you by surprise that the Apple Watch 3 (or Apple Watch Series 3 if you're being particular) isn't just an evolution of the Watch 2, but a direct replacement.

The Watch 3 is available in two forms – one with cellular connectivity onboard, and one with just GPS. For both, there's an all-new chipset inside as well as  some key new features on offer here.

As the 'new' Apple Watch 2, this device is the flag-bearer for fitness and longevity, with run and cycle tracking on board and a water-resistant casing for swimming, plus the same heart rate monitor on the underside.

Like the still-on-sale original Apple Watch, the Watch 3 is running the new WatchOS 4, which is a significant and useful upgrade... but this latest Watch is  rather expensive, and it's landing in a world of increasingly impressive fitness-focused watches with smart capabilities.

Apple has been touting its place as the number one watch manufacturer in the world – so does the Apple Watch 3 offer enough to ensure it holds on to the top spot?

Apple Watch 3 price and release date

  • Launched September 22
  • Starts at £329 / $329 / AU$459

There are two variants of the Apple Watch 3, one with LTE / cellular capabilities and one with just GPS onboard. 

The former costs £399 / $399 / AU$559 or £429 / $429 / AU$599 (for the 38mm and 42mm bands respectively), while the latter is a more affordable £329 / $329 / AU$459 or £359 / $359 / AU499.

Compare that to the new price of the Apple Watch Series 1, which is £249 / $249 / AU$359 (38mm) or £279 / $279 / AU$399, and you can see that you're going to need to really use the upgraded features on the latest model to make it a worthwhile purchase.

The design of the Apple Watch 3 (top) and 2 (bottom) is virtually identical

One welcome thing to note price-wise is that the GPS-only model has a much lower launch price than the Apple Watch 2 (which is now off-sale), yet brings an upgraded chipset and altimeter to the mix. 

It’s not a massive upgrade, but it’s something, and enough to make the lower price look impressive. 

The Apple Watch 3 was launched on September 22 2017, and should be the 'new' model for at least a year, if not longer.

Do we need LTE?

  • Connects pretty well, can be a touch patchy
  • Extra cost to stream your data from the Watch

The biggest thing about this new Apple Watch is that it’s got its own cellular connection inside, so it can work independently of your phone.

Does that mean you can buy one without owning an iPhone? Sadly not… not by a long way. In reality it means that you can receive phone calls and some app notifications when your phone is at home, but otherwise it’s totally dependent on your handset.

In terms of updates, if the app you want to use hasn't been upgraded to work in 'standalone mode' (as in, doesn't need a phone connection to function) then you won’t get updates and notifications even if the LTE connection is enabled.

The ability to connect to a cellular network is fine, but doesn't feel like the most crucial feature to add in. 

You can disable LTE from the Control Center

Some people were initially having issues with the Watch 3 picking up random Wi-Fi networks, or struggling to find LTE connections, but we never noticed anything in our testing, and a recent WatchOS update has eradicated the problem anyway.

The call quality from such a small device is really rather impressive – we conducted a phone chat with someone while running, and both the voice quality out of the speaker and the sensitivity of the microphone were excellent.

It meant we could run pretty much normally and still hold a conversation without having to hold the Watch 3 to our head. In fact, it was so loud you’ll need to move quickly to stop people listening in.

We would question whether you really need the functionality – not least because you have to pay extra for it. It’s particularly galling that you need to spend between $5-$10 / £5 per month to have your data that you’re already paying for pumped to your device.

If adding data to the Watch was free and just naturally extended to the wrist, it would be fine, but the added cost makes it hard to recommend. 

One benefit of having a dedicated connection is that you can stream music on the go, and Apple has announced that you’ll be able to do that with its Music service.

Except… you can’t yet. For some reason, it’s not been enabled, so one of the main features that might persuade you to go for the LTE model isn't available yet.

We can’t really see a good reason to recommend the LTE variant of the Apple Watch 3, as the notion of not needing your phone to go running was taken care of by adding GPS to the watch with the second-generation model. Do we want another time when we're always connected? Isn't a workout a time to switch off?

With that in mind you should only consider the Apple Watch 3 LTE variant if you’re worried about not being contactable when out exercising, or inexplicably leave your phone in places.

Design and screen

  • Almost identical design to previous models
  • Screen is still vivid and bright

The design of the Apple Watch has become pretty iconic, in the way that people just know you’re wearing the iTimepiece. When you see a footballer wearing a Fitbit you'll have to peer to see which model it is, but with the Apple Watch it's  instant recognition.

Unlike the iPhone, we don't see the need to upgrade the design that much with a watch, and Apple's done pretty well to keep the chassis almost identical given that it's now packing in a new chipset and cellular connectivity in the two sizes of device (38mm and 42mm).

It's done so by integrating the antenna into the screen, which is an innovative way of saving space... although the Watch couldn't have stood to be made any chunkier, such is its square, curved design.

There has been a slight upgrade in the manufacturing process though, as  clicking the Digital Crown or the power button feels firmer than on the Apple Watch 2.

This is subtle, but it's something we've noticed every time we've used the Watch 3. Apart from that, the only key difference is on the Digital Crown, which now sports a red dot to signify it's the new model.

The screen is still as clear and bright as ever

It's nothing major, but we did get a question about it when wearing the Watch, showing that people are interested when a new Watch appears.

It’s elegant and light, and while some have yearned for a circular display, the 1.65-inch display (on the 42mm version) is certainly the optimal size and shape for displaying more data – and as mentioned, Apple has brute-forced acceptance of its watch design into the market.

The screen itself, which uses OLED technology, has always been one of the most attractive on the market. It’s clear, vivid and bright, and we never had an issue with not being able to see it when out and about.

Well, that’s not entirely true – the screen does switch itself off to preserve battery when needed, and that means you have to flick your wrist to see the display.

While this is far from ideal, Apple has tuned the algorithm to such an extent that even a tiny little flick will fire up the display – and while this isn’t always as accurate when running, for example, it’s a lot, lot better than we saw with the first version of the Apple Watch.