The biggest change this time is mobile data. There’s a tiny SIM inside the new watch. It may not unlock a whole new world of uses like native GPS, but it does mean the watch is more independent than ever.
- Read our hands on Apple Watch 3 review
Some early rumors suggested the Apple Watch 3 might adopt a round face. However, the design hasn’t really changed.
It looks identical to Apple Watch 2. That means a square face with a big crown on the side, and that classic spot-it-from-10m-away look.
The shell is the same as before, but in order to fit in the extra hardware required for LTE, the rear glass has been expanded out by 0.25mm. It’s a difference we wouldn’t have noticed unless Apple told us.
There are also some new style choices with Apple Watch 3. It comes with a grey ceramic shell, a gold aluminium case and there’s a new woven sports loop for the sport fans out there.
Both versions are water resistant, to the extent you can wear them while swimming.
Sensors and LTE
The big change in Apple Watch 2 was GPS. This lets you track runs without needing to have a phone in your pocket.
Apple Watch 3 adds LTE mobile internet. That means you can stay fully connected when your phone is left at home.
The watch uses a tiny electronic SIM just a fraction the size of a nano SIM. It’ll use the same number as your iPhone, and your location data will automatically switch over to the watch when it senses you’ve left your phone at home. Pretty neat, right?
A SIM means you can call people from the phone, treating it just like a wrist-worn mobile. It also lets you stream Apple Music (and hopefully Spotify) with the watch alone. You’ll need a pair or wireless headphones, though, as there’s no headphone jack.
If you have no interest in a watch with LTE, there’s also a version of Apple Watch 3 without it. It’ll be a much simpler purchase as it won’t have to be connected to a network. In the UK, EE will sell the LTE Watch 3. In the US, you can get it from AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.
For fitness tracking there’s arguably an even better addition. The Apple Watch 3 has a barometric altimeter, tracking the number of stairs you climb as well as the number of steps you make each day. Most dedicated fitness trackers don’t even have one of these, making it a tasty extra.
Both versions of the watch have an optical heart rate sensor on the back, and a full array of motion sensors. The Apple Watch has one of the best HR trackers among smartwatches.
The displays of the second and third Apple Watches are largely the same. There’s a 42mm version with a 1.65-inch screen and a smaller 38mm one with a 1.5-inch screen.
All versions use an AMOLED panel, for perfect blacks and good outdoor visibility. It’s also what lets the Watch use relatively little battery when simply displaying a basic watch face.
Resolution hasn’t changed either. You get 312 x 390 pixels for the 42mm version and 272 x 340 pixels in the 38mm version.
These are among the higher resolutions you’ll see in a smartwatch. It’s not an element we were desperately wanting to be upgraded.
OS and power
Most of the software changes talked about alongside the Watch 3 will come to the Watch 2 as well. Both will run Watch OS 4.
Great upgrades include a major enrichment of heart rate sensor data. It’ll now record your recovery times after exercise and make much better use of your resting heart rate data. This makes it more useful as a way to track your fitness.
There are some parts you won’t get with the older watch, though. Most of these are because of LTE and the new altimeter. You can track how many ‘floors’ of stairs you go up in the Watch 3, but not in the Watch 2.
Siri will also talk to you in the Watch 3, using the internal speaker. You might not want to do this in public, but it’s a pretty neat extra.
Apple says this is down to the new processor in the watch. Both Watch 2 and Watch 3 have dual-core processors, but the new CPU is 70 per cent faster than the S2 chipset used in the Watch 2.
The new watch also has an upgraded wireless chipset, making Wi-Fi 85 per cent faster and 50 per cent more power efficient. What’s faster Wi-Fi? It uses a chipset capable of higher bandwidth.
Apple still hasn’t been able to fix what is perhaps the biggest issue with smartwatches, though. Battery life has not been improved.
The official line is you’ll get the same 18 hours of mixed use with the Apple Watch 2 or Watch 3.
With real-world use we’ve found we can get the watch to last up to two days. There are Android Wear watches with worse stamina, but if you use your smartwatch a lot you’ll probably still have to charge it every day to make sure it doesn’t die on your wrist.
Both watches use a wireless charging plate you can plug into a standard charger.
The Apple Watch 3 isn’t going to instantly boot the Watch 2 off shelves. For now at least, both models will sell alongside each other.
Prices start at $249 for the Apple Watch 2. The Watch 3 costs from $329 / £329 (about AU$410) without cellular, and the Watch 3 with LTE costs $399 / £399 (about $AU500).
These are starting prices, of course, and will vary depending on the casing and watch band you decide to go with.
For the average buyer, the Apple Watch 3 isn’t perhaps quite as much of an upgrade as the Apple Watch 2 was the year before. GPS really opened-up what it could do.
If you don’t buy the LTE version of the Watch 3, the main difference is an altimeter. We love tracking how many stairs we climb, but you do have to question whether that’s worth the price difference.
For those who are big fans of both the Apple Watch and running, being able to stream music completely detached from your phone could be a huge draw, though.
- Read our hands on Apple Watch 3 review