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Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) review: This needs cellular connectivity to stand out

By Kenny Yeo - 8 Feb 2018

Introduction

Note: This review was originally published on 24 September 2017 and was re-published on 8th February 2018 because the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) is launching tomorrow. We are currently testing the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) so stay tuned for our review. If you have any questions about the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular), leave them in the comments below and we will try to address them in the review.

We ain't getting cellular yet

Apple Watch Series 3 is Apple's third generation smartwatch.

Apple recently held a special event where they unveiled their new smartwatch called the Apple Watch Series 3. During the event, they also mentioned that they are now the number one watch brand in the world, surpassing heavyweights like Rolex, Fossil, Omega, and Cartier. Though Apple didn’t say if this is measured in terms of volume or revenue (we are guessing revenue), it is still a pretty impressive piece of statistic. 

Though the new Apple Watch Series 3 looks identical to its predecessors, it has one very important new feature. It will come with cellular connectivity - a first for an Apple smartwatch.

To be sure, cellular connectivity in a smartwatch isn’t new. Samsung’s Gear S3 and LG’s Watch Urbane, which were both launched last year, both have cellular connectivity. However, this is the first Apple Watch to boast cellular connectivity, so that’s a big deal.

The Apple Watch Series 3 looks a lot like its predecessor.

The problem, however, is that we won’t be getting the models with cellular connectivity, at least not yet. Presumably, this is because of the absence of telco support for the eSIM chip that the Apple Watch Series 3 is using. So what we are getting, for now at least, are the non-cellular versions, which are also known as the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS). Representatives from Apple did say that they open to working with local telcos, so hopefully we will get the cellular versions in the near future. But first, let’s run through what’s new in Apple’s third-generation smartwatch.

 

What’s New

A lot of changes are under the hood. The only way to tell if its a newer Apple Watch Series 3 is to look at the case back.

S3 Processor - The Apple Watch Series 3 gets a new and improved dual-core processor called the S3. Apple claims performance has been improved by 70%. This means a more responsive user experience and more fluid graphics. This processor is also what gives Siri enough compute power to speak for the first time on the Apple Watch.

W2 wireless chip - Apple Watch Series 3 also gets Apple’s new wireless chip called W2. W2 offers 80% faster Wi-Fi and is said to be 50% more efficient. 

Barometric altimeter - The latest Apple Watch gets a new sensor. It now has a barometric altimeter that measures your relative elevation - very useful for hikers.

This is the new Sport Loop watch band.

New bands - Apple has been continuously releasing new bands for the Apple Watch ever since its launch and there is now a bewildering selection for owners to choose from. For Apple Watch Series 3, Apple launched new Sport Loop bands, which come in 8 tantalizing colors including Seashell, Pink Sand, Spicy Orange and Electric Pink. There are also new Sport bands, Woven Nylon bands, Leather bands, and Hermès bands.

 

What’s not new

The Digital Crown and side button have been retained and are the only physical inputs for the Apple Watch Series 3.

Design - The Apple Watch Series 3 is still square. A lot of folks have clamored for a round Apple Watch, but I still think that a square design is best. To begin, a square display makes the most sense for displaying text. But perhaps more importantly, the square case of the Apple Watch is so distinctive now and people can recognize it from a mere silhouette, much like how people can recognize a Coke bottle from its silhouette. That is a mark of a strong design.

Can you tell which is the new Apple Watch Series 3?

Size - Still available in 38mm and 42mm, the new Apple Watch Series 3 is only very slightly thicker. Both 38mm and 42mm models of the Apple Watch Series 3 are 11.4mm thick and are only 0.25mm thicker than the Apple Watch Series 2. The additional thickness is to accommodate the cellular radios used in the cellular versions of the Apple Watch Series 3. 

GPS and water resistance - The two most significant features of the Apple Watch Series 2 are unchanged on the new Apple Watch Series 3. Water resistance is still rated at 50 meters and there is still a built-in GPS. The 50-meter water resistant rating means the Apple Watch Series 3 can be used for swimming (but not diving).

 

watchOS 4

Thanks to watchOS 4, heart rate monitoring is now vastly improved.

As you can probably tell by now, the non-cellular Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) is quite similar to last year’s Apple Watch Series 2. In fact, apart from the faster processor, W2 wireless chip, and new barometric altimeter sensor, the two are mostly the same.

The other big difference is that the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) comes preloaded with watchOS 4, Apple’s latest operating system for its smartwatch. watchOS 4 features significant improvements and updates, and there’s a strengthened focus on health and fitness. 

For example, the Heart Rate app has enhanced to show deeper insights including details like resting and walking heart rates. The app can now even alert you if it detects abnormal heart rates.

The Activity app has also been tweaked to be more personal and intelligent to help users close their activity rings. watchOS 4 can monitor your activity levels and send notifications near the end of the day with suggestions as to activities that you can do to close your rings. 

The Workout app now includes the increasingly popular high-intensity interval training.

For fitness enthusiasts, the Workout app now tracks HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Music controls are now also directly accessible within the Workout app, making it easier for users to pound to their favorite tunes. 

Speaking of working out, watchOS 4 also introduces GymKit, which allows Apple Watch users to pair their Apple Watches with compatible gym equipment. This allows the Apple Watch to immediately gather workout data from the gym equipment.

A sampling of watchOS 4's new watch faces.

And of course, watchOS 4 comes with new watch faces. There’s a new Siri watch face that gives instant access to Siri, plus it updates dynamically based on your information in other apps like Calendar, Reminders, Activity, and Wallet. For fans of Toy Story, there’s also new Woody, Jessie, and Buzz Lightyear watch faces that animate whenever you raise your wrist. And finally, there’s the Kaleidoscope face that changes and distorts when users rotate the Digital Crown, creating unique trippy patterns.

watchOS 4 is a nice update for Apple Watch, but it isn’t exclusive to Apple Watch Series 3. It is available to owners of the Apple Watch Series 2 and Series 1 as well and is available as a free update now.

8.5
  • Design 9
  • Features 8.5
  • User-Friendliness 8.5
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Better all-round performance
Improved battery life
Built-in GPS and heart rate monitor
50-meter water resistance
Strong design, lots of straps for customization
Class-leading build quality
More affordable than less year's models
The Bad
Not much difference over last year's model
Only non-cellular model available now
Activity tracking can be a little generous
Still needs to be recharged every night
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