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

By Kenny Yeo - 8 Feb 2018

User experience & conclusion

On the wrist

The Apple Watch Series 3 wears well on the wrist and its strong design means it has remarkable wrist presence.

I have had the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) on my wrist for the past few days and I found it to perform slightly better than the Apple Watch Series 2. It is noticeably faster in most areas. However, the difference wasn't night and day, and certainly not as great as going from the very first Apple Watch to the Apple Watch Series 2. Apple Watch Series 2 was markedly quicker than its predecessor.

The W2 wireless chip enables faster syncing of data with my phone and does appear to be more power efficient. Even after a day of use, with on and off app usage, and a 20-minute workout, I still have about 60% of battery left. But even with that much left in the reserves, I still had to charge it at night. So although the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) is more power efficient, it won’t change users’ charging habits. It is still a device that you must charge every night.

Activity tracking is mostly spot on but it can be prone to errors now and then. Here is an example: the Apple Watch counts every full minute of movement that equals or exceeds the intensity of a brisk walk as exercise, and because I drive a manual car that requires me to shift gears, it seems to think that the activity of shifting gear is equivalent to exercise. Sure, a manual car is more work to drive, but I think the Apple Watch is a little too generous in counting that toward exercise.

Apple's straps for its smartwatch are very well designed and made.

Insofar as comfort is concerned, the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) is faultless. Coupled with Apple’s excellent fluoroelastomer Sport band, I found the watch to be very comfortable to wear. In fact, most of Apple's straps are really well-designed and comfortable on the wrist.

Since we on the topic of straps, the new Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) retains Apple’s ingenious strap-changing system too and is compatible with every other strap that Apple has released thus far. That’s a good thing, and it is also the reason why I think Apple will be sticking to this squarish design and 38mm and 42mm dimensions for the foreseeable future. They will likely want future Apple Watches to be compatible with their incredible catalog of straps.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is slightly less expensive than its predecessor.

At S$548 (for the 42mm model), the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) is, like most Apple products, a premium device. But this is actually slightly less expensive than last year’s Apple Watch Series 2, which was priced at $598. That said, S$548 is actually quite reasonable as its competitors like the Samsung Gear S3, and not that much more than the new Fitbit Ionic. Furthermore, at S$548 the Apple Watch Series 3 still costs less than a high-end GPS running watch, and I would argue that it offers more in terms of features and usability. 

The smaller 38mm model of the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) goes for S$498 (also S$50 less). There are three finishes to choose from: silver, gold, and space grey.

Though the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) doesn’t boast many new features over its predecessor, the combination of its faster S3 processor and the new watchOS 4 means that it is still, by far and away, the best smartwatch for the iPhone and also one of the best smartwatches you can buy now. However, the lack of cellular connectivity means that it is still heavily reliant on the iPhone.

 

Final Thoughts: Wait for the cellular model

The Apple Watch Series 3 is mostly just a faster version of the Apple Watch Series 2.

In terms of both features and performance, the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) is very similar to the Apple Watch Series 2, and I think owners of the latter will struggle to find any compelling reasons to upgrade. Yes, the new Apple Watch Series 3 is faster, but I never found its predecessor to be so slow that it was unbearable to use. 

The problem, if you can even call it that, is that the Apple Watch Series 2 was, and still is a very competent smartwatch, which means the new Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) needs to be very special to stand out. And unfortunately, without celluar connectivity (in Singapore), the Apple Watch Series 3 just feels like a faster version of the Apple Watch Series 2.

Therefore, for owners of the Apple Watch Series 2, it makes much more sense to wait and see if the cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 3 will be available here. Furthermore, if you were to purchase a new Apple Watch now, you can only get one with an aluminum case. That’s because the stainless steel, ceramic (Apple Watch Edition), and Herm├Ęs versions of the Apple Watch Series 3 are all only available as cellular models

That said, for owners of the first Apple Watch and the Apple Watch Series 1, the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS), even in its non-cellular form, can be a compelling upgrade.

You see, Apple Watch Series 3 is appreciably faster than Series 2, which is already a lot faster than the very first Apple Watch. So going from the first Apple Watch to Apple Watch Series 3 is going to get you a huge performance bump. Additionally, Apple Watch Series 3 has a lot of features that the first Apple Watch and Apple Watch Series 1 lack, such as 50m water resistance and built-in GPS.

It makes more sense to wait for the cellular versions of the Apple Watch Series 3.

Let's not also forget that the cellular versions of the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) would definitely command a significant premium - plus you have to take into account the additional monthly fees for cellular connectivity. If cellular connectivity isn’t one of your priorities, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a great upgrade for owners of the first Apple Watch.

Even though the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) isn’t drastically different from its predecessor, it still is a great smartwatch. The design is great (though this is purely subjective) and the overall performance is better than ever. As I said, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a great upgrade for owners of first the Apple Watch, especially if cellular connectivity is something they are willing to forgo. For everyone else, I would recommend adopting a wait-and-see approach to see if and when  Apple will introduce the cellular model of the Apple Watch Series 3 here. After all, cellular connectivity is easily the most important new feature of the new Apple Watch Series 3.

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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