The original Apple Watch is still available in the shape of the Series 1, while the Series 3 is available with or without LTE 4G connectivity. In either case, you’ll find a device that’s very much angled towards fitness-tracking, health, and general wellbeing.
Apple has made much in recent months of its pre-eminence over other watch brands such as Rolex and Fossil, but is the Apple Watch Series 3 still worth the money?
The Series 3 replaces the Watch Series 2 as Apple’s pre-eminent wearable. And now there’s a GPS and Cellular version, which comes with built-in 4G connectivity, meaning you can access internet data without being tethered to an iPhone.
Aside from 4G, the Series brings a range of smaller tweaks to Siri and exercise tracking. These include a more in-depth heart-rate tracking, more exercises in the workout app and a digital voice assistant.
The Series 3 is virtually identical in design to the Series 2, with Apple producing the same sleek, mini-iPhone aesthetic for the watch’s body. Size-wise, there are 38mm and 42mm models; we tested the 42mm version, which weighs 35g and has dimensions of 43 x 36 x 11mm. It’s light on the wrist and the AMOLED screen – which has a resolution of 272 x 340 for the 38mm model and 312 x 390 for the 42mm – is just large enough to ensure onscreen controls aren’t too fiddly.
Apple has added a new dual-core processor and LTE connectivity, cleverly using the main display as an antenna. Taps and swipes on the screen feel responsive, as do twiddles and presses on the Digital Crown and side button.
The main difference with the Series 3, to look at least, is the presence of a big red dot in the Digital Crown. I think it’s intended to let people aware that you’re wearing the latest and most expensive version of the Apple Watch, but it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Cellular and battery life
Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 3 with 4G, or opt for the Series 3 with only GPS? In our experience with the 4G model and knowing the £70 price difference between the two variants, I’d lean towards the latter option. Internet data certainly is useful, particularly for maps or listening to music during a long run, but there aren’t that many times outside of exercise that you’ll be wearing the Watch without an iPhone handy.
Setting up 4G connectivity on the watch is a simple matter of activating an EE e-SIM add-on via the Watch app on your iPhone. At the moment, though, EE is the only carrier in the UK to offer this service and it will cost you an extra £5 per month, which is of course an extra cost.
The good news is that 4G does really work. When the Series 3 first came out there were criticisms of the device latching onto passing Wi-Fi signals and subsequently dropping connectivity. Apple has since fixed this problem and I haven’t noticed any problem in my time with the wearable.
There were a small number of times when Bluetooth connectivity struggled, meaning music playback would cut out, but for the most part, the Series 3 was happy to stream a few songs and notify me about emails – even though I was miles away from my handset. I was even able to make phone calls via a connected Bluetooth headset, although be warned: extensive use of the 4G feature will kill the battery.
What the Series 3 shows is that, apart from exercise, there aren’t that many times when I’m away from my phone. So while LTE is a nice addition, and being able to make and receive calls via wireless headphones is a good way to keep connected, it's not that important to me.
As for battery life Apple says this should give you 18 hours, although I found the Series 3 would last much longer than this with moderate use. In my experience, it’s possible to squeeze two days from the device and sometimes a bit longer if it’s not being used as an exercise tracker.
Health and fitness tracking
The Apple Watch Series 3 offers a range of exercise tools on offer. The activity tracker is still there, monitoring steps and movement and nudging you to stand up every hour like it or not! The Workout app is also present and correct but has been expanded to intergrate a number of new exercises such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Apple have now added an altimeter, which is able to monitor the flights of stairs you’ve climbed during the day and provide more accurate elevation data during and after exercise.
And it's waterproof of course, it does an excellent job of keeping note of laps and lengths and it can now even tell you what stroke you’ve been doing. It’s also possible to combine a number of different workouts if, say, you’re moving from machine to machine in the gym.
There is now a more in-depth heart rate data. The heart rate app on the Series 3 measures your BPM as before, but now also charts your average walking and resting rates, as well as your recovery time after workouts. It’s interesting to see your heart’s progression over the course of a day and there’s even a potentially lifesaving option to turn on warnings if your heart rate jumps over a certain threshold while you’re inactive.
Altogether, the Series 3 offers the strongest amount of tracking and health data, means for most people it’s the only fitness watch they’ll ever need.
Software, Siri and performance
The Apple Watch Series 3 runs on watchOS 4, and with this comes with a updated version of Siri. There’s now a Siri watch face that shows the “information users need most throughout the day”, and the digital assistant can now respond with audio directly on the watch as well as text.
This makes Siri much more useful and is a big advantage for moments when fumbling with your hands isn’t practical – from setting timers to stopping music .
And this is all made possible by the Watch’s new S3 CPU, which Apple says is 70% faster than the S2 processor. Now, I didn’t have an issue with the Series 2’s performance, but with the Apple Watch Series 3 able to do so much more than its predecessor it makes sense to have more power on tap. Plus, it gives Apple Pay a responsiveness boost, registering payments on contactless readers a tiny bit quicker.
As for third-party software, well that’s mostly very good still. There are thousands of useful apps available to run on your Apple Watch alongside the core Apple defaults (some of which also benefit from a small revamp), with the promise of developers coming up with increasingly clever ways of taking advantage of the Watch’s new 4G capabilities.
It’s worth noting, however, that over the past year a number of big companies have pulled apps from the Apple Watch App store, including Google Maps, Amazon and eBay – and there’s still no Spotify app available on the platform. If you want to stream music on the go, via the Watch’s 4G connection, your best bet, currently, remains Apple Music.
Price and Competition
The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular, to give the device its full name, will set you back £399. If you opt for a stainless steel case, instead of the standard aluminium, you’ll have to cough up £599. Throw in the more expensive ‘Milanese Loop’ wristband and you’ll pay up to £749.
Without 4G, the Series 3 costs a more palatable £329. That still comes with GPS, but no option for internet data. For comparison, the Apple Watch Series 1 is now a mere £249, but that comes without GPS or full waterproofing.
In a similar ballpark is the Samsung Gear S3, which costs £349. Other prominent Android options include the Huawei Watch 2 (£280), while fitness-dedicated wearables include the Fitbit Charge 2 (£130) and Fitbit Ionic (£299).
Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Verdict
The Apple Watch Series 3 is a stellar wearable, but not necessarily because of the inclusion of 4G. Being able to access the internet without a tethered iPhone is handy, but with a £399 price for the hardware and an additional monthly payment tagged onto your phone contract, it’s an expensive addition for not a great deal of advantage.
The good news is that that the non-4G version is nearly as good and, at £329, costs a lot less. In fact, at that price, it’s competitive with the Huawei Watch 2 and Samsung Gear S3 (although the platform dependence of smartwatches in general makes that comparison somewhat moot).
The fact remains, though, that the Apple Watch Series 3 in either 4G or GPS-only guise is the best smartwatch you can buy, regardless of platform, and for most people the best all-round fitness tracker as well. If you own an iPhone and you’re looking to buy a smartwatch, it’s the only sensible option.