Let’s talk about the red dot.
The hint of bright color on the Apple Watch Series 3 digital crown serves no function. It’s just a bold reminder that this wearable doesn’t need your iPhone to do its job, thank you very much.
Apple describes the blood-red dot as a sort of aesthetic accent that announces to the world that this Apple Watch has its own LTE radio. With that and the built-in GPS, the Apple Watch Series 3 is self-sufficient, letting you go for a run and leave your phone behind without worrying about not being able to make and receive calls, get and send texts, and get turn-by-turn navigation guidance.
For some, this is a big deal. Apple’s small change basically transforms the Apple Watch into a tiny smartphone.
Think about it. The Apple Watch Series 3 can perform many of the same skills as your iPhone, including email, messaging, phone calls, maps and directions, smart home control, health and fitness tracking, weather, Find My Friends, gaming, access Siri, and much more. Obviously, you can’t take pictures, but there is an iPhone camera remote control so you can snap pictures on your iPhone via the watch.
Of course, most of that’s been true since the first Apple Watch. I’ve been making and receiving calls through my Apple Watch for years; I just can’t do it if my iPhone isn’t within a roughly 50-foot radius of the Apple Watch. Perhaps that’s why I’m not over the moon about the Series 3’s LTE radio. Making phone calls from a tiny device on my wrist has some appeal, but, like many I know, I never, ever leave my phone behind.
I am not, though, a good representative for all Apple Watch wearers, especially those who regularly go for a run or a swim. Runners, swimmers, and those who go to the gym on a regular basis will appreciate the ability to not only leave their iPhone behind, but to strap on their Apple Watch Series 3, dive right into the swimming pool or ocean, swim a few laps, then pause to check their email, social media, or text messages.
For owners of the bigger “Plus” iPhones, the ability to leave behind their large 5.5-inch handset might be enough of a reason. Where does that phone go when you don’t have pockets and want to carry a tiny clutch bag? There’s always room on your wrist for a device like the Apple Watch Series 3, and with all the material and band options, it’ll look fashionable, too.
That connectivity, though, does not come cheap. While the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS starts at $359, adding LTE raises the price to $429 (for the 38mm model, those prices are $329 and $399, respectively). Plus, you still pay for any data you consume via the watch.
Some carriers, like Sprint, will be offering free Apple Watch Series 3 data service for the first three months. Sprint told me there is no activation fee and that, after the grace period, Apple Watch Series 3 customers will pay $15 a month for unlimited data or $10 a month with their auto-payment option.
From a design perspective, and aside from the red dot, the Apple Watch Series 3 looks the same as the Series 2. It has the same touch and force-sensitive Retina display (390 x 312 on the 42mm, 340 x 272 on the 38mm). It’s also worth noting that the 42mm stainless steel wearable I tested is the same size as the previous edition (42.5 x 36.4 x 11.4 mm). It’s heavier, but by less than a gram (52.8 grams versus 52.4 g) and I promise you won’t notice the difference on your wrist.
Pause for a moment to consider this: Apple added an LTE radio, one that surely eats space and power, and managed to fit it inside the same-size Apple Watch chassis as before, while also maintaining 18-hours of battery life (which was my experience). It’s unlikely this would’ve been possible without re-engineering the guts to some extent.
The Apple Watch, like the iPhone 8, has a new, more powerful processor — in this case the dual-core S3, which helps newly installed iPhone apps appear instantly on the watch. It also has the second generation of Apple’s W1 Bluetooth/Wi-Fi chip called, unsurprisingly, W2. And Apple got around the space needed for a physical SIM card by adding what’s called an eSIM (electronic SIM). It even hid the LTE antenna under the display. That’s quite an engineering feat.
Obviously, Apple doesn’t leave the LTE radio on all the time. If you’re near your phone, it switches to a Bluetooth connection to the phone. Alternatively, if you’re away from your phone but within a trusted Wi-Fi network, the Apple Watch Series 3 will use that.
Make the call
Since I got the Apple Watch Series 3 before the carriers rolled out their support, Apple handed the watch to me pre-paired with an iPhone 8.
What I can tell you, though, is that pairing your Apple Watch and using it to make calls won’t be a complicated process. On the phone, I saw one message telling me “Cellular is Ready” (along with an image of the Apple Watch). Instead of a separate number for the phone and the watch, the carrier (in my case, AT&T) uses NumberSync, which means calls from my watch use the iPhone phone number.
Naturally, as soon as I had a chance, I paired my AirPods with the Apple Watch Series 3 (I opened the case, placed them near the watch and hit connect when the message appeared on the screen), turned off my iPhone 8, and punched in my wife’s number of the Apple Watch. She picked up, unaware that I was speaking to her through a wearable device.
The call was clear, as were others I made and received, some without the AirPods, throughout the week.
Making phone calls with nothing but your watch is important, but it’s far from the Apple Watch Series 3’s most visible changes. Those come courtesy of watchOS 4.
Gone is the open app carousel, which rotated the apps side-to-side. You still access your open apps by pressing the button just below the Digital Crown, but now the open app cards flip vertically — you control them by rotating the digital crown and tap the screen to open your app of choice. At the bottom of the card is access to the classic app cluster, which you can also access by pressing the digital crown.
In addition to updates like the introduction of the Apple News app and Apple Pay person-to-person payments (not live at the time or writing), there are some adorable and useful new watch faces like my personal favorite, Toy Story, and the Siri face, which is a compilation of things Siri thinks you might need at any given moment. My Siri watch face presented cards for weather, music, the stock market, a new photo memory from a trip I took months ago, a reminder to breathe, and my schedule for tomorrow. You scroll through the vertical cards using the digital crown or your finger.
Siri, which now lives all by herself on the watch, is ready to answer questions with text and speech. The speaker on the watch is not new, but Apple Watch Series 2 lacked the processing power to let Siri use it. I can access Siri by lifting my wrist and saying, “Hey Siri” and, even if my phone is off, she’ll show my schedule, a weather update, and sports scores. There were some instances, like when I asked for a news update, that she suggested I open the phone to complete a web search.
WatchOS 4 also changes the workout app and how the device tracks your hearts rate in a variety of meaningful ways.
Had I done an Iron Man Triathlon, I could’ve tested each one of the Series 3’s varied workout-tracking skills, which include tracking indoor and outdoor walks, indoor and outdoor runs, outdoor cycling and indoor ellipticals, rowing, stair-stepping and pool or open-water swim (it also keeps track of laps, even if you rest in between them).
The heart-rate app also got a major upgrade, adding details like resting rate and average walking rates. It can also keep watch for irregular heart rhythms by looking at 10-minute intervals. That heart analysis extends to recovery analysis during workouts, tracking how quickly your heart rate returns to a normal rhythm after a workout.
Even though there’s still no specific Apple app for tracking weight training, I did my usual strength-training workout (push-ups, curls, pull-ups, crunches) using the new High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout setting, which tracks your calories burned, but warns it may lose track of your heartbeat due to some of the workout’s irregular movements.
Pausing the workout in between activities, I noticed that the app kept track of Active and Total Calories burned based on data from the accelerometer. I don’t know how accurately that tracks, say, a curling bar arm curl. I imagine it varies depending on the weight.
The watch also tracked my heart rate, including the range and average heart rate across my varied workout activities. It also showed me that it took about 3 minutes for my heart rate to recover from the workout, dropping from 120 beats per minute to 92 BPM over the course of three minutes. The faster your recovery, the fitter you are.
The Apple Watch Series 3 also features a new barometric sensor for tracking altitude, which once again frees it from the iPhone when the need arises for tracking your hill- and stair-climbing activity. Stairs climbed appear in the Activity Tracker and elevation climbed is captured at the end of your workout reporter. All this exercise data also gets shared to the iPhone-based Health app.
For me and my somewhat more limited activities, I noticed the updated Activity Circle design, which does account for my exercise done in the Workout app, and I especially liked what I can only describe as the “circle of fire” that appeared when I completed my walking activity.
The watch stands alone
Having built in data on the Apple Watch Series 3 means you can do the same data-centric sort of things, like streaming music, you usually do with your iPhone.
The Apple Watch has always had the ability to control music streams playing on the phone and directly play songs stored on the watch’s 16GB of storage (double that of the Series 2 watch). But now I can stream music directly from Apple Music service to the watch, bypassing the phone entirely. Yes, I even signed up with Apple Music just so I could test this… only to find out that this feature is coming soon.
I was also disappointed to find that there is no standalone Podcast app for the watch. That’s seems like an obvious oversight. Surely, I’m not the only person who might choose streaming WTF or I Was There, Too instead of music during a workout or a day at the beach.
There are other nice touches, like the new Flashlight on the control panel that will turn the screen bright white so you can use it to find your way in the dark (there’s also a flashing light option, as well as an all-red screen) and all the countless reasons I like Apple Watch in the first place. I still like it for the notifications I can see at a glance, my iMessages, and the gentle taps I feel on my wrist, reminding me I have an appointment. I still love how turn-by-turn navigation is provided is super-simplified, glanceable form on the watch and that it, too, is accompanied by a gentle tap, reminding me it’s time to make a turn.
While other smartwatch companies have tried different shapes, size, and thicknesses, Apple has remained consistent and captured a huge chunk of the market (Apple claims the Apple Watch is both the No. 1 smartwatch — or any watch — in the world). The Apple Watch Series 3 continues this trend with a consistent look and increased power and versatility. The ability to run, swim, walk or simply forget your phone and stay fully connected could be a game-changer.
To see what kind of impact owning an LTE data-enabled smartwatch could make on my life, I turned off my iPhone 8 and spent as much time as I could checking email, sending and checking texts, and seeing exactly which apps were ready for my phone-free life.
Apple told me that any app that was updated for Apple Watch Series 2 should work with the watch-supplied data. Some, like Siri (I asked about the capitol of Spain and got the right text and voice response, including a photo of Madrid), Weather, and CNN did, but others like Slack, AP news and Twitter made it clear that the still needed that phone connection.
Realistically, I can only stare at that tiny screen for so long. That’s the main reason the Apple Watch Series 3 will never fully replace a phone, but with built-in LTE, it can do more on its own. Now Apple and app developers need to finish the vision.
Apple Watch Series 3
It can make and receive calls on its own • Still excellent design • Data can power Siri and other apps • More Workout options than ever • Great battery life
Price for LTE support is high • You’ll pay for data • Streaming music not ready • No podcast app
The Bottom Line
Apple’s smart upgrade to its popular wearable takes the Apple Watch to a new level of responsiveness and constant connectivity.
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