On Sept. 22, Apple began delivery of the new Apple Watch Series 3 (from $329). Just a few days before, the company had released watchOS 4, the newest iteration of the operating system that runs on the smartwatch. In this article, I’ll provide a look at the Apple Watch Series 3 and watchOS 4 with an emphasis on comparing it to the original Apple Watch that shipped in 2015.
Design-wise, the Series 3 looks almost identical to the original Watch. In fact, during the Apple event on Sept. 12, it was noted that the thickness of the Watch has increased only by the equivalent of two sheets of paper. The only obvious change to the device is the bright red color on the end of the Digital Crown that designates the device as having built-in LTE cellular service. Some people have been put off by the red dot; third-parties are already selling colored vinyl stickers to cover the red…
The New Sport Loop Band
With the announcement of the Series 3, Apple also introduced a new band called the Sport Loop. Available in eight different colors, the Sport Loop uses a breathable nylon weave material that is fastened with a “hook and loop” closure (AKA “Velcro™”). I not only found the Sport Loop to be much more comfortable than the original flouroelastomer Sport band, but easier to put on and adjust.
I’m sure that many third-party accessory manufacturers will emulate the Sport Loop at a price point less than the $49 Apple price tag. The soft look of the Sport Loop Band can be seen in the image at right.
Compared to the original Watch, the Series 3 has vastly improved battery life. With my daily usage, the original Watch needed to be charged every night — there was no way that I could run any sleep tracking apps as the Watch would quickly exhaust its battery overnight.
After setting up the Series 3 on Sunday night (Sept. 24) I have now worn the Watch for 40 hours straight. The Watch wasn’t fully charged when I received it — it was at an 85 percent battery level — and it’s currently at 33 percent. When used on a Wi-Fi network (not running on cellular) and fully charged, I’d estimate that it would only need to be charged once every three days.
Your battery life, of course, may vary depending on your usage and especially on how often you make or receive calls using the built-in LTE connection.
The Cellular Connection
The marquee feature of the Apple Watch Series 3 is that it can be purchased with built-in cellular capabilities. This enables the device to upload and download data and even make voice calls without needing to be connected to a Wi-FI network or being tethered wirelessly to an iPhone.
A number of early Series 3 buyers were confused during the setup process when they didn’t immediately see a signal strength indicator on the new “Explorer” Watch face. It turns out that the signal strength dots only appear when the Watch is away from both a Wi-Fi network and an iPhone. In addition, an “antenna” icon in the Watch Control Center (see image at right) turns green to indicate that the device is running through a cellular connection. The cellular service works fine, but it definitely chews up battery on the new Watch, something that I hope is fixed by an Apple or third-party Watch band that includes a separate battery.
Voice calls sound quite good on the Series 3, not surprising since calls made or received through the original Watch via the tethered iPhone were quite clear. The Series 3 speaker is definitely much better than the one that was in the original Watch, so calls sound loud and clear.
Calls are made by tapping the phone icon on the Explorer Watch face or by launching the Phone app. For dialing, one can explore Contacts by twirling the Digital Crown, then tap a single contact to see and dial numbers; tap on recent calls to dial someone you’ve talked to recently; view the list of Favorites created on your iPhone or Mac and dial with a tap; or bring up a keypad to tap in a number. In each case, the calls go through very quickly. There’s also a dedicated voicemail button for listening to voice messages.
It’s not surprising that one of the key changes in watchOS 4 is the addition of more persistent activity updates that
provide more incentive to “complete the rings” — in other words, closing those blue, green and red rings that indicate standing up each hour, exercise and movement. watchOS 4 now tells me to go for a walk every evening for a certain number of minutes to get my exercise and movement rings, which is definitely an incentive (screenshot above)!
For those who like to work out, watchOS 4 now puts your Watch into Do Not Disturb mode during your workouts. The Heart Rate app provides current, resting and walking averages. Tap on any of the listed rates, and a scatter chart shows your heart rate over time (image at right). Most importantly, the Heart Rate app will now warn you if your heart rate suddenly rises above a pre-set level when you appear to be inactive (a possible sign of atrial fibrillation).
Soon, watchOS 4 will be updated to allow the use of the cellular connection to stream Apple Music. Just think — 40 million+ tunes on your wrist, beamed to your AirPods.
There’s a new “intelligent” Watch face that uses Siri intelligence to change what you see throughout the day. For those who are easily bored looking at the same Watch face all the time, the Siri Watch face is fascinating. It pulls information from a variety of sources — from Apple News to Weather and Workouts — and displays different information depending on your habits. There’s also a Siri complication to tap for instant access to Apple’s intelligent assistant, who can now respond verbally to questions on the Series 3.
Toy Story and Kaleidoscope Watch faces also add excitement to your day. With the former, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie are animated on the Watch face as you view it to check the time, while the Kaleidoscope face takes an image and animates it in a kaleidoscopic motion.
The Final Word
Since I’ve owned an Apple Watch since day one, I was surprised and pleased by the vast changes in capability that the newer model provides. As battery life improves so the Watch can communicate over Wi-Fi and LTE all day long, as Siri becomes smarter, and as more powerful apps make it possible to do more without needing to have an iPhone nearby, I can see that Apple’s future may see the iPhone go the way of the iPod.
Already, using an Apple Watch with AirPods is a taste of the future. Perhaps in a few years, a more powerful Apple Watch paired with AirPods and a pair of augmented reality glasses will eliminate the need for a smartphone.