Apple Watch Series 3 review: now with cellular, it’s still the smartwatch to beat

The Apple Watch enters its third generation with little to prove

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T3 Verdict

Cell connectivity is an excellent addition to a category-leading device. There's no better smartwatch out there

Reasons to buy

  • +

    Leaves rivals floundering

  • +

    Cellular a worthy addition

  • +

    Plenty of design options

  • +

    Great for general fitness

Reasons to avoid

  • -

    We want even more battery life

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    Restricted network choice

The Apple Watch Series 3 follows up last year’s Series 2 by adding cellular connectivity to an already-successful recipe. But how successful? Nobody really knows.

Apple is notoriously secretive, but even by its standards it is remaining tight-lipped around sales figures for the Apple Watch.

Still, It’s a fact that the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch by a country mile and it is requires some effort to improve on the Series 2. Samsung’s Gear S3 is great, but slightly chunky. And Android Wear just isn’t doesn’t have the polish of watchOS, here presented in its fourth version.

The dimensions of the watch body are the same, but the back of the watch – the bit that touches your wrist – is ever so slightly thicker, Apple says.

There was no visual difference between the first and second versions of Apple Watch, but Apple has decided there needs to be a visual cue to mark out the cellular version of third version and so it has painted a red dot on the digital crown. Non cellular versions look exactly like their predecessors.

You pay a perfectly reasonable £70 premium for cellular connectivity (starting at £399 versus £329, though there are stainless steel and Milanese loop versions that take you up to £599, £699 and beyond).

So does the cellular connectivity work well? In a word, yes, but there are a couple of caveats when considering whether to plump for cellular or the standard version. 

Siri, messages and calls from the watch work really well (the watch audio quality seems improved) and the calling experience isn’t much different than if you used the watch to call with your iPhone; while you can use the watch itself to call, things are far better when teamed with a pair of AirPods (they sync automatically if everything is connected via a single Apple ID) or another Bluetooth headset you’re using for music – say when you’re on a run. 

The cellular connectivity kicks in when the watch is no longer connected to your phone – in other words, you leave your phone somewhere and walk out of range. The signal strength is shown on your Apple Watch Control Centre (swipe up), which also shows you if you’re connected your phone or a Wi-Fi network. There’s also a new watch face, Explorer, that shows the signal strength in the middle of the dial.

The drawback to cellular connectivity is that it is only supported on EE in the UK at present – your iPhone will need to be on EE as both use the same number. It isn’t possible to, say, keep your phone on Three and just pay the £5 per month cost to connect the watch to EE (yes, it needs its own plan). That’s because both your phone and watch share the same number and Apple Watch actually doesn’t get a SIM of its own.

Instead it has an ‘eSIM’ which is automatically activated as part of the setup process in the Apple Watch app. If you’re on EE and have an iPhone 6 or later you can sign up for the plan using the Mobile Data option in the Apple Watch app – this then guides you through the process including signing in with your EE log in details and signing up for the Watch tariff in addition to your existing plan.

In the end we’d only recommend the cellular option to those who regularly go out without their phone, and that’s primarily going to be people exercising who don’t want a massive slab of a phone attached to their arm or in their pocket. After all, you’re paying a £70 premium for the watch, plus £60 per year for cellular access.

For these people however, the addition of Apple Music streaming will also be a boon (coming shortly). Also regular exercisers will benefit from the addition of ‘smart coaching’ (basically, prompts), the Heart Rate app and an improved Workout app will appeal, but those are watchOS 4 features rather than being specific to the Series 3.

We found battery life was similar to the Series 2; from a charge in the morning it will last all day and evening (if you’re not using the GPS for exercise). If you are using the GPS for exercise, expect around five hours, although more likely is you’ll use it for an hour with the GPS and then you’ll need to charge it before you have dinner.

Like its predecessor, the Apple Watch Series 3 is also available in Nike and Hermes versions, while the Apple Watch Edition also has a new grey ceramic finish in addition to the existing white version. Apple has, once again, decided to extend the life of the non-waterproof Series 1 as a budget option.

If you have an Apple Watch Series 2, we wouldn’t recommend the upgrade. But if you have a Series 1 or no Apple Watch, then we’d wholeheartedly recommend the Series 3; just think seriously about whether you need cellular connectivity or not.

Liked this? Check out What we want to see in the Apple Watch Series 4