The Apple Watch Series 3 ($399) is the first Apple Watch to use cellular data, meaning you can leave your iPhone at home and still get calls, texts and email notifications, and stream music. Siri speaks out loud, too, which is an Apple Watch first. Compared to other Apple Watch models, the Series 3 is a better fitness tracker with continuous heart-rate monitoring, a redesigned workout app and special features for swimmers. (You can also buy a Series 3 without LTE for $329; those models don’t have the red crown.)
During my review period, the Series 3 didn’t support music streaming. This has since been remedied and Apple Music subscribers can now stream music.
The Good: The Series 3 is the best Apple Watch ever. It might look similar to past models, but it’s much faster, more energy efficient and more water resistant (up to 50 meters), and it’s a significantly more accurate fitness tracker. It also comes in LTE and non-LTE models, so you don’t have to set up a cellular plan with your carrier if you don’t want to.
Who It’s For: iPhone users who want to ditch their iPhone some of the time. It’s also ideal for athletes who have Apple Music subscriptions.
Watch Out For: You’ll have to charge it every night if you’re using cellular data. It doesn’t charge with all wireless chargers. It looks nearly identical to the years-old Apple Watch Series 1. You’ll have to add it to your cell phone plan, which can be a hassle. And it’s expensive.
Alternatives: The Series 3 with only GPS is excellent for runners who use iTunes [update: and now Apple Music]. The Series 1 is probably the best option if you just want notifications on your wrist. Samsung’s Gear Sport ($300) and Gear Fit2 Pro ($198) are probably the best options if you have a Spotify subscription. The Fitbit Ionic ($300) is also a great pure fitness tracker.
Review: Let’s cut to the chase. The Apple Watch Series 3 is the most expensive and arguably the best smartwatch that’s ever come out of Cupertino. Most importantly, it’s the first of its kind to have cellular connectivity. And yes, it works. It works well. In my few weeks with “the world’s most popular watch” (according to Tim Cook) I had very few issues receiving calls, answering iMessage, scrolling through Instagram, getting directions from Apple Maps, checking emails, talking to Siri and even streaming music, all with my iPhone far, far away. But it begged the questions: Did I need all that? And was I willing to pay extra for that? Really, those are the questions you have to ask yourself.
The answers to those questions will inevitably vary from person to person, and if I’m being honest, I had difficulty finding ways to ditch my iPhone. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that we don’t realize how often our phones follow us. When I was home or in the office, my phone and watch were connected to wi-fi, so LTE wasn’t needed. When I was commuting, my iPhone was nearby, too, so LTE wasn’t needed. A few times I left my iPhone at home to see what a day in the life without a smartphone was like, and found that even though I could answer iMessages and emails, and see my some of my Instagram feed, it wasn’t the same.
That said, the Apple Watch 3 has the potential to be magical for runners. I usually run five miles several times a week, and it has been liberating to leave my iPhone at home. For most of my review period, however, I was only able to listen to one iTunes playlist — that’s all the Series 3 allows. You can load up to 250 songs, but still only one iTunes playlist.
Another promise for the Series 3 with LTE was that you could stream music, no preload loaded playlists required; this feature hadn’t launched at the time of this writing.
The downside to the new Apple Watch’s streaming capabilities is that you’ll need to be an Apple Music subscriber. There’s no Spotify app for the Apple Watch, and I’m a Spotify subscriber; I don’t know when that’s going to come. There’s no app for Google Play Music, Amazon Music or Pandora, either. If you just want to listen to Spotify without your smartphone, I’d suggest looking into Samsung’s new smartwatch or fitness tracker, the Gear Sport and Gear Fit2 Pro; Samsung partnered with Spotify so you can download Spotify playlists and listen to them whenever, without your phone nearby; they’re the first wearables to do so.