The Apple Watch Series 3 inaugurates a cellular connection to make and receive calls. We spent a week with this watch using our phone, activity tracker, iPod and Apple Pay wallet.
The irony of such a product is that it connects you even more, in places where you could not or would not want to unsheathe your mobile. But for all that, it's not a micro iPhone. There is no camera and answering e-mails and SMS is not so simple, ditto for reading texts or videos.
And you still need an iPhone to set it up and access most of its features. It should also be known that phone calls and activities using GPS seriously undermine autonomy. Apple still has a job to get the most out of fitness activity tracking and tweaking its software. Finally, you will need to subscribe to a specific subscription for the cellular connection and the Apple Music service if you want to make the most of the watch's capabilities. But having said that, the Series 3 is the best connected watch we've tried so far.
How does the cellular connection work
In France, the cellular voice and data connection of the Apple Watch Series 3 is at the moment only available on the 4G network of the Orange operator. You must have at least one iPhone 6s with iOS 11 and use the same operator for both products. Orange offers a formula for 5 euros per month for a voice / data package for the Apple Watch Series 3 backed by a mobile plan. You should know that this package does not allow the use of the watch outside France for calls and data roaming.
The watch uses the same phone number as the one of the smartphone. It does not work with Android devices and you must use your iPhone to configure and install applications.
The network connection works as follows: first, the Apple Watch is trying to connect iPhone Bluetooth and Wi-Fi if it does not succeed. And if neither are available, then it switches over to the 4G cellular network that otherwise remains cut off to save battery.
This automatic failover is managed by the new W2 wireless chip which helps preserve autonomy. A new dial named Explorer indicates the power of the available network in the form of four green dots. This information can also be accessed from the control center where the quick settings are located.
We were able to access Apple applications, but not all third-party applications. You also need to know that to receive notifications of third-party applications, the iPhone, wherever it is, is itself connected so that the watch can communicate with him via the cloud. So even if you do not bring your iPhone, it must be turned on and connected.
Moreover, you can not install applications directly from the watch, unlike the Android Wear and Samsung Gear watches. On the other hand, we could consult our mailbox without problem whose parameters are automatically imported from the iPhone. To make the calls, you can dial the number on the numeric keypad on the screen or select one of the directory contacts.
The virtual assistant Siri speaks now and is no longer content with answers under form of text. But our experience was rather disappointing in this area because Siri often asked us to refer to the iPhone, which does not serve much if you do not have it with you …
In the United States, the first tests of the Apple Watch Series 3 have revealed problems of cellular connection. Apple quickly recognized their existence and promised a fix as soon as possible. We did not experience this problem during our test. On the other hand, we experienced some quirks with notifications for iMessages and third-party apps like Twitter. The iPhone must be connected to the network even if we do not have it with us otherwise we do not receive notifications. The other problem is that many applications are not yet compatible with 4G.
For music: finally an iPod on the wrist!
The Apple Watch have always been able to store music, but they did not handle synchronization with the Apple Music cloud service. Fortunately, watchOS 4 automates this process better and it changes everything. Songs can also be added and synchronized while the watch is charging. But all this is only valid for Apple Music. Exit Spotify, Deezer and other Google Play.
Of course, you'll still have access to your iTunes library, but if you want to manage your playlists or use live streaming, you'll need a subscription. You will also need to invest in wireless headphones. The AirPods are obviously perfectly optimized, so much so that we consider them an indispensable accessory. They connect instantly, most of the time, but we have had to manually select them. In the end, this Apple Watch finally gives us the feeling of having an iPod on the wrist and it's quite awesome.
The most elaborate fitness part
] Most users use the Apple Watch as an activity tracker. The Series 3 inherits a new sensor, a barometric altimeter that records the number of steps climbed. And all the models are water-resistant to 50 meters (even at sea) and equipped with a GPS.
WatchOS 4 reinforces a little coaching by asking you more, especially to encourage you to complete your daily goals. The Apple Watch slowly comes to coaching directly on the watch, but more than the Fitbit wristbands that rely more on the mobile application.
Heart rate monitoring now offers more graphical reports, including for periods of rest and walking. We are closer to what the Samsung Gear offer in terms of information displayed on the watch.
On the other hand, as regards the number of steps and the sessions training, the daily charts are not listed as clearly. Recovery times are calculated over three minutes after the end of an activity, but we are not told what these numbers mean. The only medical notification that the watch delivers is an alert if your resting heart rate exceeds a certain threshold that you set beforehand. The application of activity present on the watch is still fairly basic and it is the same for its corollary on the iPhone. They are improving, but there is still work. Apple separates information between the Health app and the Activity app where the Fitbit app on iPhone unifies the data on a single dashboard. And then Apple does not have the powerful community of users on Android and iOS that also makes the Fitbit products attractive. To continue the comparison with this brand, one of the most missing features of the Apple Watch Series 3 is sleep tracking. Which brings us to talk about the autonomy.
Obligatory night load
Before the Series 3, the autonomy of the Apple Watch was their main defect . At the end of a week spent with this new cellular model, we can confirm that it remains the Achilles heel of Apple watches. However, this autonomy varies greatly depending on what you do.
For example, phone calls will empty the battery in no time. We did a test by making a 30-minute call and then walking with the GPS and heart rate sensor turned on while listening to music and checking emails. Result, 50% of the battery soared in the middle of the afternoon. Admittedly, we have used all available functions, but is it not the goal?
But let's say that the connection management system between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular is Efficient and makes the Series 3 more enduring than cell-based watches such as the LG Watch Sport and the Samsung Gear S3. On the other hand, we advise you to watch your connection mode in order not to have any nasty surprises.
Many novelties with watchOS 4, including for the old models
The new version of the software introduces new dials, a simpler way to start and stop training and control music at the same time. For example, you can program a playlist that will be started automatically at the beginning of a workout.
The new Siri dial is reminiscent of Google Now on Android Wear with its constantly updated thematic maps. Sometimes it broadcasts relevant information (weather, news, fitness goals, appointments …), sometimes it's more random. And the presentation is naughty. It is a small positive step towards an active assistance, but this stack of notifications is not what we expect.
On the other hand, it should be emphasized that the Series 3 is much faster than the models of 2016, especially for launching applications and general performance.
Facing the competition
The Apple Watch Series 3 is quite comprehensive and better offsets its weaknesses than many of its competitors. But some are doing well in specific areas.
The Samsung Gear: The Apple Watch has the advantage of integrating directly into the iOS ecosystem and its main features while the Gear's watches support on a proprietary app store. That said, we have not yet tested the Gear Sport nor the Gear Fit 2 Pro which is more a fitness bracelet.
Android Wear watches: for the moment, WatchOS 4 and the Apple Watch are much more mature than Android Wear 2.0. There are many models of Android watches and some are at broken prices. But none offers the same combination heart rate sensor, cell connection, barometer, mobile payment and waterproof.
Fitbit Bracelets: We really appreciate the Fitbit nutrition, sleep and shared goals package. Apple does not do the same thing. The barometer and the heart rate graphs are good progress, but the autonomy is far behind Fitbit that exceeds 4 days. The Fitbit Ionic watch is waterproof, it integrates mobile payment and applications but its intelligent functions, especially for music, are significantly lower than those of the Apple Watch.
] In comparison with the previous Apple Watch
The Series 3 design is almost identical to the Series 2 and the same wristbands can be reused. Apart from the cellular connection, the differences are minimal and the owners of a Series 2 have no real reason to pass on the 3, except to absolutely want the phone function.
The Apple Watch Series 1 2016 version is still available. It is more affordable (from 269 euros) but does not have GPS or 4G connection. But it's a good option for those who are not fitness junkies and are looking for a good connected watch.
As for the first Apple Watch, it's still in the game. If yours still works, why change them? Because you will gain superior performance, tightness, step counting, GPS, and cellular connection.
Is this the case? do you really need an Apple Watch? No. And the fact that the new features start autonomy gives the impression of having to make a compromise. But this watch is really fun to use and we appreciated not having to always carry our phone. You just have to moderate your expectations of autonomy and be prepared to pay extra for the cellular package and wireless headphones if you want to make the most of what the Series 3 can do.