Watch Tests Connects Apple Watch Series 3


The Apple Watch Series 3 introduces a cellular connection for making and receiving calls. We spent a week with this watch using it as a phone, activity tracker, iPod and Apple Pay e-wallet.


 

The irony of such a product is that it connects you even more, in places where you couldn’t or wouldn’t want to draw your mobile. But still, it’s not a micro iPhone. There is no camera and responding to emails and SMS is not as simple, the same goes for reading text or videos. 

And you still need an iPhone to set it up and access most of its features. It is also important to know that phone calls and activities using GPS seriously affect autonomy. Apple still has some work to do to get the most out of fitness tracking and fine-tune its software. Finally, you’ll need to take out a specific subscription for the cellular connection and for the Apple Music service if you want to make the most of the watch’s capabilities. But that said, the Series 3 is the best connected watch we’ve tried so far. 

How the Cellular Connection Works

In France, the Apple Watch Series 3 cellular voice and data connection is currently only available on the Orange operator’s 4G network. You must own at least one iPhone 6s with iOS 11 and use the same operator for both products. Orange offers a 5 euro per month voice/data package for Apple Watch Series 3 backed by a mobile package Please note that this package does not allow the watch to be used outside mainland France for roaming calls and data.

The watch uses the same phone number as the smartphone. It does not work with Android devices and you must use your iPhone to configure it and install applications.

The network connection works as follows: first, the Apple Watch tries to connect to the iPhone via Bluetooth and then via Wi-Fi if it fails to do so. And if neither is available, then it switches to the 4G cellular network that otherwise remains off to save Battery Life

This automatic failover is managed by the new W2 wireless chip, which helps preserve battery life. A new dial called Explorer shows the available network power in the form of four green dots. This information can also be viewed from the control center where the quick settings are located. 


 

We were able to access Apple applications, but not all third-party applications. It is also important to know that in order to receive notifications from third-party applications, the iPhone, wherever it is located, must itself be connected so that the watch can communicate with it via the cloud. So even if you’re not taking your iPhone with you, it needs to be turned on and connected. 

Moreover, you can’t install applications directly from the watch, unlike Android Wear and Samsung Gear watches. On the other hand, we were able to check our mailbox without any problem, whose settings are automatically imported from the iPhone. To make calls, you can dial the number on the numerical keypad on the display or select one of the contacts in the phonebook.

The Siri virtual assistant now speaks and no longer just answers in text form. But our experience was rather disappointing in this area because Siri often asked us to refer to the iPhone, which is not much use if you don’t have it with you …

Connection problems

In the United States the first tests of the Apple Watch Series 3 revealed cellular connection problems. Apple was quick to acknowledge their existence and promised a fix as soon as possible. We did not experience this concern during our trial. On the other hand, we’ve had some quirks with notifications for iMessages and third party applications like Twitter. The iPhone must be connected to the network even if you don’t have it with you, otherwise you won’t receive notifications. The other problem is that many applications are not yet compatible with 4G. 

For music: finally an iPod on your wrist!

Apple Watches have always been able to store music, but they were poorly managing synchronization with the Apple Music cloud service. Fortunately, watchOS 4 automates this process better and that changes everything. You can also add and synchronize songs 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 of course perfectly optimized, so much so that we consider them to be an indispensable accessory. They connect instantly, most of the time, but sometimes we had to select them manually. In the end, this apple watch finally gives us the feeling of having an iPod on our wrist and it’s pretty awesome.

The more elaborate fitness part

Most users use 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 models are waterproof to 50 metres (even at sea) and equipped with GPS.

WatchOS 4 reinforces the coaching a little bit by making you more involved, especially to encourage you to achieve your daily goals. The Apple Watch is slowly coming to coaching directly on the watch, but more so than the Fitbit bracelets which rely more on the mobile application

Heart rate monitoring now offers more graphical reports, especially for resting and walking periods. We are closer to what Samsung Gear offers in terms of information displayed on the watch.

On the other hand, with regard to the number of steps and training sessions, 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 figures mean. The only medical notification the watch provides is an alert if your resting heart rate exceeds a certain threshold set by you in advance. The activity application present on the watch is still quite basic and the same goes for its corollary on the iPhone. They’re getting better, but there’s still work to be done. Apple separates the information between the Health and Activity applications, while the Fitbit iphone application unifies the data on a single dashboard. And then Apple lacks the powerful user community on Android and iOS that is also the appeal of Fitbit products. To continue the comparison with this brand, one of the functions that the Apple Watch Series 3 lacks the most is sleep monitoring. Which brings us to the issue of autonomy.

Mandatory night charge

Before Series 3, the autonomy of the Apple Watch was their main defect. After 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 one is doing.

For example, phone calls will drain 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 activated while listening to music and checking emails. Result, 50% of the battery flew away in the middle of the afternoon. Of course, we have used all the functions available, but isn’t that the point?

But let’s just say that the connection management system between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular is efficient and makes the Series 3 more enduring than watches with cellular connection such as the LG Watch Sport and Samsung’s Gear S3. On the other hand, we advise you to monitor your connection mode to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Lots of new features with watchOS 4, also for older models

The new version of the software introduces new dials, a simpler way to start and stop workouts and control the music at the same time. For example, you can program a playlist that will be launched automatically at the beginning of a training session. 

The new Siri sundial is reminiscent of the Google Now system 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. This is a small positive step towards active assistance, but this piling up of notifications is not what we expect.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the Series 3 is significantly faster than the 2016 models, especially in terms of application launches and overall performance.


 

Facing competition

The Apple Watch Series 3 is quite complete and compensates for its weaknesses better than many of its competitors. But some of them are doing well in specific areas.

The Samsung Gear: the Apple Watch has the advantage of being directly integrated into the iOS ecosystem and its main features, whereas Gear watches rely on a proprietary App Store That said, we haven’t yet tested the Gear Sport or the Gear Fit 2 Pro which is more of a fitness bracelet. 

Android Wear watches: for the moment, WatchOS 4 and the Apple Watch are much more advanced than Android Wear 2.0. There are many models of Android watches and some of them are at bargain prices. But none of them offer the same combination of heart rate sensor, cell connection, barometer, mobile payment and waterproofing.

Fitbit Wristbands: We really appreciate the nutrition, sleep and shared goals package that Fitbit offers. Apple doesn’t do the same thing. The barometer and heart rate graphs are good progress, but the range is far behind Fitbit’s 4 days. The Fitbit Ionic watch is waterproof and integrates mobile payment and applications, but its intelligent functions, especially for music, are far inferior to those of the Apple Watch

Against previous Apple Watch

The design of Series 3 is virtually identical to Series 2 and the same bracelets can be reused. Apart from the cellular connection, the differences are minimal and Series 2 owners have no real reason to switch to Series 3 unless they absolutely want the phone function.

The apple watch series 1 version 2016 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 fanatics 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 it? Because you’ll gain superior performance, waterproofing, step counting, GPS and cellular connection.

Conclusion

Do you really need an Apple Watch? No. And the fact that the new features are going to be standalone makes it seem like a trade-off. But this watch is really pleasant to use and we appreciated the fact that we didn’t always have to carry our phone with us. You just have to moderate your expectations of battery life and be willing to pay extra for the cell phone plan and wireless headsets if you want to get the most out of what Series 3 can do.

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