Apple Watch Series 3 preview

Apple has launched the latest version of its smartwatch: the Apple Watch Series 3, also known as the Apple Watch 3. It's now in the shops and available to buy - but is it the right wearable for you?

In this first-impressions preview we weigh up the Apple Watch 3's design, new features (including cellular connectivity!), tech specs and UK pricing, and try to work out if Apple has taken a big step forward or if it's treading water.

For information about the Apple Watch range in general, take a look at our Apple Watch buying guide and Apple Watch Series 2 review. And if the article convinces you to take the plunge, remember that you can browse the range and place an order on Apple's website - or check our dedicated article on where to buy the Apple Watch 3.

Design & build quality

The Series 3 mostly looks the same as the Series 2 (no bad thing as far as we're concerned), so those dreams of a round watch face have been crushed. It's also water-resistant to 50m, same as the Series 2.

The dimensions are virtually identical, but not quite. In the keynote, strangely, Apple said it was the same size despite the inclusion of cellular and received the round of applause - but then admitted that it is actually (fractionally) thicker than the Series 2. Just 0.25mm, which we suppose you won't notice.

(The first-gen and Series 1 are 10.5mm thick, while the Series 2 is 11.4mm - nearly an extra millimetre. So the Series 3 must be about 11.65mm thick.)

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Design

If you go for a cellular model, the Digital Crown will be picked out in red, which we think looks rather smart. (On the GPS-only models it's still the same colour as the case.) But for both types of watch there are a range of new colour options, finishes and straps.

The Series 3 body is available in silver, gold or Space Grey aluminium; stainless steel or Space Black stainless steel; or white or dark grey ceramic. (The gold aluminium and dark grey ceramic finishes are new for this generation.)

And for each body type there are various straps, including new Sport Loops (a breathable nylon weave available in Spicy Orange and Electric Pink among other options), new Nike Plus bands and lots of new Hermes straps.

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Design

New features

The main upgrades to the Apple Watch Series 3 are inside the chassis. Let's start with the new features.

Cellular connectivity

The flagship feature of the new Apple Watch is cellular connectivity. You can get a data connection on your watch even if you leave the companion iPhone at home: it's a truly independent device for the first time.

The Series 3 has a built-in LTE and UMTS radio that switches automatically to cellular when you're away from the companion iPhone (when running, for instance, something became more appealing last year with the launch of the GPS-equipped Series 2). The system is clever enough to know to direct calls to your watch instead of your phone when appropriate (the phone number will be the same across both devices), and to use the watch's location for Find My Friends.

Apple also highlighted the fact that you can use iMessage, Maps, WeChat and Siri away from your phone, and spent some time dwelling on users' new ability to stream music via a phone-less watch using Apple Music.

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Cellular connectivity

It's tempting to assume that any watch app that relies internet data will now be usable away from your phone: that the (admittedly flawed) ECB app that your previewer uses to get cricket scores will now update independently, for instance. And in time we're sure this will be true. But not all apps are designed to work independently, and there may be a delay while developers update their apps to take advantage of the new hardware.

We've said that the Series 3 is practically the same size as the Series 2. Apple has achieved this by using an eSIM rather than a much larger traditional SIM, and by using the watch's display as the transmitting and receiving antenna element.

Apple has set up exclusivity deals with carriers in some countries at launch, and this applies to the UK. Here you'll need a contract with EE. You can buy the watch from EE here.

Do note, however, that the Apple Watch 3 with LTE will not support roaming, so any additional functionality afforded by the E-SIM will not be available when you take it abroad.

Siri

Siri can now be used away from your iPhone, but that's not all that's changed for the Series 3 update. It can now speak to you, out loud, for the first time on an Apple Watch; and because of the updated processor which we'll discuss in the next section, Siri should work faster, too.

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Specs

Tech specs

Apple has updated the internals in a number of useful ways, which we'll discuss next.

Processor

This is now the S3 chip. It's a dual-core processor, much like the S2 in the Series 2, but Apple says it's 70 percent faster, which should lead to apps opening quicker, and smoother graphics.

Wireless chip

The new W2 wireless chip is said to provide 85 percent faster Wi-Fi, and 50 percent more power-efficient Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. As with the processor, we can only report claimed performance at this stage; expect in-depth testing once we've got our hands on review samples.

Storage

The cellular-equipped version of the Apple Watch Series 3 has 16GB of storage, while the GPS-only model offers 8GB. The Series 2 was capped at 8GB.

Altimeter

The Series 3 is the first Apple Watch to get a barometric altimeter, which means it can detect changes in height and thereby include steps climbed, elevation gained and similar data in workout reports.

On a related note the watch also has an accelerometer and gyroscope, but those have been included since the original model.

Dimensions

We believe the Series 3 has a thickness of 11.65mm, based on the known dimensions of the Series 2 and Apple's statement that this model is 0.25mm thicker. Other than that it has the same dimensions as the Series 2, which in the case of the aluminium and steel editions means 38.6mm x 33.3mm (38mm model), or 42.5mm x 36.4mm (42mm model), and 39.2mm x 34mm or 42.6mm x 36.5mm for the ceramic.

Apple hasn't commented on the weight of the Series 3, but we expect it to be at least slightly heavier than the Series 2.

Display

From now on the specs are the same as the last generation, but we include them here for completeness. The display on the Series 3 has a resolution of 272 x 340 (38mm model) or 312 x 390 (42mm), a pixel density of 326ppi, and a brightness of 1,000 nits. These specs are identical to the Series 2, and mostly identical to the first-gen model, which only had a dimmer screen (450 nits).

Battery

Battery life is a claimed 18 hours, or "all day". We look forward to testing this out, because the Series 2 (which was also advertised as having 18-hour battery life) was actually capable of lasting for two days, and because of the inclusion of cellular we can't see how the Series 3 can possibly do as well.

Water resistance

Like its predecessor the Apple Watch Series 3 is rated as water-resistant to 50 metres under ISO standard 22810:2010.

Connectivity

Other than cellular, you get Wi?Fi (802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz) and Bluetooth 4.2. 

Release date

The Apple Watch Series 3 was announced on 12 Sept, but it isn't available just yet. The watches will go on preorder on 15 Sept, and they will then ship (and be available in shops) on 22 Sept.

The Apple Watch Series 3 will launch initially in the US, Canada, Australia, China, Japan, the UK, Germany, France and Puerto Rico. Other countries will follow in 2018.

If you're in the UK you'll need to be on an EE Pay Monthly or SIM-only plan to use the Series 3's cellular capabilities, and using an iPhone 6 or later; you can browse the contract options here

UK price

The Apple Watch Series 3 starts at £329 in the UK (for the GPS-only models) or £399 (if you want cellular capabilities). This is a straight one-for-one translation from the US prices, which start at $329 and $399 respectively.

Price varies widely based on the case material and strap you go for, although less widely than in the old days - there are no £13,000 gold models here. Cost ranges from £329 all the way up to £1,399, which is the price of two particularly extravagant Hermès offerings.

Here's the full range. Remember that you can browse all the options and buy on Apple's website.

Case Strap 38mm, GPS 42mm, GPS 38mm, cellular 42mm, cellular
Silver Aluminium Fog Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Gold Aluminium Pink Sand Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Grey Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Black Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Silver Aluminium Seashell Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Gold Aluminium Pink Sand Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Dark Olive Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Stainless Steel Soft White Sport Band n/a n/a £599 £649
Space Black Stainless Steel Black Sport Band n/a n/a £599 £649
Stainless Steel Milanese Loop n/a n/a £699 £749
Space Black Stainless Steel Space Black Milanese Loop n/a n/a £749 £799
Silver Aluminium Pure Platinum/Black Nike Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Anthracite/Black Nike Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Silver Aluminium Bright Crimson/Black Nike Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Black/Pure Platinum Nike Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Stainless Steel Hermès Noir Gala Leather Rallye n/a n/a n/a £1,299
Stainless Steel Hermès Marine Gala Éperon d'Or n/a n/a £1,199 £1,249
Stainless Steel Hermès Indigo Swift Double Tour n/a n/a £1,299 n/a
Stainless Steel Hermès Fauve Barenia Double Tour n/a n/a £1,299 n/a
Stainless Steel Hermès Indigo Swift n/a n/a n/a £1,199
Stainless Steel Hermès Fauve Barenia n/a n/a £1,149 £1,199
Stainless Steel Hermès Ébène Barenia Deployment Buckle n/a n/a n/a £1,399
Stainless Steel Hermès Fauve Barenia Deployment Buckle n/a n/a n/a £1,399
White Ceramic Soft White/Pebble Sport Band n/a n/a £1,299 £1,349
Grey Ceramic Grey/Black Sport Band n/a n/a £1,299 £1,349

Podcast: Discussing the Apple Watch Series 3

In episode 71, the UK Tech Weekly Podcast team discuss all the announcements at Apple's 12 Sept press event, including (from 18:15) the Apple Watch Series 3. Listen to their thoughts and opinions below:

OUR VERDICT

We weren't sure about cellular when it was just a rumour and we're still not sure about it now; the main concern was that it would hobble battery performance, and if the Series 3 is going to take us back to the days of one-day rather than two-day battery life (and some kind of reduction seems inevitable), that's a shame.

But this, and the rest of our testing, will have to wait until we've got a sample in and can turn this into a full review.

In the meantime we will say that the prices remain (in our eyes) reasonable; the new straps and colour options look great; upgraded chips are always welcome, even if app speed has been much less of an issue since the watchOS 2 and watchOS 3 updates; and regardless of its effect on battery life, having access to cellular data in the middle of a run is cool.

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