Hands On With The Apple Watch Series 3

I’ve been using an Apple Watch since the first unit was released. Back then, the device barely made it through a day between battery charges, wasn’t waterproof, lacked an integrated GPS and had a confusing and cluttered user interface. Now, in it fourth hardware iteration and with watchOS 4, the Apple Watch Series 3 comes in cellular and non-cellular variants, has GPS, is waterproof and still has perplexing, but improving software.

I upgraded from an Apple Watch Series 2 Nike+ edition to the Apple Watch Series 3 about three weeks ago. It was something of an impulse buy, from an Apple Store in San Jose while I was on a work trip. For the record, once you take into account exchange rates, local sales tax and the fee my credit card provider stuck me with, I could have saved about $20 if I waited to buy it after I got home.

My Apple Watch Series 3 is a 42mm Space Grey aluminium model.

The setup process follows the same steps as previous Apple Watches, using a unique animated image that’s a cross between a star map and a QR code. The process was straightforward and gave me the option of either restoring the new watch with a backup of my old one, or starting from scratch.

I chose the “restore” path.

Two things stood out almost straight after the set up process was complete. The Series 3 display is a lot brighter the the previous model. In most situations, this makes little difference but when in bright sunshine it’s quite noticeable.

And the Apple Watch Series 3 is a lot faster than its predecessor. Apps launch that bit faster and everything seems more responsive. How much of this is due to the updated processor and how much is dies to enhancements to watchOS 4 is debatable. All I know is the Series 3 feels faster than the previous model I had.

watchOS 4 still feels like a work in progress. I know that’s true of most software but I get the feeling Apple’s software designers still aren’t sure what works best on the small display and are still looking for the optimal UI.

Apple has retained the Digital Crown and button on the right side of the watch’s body. However, they have altered the button’s behaviour. By default, pressing the button displays your most recently used apps in the Dock, much like double-pressing the iPhone’s home button. You can either flick and tap to chose an app or use the Digital Crown to scroll through the list and then press to make a selection.

You can change the Dock to display your preferred apps rather than the most recent using the Watch app on the iPhone.

If you use a passcode to lock your device – and you really should – Apple has made the buttons larger so you’re less likely to mess it up. Even though I use the option to unlock the watch from the iPhone, there are times when I take the watch off and then need to unlock it when I put it back on and my phone isn’t handy.

One annoying behaviour I encountered was that when I use my iPhone for music play back, either using the Music app or Spotify, the Apple Watch defaults to the play/pause display so I can use it to control my music. I get how that might be handy but it’s annoying when I just want to see the time and not the playback controls.

My main uses for the Apple Watch comes down to two areas; health and fitness, and notifications.

I’ve tuned the notifications i receive so that I only get pinged by events and messages I care about. Regardless of what smartwatch you choose, the time you take tuning what notifications you receive makes a huge difference to the user experience. I only get notified about email from my VIP list, text messages and inbound calls. I’ve turned off anything to do with social media.

On the health and fitness side of things, Apple’s Workout app is pretty good but suffers as Apple doesn’t play nicely with other services. So, if you go for a run or ride, you can’t have that data automatically sync to Strava (for example). I had some issues with Strava a while ago so have settled on Runkeeper for tracking my runs and rides.

I also use a sleep monitoring app, called Pillow, a seven-minute workout app, TripIt, Uber and Weather AU.

Battery life is greatly improved. I charged my Apple Watch last night till it was full. I then used it to monitor my sleep (about six hours) and now, at noon, it’s still at 92%. On the weekend, I charged it full before bed on Saturday night, ran a 10km race using the GPS the next morning, and spent the rest of the day being very active, it still had about half its full charge available when i went to bed at about 10:00PM.

Is the Apple Watch Series 3 worth the money?

If you already have an Apple Watch Series 2 then the incremental benefits of the Series 3 don’t justify the costs in my opinion. The brighter display and faster performance are nice but not life changing.

If you’ve hung on to your original Apple Watch, then the benefits are significant. GPS and waterproofing are a big step up.

I didn’t bother with cellular connectivity. Carriers are changing extra for that and I don’t really need it. There aren’t many places i got without my phone and when I don’t have my phone it’s because I don’t want to be disturbed.

The thing about the Apple Watch, and smartwatches in general, is that the don’t really solve any big problems. That’s not to say they aren’t useful but there’s not a lot you can do with them that other devices don’t already cover.

If you’re thinking about a smartwatch, and are already an iPhone user, then the Apple Watch is a great device.

But it still hasn’t crossed over into being a “must have” device.

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