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Apple Watch Series 3 review: Always connected, just without the guilt

Written by Jason Cipriani on

Apple Watch Series 3 with Cellular

$199 at Best Buy$199 at Apple$172.49 at eBay
  • Battery life
  • Bright, sharp display
  • Siri integration is much better
  • Capable of ditching iPhone for short periods of time
Don't Like
  • It's more expensive than the non-LTE Apple Watch Series 3
  • A monthly fee is a non-starter for some
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Apple announced the third generation Apple Watch alongside new iPhones last month. What sets the Series 3 model apart from previous iterations is that it comes with the option to connect it to a cellular network, breaking the requirement to always have an iPhone nearby. On the surface, the Series 3 with cellular appears to be a minor update to the product lineup. However, after using it for a few weeks now, it's changed a lot for me personally.

Design and performance

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The Series 3 Apple Watch looks identical to its predecessors in every way, with the exception of the red dot on the digital crown. The dot is limited to just the Series 3 model with cellular connectivity, as it's an indicator of the added connectivity.

As I mentioned after spending a weekend with the watch, I'd rather not have the colored digital crown. I feel like it's calling attention to my wrist, in an almost boastful way.

CNET: Apple Watch Series 3, a dash of iPod and a bit of iPhone for your wrist

Red dot aside, the Series 3 still looks and feels like a quality watch. All of the previous Apple Watch bands are compatible, as are previous charging cables. I tested one of Speidel's Twist-O-Flex bands which fits any Apple Watch and looks fantastic. It's comfortable, stylish, and not nearly as expensive as Apple's own metal band. My only advice to Speidel would be to make it easier to adjust the size of the band - it's a chore.

Apple touts a speed increase thanks to a new processor, and the same battery life as the Series 2, or roughly 18 hours of use.

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I can't say I've noticed a huge speed boost over the Series 2, but the battery life is better than Apple's claim. With mixed-use, ranging from connected to my iPhone to standalone cellular connection, I have yet to experience a day where the battery was below 30-percent at the day's end.

On one occasion, I spent over two hours using a cellular connection to monitor text messages and emails while playing with my kids in the ocean.

As for initial reviews indicating there was a serious issue with LTE connectivity on the Apple Watch Series 3, I've yet to experience any hiccups in service. Apple has since released an update to address the Wi-Fi issue that was causing the watch to disconnection for a cellular network, yet prior to that my watch worked just as it should.

Another aspect of the Series 3 I've grown fond of is the fact that Siri now talks to you through the watch's speakers. Not having to stare at the screen for a simple request to see the answer means I can interact with Siri and continue completing a task without having to pause.

Peace of mind

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

While I occasionally go on long walks as a form of exercise, I've primarily used the cellular function of the Series 3 to stay connected while at the movies, or going into a restaurant; situations where staring at a phone isn't ideal, and time is better used participating in a conversation.

Previously, my phone went everywhere with me. What if someone at work emailed me? What if a family member called or text me? It started off as serving a purpose to keep me in touch just in case. Over time, my phone's purpose shifted into a never-ending stream of information with a couple taps on the glass screen.

It's distracting, and something I've tried cutting back on, but regardless the idea of checking one more thing, just real quick, turns into a tuned out dinner or missed time playing with kids because I wanted to snap a photo and noticed I had Twitter notifications.

With the watch, I'm still connected, just in case something happens with one of my kids or with one of the many outlets I write for. I'm no longer tethered to my phone, and it's liberating.

It's still not a phone replacement

Part of the reason the Apple Watch Series 3 provides that peace of mind is because it's not a phone replacement. Apps are miniature, incomplete versions of the phone counterpart - and there's not a single thing wrong with that. I'd much prefer to have notifications to keep tabs on certain things, than have a full-fledged Facebook or email app on my wrist that requires far too much interaction just to view a message.

Here's the kicker

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

If the Apple Watch ever does gain enough functionality and battery life to become a full-fledged phone replacement, Apple's AirPods and the Watch are all you need to stay connected. Well, any Bluetooth connected headphones would work but aren't nearly as streamlined and portable as the AirPods.

A few days into using the Apple Watch, it dawned on me - everything I need to stay always connected fits in the palm of my hand. Not in the same way a smartphone fits in the palm of your hand, but these two relatively small devices when paired together have just as much connectivity as an iPhone. It still boggles my mind that technology has reached this point, where we can all start to feel a bit more like Maxwell Smart, only with better-looking gadgets (and hopefully a tad smarter).

Business potential

As a group of ZDNet and TechRepublic editors discussed shortly after the Apple event where the always-connected wearable was announced, Apple is doing a fantastic job of positioning the watch as a health device.

But now that the watch has the potential to always be connected, doors are opening for enterprise developers to create apps and services that take advantage of the platform. Just what comes from the added connectivity is yet to be seen, as limited battery life on a cellular connection is sure to be a limiting factor.

Some rough ideas I've pondered about include an app to track employee location in a resort, with alerts delivered to the wrist for guest room numbers or locations, or possibly keeping tabs on warehouse employees.

If future versions of the watch are able to achieve all-day battery life when the watch is only connected to a cellular connection, then the possibilities and potential for enterprise apps is huge.

Worth the monthly cost?


A new cell tower icon is present on the Apple Watch Series 3's control center.

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

There's no question the Series 3 watch is leaps and bounds better than the original Apple Watch, and to some extent, the same rings true when put up against last year's Series 2 model.

The real question about the Series 3 with cellular is whether or not the $10 a month is worth paying. For me, I'm still on the fence. On one hand, I see the value of being able to untether from my iPhone in certain situations. Then, on the other hand, I feel guilty that my need to constantly stay updated with the outside world forces me to pay for yet another device when with some practice and self-control I should be able to put my phone down.

Either way, I'm going to use the three-month free trial AT&T provided when I set up my watch, and then make a decision. Right now, I'm leaning towards paying the $10 a month.

If I end up canceling the cellular portion, I still have the best smartwatch available right now, and because I'll disable the cellular radio, it will have a longer battery life than my Series 2 did. As CNET's Scott Stein has been sharing on Twitter, he's found the battery of the Series 3 with cellular to last two days of full use when cellular is disabled.


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