TECHNOLOGY

Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS) Review: Almost Heaven

In a nutshell: The Apple Watch 3 is a fantastic smartwatch that gets a lot right.

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BY Rahil Bhagat - 17 Oct 2017

apple watch series 3

In a nutshell

The Apple Watch 3 is a fantastic smartwatch that gets a lot right. The hardware is topnotch and Watch OS keeps getting better. The updated activity tracker, beefier performance and better battery life are all highlights. The only downsides, in this region at least, is the lack of LTE connectivity as well as the rather expensive first-party accessories.

The Apple Watch Series 3 arrives at an odd time in the wearable market. Many of the established players in the market like Pebble and Misfit have gone the way of the dodo with even incumbents like Fitbit not performing at the stellar heights we saw just a few years ago.

Apple seems to have somehow bucked that trend with the Apple Watch now becoming the top selling watch globally, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, overtaking the likes of Rolex and Fossil.

What is it then that has allowed Apple’s wearable to thrive? As a first time Apple Watch user, I decided to find out.

The Good

My main gripe with smartwatches was just how unnecessary they were. After all, what could I do on a smartwatch that I couldn’t do on the phone in my pocket? As far as I was concerned, smartwatches were just another device I had to charge and keep updated. I had to manufacture uses for it as opposed to it alleviating a pain point in my life.

I was initially incredibly sceptical of the Apple Watch but what won me over is just how well positioned it is as an intermediary between me and my phone. It will never replace the iPhone and Apple probably does not mean it to.

A lot of this is due to a very clever notification system that isn’t jarring and condenses information nicely. A little buzz accompanies each notification, which you can then dismiss by pressing the digital crown. Your unread notifications are then readable by swiping down from the top, much like in iOS.

It also helps that the Apple Watch has the most responsive touchscreen of any wearable I have ever used. It registers swipes and gestures well, and the touch typing is way better than expected. The zoom in function that is achieved by turning the digital crown on the menu button is as intuitive as you would expect and makes the user experience very natural.

On the cosmetic side, the varied list of customizable watch faces is very welcome, especially the fantastic Siri watch face that uses machine learning and contextual information to push notifications to you depending on your schedule for the day, what time of day it is or even when you like performing a certain activity. In the month or so that I have used Apple Watch, my Siri watch face has become a pretty reliable to-do list.

Siri integration is also seamless—Apple’s virtual assistant is able to help with all sorts of tasks just by you lifting your wrist and saying “Hey Siri.” From sending texts to setting reminders, Apple Watch is perhaps the best fit for an AI like Siri.

The integrated speakers are serviceable while the mic is incredible, picking up great sound, even from far away.

It’s also pretty cool that the Apple Watch 3 also doubles as one of the best fitness trackers on the market. The improved Activities app lets you customize the Watch’s various trackers for different activities like running, swimming and even one of my favourite sports, badminton. It’s incredibly accurate and the wide variety of activities it tracks is a very welcome addition.

All this feeds into Apple’s ring system of activity feedback and closing your activity rings for the day is a fun little piece of gamification.

The new integrated heart monitor is also quite nifty and it even has certain smart tracking features that pings you if your heart rate is erratic or unnecessarily high. All this plots into various graphs and charts that you can use to monitor your health.

The Meh

Although it’s available in a variety of colours, the Apple Watch was never the most striking piece of design with all three main editions of the smartwatch looking nearly identical. Its squarish body comes in either a 38mm or 42mm variety and its smooth metal finish with a glass backing feels nice to the touch.

Overall, it’s not as bulky as some of the Android watches out there but it just feels as if Apple played it a bit too safe on the design front with the Series 3 Apple Watch.

Battery life is another area where the new Apple Watch comes in the middle of the pack with the device requiring a charge every other day if you use it as mainly a watch.

If you do stuff like make calls on it, read e-mails, track workouts or basically anything that you can't do on an old Casio, you’ll have to charge it at the end of the day. It’s fortunate that the magnetic charger is easy to use and gets the Apple Watch up to full power in a relatively short time.

Then there are the straps which start, here in Singapore at S$78 for a basic rubber or nylon one and go up to S$750 if you want it in Hermes calf leather.

Personally, as a man with hairy hands, metal bands are the bane of my existence and I felt that the sport bands didn't breathe so well and thus the woven Nylon became my band of choice—it's cheap (relatively) and unlike the sport, which has a rather complex rivet clasp, the Nylon one was just like a regular old watch.

Fortunately, there are plenty of third party Apple Watch straps out there that look good and won’t break the bank.

The Apple Watch itself is quite the investment with the smaller 38mm Series 3 watch retailing at S$498 and the bigger 42mm one going for a cool S$548.

The Bad

On its own merits as a smartwatch, it's hard to criticize the Apple Watch 3. However, at least here in ASEAN, there is one massive issue. To put it simply, folks in the U.S. and a few other countries can purchase the Series 3 Apple Watch with LTE connectivity built in meaning that for better or worse, the Apple Watch can be used untethered from your phone and still retain all its functions.

LTE connectivity was, without a doubt, the killer feature of the Series 3 Watch and it is a shame that we don’t even have the option to purchase it. You could finally leave your phone at home and go swimming or running and have access to all your important apps, the ability to make calls and more.

Here’s hoping this gets rectified soon.

Should you buy it?

Well, the big question to ask is whether you actually need a wearable like the Apple Watch because asides from a better Activity tracker, there's very little that the Watch can do that your phone can’t. This is after all, another expensive device to buy, update and maintain.

There are some definite upsides though: this is easily one of the best fitness trackers on the market, Siri on your wrist is fantastic, and the ability to quickly glance through notifications, reminders and appointments is handy for the busy professional. If you are happy having all of this in your pocket instead of on your wrist, then perhaps you are better of saving your money and investing it in a better tier of iPhone or a pair of rather excellent Air Pods.