My first week with Apple Watch Series 3

When the only real criticism of the Apple Watch Series 3 is the existence of a red dot, then you know Apple's doing well.

Apple, Apple Watch, Apple watch Series 3, iOS, iOS 11, watchOS 4, smartwatch, wearable
Doug Duvall/IDG

I’ve been using Apple Watch since the first version shipped.

I’ve grown so accustomed to using one that some of the things you might like about owning one yourself have become so much part of my daily life that I neglect to mention them here.

That’s the thing about Apple Watch — it weaves itself so intimately inside your daily experience that you begin to use it unconsciously. Just like a watch.

I use the device’s health, Activity, heart and fitness tracking features. I use it for Apple Pay, Maps, Siri questions, Messages, and (of course) for checking the time.

When it comes to third-party apps, I find things like local information, foreign translation and travel-related apps the most useful.

The watch seems to come into its own for subtle provision of helpful information in a friction-free way. I find that really useful when I’m travelling somewhere new and want a little help getting around but want to keep my iPhone in my pocket.

Apple has also put a much faster processor in the Series 3 Apple Watch. That means apps launch much faster, Siri speaks to you, and the apps you use daily (hello, Apple Pay) are smoother, faster and more responsive in this version of the device.

WatchOS 4 enhancements

WatchOS 4 adds a host of useful tools, including Apple Music streaming (great when you travel), a speaking Siri, and much improved Activity and Workout apps. I’m also old enough that I also value the much-improved heart monitoring functions in the device.

The one thing that isn’t getting much coverage is the much-improved machine intelligence-based personalization in the watch.

This means your Activity monitor has become much wiser about when to remind you to do things to keep your activity levels up. It also means better music recommendations and more.

I expect Apple to continue to refine personalization in Apple Watch, which should eventually get even better at figuring out your health requirements.

Apple's own marketing video points out that the device is already saving lives.

With an eye on Apple Watch as doctor, watchOS 4 introduces a new heart rate notification that warns you if your heart rate is dangerously fast when you are resting. 

I believe Apple Watch will become a diagnostic tool for a wide range of conditions in the future, particularly given recent changes in FTC rules around digital health apps. 

One feature I find surprisingly engaging is News app support. I didn’t expect to use it at all, but I've become hooked on glancing at the latest headlines on the device. I love that feature, but perhaps that is just me — I'm a news hound to my core.

Apple Watch 3 design, including the red dot

Aesthetics are important.

Apple chose to make it easy to spot an Apple Watch with Cellular with the addition of a red dot on the face of the Digital Crown button.

It’s a little design element that means v.1 cellular will become slightly collectible, just as (I’d argue) Apple Watch Series 2 devices have become now they have been withdrawn from sale.

Apple’s watch continues to have a quite masculine digital watch "squareness" about it.

People complain about this, but when you think about it, the shape is perhaps defined by what the watch is designed to do. How big a diameter would a circular watch need to occupy to deliver the same amount of display space?

Would developers be prepared to ship multiple versions of their apps to support different displays?

Apple’s response to demand for better personalization is to make Apple Watch available in different colors (such as black, gold, silver aluminum) and with a huge range of seasonally changing watchbands.

The company continues to resist calls to provide us with a watchface creation kit for more personalization, but it does provide a growing range of watchfaces, including a (new in watchOS 4) Kaleidoscope face that turns your images into rather pretty mandela-like patterns.

These personalization options work together to help you soften the stark utilitarianism of Apple Watch design, adding your own unique identity around a product the shape of which is defined by the need to have a functional and useful display. You provide the fashion sense; Apple provides the palette of choice.

One more thing. If you get the chance, you should spend some time looking at all the different Apple Watch models, including the Edition. There's something about the weight of a high-end watch that I think Apple's designers had in mind when creating Edition, the weight of both seems to connect with aesthetic delight in some way. Though, if we're honest, those Edition watches are as much out of reach to most of us as a high-end Rolex has always been. 

Apple Watch 3 cellular and battery life

Apple’s flagship feature in this model is cellular connectivity.

This means you’ll get that important call, message or notification even when you leave your iPhone at home. And while Apple says it doesn’t see its smartwatch as a replacement for your smartphone, the form factor will deliver all that some users need.

Subject to battery life...

You’ll get only one hour’s talk time on a single charge, so it’s unlikely most of us can rely solely on the Apple Watch just yet. For a fuller explanation of battery life, read this report. Everything I've done with the device tells me that most people will find the watch happily lasts a full day, even with a couple of short LTE calls.

If you are purchasing a Series 3 in order to use the cellular facility, you absolutely must make sure your carrier supports the device: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon in the U.S. and EE in the UK (full list here). You will also need an iPhone.

Setting up cellular on your Apple Watch

If your carrier supports the device, then setting up cellular on your Apple Watch is easily achieved when your pair the device with your iPhone.

I won’t bore you with instructions (read them here).

It was quick and easy. And an hour after pairing, my cellular connection was active on my Watch. I still think, though, the carriers are charging way too much for the privilege of linking Apple Watch to your existing phone number.

How was the Apple Watch 3 to use?

I’ve taken several calls and had perfect reception with each one.

While I felt a little weird talking into my wrist like some Secret Service feller moaning to his wife after another weekend spent on his boss’ golf course, I could hear perfectly and found I could keep my arm at my side and still be heard.

I guess this experience is much better when you also use wireless headsets (like AirPods or Beats), but I don’t have these — so I went the Apple Watch equivalent of skinny dipping, exposing my conversational eloquence to all the eavesdroppers in my "hood."

I found calling people a lot less satisfactory — not because the calls dropped or wouldn’t connect, but because you must ask Siri to dial a number, receive messages or make an emergency call. 

You don’t have access to even a limited contacts book**

UPDATE 10/9/17:  Reader, Paul Cox, helped me find something I missed: You do have a Contacts app, but it's buried. 

  • Open the Phone app in Application viewer on your Apple Watch and you should see a list of items in green: Favourites, Recents, Contacts, Keypad, Voicemail. 
  • Tap Contacts and you'll find a list view of everyone you know (you can change how the view looks in the Watch app on your iPhone).

I'm slightly embarrassed to have missed this. I do also think when you ask Siri to open your contacts it should be smart enough to open this list.

Thanks Paul.

I’ve been able to make and take calls using my watch with my iPhone at home from the middle of a forest while on a run, at the top of a hill while walking the dogs, and while sitting in the car passenger seat driving along a freeway.

I think being able to do so will become as natural and lightweight a task as everything I already do with the watch — but I do think there’s a need to make contact information more available.

I mentioned a hill? The new model also includes a barometric altimeter, which means the watch will now track things such as elevation and flights of stairs climbed for more accurate activity tracking levels. That's great for runners, dog walkers and mountaineers, I suppose. And it's good for accurate heart rate analysis, too.

Summing up

I’ve been using my Apple Watch Series 3 for only a few days, but hopefully this gives you some sense of what you can expect. I intend to take a firmer look at some of the new breed of third-party apps in the future.

For me, the inclusion of a cellular connection within Apple Watch raises the bar in what the device is capable of. I’d argue that this connection makes the watch a truly smart watch.

This sets the new model apart from previous iterations: those devices made for excellent fitness trackers. But this connectivity means you now have a device that can deliver useful connected personalization and insights with or without an iPhone.

That’s going to become increasingly important as Apple iterates the machine intelligence and health-related features across its wider ecosystem.  

It also means that if you want to buy an Apple Watch and want to make sure you invest in a model that will still be up to date in three year’s time, then the cellular-equipped watch is probably going to be the one you need. And I like the red dot.

Updated October 9 with Contact list use information.

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