The Apple Watch didn't need to evolve its design – after all, there’s a reason why it’s now the world’s best-selling watch (that’s watch, not just smartwatch).
This means the Series 3 looks, understandably, identical to its predecessor. But internally? There are enough changes here to both the cellular and non-cellular versions to make it feel like a different smartwatch.
The question is, do these upgrades make it different enough for current Watch owners to upgrade? I slapped one on my wrist to find out...
Design: a familiar face
The Series 3’s case is pretty much identical to its predecessor. The only difference is an extra 0.25mm thickness to the rear crystal bump (which is pretty much unnoticeable) and, for the cellular version, a red digital crown.
The Stuff office is a little underwhelmed by the red crown. Surely an exclusive case colour, like the 2006 black MacBook, would have been a better bet? Perhaps that would have been too polarising and limited its appeal.
Still, the new grey ceramic option for the Watch Edition (which starts at £1299, S$2320) is welcome – pretty as the white ceramic watches are, grey is harder to dirty, especially if you intend to take your Apple Watch travelling.
The good news for owners of more affordable Apple Watches is that you’ll be able to transfer your existing bands to the Series 3 too. Apple has been consistent in updating its watch bands, adding new colours and styles over the last couple of years, but it’s nice to not have to start from scratch again.
In my time with watchOS 4 on the Series 3, I found it to be, visually, a lot kinder to the eyes too, with better contrast and easier-to-read text, something my ageing, probably-need-bifocals eyes appreciate.
Apple is still pretty controlling about how much you can customise your interface but the new Watch faces, Toy Story faces among them, almost make up for that. Almost. We’d still like third-party watch faces sometime this decade, though, Apple.
Performance: faster, stronger, better
There’s a new processor on the Apple Watch, the W2, which Apple says makes Wi-Fi 85% faster, while proving to be 50% more power efficient. That’s partly why it still claims an 18-hour battery life from a single charge, though we’ll need a bit more time with it to test that.
One thing that is immediately noticeable, though, is its improved speed. The combination of watchOS 4 with the Series 3 feels like real performance leap from the first two models. The fluidity of response, from switching between apps to checking notifications, is particularly apparent if you already use an Apple Watch on a daily basis. Also new is an altimeter for exercises involving some measure of elevation gain, which is good news for those who like to climb or hike (or just work on the top floor).
I couldn’t test the Watch 3’s cellular functionality in my brief time with it, so a big question mark remains over that. Still, the good news for anyone who’s been waiting to stream Apple Music or make phone calls while out on a run is that the Watch Series 3 packs this in without hitting its design or, apparently, its battery life. Plus there’s always the option of the non-cellular version if you don’t fancy talking to your wrist.
Accessories: bands, and more bands
Apple also announced the Sports Loop with the Watch Series 3. Why is this a big deal? Well, if you don’t like the feel of Apple’s sports bands or all those holes on the Nike Sports bands, these are a comfortable alternative.
Initially, I thought the fuzzy strap wouldn’t be particularly comfortable, but it’s better than I expected. The straps were easy to slip on and adjust, thanks to the inclusion of velcro.
For those with more luxe tastes, there are the new Hermes bands that are as gorgeous up close as they are in pictures. The question is if you’ll still have money leftover for them after exchanging a kidney for the iPhone X.
Apple Watch Series 3 verdict
Leaving the cellular question aside for the moment, is it worth upgrading to the Watch Series 3 if you’re existing Watch owner?
While I did see some performance improvements from the Series 3, it’s unlikely that Series 2 owners will see any reason to upgrade to the non-cellular version. Still, it’s probably worth trying watchOS 4 on your existing watch when it’s available from September 19. Owners of the Series 1 may well find it to be perfect time to upgrade.
We’ll have to wait to see how useful that cellular connectivity is on the pricier £399 (S$715) Series 3 to judge which version is the best. Make sure to check back for our full review very soon.