Update: our Watch Series 3 review is out — and says the Apple Watch 3 comes oh so close to replacing your phone.
Wearables may face a murky future, but that didn’t stop Apple from announcing the Apple Watch Series 3 alongside the iPhone X, Apple TV 4K, and new AirPods at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California in mid-September.
Apple’s most refined interpretation of a wearable yet boasts LTE connectivity, an improved display and battery, and a waterproof design that comes in an endless array of styles, colors, and materials.
Apple says it’s the most popular smartwatch in the world, topping Rolex, Fossil, Omega, and Cartier. And it’s riding on a wave of popularity — Apple says the Apple Watch has a 97-percent customer satisfaction rating.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Apple Watch Series 3.
Release date and availability
As of Friday, September 22, the Apple Watch Series 3 — both with and without LTE — is available in 38mm and 42mm sizes. You can get one yourself via the Apple Store website or the Apple Store app for iOS devices, as well as from carriers including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, and others in 26 countries.
The Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $330 without LTE and at $400 with LTE.
You might want to hold off a bit before picking up an LTE-enabled Apple Watch, though. On Wednesday, September 20, Apple released a statement about “connectivity issues” it’s attempting to resolve ahead of the Apple Watch Series 3’s ship date.
“We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular,” an Apple spokesperson told The Verge. “We are investigating a fix for a future software release.”
The Apple Watch Series 3 is available in gold, silver, space gray aluminum, and space black stainless steel cases. There’s also a gray ceramic Apple Watch Edition. There’s a new Sport Loop with a wraparound nylon band. An updated Apple Watch Hermès, which comes in new designs with a single silver buckle and double buckle, hits retailers later in September.
A Nike+ version of the Apple Watch Series 3 sporting exclusive new colors and an updated fitness app will be available in 38mm and 42mm sizes from Apple.com, Nike.com, Apple Stores, some Nike retail stores, a few Apple Authorized Resellers, and stores like Macy’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Finally, the old Apple Watch Series 1 isn’t quite going away. Apple’s offering it at a reduced the price — $250 for the Series 1.
For a breakdown of every available model, style, and finish, check out our buying guide to the Apple Watch.
A familiar design, but now with LTE
From the outside looking in, the Apple Watch Series 3 shares a lot in common with its wearable predecessors. It retains the curved-corner rectangular design of the Apple Watch Series 2 and original Apple Watch, roughly the same weight and dimensions (with the exception of a crystal at the bottom that’s .25mm bigger), and the same fitness-tracking heart rate monitor, accelerometer, and gyroscope sensors. And like the Series 2, the Apple Watch Series 3 has a built-in GPS that can log your workouts when your iPhone is out of range.
It’s also water- and dust-resistant. Like the Series 2, the Apple Watch Series 3 is hermetically sealed. You can shower with the watch, and swim with it in pools and the ocean, though at only shallow depths. Apple has a detailed guide on what exactly you can do with your Series 3 watch.
Thanks to a combination of machine learning algorithms and biometric sensors, the Apple Watch Series 3 can measure calorie burn, swim laps, and distance in real time.
But the Apple Watch Series 3 has something the Series 2 and first-gen Apple Watch don’t: LTE. Cellular-enabled versions of the Apple Watch, which are designated by a red-accented crown button and cost a bit more than Wi-Fi-only models, can make and receive calls, send messages, and stream music without being tethered to an iPhone via Bluetooth 4.2. That’s all thanks to an embedded SIM card and LTE modems built by Intel.
It’s a set-it-and-forget-it affair. When you power on the Apple Watch Series 3 for the first time, it detects your iPhone’s phone number and tries to figure out if you’re already set up to use an Apple Watch. If not, it prompts you to add the watch to your existing data plan and switches to your carrier’s network automatically. When LTE is in use, a small signal strength indicator appears in the top-left screen.
Due to the embedded SIM, China has suspended the new cellular feature on the Apple Watch Series 3, The Wall Street Journal reports. Analysts have reportedly claimed it’s due to security concerns posed by the government.
Since the country strictly regulates mobile phones, users have to register under their real names with a network carrier. But since an eSIM is embedded by Apple and not carriers, users can choose a telecom operator and a communications plan, which has China questioning how carriers and regulators can track the device user’s identity. In response to the issue, China has blocked LTE access to the latest Apple Watch without a confirmed explanation.
LTE enables features like WeChat, Maps, and Apple Music. (When you use Find My Friends, the Apple Watch Series 3 is smart enough to switch your location over to the Watch automatically.) And it provides on-demand access to Apple Music’s catalog of 40 million songs, as well as streaming radio stations like Beats One Live.
The Apple Watch Series 3’s other improvements are a little less noticeable, but no less appreciable. The screen is a little brighter and more durable, thanks to micro-LED and glass-film touch technology (as opposed to OLED and touch-on-lens panel onboard the Apple Watch Series 2). The processor, a slightly upgraded dual-core processor called the S3, is 70 percent more powerful than the Series 2’s S2. A custom W2 chip is 85 percent faster on Wi-Fi and 50 percent more power-efficient, and a barometric altimeter measures verticality as you climb steps or ski down a mountainside.
There’s double the internal storage in the LTE-equipped Apple Watch Series 3 (16GB as opposed to 8GB in the Series 2), and battery life is improved. Apple says it lasts 18 hours across a mix of activities.
Here’s how long you can expect Apple Watch Series 3’s battery to last in a range of scenarios, courtesy of Apple’s battery information page:
- The Apple Watch Series 3 LTE model should get three hours of talk time when paired to an iPhone and just over an hour when connected to LTE.
- The Apple Watch Series 3 lasts an estimated 10 hours during indoor workouts and four hours during indoor workouts, or a maximum of four hours with both LTE and GPS enabled.
- The Apple Watch Series 3 can stream music for 10 hours when paired to an iPhone via Bluetooth.
The Apple Watch Series 3 runs WatchOS 4, the newest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, and it puts a big emphasis on fitness tracking.
An enhanced heart rate app shows your heartbeat with the raise of a wrist. It records new measures like resting heart rate and recovery heart rate, and pings when you have over 120 beats per minute and aren’t active.
A new Quickstart interface provides one-tap access to workouts like High Intensity Interval training and swim workouts, and a refreshed Activity app with notifications tracks your progress toward fitness goals.
Core Bluetooth, a new connectivity setting, lets the Apple Watch pair directly to health- and fitness-based Bluetooth devices like glucose monitors, treadmills, and more for direct data sharing. Starting a workout on a compatible machine automatically triggers the Workout app on the Apple Watch Series 3, which transmits metrics like speed, laps, and total calories burned.
There’s more to WatchOS 4 than fitness tracking, of course. A new Messages app lets you send and receive payments via Apple Pay, and an updated Mail app lets you compose messages with Siri’s text-to-speech or canned quick responses. And new watch faces like Kaleidescope and Toy Story shift, change, and animate throughout the day.
Another new watch face, a Siri-powered notifications dashboard, uses machine learning algorithms and contextual information to serve up useful notifications. In the morning, you might see traffic updates and upcoming calendar appointments, and in the evening, you might get sunset times and HomeKit scenes.
New and updated complications include a Heart Rate complication that shows real-time heart rate measurements, and a new Apple News complication provides one-tap access to breaking news.
But that’s just scratching the surface. For an in-depth look at WatchOS 4’s features, check out our guide.
Update: China cuts off LTE access to Apple Watch Series 3, supposedly over government concerns.
- Best cheap Apple Watch deals for January 2021
- The best smartwatches for 2021
- The evolution of the iPhone: A decade-plus love affair
- How to unlock a phone on every carrier in 2021
- The exceptional Apple Watch Series 6 is $20 cheaper at Best Buy