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The third generation of the Apple Watch line revealed during Apple's September event, the Apple Watch Series 3 improves upon its popular formula of a powerful and well-designed smartwatch with upgraded components and, in a first for the product family, a model that has its own cellular connection. 

AppleInsider reviewed the Apple Watch Series 3 with Cellular shortly after release. 

External design

From the outside, the Apple Watch Series 3 has the same familiar design as the Apple Watch Series 2, featuring a square OLED Retina display with Force Touch, protected by sapphire crystal in the stainless steel and ceramic models, and Ion-X glass for the aluminum versions. Available in two sizes, the 38 millimeter model has a resolution of 272 by 340 pixels while the 42 millimeter has a 312 by 390 pixel display, with both capable of 1,000 nits of brightness. 

On the right of the device are the Side button and Digital Crown, which are used alongside taps, swipes, and gestures on the display to navigate through the watchOS menus. The Digital Crown is one of the few elements to receive a visual change in this generation, with cellular-equipped models brandishing a red dot, denoting its added connectivity option. 

To the rear is the heart rate sensor, a collection of LEDs and sensors that can be used to detect the blood flow in the user's wrist, via a technology known as photoplethysmography. Apple has increased the size of the rear crystal, but only by 0.25 millimeters, making it a barely noticeable change to the vast majority of users. 

The back casing for the Apple Watch is also offered in two different materials, depending on the model. The standard version without cellular connectivity will have a “composite back,” while LTE-equipped models will have a ceramic back cover.  

General specifications

As is customary, Apple has made changes to the internals of the Apple Watch, improving it in both performance and features compared to previous models. 

For the third generation smartwatch, Apple has developed the S3 processor, a dual-core chip that boasts a 70-percent performance increase over the S2. As well as providing quicker app launch times and smoother graphics, this addition also made it possible for Siri to speak back to the user, using the Apple Watch's built-in speaker. 

Accompanying the S3 is the Apple-designed W2 wireless chip, which is claimed by Apple to make Wi-Fi connections 85 percent faster, while at the same time making Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 50 percent more power efficient. 

Depending on the model, users may see an increase in storage capacity. The standard model has 8 gigabytes of storage, while the cellular version includes 16 gigabytes. 

New to this year's release is the barometric altimeter, which is used to sense how high the Apple Watch is from sea level. The sensor is used in a variety of ways for activities, such as elevation gain and counting the flights of stairs climbed. 

The Apple Watch also includes a gyroscope, accelerometer, and ambient light sensor alongside its rear heart rate sensor. All models include 802.11n Wi-Fi support, as well as Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity. 

The device is also water resistant to 50 meters. 

 

Cellular connectivity

Apple is offering two general types of Apple Watch for this year, with the standard model given the suffix “GPS,” while the other is labelled “GPS + Cellular.” In short, this second model has its own cellular radios, allowing it to connect to a mobile network independently, so it can work without being tethered to a nearby iPhone. 

Using a full LTE and UMTS cellular radio, which the Apple Watch is said to seamlessly switch to using if an iPhone is out of range, the Apple Watch can communicate with various online services to keep the user informed or entertained. These can include streaming audio services such as Apple Music, accessing Find My Friends, Messages, and third-party apps such as WeChat. 

Apple Music streaming through the Apple Watch wasn't immediately available, but was introduced as part of an update for watchOS 4.1 on October 31. Streaming through the LTE connection does affect the battery life, as streaming while also using the built-in GPS functionality can lower the usage time to just three hours. 

Notably, the Apple Watch can be assigned the same phone number and account as the user's iPhone, so text messages and calls can pass through to the Apple Watch even if the user's far away from the iPhone. Calls can be received and placed, using the Apple Watch's built-in speaker and microphone, though it can also be used with AirPods for a more private conversation. 

In order to add LTE connectivity without changing the design or size, Apple is using a built-in eSIM, a design decision that takes up one hundredth of the space of a traditional SIM card and eliminating the need to add a SIM card slot. The display also doubles as the aerial for the Apple Watch for cellular communications, rather than using a separate aerial component. 

Due to the nature of how the Apple Watch Series 3 can connect to the phone network, it will only work through a limited number of carriers, a list Apple has published on its website. In the case of the United States, the supported carriers list includes AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, with customers expected to pay $10 per month to add the device to their service plan. 

There is one externally-visible defining feature of the cellular models that allows others to discern which version of Apple Watch the user has. The Digital Crown features a red dot on the LTE-equipped versions but not on the standard model, a fairly obvious indicator that some users may wish to cover up using stickers.  

watchOS 4

A key change to watchOS 4 is an improved Heart Rate app, which provides more detail about the user's pulse, including measurements during resting, aerobic, recovery, walking, and Breathe sessions. The app can also be set to provide a notification to the user if their heart rate elevates above a specified threshold while inactive. 

The Workout app has been given a new interface, along with a new custom “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT) workout category for switching workouts without stopping, and auto-sets for swimmers using pools. Those using gym equipment will benefit from being able to tap the Apple Watch on an NFC reader on gym equipment, with the "GymKit" technology allowing data from the equipment to be collected and monitored by the app. 

Gym equipment supporting this feature will start rolling out in the fall, with major manufacturers including LifeFitness and Stairmaster onboard with the initiative. Introduced alongside watchOS 4.1 in October, GymKit made its first in-the-wild appearance in a gym in Australia the following month, before expanding to some gym chains in the United Kingdom in December. 

The updated Music app will add in automatic synchronization of playlists, such as New Music Mix and Favorites Mix, as well as lists of the user's most listened music. Users can scroll through synced albums using the Digital Crown, with the screen showing the album artwork. In October, users of the cellular model will be able to stream music directly, without needing to synchronize with their iPhone-based music collection. 

The new Radio app provides a way for cellular model users to listen to Apple's Beats 1 as well as any other Apple Music radio station while away from their iPhone or a Wi-Fi connection. 

The new Siri watch face will give users a rundown of their upcoming events and tasks. Rotating the Digital Crown brings up calendar events, Wallet passes, weather reports, sunrise and sunset times, scenes for HomeKit, and other functions. As noted above, Siri will also be able to respond to requests in speech from the Apple Watch. 

In terms of other new watch faces, watchOS 4 will introduce a kaleidoscope face, which will provide slowly changing symmetrical patterns over the course of the day. Fans of Toy Story will get to use another watch face showing characters Woody, Jessie, and Buzz in a variety of vignettes whenever the user raises their wrist. 

The Activity tracking feature is also being improved with personalized progress alerts. New monthly challenges and milestone celebrations will also be included. 

On October 31, Apple released watchOS 4.1 to the public, adding support for LTE music streaming, as well as the revamped Music and Radio apps. 

Styles and Bands

Aside from the 38mm and 42mm sizes, there are quite a few different models of Apple Watch Series 3 that users can buy, along with a wide variety of bands. 

The standard color options for the aluminum case versions are Silver, Space Gray, and the new addition of Gold. Each are also supplied with a band, with the choice of the original Sport Band or the new Sport Loop, which can be easily tightened onto the wrist via a small loop. 

The Stainless Steel cases also include Silver and Space Black options, and can be paired with the Sport Band or a color-matched Milanese Loop. 

The Nike+ models return, complete with the branded Nike Sport Band and Nike Sport Loop variants, in a variety of colors, aimed at athletic users. 

The Apple Watch Nike+ also ship with exclusive watch faces, and can be used to launch the Nike+ Run Club app by tapping the dedicated complication. Nike updated its Nike+ Run Club app on October 2 ahead of the Nike+ model launch, adding Audio Guided Runs, the "Cheers" social networking function, and an activity history feature. 

The Apple Watch Hermes models gain more leather band options in this generation, including the Single Tour Rallye in perforated Gala calfskin, claimed to be inspired by the classic Hermes driving glove, as well as the Single Tour Eperion d'Or based on an equestrian scarf pattern designed by Henri d'Origny. These models also include a new watch face, inspired by the Carrick Hermes watch designed by Henri d'Origny in 1993. 

Another Hermes band was launched on December 8, with the Noir Swift Leather Tour Medor in the 38-millimeter format priced at $589 for the band alone. 

Lastly, the premium Apple Watch Edition models feature ceramic cases, available in either black or white, with a matching Sport band. 

New Sport Band options were made available in the online Apple Store on December 4. The new options, priced at $49 each, include dark teal, spicy orange, and a canary yellow "Flash" band. 

 

Pricing and Availability

The aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 GPS starts from $329, with the GPS + Cellular version priced from $399. The ceramic Apple Watch Edition starts from $1,299, Nike+ models start from $329, and the Apple Watch Hermes start from $1149. 

Pre-orders for the Apple Watch Series 3 commenced on September 15, with shipments of the GPS version starting from September 22 in 27 countries. 

The GPS + Cellular version will go on sale from September 22 in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, the UK, and the United States. Apple advises sales of the model will take place in more countries in 2018. 

Teardown

The customary deconstruction by iFixit for the third generation of Apple Watch revealed that, while it's largely designed to be similar to the Series 2, Apple has made some improvements to the Series 3's internals. 

The LTE model included a "whole new section" of RF chips, with ST Microelectronics believed to provide the components that make up the eSIM. Other chips, along with Apple's W2 wireless chip, came from Avago and Skyworks, among others, while the barometric altimeter has been moved to a new location next to the microphone. 

Notably the battery in the Series 3 is a 1.07 watt-hour unit, up almost 4 percent on the 1.03 watt-hour battery in the Series 2, though this still suggests Apple is relying on chip improvements elsewhere to compensate for the power demands of LTE communications. 

The repairability score of 6 out of 10 is somewhat encouraging, as while the majority of logic board repairs and the microsoldering of replacement component cables is out of reach for most users, it is theoretically possible for the screen and battery to be replaced, so long as the right tools and parts are available. 

Emergency Calling

The ability to make phone calls on the LTE-equipped Apple Watch Series 3 has also made the wearable device a potentially handy item to have in an emergency. As a cellular device in its own right, it is capable of requesting assistance, with the Emergency SOS function triggered by holding down the side button on the Watch for a prolonged period of time, eventually sending text messages to emergency contacts, or placing a call to the emergency services. 

In early November, a Reddit poster attempted to use the feature on an unactived Watch running watchOS 4.1, but initially failed. Following an email from Apple Executive Relations explaining it is possible to trigger the function without activation, a second test connected a call to 911 after three minutes. 

One early example of the Apple Watch Emergency SOS feature working is the November story of kite surfer John Zilles, who crashed his hydrofoil in shark-infested waters a mile off the California coastline. Using the Apple Watch, Zilles called his son to send his number to the harbor patrol, before making the call himself, and was later rescued by a patrol boat. 

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