Apple Watch Series 3
Last updated: 1 month ago
Launched in September 2017, the Apple Watch Series 3 keeps the classic design of earlier models, but packs in quite a few new features. Alongside improvements including the faster S3 processor and W2 wireless chip was the addition of a cellular variant for the first time. Today, Apple sells it only in a GPS variant.
● Dual-core S3 processor
● W2 wireless chip
● First model with cellular - GPS-only today
● Starts at $199
Apple revealed the third generation of the Apple Watch line during Apple's September 2017 event. The Apple Watch Series 3 improved upon its predecessors with upgraded components and a model that had its own cellular connection.
AppleInsider reviewed the Apple Watch Series 3 with Cellular shortly after release.
Apple Watch Series 3 Pricing
The Apple Watch Series 3 costs $199 for 38mm and $229 for 42mm. While it initially had a cellular variant, this model is now only sold in GPS.
Apple Watch Series 3 Features
From the outside, this Apple Watch has the same familiar design as the Apple Watch Series 2, with a square OLED Retina display, 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 was one of the few elements to receive a visual change in this generation, with now-obsolete cellular 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 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 was also offered in two different materials, depending on the model. The standard version without cellular connectivity have a “composite back,” while LTE-equipped models used a ceramic back cover.
As is customary, Apple 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 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 compared to its predecessor, 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, making Wi-Fi connections 85 percent faster, while at the same time making Bluetooth and Wi-Fi 50 percent more power-efficient.
Some models had an increase in storage capacity. The standard model has 8 gigabytes of storage, while the cellular version included 16 gigabytes. Today, Apple only sells the 8GB GPS version.
New to the 2017 release was the barometric altimeter, 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.
Apple offered two types of Apple Watch in this 2017 model, with the standard model given the suffix “GPS,” while the other was labeled “GPS + Cellular.” 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. Apple later retired the cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 3, though the newer Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE both include cellular variants.
Using a full LTE and UMTS cellular radio, which the Apple Watch seamlessly switches to 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 in October 2017. 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 is 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.
Apple announced the next major OS update for Apple Watch, watchOS 7, at WWDC 2020. The update launched in September 2020. Significant changes include handwashing timers, sleep tracking, and mobility metrics. Apple Watch Series 3 and newer can migrate to the update.
Building on top of the basic tracking offered in Bedtime, the sleep tracking system included in watchOS 7 provides more data about how a user sleeps. By tracking small movements using the built-in accelerometer, users can see how well they slept, as well as being able to keep track of their long-term sleep patterns.
New methods of working out are included, such as dancing, core training, functional strength training, and cooldowns. These are workout types that aren't as easily tracked as others that were previously offered. The update also supports Apple Fitness+, the company's new integrated workout streaming and tracking service.
Apple also made changes to watch faces. The new Chronograph Pro watch face adds a tachymeter, used to calculate speed based on the time to travel a fixed distance. Developers can also add more than one complication per app to a single watch face. Watch face sharing will also be a big change, allowing users to share their creations with others, via messages, URLs, or by a long-press of the face on the Apple Watch itself. Apple will also be curating Apple Watch face configurations.
The latest update also includes handwashing tracking. When the Apple Watch detects the user is washing hands, such as by hearing running water, the display will show a 20-second timer to ensure the user properly cleans their hands. As with sleep tracking, the Health app will provide details of how often the user washes their hands, as well as offering more tips on limiting the spread of disease.
Coinciding with updates made to Apple Maps on iOS, changes are also being made to reflect the Apple Watch experience, including turn-by-turn directions prioritizing cycle routes. This includes being able to exclude routes with stairs, and warnings about steep inclines.
Improvements are being made to how Siri performs on-device dictation, which should help make voice-to-text messaging more accurate. Access to other features including Siri's new translation features will also be available.
Styles and Bands
Aside from the 38mm and 42mm sizes, there were intially quite a few different models of Apple Watch Series 3 that users could buy, along with a wide variety of bands. Today, Apple only sells the 2017 model in black and white variants with Sport Bands.
Initially, the standard color options for the aluminum case versions were Silver, Space Gray, and the new addition of Gold. Each were also supplied with a band, with the choice of the original Sport Band or the Sport Loop, which could be easily tightened onto the wrist via a small loop.
The Stainless Steel cases also included Silver and Space Black options and can be paired with the Sport Band or a color-coordinated Milanese Loop.
The Nike+ models returned with this generation, 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 shipped with exclusive watch faces and could 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 gained 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 included a new watch face, inspired by the Carrick Hermes watch designed by Henri d'Origny in 1993.
Another Hermes band was launched in December 2017, 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 used 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 in December 2020. The new options, priced at $49 each, included dark teal, spicy orange, and a canary yellow "Flash" band.
Apple Watch Series 3 Teardown
The customary deconstruction by iFixit for the third-generation of Apple Watch revealed that, while it was largely similar to the Series 2, Apple 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.
The ability to make phone calls on the LTE-equipped Apple Watch Series 3 also made the now-defunct cellular variant of the wearable a potentially handy item to have in an emergency. As a cellular device in its own right, it was 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 November 2020, a Reddit poster attempted to use the feature on an unactivated 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 was the November 2020 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.
The Emergency SOS feature also helped save one woman's life in late 2017, after a car was rear-ended by a drunk driver, causing it to fly into the air. Kacie Anderson, who triggered the alert with her Apple Watch after recovering from blacking out, was found to have severe concussion, brain swelling, and bulging disks from the accident, and is still recuperating from the injuries.
Common Apple Watch Series 3 Questions
Is Apple Watch Series 3 available in cellular?
Not anymore. The Apple Watch Series 3 initially shipped in both GPS and cellular variants, but today, Apple only sells it in GPS.
Is Apple Watch Series 3 waterproof?
Apple Watch Series 3 is water-resistant, rated for up to 50m submersion.
Does Apple Watch Series 3 have fall detection?
No, only Apple Watch Series 4 and later have fall detection.
How much does Apple Watch Series 3 cost?
Apple Watch Series 3 prices start at $199 for 38mm and go up to $229 for 42mm.