There are some product categories, where despite there being many players in the field, there are only a handful of products worth recommending. In the tablet category, it’s always the Apple iPad that keeps that category relevant. Similarly, when it comes to smartwatches, the Apple Watch has aced every quarterly sales report when it comes to numbers. Apple did not introduce the category, but it doesn’t have any stiff competition despite the many Android Wear, I mean WearOS, watches out there. With the Cellular variant of the Apple Watch, we get what is the natural evolution to this category. Apple has achieved this in an elegant manner by having an eSIM inside the watch, which barely adds much thickness to the overall dimensions of the Watch.
If you’ve been holding out for so long, is this finally the Apple Watch to go for? Is Cellular support really such a big deal? Find out more in our detailed review.
Build and Design: 9/10
Apple has been a design leader on many fronts. But at the same time, it also sticks to a winning formula for multiple generations. We have seen that happen from the Apple iPhone 6 through to the iPhone 8. The same logic applies to the Watch. The design of the Apple Watch hasn’t changed much since the first generation Apple Watch, except maybe adding a few millimetres to the profile of the Cellular variant. The Apple Watch Cellular gets a red-coloured Digital Crown to separate it from the other Watches and give you those extra bragging rights.
The rounded square design has been retained, as has that concave base that houses the heart rate sensor and the charging ports. The left-hand side of the Watch has the mic and speaker whereas on the right you have the Digital Crown and the back button. The grooves to slot the Watch bands are the same and you can use your previous generation watchbands with this Watch edition as well.
The only design disruption I see happening with future Apple Watches is going from the square shape to a round design, something that Samsung has got right with its Gear Sport. But for now, though, this will do. Just like the previous generation, the Apple Watch Cellular comes with the IP68 certification, which means that you can wear your watch when going for a swim to measure your swimming activity as well.
Speaking about dimensions, you get a 38 mm and 42 mm variant (this is the one I tested). Both measure 11.4 mm thick and weigh around 35 g, which is barely any weight on your wrists. The Watch is housed inside an aluminium case which can take a few scratches and some minor beating. The Ion-X strengthened glass did stand the test of time. After a point, I didn’t even bother checking the display despite brushing it against rough walls or accidentally banging the watch face into some metal or other such surfaces. The key word being “accidental”. Don’t go about purposely doing it. After a month of regular usage, I still can’t see any scratches, so I am quite impressed. There is really nothing to complain about with the build quality.
The Apple Watch comes with all the features you expect from a smartwatch and has an eSIM, which lets you pair your phone’s LTE data plan with it. So far, it is only supporting certain plans on Airtel and Jio.
It houses the faster S3 dual-core processor and a W2 wireless chip, which is the successor to the W1 chip. This is the same chip that is found in the Apple AirPods and is rated for Wi-Fi 802.11n. The display on the 42 mm size has a resolution of 312×390 pixels, which hasn’t really changed since the first generation.
Among the sensors, you get an accelerometer, gyroscope, heart-rate sensor and a barometric altimeter to measure how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed. This is in addition to the inbuilt support for GPS and GLONASS. Since this is a Cellular variant, you have an eSIM inside which pairs with your cellular data plans. The storage capacity is double that seen on the GPS-only variant, with 16 GB storage.
I tested the Watch when it was running watchOS 4. I shall do a separate post on the improvements brought about by watchOS 5.
Setting up the Apple Watch is quite a straightforward process. You first need to ensure that the Watch is fully charged, then open the Watch app on your iPhone and tap on the ‘Start Pairing’ button on both the Watch and the iPhone. It will then open a camera view on the iPhone and an animation on the Watch. From here on, you just follow the instructions on the phone and you can either restore data or set it up as a new Watch.
One of the first things I did after setting up the Watch was to pair my Airtel Infinity Plan with my Watch. Now, this was an exercise in frustration. What was supposed to be a straightforward syncing process took me at least 3-4 days and around 10-15 calls with the Airtel customer care to get set up. I spoke to a few other friends who were also testing the Watch, around half of them were complaining about the same thing. Clearly, there’s some luck involved to get it working right the first time. Once paired with the data plan, there were absolutely no issues. The Watch shows the green dots on the top left-hand corner along with a green data signal logo, but only when the Watch is not in your iPhone’s vicinity. With the iPhone paired with it, you will only see a greyed out data signal logo.
Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular comes with watchOS 4 and by the time I got done with testing, the OS was upgraded to watchOS 4.3. One software change that really pleased me was the option to arrange apps one below the other. This is a welcome change from the earlier, messy system where a smorgasbord of apps would be scattered everywhere. Even the Recents menu, which gives you a card view of open apps, is a nice touch. The Workouts app now has an auto-pause feature, something that is really valuable if you are into running. While Apple has added some gym equipment support to some Workout modes, I couldn’t try it out as there weren’t any popular gym equipment makers around here who supported the feature.
Watch Faces have got some new additions, with the Kaleidoscope watch face being particularly interesting. The Siri Watch face, although interesting, is sometimes unpredictable, showing you random apps up front.
The advantages of having cellular connectivity on your Watch means that you do not have to carry around your iPhone everywhere with you. That may sound nice, but I don’t normally leave my phone anyway and as a result, I ended up using the Watch by itself only when I was out on my runs.
The eSIM, which is paired with your data plan, creates a clone of your SIM on the Watch and the data functionalities are handed over to the Watch when your iPhone is out of range. You can make calls, send messages, get all your notifications, stream songs on Apple Music and much more using just the Watch.
Siri support is built into watchOS 4 so you can ask Siri questions that you want to answered, set reminders, share locations and much more. I used it a lot to catch up on the Football World Cup scores when I was out.
The Move, Exercise and Stand rings give you an at-a-glance idea of your daily activity levels. You can use certain Apple apps which have watchOS support such as Nike+, Fitso, YogaGlo, Strava and so on to track your workouts. You can even share your activity with another friend using Watch and you can motivate each other to complete your rings or finish those workouts.
Certain wellness apps on the Watch are front and centre, such as the HeartRate and Breathe apps. These apps let you measure your heart rate and help you to calm down via breathing exercise respectively. The Breathe app is pretty darn good at realising when you need to calm down and will send you a slight “nudge” to perform breathing exercises to the rhythm of an opening and closing flower animation and haptics. HeartRate lets you know if there is any anomaly in your heart rate when you’re not doing any strenuous exercise. This is great for people suffering from hypertension or any heart ailments.
But not all is well when it comes to native watchOS apps. Some major ones like Instagram, for instance, do not offer standalone support. While in the first generation of the app one could see the actual picture your friends posted on the Watch itself, and like it then and there, now you just see a notification which you dismiss after reading. From 1 April this year, the watchOS 1 apps which haven’t been updated with watchOS 2 SDK are no longer supported on the Watch. Other big-name apps that don’t have a native watchOS app are Google Maps, Amazon, eBay and so on.
Performance and Usability: 8/10
The responsiveness of the Watch is particularly impressive. No matter how small the navigation buttons on different apps, it tends to pick up the touch responses properly. While I wouldn’t advise reading long emails on such a tiny display, the watchOS apps let you perform basic interactions on the smaller screen without any hassles. The Scribble app’s handwriting recognition has improved and is a great way to quickly get back to someone with a quick response.
Thanks to Siri support, you can now just tell your Watch to compose messages, give you information, set alarms and so on. I used this feature a lot during the ongoing FIFA World Cup to get information of upcoming matches, player stats and much more. Even pulling up simple facts or having simple conversions without reaching out for your phone is quite convenient.
Apple claims that the Wi-Fi speed has gone up about 85 percent and that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are up to 50 percent faster. There was no way to measure this empirically so we’ll just have to take Apple’s word on that.
There’s also a noticeable difference in performance when using the new Watch. It’s noticeable when compared with the Series 2 Watch, and as expected, the Series 3 Watch easily outpaces the original Series 1 device.
Notifications showed up almost instantaneously on the Watch.
Calling functionality on the Watch gets the work done. If you are in a quiet area, inside a room or a restaurant, the voice of the caller is audible and you can carry on with a proper telephone conversation. If you don’t want to subject people around you to your phone calls, you can also pair a Bluetooth headset to your Watch. The speaker audio isn’t that loud and in Mumbai traffic, you can forget about being clearly audible to the person on the other end.
I liked the feature of the ability to add on to Workouts. For instance, when I am done with a run, I like to cool down and walk some distance before calling it a day. Initially, I’d have to end one workout and then start another one to register it, now it’s a matter of adding on to your existing workout. It’s a much more streamlined process. It is great for those who like to mix up their workouts.
The altimeter sensor is good for measuring elevation, but I don’t think the readings were accurate when it came to measuring flights climbed.
Battery Life: 6/10
The Apple Watch easily lasts for up around 2 and a half days before it needs charging. This is provided you are just using your Watch as a second screen for your notifications and measuring your daily activity. Taking the Watch on a workout eats into the battery as the GPS chip (if you are on an outdoor run) and the Cellular radio (if you are not carrying your phone) kick in. And this completely depends on your mileage (literally, in cases where your workout involves running).
I noticed that on a 10k run with GPS, cellular activated and listening to downloaded songs from my Apple Music playlist, there was a 50 percent drop in battery life (from 66 percent to 16 percent) at the end of the run. That’s a huge drop if you are solely reliant on your Watch during your workout. That makes me wonder if it will last me the length of an entire marathon. I would advise having a sufficient charge on your Watch before taking it out for that weekend run. With the cellular signal switched off, I noticed that the battery drain wasn’t as drastic, but for a 10k run, I easily lost around 40 percent capacity. The bundled charger takes around 90 minutes to fully charge the Watch.
Verdict and Price in India
The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS+Cellular is a great device, especially if you are a fitness enthusiast who wants to stay connected during your workouts. The pricing starts at Rs 39,080 for the 38 mm Watch and Rs 41,120 for the 42 mm variants. It is definitely on the higher side, but there isn’t any other device offering this much functionality with a dedicated eSIM inside. During the couple of months that I used the Watch, barring my running time and a couple of occasions when I went swimming, I wasn’t really away from my iPhone. At home, yes there have been instances when the phone wasn’t at hand, but it doesn’t take much to just walk over to your phone.
If that is going to be your use case, I’d say you’re better off with the Series 3 Watch with just GPS, which is priced at Rs 34,410. But this also means that if you want to stream music or want to stay connected, you will need to take your phone with you on your workouts.
I just wish the battery drain wasn’t as steep when using the Watch independently during a workout. Hopefully, watchOS 5 has some optimisations to fix that and I will eventually test that on a stable build. Also, in India, the cellular version of Watch 3 will work only if you are on Airtel’s Infinity plans or on Jio’s plans. Vodafone India and other service providers are not currently supported.
On the whole, the Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular model is a great investment only if you are hell-bent on staying connected, but want to be free of your phone. That red dot on the digital crown will give you some bragging rights for sure, but for the majority of us, I think, the Series 3 GPS model just makes a lot more sense.