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Understandably, Apple Watch Series three reviews have been dominated by LTE. This one will be much shorter as I didn’t get the one with LTE. There is more to this watch than an optional cell phone connection. This review also comes from the perspective of someone who has the original Apple Watch.

I skipped the Series 1 and 2. There was no value in GPS for me. And I didn’t find the speed increase sufficient for and upgrade. I tried the series two for a few days before returning it to the store, and returning to my original wrist computer. Now that the Series 3 has arrived, it is time to upgrade.

There is not much to say about this year’s watch except that I’m keeping it. That doesn’t mean the upgrade is right for you. So let me tell you why I’m keeping it. And you can decide whether or not you are ready to make the plunge:

The screen

There are two things about the screen that make a big difference to my usage and enjoyment of the watch. First, it doesn’t have the crack in it that my previous watch had for most of its life. That may seem like a small thing. But I was tired of seeing that crack every time I looked at the time. I’ve been wanting a new watch for a long time because of that blemish.

But more importantly, the screen is much brighter. That means that in bright sunlight, the display is much more visible. There is no condition where I can’t read what is on the screen. That is a big deal. They increased screen brightness last time around for the Series 1 and 2. But if you are still rocking the original, the brighter screen almost justifies the upgrade by itself.

Speed

The Series 3 is noticeably faster than my previous watch at everything it does. This includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Powering on
  • Switching between watch faces
  • Controlling media from the phone
  • Siri
  • Starting apps
  • Getting heart rate info

The slowest thing the Series 3 does is power up. The fact that it is much faster than the original is nothing to boast. The original is so slow to boot up, praising the 3 for being faster is to kill it with faint praise. Take the original out of the equation, and the 3 is still too slow at booting up. There is much room for improvement in this area.

Switching between watch faces by swiping could also be a slow or stuttery process on the original. But it is smooth enough so that you might actually do it on the Series 3. Opening apps is also much faster. But there is still room for improvement. You just don’t realize how slow things are on the original until you have compared it to something else.

Media controls are one example. My main watch face is the Now Playing screen. I listen to podcasts throughout the day. Regardless of whether I am at home or on the go, I control my media with my watch. On the original, there was a lag between the time you tapped the button and when something would happen.

Volume was a real problem. If you wanted to increase the volume a little, you would turn the crown a little. But because you didn’t hear any difference, you would turn it a little more. The problem was a lack of patience. The first turn would take a second or two to take effect. By the time it was done, the volume was too loud or too soft because you kept trying to get it to do something through the lag.

With the series 3, there is almost no lag at all. Move the crown a little, and the volume changes a little. The change happens right away. Press Pause, and it pauses immediately. This fundamentally changes the experience of controlling media with the Apple Watch.

Because I use accessibility features like VoiceOver from time to time, I can speak to an even bigger speed increase. If you use VoiceOver exclusively, you just turn it on once, and it works all the time. But if you dip in and out of it like I do, then VoiceOver can be a pain because it takes so long to load. If you only wanted to use it to read a message, it was not worth it to invoke the screen reader.

With the Series 3, everything about the operation of VoiceOver is much faster. You have to realize that turning on VoiceOver is more than just activating speech. It is an entirely different interface. The basic operation of the watch is different. It has to load that interface along with the speech. Think of it as respringing an iPhone. The Apple Watch does it in about 3.5 seconds. The original took 8 to 10 seconds before the feature was usable.

In so many ways, speed makes the experience. While there is still room for improvement, the Series 3 has no speed limits that make it frustrating or unusable.

Siri

I mentioned Siri in a list of things that are faster. But Siri deserves a bit more than a mention. In some ways, there was no Siri on the Apple Watch until the Series 3. It is not the generic digital assistant. It has a name. That connotes something more personal, and personable. Siri may not always achieve that standard. But that is what it is reaching for.

Without a voice, it does not feel like Siri. Had it been introduced without speech on the phone, it would have never caught on. For so many people, it never caught on on the watch. It could handle voice dictation pretty well. But that does not require anything personable.

On Series 3, Siri can finally talk. You can ask her to tell you a joke when you are bored. And she will respond just as she would on the phone:

What did Apple Watch do after a good meal? It went back for (4) seconds.

It even told me this joke in the fabulous British male voice mirroring the voice on my phone. It uses whatever Siri voice you have set up on your phone. Using Siri creates extra friction when you have to stop what you are doing to read the response.

Siri is also much faster. I believe that one of the reasons people gave up on using Siri on the watch is that it was simply not fast enough. It took too much time between summoning, and request, and fulfillment. Whatever you wanted to do was often faster by doing it yourself, or pulling out the phone and making the request there.

The increased speed of the 3 makes Siri usable on the watch. It is not just usable, but a pleasure to use. I think a lot more people will be using Siri on the watch now that it is actually Siri on the watch.

LTE

I have the one without LTE. For me, LTE just didn’t make sense. First, that red dot is the clown nose of the Apple Watch line. Whoever is responsible for it might have a great eye for design, but a terrible eye for fashion. Among other things, the Apple Watch is a fashion accessory. That red dot makes the Apple Watch LTE version less fashionable.

I am also insulted by the price charged by the carriers. No one can possibly use $10 worth of service from their watch. The battery doesn’t last long enough. The service should be free, $5 at most. There are offers that allow you to set up an iPad Pro on your existing line for $10. And you can watch Netflix on that. Nothing the watch can do will ever approach the data an iPad Pro use.

In a a few weeks, I will be prepared to drop $1,000 for my next iPhone. I am not doing that so I can leave it at home and use it less. If I leave my iPhone at home when on the way to work, I will be late to work going back for it. There is no way I am spending a day without my phone, not even for a stunt.

The Apple Watch with LTE has more storage. But I never need to store music on my watch. First, I listen to podcasts. And there is no podcast app on the watch. More to the point, I always have my phone. And I am always wearing headphones when out and about. So the watch can access everything from Apple Music and relay it to my headphones just fine without LTE. Even on my phone, I stream, not download all my podcasts.

The only media I download is audiobooks from Audible. And I can control those just fine from the watch as well. If I am in a place where my phone has no cell service, my watch will be in the same boat. So again, there is no advantage for me having LTE.

Finally, there is the idea of having it around in case of emergency. Presumably, that emergency is that you are gone for the day and forgot to bring your phone. Too bad. You need the phone to activate the service. So you are still out of luck. I am having trouble imagining the kind of emergency that would prompt me to pay $70 extra for the LTE version, and another $120 a year to keep the service activated and unused.

Even if I wanted to use it to spare my iPhone battery, I couldn’t do it without putting the iPhone in Airplane Mode. The watch will automatically default to the phone’s connection until the phone is no longer available. So you will never use LTE on the watch while your phone is present.

Conclusion: Buying advice

If you are on an original Apple Watch, you might think you are getting along just fine. But you’re not. You just don’t know what the watch experience is really supposed to be like. It is time to upgrade to the first really good Apple Watch. If you like having the watch, you are going to love the Series 3. And yes, all of your bands will work just fine.

I cannot recommend the LTE version to anyone right now. That red dot is going to go away in future versions. The battery life will get better and become truly usable with heavy use of LTE. If you really want to take a call while out surfing, just stop it. That’s ridiculous. I suppose crazy jogger people might have a need to leave their phone behind while on a run. But active sports people often like to exercise in places where there is no signal anyway.

If you just like the Dick Tracy appeal, you can place and accept calls on your watch without LTE when you have your phone within range. And that is true of all of its functions. The Apple Watch is still fundamentally a relay for your iPhone. It is great at that task. It is not meant to live without a phone. Even the LTE version is not meant to free you from your expensive phone. It is there for limited use. Keep your LTE expectations within those limits.

Finally, there are those who own the Series 1 or 2. Both those watches have the same processor. The only differences are that the 2 had a fancy way of drying out the speaker quickly. And the 2 had GPS builtin. Otherwise, they are the same. The 1 is still being offered at a marvelously reduced price.

What I do not know is how the speed of the 3 compares to the 1. It will be faster. But it will not be as dramatic an increase is it is for we original Apple Watch users. I think the addition of the real Siri may be the sleeper feature. Still, I feel that the watch upgrade cycle should probably be every other series. If you are sitting on a 1 or 2, wait for the 4. If you are rocking the OG, it is time to make the move.

David Johnson

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