The new Sport Loop band is made from a soft nylon weave and comes with a velcro fastening. Green dots on the screen denote the signal strength.
It's been two and a half years since Apple came along and, in one stroke, legitimised the smartwatch market. April 24, 2015, was when the first Apple Watch was released, and since then – whatever you think of the product in any of its iterations – you cannot accuse the company of being lazy. Apple is now on its fourth version with the new Watch 3, and there are even more if you are kind and count the ceramic, 18-karat gold, Nike and Hermes as separate offerings.
When the first Apple Watch was revealed, many hoped it would operate independently of an iPhone but few expected this would be the case. Most focused on battery life, the user interface, if the "digital crown" was effective or not and the built-in heart rate sensor for fitness tracking.
The new Apple Watch, though it looks virtually identical, has a good few upgrades since the original: a faster dual-core S3 processor, Bluetooth 4.2 (vs 4.0 on older models), an altimeter for measuring elevation, increased RAM, and – the killer feature – optional cellular connectivity. Oh, and Siri is able to speak on the Watch 3 due to this increased processing speed (this may or may not be good news, depending on how you feel about Apple's digital assistant).
We've seen smartwatches with cellular connectivity before, of course, but most have fallen far short of making it work well. This is where Apple usually swoops in, late to the party, but with a solution that is reliable and simple to use. You don't have to go for cellular, though, because the Series 3 comes in two types: with and without cellular. The £399 LTE models can make and take calls, respond to texts, and check alerts even when the paired iPhone is off or out of range. The £329 ones with no cellular are far more familiar to those already sporting an Apple Watch.
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Eagle-eyed devotees will notice the Series 3 is fractionally thicker than the 2. The difference is indeed fractional, and although I was not happy with the 2 being noticeably thicker than the 1, here with the added tech inside, coupled with the difference this time being so much smaller, it is forgivable.
The main visual clue for the new Watch comes on only the cellular version: a large red dot on the digital crown. This is something of a surprise as it moves away from Apple's usual design ethos of subtle, minimal flourishes. This red dot sticks out like a sore thumb in my opinion, and borders on being ungainly, inelegant. I am not sure there is a need for this statement either, it's only function is to tell others you have the cellular version, and most won't care to advertise this fact. It feels like wearable willy waving.
The crashingly unsubtle red dot signals that this Watch has cellular capabilities. That's all it does.
What is much more a success is the new Sport Loop bands, made from a soft nylon weave and thanks to the velcro fastening they are effortlessly adjustable so you can make sure you're getting accurate heart rate measurements. They are so comfortable you forget you are wearing the watch. Our tip? Go for "Spicy Orange" (though this will clash with that blasted red dot, mind).
A new barometric altimeter means the Watch can now count how many flights of stairs you've climbed as well as elevation on runs in the great outdoors. A processor bump with the new S3 chip brings a claimed performance uptick of 70 per cent – this is hard to test properly but there is certainly an improvement on the speed at which apps open and screens scroll. The wrist tilt activation has been improved a little as a result. You still get the occasional annoying incidence of raising your hand to you eyeline and the screen failing to turn on and reveal the time, but the frequency of this happening has mercifully lessened.
The all-important cellular magic is performed by the Series 3's eSIM – this is not a standard plastic and metal SIM that can be removed, it's hardwired in to save space and is a clever and neat addition. What's more impressive, however, is the antenna for the eSIM is embedded in the OLED Retina display itself, which is supposedly an industry first and saves even more space.
Let's move on to the process of setting up the eSIM. I got my review sample, duly warned that right now only EE are supporting cellular service on the Apple Watch 3. This meant setting up a test SIM on an iPhone, then pairing the phone with the watch, then activating the additional eSIM account, which be warned will be an extra cost on top of your EE tariff.