The first reviews for the Apple Watch Series 3 are in ... and it's not looking good.
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
While Siri is a little faster on the Series 3 model, and cellular service seems like a boon, multiple reviewers encountered buggy connectivity issues, and others found that using the wearable's new LTE modem crippled its battery life.
The Verge's Lauren Goode ran into enough trouble with the Apple Watch during her review that Apple's issued a statement about flaws in the device that will exist when customers who pre-ordered it unpack the wearable. She also wonders about Apple's decision to slap a red dot on the crown on the right side of the smartwatch.
"Based on my own experience that switching between apps, opening up calendar appointments, and saving workouts felt faster. You might remember that the very first Apple Watch was painfully slow, especially when it came to launching or running third-party apps. The Series 3 Watch switches between tasks faster than the White House switches communications directors."
"The Watch’s built-in audio isn’t ideal for extended conversations."
"On more than one occasion, I detached myself from the phone, traveled blocks away from my home or office, and watched the Watch struggle to connect to LTE. It would appear to pick up a single bar of some random Wi-Fi signal, and hang on that, rather than switching to LTE. ... Apple sent a statement about this [stating it is] investigating a fix for a future software release."
"But we don’t know when that software update is coming. And the company still hasn’t explained why streaming Apple Music from the Watch, something that would be one of the biggest value adds of LTE on a smartwatch, won’t roll out until next month."
"[The red dot is] a befuddling design choice, because once you, as the customer, have gone through the process of buying a $399 smartwatch and paying a monthly fee, I don’t think you’ll need another reminder of what you’re paying for....Maybe having a Watch with a red dot helps during the resale process, to prove that it’s the LTE model. Otherwise it just seems unnecessary."
The Wall Street Journal
Much like Lauren Goode, the Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern encountered lots of issues during her testing of the Apple Watch Series 3.
"However, when the Watch was performing as it should, I discovered the enjoyment of being untethered from my iPhone. In my video I experimented with living a jam-packed day with just a cellular Apple Watch. It isn’t possible. But there are three types of shorter-lived scenarios where I found it could be useful."
"On the AT&T-connected models, the cellular connection dropped, calls were often choppy and Siri sometimes failed to connect. On the one that ran on T-Mobile , I experienced several dropped connections."
"A cellular device is, sometimes literally, a lifeline. That’s why I can’t recommend the cellular Apple Watch Series 3 until the connectivity is more reliable. Even then, the battery life could be a buzz kill for some. Apple itself promises only one hour of talk time on LTE, and I confirmed this in my testing."
"Also, the watch becomes noticeably warm during longer calls."
The New York Times
Acknowledging that the Apple Watch is even more of a luxury item than most Apple products, The New York Times' Brian X. Chen's review begins by saying "To understand why you might want the new cellular Apple Watch, put yourself in the shoes of a wealthy person who drives a weekend car." The review often compares the wearable to that extra automobile, and examines how the wearable's monthly LTE bill is a bit too high.
"You can leave the house with just a cellular Apple Watch — the equivalent of the weekend car — and still have access to a lightweight phone that can handle calls and text messages."
"And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use."
"The value of the cellular capabilities on the Apple Watch is questionable considering the price you pay each month."
"AT&T and Verizon Wireless, for example, charge a network access fee of $10 a month to share your phone plan’s texts, minutes and data with an Apple Watch. That’s about the same as a Spotify subscription, but with the exception of avid joggers and gym rats, people may not use the cellular features frequently enough."
Zac Hall at 9to5Mac didn't experience the connectivity issues other reporters found, but discovered that third party apps need updates before they can support the Series 3's cellular connectivity.
"For voice calls specifically, Apple Watch Series 3 is highly impressive. The built-in speaker (which has a slightly repositioned and larger opening) is plenty loud for moderate noise levels, and the person on the other line would never guess you’re calling from your watch."
"S3 also makes Apple Watch powerful enough to enable voice feedback from Siri which feels lightning fast now."
"Right now cellular functionality is limited to Siri and Apple’s built-in apps. Third-party apps like Tweetbot and Airmail haven’t been updated to work over the cellular network while older apps like Twitter and Instagram still rely on the iPhone to even launch. My hope is that developers see Apple Watch Series 3 as an opportunity to revisit their apps when adding cellular support, but for now the cellular experience is limited to Apple’s apps."
"Apple hasn’t created an Apple Watch version of its Podcasts app and the popular Overcast client recently had to pull support for offline syncing due to a change in watchOS 4. There’s just no good podcast solution for Apple Watch yet and LTE sets the stage for streaming. Fingers crossed we see this added in a future update."
Scott Stein from CNET found a lot to like and dislike about the S3 Apple Watch. While it's his favorite smartphone watch to date, its battery life dropped precipitously while making calls and using its new cellular modem.
"All that said, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the best phone watch I've tried. Setup is easy, and toggling from cellular to Bluetooth and back again is mostly seamless."
"Apple Watches could always store music, but they were bad at it: syncing music from a cloud-based Apple Music account was always a time-consuming ordeal. Most other smartwatches are the same. WatchOS 4 now syncs music more automatically, and it's a huge difference."
"If you're pushing the unique features of the Series 3 with cellular, you're going to wipe out your battery quickly. I made a half-hour call to my mom as I walked into town a half mile away to get an iced coffee. A walk there, a walk back, checking email and listening to music (and using GPS with heart rate for the walks), I ended up at 50 percent battery by 3 p.m. Sure, I was using everything. But isn't that the point?"
"Apps can't be installed directly from the watch, either, unlike on Android Wear and Samsung Gear watches."
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Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.