REVIEW: Does Apple Watch Series 3 answer the call?
The Apple Watch Series 3 on display during its launch event at the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park in Cupertino, California.
Dubai - Now armed with cellular, you can forget about your iPhone at certain times
The adage goes 'looks can be deceiving'; the Apple Watch Series 3 may perfectly fit that description.
And it's because we've got a vastly-improved digital ticker in our hands, er, on our wrists. Apple boss Tim Cook, during the unveiling at the Steve Jobs Theater, proudly touted the Apple Watch as now the world's best-selling watch, with sales up 50 per cent year-on-year.
So how good is it? We got one, so let's take it out for a little spin.
It's a phone on your wrist
Probably the biggest news on the new Apple Watch is the fact that it now supports cellular. In layman's terms, that means it can now take calls, messages and everything else in between even without your iPhone around.
That's because of the embedded eSIM in it - and you'd have to wonder how tiny it is to get it crammed inside the Watch. This, however, bumped up the overall thickness of the device by practically a hairline. No big deal.
The rather bad news here is that carriers will be imposing additional charges for you to be able to use this 'wrist-phone'. In the US, for example, carriers have announced that there will be an additional $10 that would be included in the monthly bill for the right to use cellular on the Series 3. This could be, however, some sort of 'special offer' to get things rolling; it's entirely possible that this fee will go up after some months.
These fees will depend entirely on the service provider; in the UAE, as at the time of this writing, there's no word from etisalat and du on their plans regarding this. If we take that fee in the US, then that means that's less than Dh40 over here - not really a huge amount for some extra convenience.
By the way, the Watch Series 3 supports both UMTS and LTE (read: 3G and 4G), and it will quickly switch to the most power-efficient service to make sure you'll stay connected.
Hey Siri, good to finally hear you
In the previous versions of the Apple Watch, you can activate and use Siri, but it won't talk back to you. This time around, you'll be able to hear it in full glory. (By the way, the voice you've selected on your iPhone will be the one used on the Watch.)
Anyway, it's what you'd expect: Siri will read out its answers to your query, though whatever you do with it, it won't reflect on your iPhone.
As for speech recognition, Siri does a rather good job at it. To use it, just raise your Watch to activate it and say the magic words, 'Hey Siri'; those familiar colourful wavy lines will show up, so you'll know you've got its attention.
In near distances - up to, say, looking at your watch like you normally would - you'll have no problem having Siri understand you. But if you go farther - say, you're sitting and your wrist is on your lap - you'll have to turn up your voice a bit.
And when it comes to being even farther away than that - like, in my case, stretching my arm so the Watch is about a metre away from my mouth - you'd have to raise your voice even further, but you don't necessarily have to yell. In this situation, when I asked 'how far are we from Apple Park?', Siri understood 'park' as 'farm' - and it took me three attempts to get it right, each with an increasing voice. (I asked the same things in the previous two distances and it was flawless.)
Of course, the best condition will be to use Siri in a rather quiet situation, though it still worked well while I was in a noisy office and on the street with the usual sounds of everyday life. And naturally, you'll have to be connected to the Internet to use Siri.
Art of the heart
Wearables have always touted health and fitness as one of its key aspects, and while the Apple Watch has already made its mark in this area, they've upped the ante even further - inspired by those letters Apple received from Watch users, thanking Tim Cook and Co for what the device has done for their health. (And that could help those who haven't been that active like they used to be (like me) or aren't active at all.
One significant improvement in the Heart Rate app this time around is that it'll alert you when your beats per minute are above a specific threshold after being inactive for 10 minutes (by default it's 120bpm, but you can set your own). That will let you know that there may be something wrong with you. (So far, I haven't received any such alerts. Whew.)
Meanwhile, during a workout, the app will also record your highest and lowest heart rate reading, and tell you how quickly it drops after you've sweated it out. A lower resting heart rate and a shorter recovery time, Apple says, can be an indication of improved fitness.
Workout app worked out
Speaking of working out, the Workout app provides more ways to help you get fitter - and enjoy it even more.
For example, it will now allow you to do multiple workout types in a single session, perfect to test your abilities and how much of an iron man you are. And while within a workout activity screen, swiping all the way to the right will reveal Music controls, another first on the Watch.
Pool Swim, meanwhile, now automatically tracks sets when you rest, and even measures pace for each set and distance for each stroke type.
And speaking of getting wet, Series 3 is, just like its predecessor, swim-proof. No need to get it all splashed and doused.
There's also GymKit, which pairs your Apple Watch with gym equipment. Eh? Yes, there's this type of innovation, and it simply goes like this: pair your Watch with a treadmill, bike, stair stepper or any other fitness machine (that supports it), and it'll start recording metrics such as calorie burn, heart rate and distance. Once you're done and leave, you keep all that data with you, while erasing everything on the equipment you just used.
40 million songs on your wrist
Well, this figure got everyone's eyes wide open during the launch at Apple Park; so much for some tens of thousands of songs on your other iOS devices.
The Music app on the Watch Series 3 now automatically syncs 'intelligently curated' playlists, including My New Music, My Favorites, My Chill Mix and Heavy Rotation. The new interface also makes it easier to flip through album art, songs, playlists and everything else.
Reminder: music will only sync if your Apple Watch is on its charger. After that, though, your songs will be available anywhere you go.
And of course, you'll be needing your AirPods to enjoy your music on the Watch (though, technically, you can connect any Bluetooth headset for this). If you're listening to music on your iPhone with, say, your AirPods, and decide to take a jog and leave your iPhone behind, the AirPods' connection will automatically switch to the Watch when the iPhone is out of range. However - and this question I asked - the AirPods won't be simultaneously connected to both your phone and audio device, and once you're back within range, the AirPods won't switch back to the iPhone on its own; you'd have to do it the old-fashioned way. At least I got Apple thinking on this one.
And going back to that huge figure: that's the number of songs that you can enjoy on the go with the coming-soon music streaming service, in which you can stream stuff via cellular. The new Radio app also allows you to listen to Beats 1 live or other Apple Music radio stations. Subscription, however, will be required.
Keep abreast (soon)
For those who'd always want to be updated with the latest events (and those viral images and stuff), you'll be pleased to know that the News app is now available on the Watch Series 3.
However, it won't be available in all markets. Actually, as we write, it's only available in three areas - and the UAE isn't included (yet).
Pay up - wirelessly
We've reported that Apple Pay will be coming to the UAE 'soon', and you'll be able to enjoy this feature on the Apple Watch (soon, also). FYI, the service is only available in, as we write, 21 territories.
Well, at least you'll know that you'll be able to pay with just a tap of your wrist.
The Apple Watch Series 3 is now available for pre-order, and it comes out - in the UAE - this Saturday, September 23, and it'll set you back Dh1,299 for the 38mm version or Dh1,399 for the 42mm option.
Oh, and don't forget, there's also a new iteration of the Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+ - and with cellular, of course. They'll go for the same prices, though you'd still have to wait until October 5 to get your wrists, er, hands on it.
And for those who even have more cash to spare, let's not forget about Apple Watch Hermes, which now have two new single tour bands: Rallye, based on the classic Hermes glove, and Eperon d'Or, a printed leather band based on Hermes' scarf design.
But if you'd prefer not spending that much and still want to brandish an Apple Watch, you can always go for the one that started it all for a lower price: Apple Watch Series 1 is now down to Dh999. Anyway, all Apple Watches are the same on the outside, so I'm personally waiting for that major design overhaul - which I hope comes soon.