First Impressions: Two Weeks Wearing the Apple Watch Series 3
By and large, my relationship (historically speaking) with technology trends towards that of an early adopter, and my relationship with Apple specifically, is a long and winding road. I trace my Apple roots back to the early 90’s and the first Shellenberger family computer, the ancient and epic Apple II GS. Oregon Trail was a favorite; looking back I cannot for the life of me recall which was worse - the lime green graphics or my party consistently dying of typhoid.
Travels to the Willamette Valley eventually gave way to snarling traffic, tax challenges, high crime, and heat waves in the classic Sim City series. It was the middle of the 90’s, and the Apple that caught my eye was the Macintosh Performa line. It was after the Performa that I had a falling out with Apple and by no fault of their own. Our relationship ended abruptly, however, for Age of Empires: The Rise of Rome and the subsequent titles in the series were a proud product of Microsoft and Ensemble Studios, requiring a windows PC to play.
After a 10-year hiatus, it was the iPhone that immediately brought me back to the Apple tree of products, circa 2008. A phone, combined with an iPod? Sign me up. Now, after 10 years and owning nearly every iPhone in the line and using the iPad Pro as an everyday laptop, I am once again firmly entrenched in the Apple family. But I never saw the value in the Apple Watch and was not an early adopter of the Series 1 or Series 2.
Try as I did to convince myself of a sound reason to buy, I could never quite grasp the concept of one wanting to look at a 1.5-inch screen when the phone or iPad were in close proximity. The original Apple Watch is not waterproof (not ideal for a professional swim coach who still logs a few laps every now and then), and while the Series 2 is wearable for swim sessions, it still requires the iPhone in close proximity to take full advantage of the most useful features. Without the iPhone nearby it is an expensive fitness tracker and little more.
Enter the Apple Watch Series 3. This, as they say, is a game changer. Similar to the original iPhone concept of combining a phone, PDA, and iPod into one product that motivated me to return to Apple, the Series 3 and its LTE capabilities is the one feature that in my humble opinion, made the Apple Watch 3 worth the buy. And what a great investment thus far, as we shall see.
To describe this little gem as a watch is nearly an insult; the 3 is a mini iPhone on your wrist, able to break free from the tethering chains that severely limited Series 1 and 2. While a fan of tech in general and an early adopter of many of Apple’s products, I am also a tech minimalist at heart, and the idea of not needing a phone to use the watch is quite appealing. Imagine letting go...imagine leaving the iPhone and iPad behind, setting out on an adventure (or simply attempting a productive day free of phone and tablet distraction), and knowing that just in case, if need be, in an extreme emergency (or in a failure of limiting distraction willpower), one could make a call or send a text message if needed. If nothing else, the Apple Watch Series 3 is worth the buy for me for this type of ==freedom it affords.
In a real-world example from my personal life, Series 3 came at the absolute perfect time, as I was forced to explore the full capabilities of said watch, more so out of necessity than desire. After preordering on the 16th of September and receiving the watch on the 25th, my iPhone 7 Plus bit the dust a week later after one too many drops, and I’ve lived without a phone since October 1st as I wait for the insurance folks to ship a new phone. For a swimming coach to lose mobile phone capabilities in the middle of the heaviest recruiting season of the year could spell disaster, but the Series 3 saved the day. For the past two weeks, I haven’t missed a beat, making and receiving recruiting calls on my....watch, using the Plantronics Voyager 5200 (the best Bluetooth I’ve found, by the way), and securing quite a few verbal commitments in the process.
The call audio quality is fantastic, the battery life impressive for a device this size, and I haven’t had any issues with dropping calls or initial connections. Though forced to go without a “phone” for the past two weeks, my productivity has remained high. With my iPad Pro, I can tackle the big stuff such as lengthy emails, blog articles, and any other laptop type projects. To say that the Series 3 is a worthwhile investment is quite the understatement - for my profession and my 7 Plus circumstance it is a lifesaver, indeed!
My general thoughts below...Note some of these are improvements or upgrades from the Series 1 and 2, while some are native to all three watches. If I mention it below, note that I am not suggesting it is new or different from the 2, simply stating it is a feature I enjoy and find value in using. All features are new to me!
1. The audio quality, when combined with the Plantronics Bluetooth, is remarkable considering you’re connecting through...a watch. While it does not match iPhone quality, it takes a keen ear to notice the difference. As per one example, I was on an important conference call last week with a swimming policy committee for our conference, and no one was the wiser that I was connected to the call...from my watch. Calls with recruits are flawless, and again I do not have any connection issues.
2. Texting is a breeze with the Voyager 5200 and Siri, in fact, the Siri text dictation works better on the watch than it did on my phone.
3. Fitness/workout tracking, sleep tracking, heart rate tracking, etc...all work smoothly and I believe they are accurate as well. New from the Series 2 there is an altimeter, great for cyclists and anyone else wanting to track elevation changes.
4. If wearing the watch for sleep tracking, the ability to have the alarm vibrate is a nice...touch. The iPhone alarm is quite the stressful way to rise, while the vibrations from the watch do not jar one from a peaceful slumber.
5. The ability to go without a phone if so desired, or if forced to do so, is worth the investment alone. See my example above; surely we could imagine myriad instances where the Series 3 could “save the day” if communication was an absolute necessity.
6. The battery life is impressive. If used primarily in airplane mode, the battery will last more than 36 hours, and I can stretch it do nearly 48 if needed. Using LTE obviously uses quite a bit of juice, but keep in mind the watch was never meant to replace the phone entirely...more so in a pinch or if needed.
7. Your favorite music, on the go, with no need for the phone. The Series 3 is the perfect workout companion, with an impressive 16 gigs of storage combined with all the fitness tracking tools mentioned earlier. With a quality pair of Bluetooth headphones, there is no excuse for not hitting the gym, trail, road, pool, etc..
8. The extra line for the LTE version is only 10 dollars a month through AT&T...well worth it in my humble opinion.
1. The App developers need to step up their game (I think), as many of my favorite apps still require the iPhone to tether to the watch. I believe this is an issue with the developers and not Apple, as one would think that given LTE connection the apps could update independently of a phone if the developers allowed. Hopefully, this fix from developers is in the works.
If there are more downsides, I have not yet discovered them, or have found an acceptable workaround (perhaps without realizing as much).
My first impression of the Apple Watch Series 3 is that it is a fantastic tool for productivity, and the LTE capability is a massive upgrade from the Series 1 and 2. LTE allows the user the freedom to leave their phone behind if desired, or if they must, and it is a lifesaver for someone in my situation where a phone becomes unusable or is lost. As a productivity side note, I find myself less distracted wearing the watch. I use my phone less, and the 1.5 inch screen, while nice, does not tempt me to stare mindlessly into the abyss for hours on end. It is digital tech minimalism combined with high functionality at its best.
I like to think of myself as a sophisticated tech adopter - not buying just to buy, but buying with productivity and the usefulness of the tool in mind. The Series 1 and 2 didn’t measure up for me in that regard, but as mentioned, the LTE in the Series 3 is a game changer, and the decision to invest in Apple’s new wearable is paying massive dividends. Overall, I recommend the watch as a solid investment. If you are one who enjoys getting away from the phone for a while but wants to remain accessible if needed, the Series 3 is the perfect companion.