Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular – One Week In

This is not an in-depth review of all promised features and how well they work in the wild, just the things that have struck me most during my first week with my first Apple Watch.Like perhaps most smartphone-dependent people these days I’m right out of the habit of wearing a watch of any kind. But having one on now doesn’t feel the least bit uncomfortable or inconvenient. Since the OLED screen isn’t always on it lights when the watch detects you’re looking at it. Mostly it seems a rotation of the wrist is what triggers it which doesn’t always work, if you’re lying down for instance. Wiggling your wrist is a waste of time (a little watch humour there), but tapping the face always lights it up.

The screen is a touch-screen, of course, but to augment that you have the crown which can be both pushed like a button and turned. Beside that there’s a button much like the power/volume buttons on an iPhone. Rather than look up what these inputs are all for I just ploughed in and fiddled. Apple prides itself on creating “beautiful, intuitive interfaces” so it shouldn’t require a manual, right? I can use all the features now and I don’t have to stop and think about how to do what I want.

I’m still getting my head around the UI. The strangest part is that multiple watch faces (complications) are available all the time. Why have more than one? Ah, because each face has different icons on it which were decided by the person designing that face. Ideally you’d configure your Apple Watch to carry all the complications that are useful to you. Going out to dinner? Swipe in from the left or right to select a stylish face. At the gym? Swipe to an Activity face. And so on. Some are just for grins like the Astronomy one.

Anything that requires more than the merest user interface is handled by your iPhone. Changing complications, adding/removing apps, changing options and layouts are all handled by the phone, not the watch. It makes sense really.

Out of the box I had accidentally put it on silent mode and didn’t notice for most of a week. The haptic “taps” through the watch body are all you need to alert you. There are different tap patterns for different functions so you can even choose what to pay attention to after you learn the tap patterns. The audible alert doesn’t really add anything useful, so I’m leaving it in silent mode.

Garmin ForeRunner 220

Here’s an interesting use case. I decided to buy the Apple Watch, in part, because I wanted to upgrade my Garmin running watch. I’m also finding my iPhone is showing its age, mostly just in battery charge duration. An Apple Watch with cellular can, at least some of the time, stand in for my phone — like when I go running. I hoped the cost of the cellular version of the Apple Watch would negate my need for a better running watch and also allow me to go, maybe, another year before replacing my iPhone 6.

Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular Back
Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular Back

Having the heart rate monitor built into the back of the watch is fantastic; much better than having to put the Garmin ‘bra strap’ on under my shirt. However the Workout watch app is an almost featureless thing that just records what you do. You get to pick from a few activity types, but that’s it. I used it to record in Indoor Run of 5km but the watch recorded about 7.5km. Obviously as I record runs outdoors it will better understand my stride length. I’m fine with this limitation though as I expect over the coming months I’ll trial every running app there is, starting with Strava. If there isn’t something that suits me really well I’ll have to fire up xCode and see what I can do about it.

Apple Watch Sleep Monitoring Report on iPhone
Image: Apple Watch Sleep Monitoring Report on iPhone

Sleep management was touted as a feature of the watch and, while it does try to infer how long I spend in bed, it has no idea when I’m asleep. There must be an ecosystem for add-on sleep monitoring hardware that you pair with the watch. Being told how long I was in bed is useless information. I will definitely be investigating how to log actual sleep time and quality of sleep.

I had heard before buying the worst glitch with the watch, at release, was that it occasionally lost all connectivity. Sure enough, yesterday I asked Siri to send a message as I walked away from my house. Siri seemed to be processing the request for too long and then a red X appeared in the top centre of the display. I cycled the wireless. No dice. Cycled flight mode. Bupkis. I ended up shutting it down and starting it back up. All good. So that’s what the red dot in the top centre of the screen is, connectivity: dot = ok, X = disconnected. Much as expected, something can go awry when switching to/from wifi and cellular networks. It’s an inconvenience, yes, but not one that can’t be fixed by a future software update I expect.

Have I made calls on the watch while out of range of my iPhone? Yes indeed and it worked flawlessly. The built in speaker, while not being very loud, is engaged if you don’t have some other audio transceiver configured. On my bluetooth headset it’s just like using the phone.

Is Siri still as awkward and error prone? Well yes, unfortunately. Although I did work out how to add punctuation to an SMS/iMessage since this can only be dictated via Siri. “Hi mate full stop” (pause) “Does dinner at 6pm still work for you question mark”.

I get a day plus out of a charge. While I’m wearing it to bed I need to find time during the day to take it off and charge it. It’s pretty quick so it’s no real imposition. I’ll write some more about it after I’ve had it a little longer.

That is all.