Wednesday 22 May 2019

Apple Watch 3 ticks all the boxes and is definitely fit for purpose - but just be wary of jumping in at the deep end

Apple Watch
Apple Watch
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

IS IT time to consider Apple's Watch Series 3? If so, a reminder that Irish customers are limited to the GPS-only version as the 'LTE' variant - the feature most discussed around its launch - is not available in the Irish market. (And no, you can't buy one abroad and try to get it to work here).

That said, there are probably three categories of potential customers interested in the Watch 3. The first is the upgrader who had either the original Apple Watch or the 'Series 2' model last year. (This is me.) Another potential buyer is the dedicated fitness enthusiast, who is wondering between this model and, say, a Garmin. And finally, there's the regular punter who is simply wondering about getting a smartwatch.

I'll start with the upgraders. For those who have had the Apple Watch from the time of its launch two years ago, go for it. The 2017 Series 3 model has umpteen significant improvements over the first model. One of the main ones is GPS (and Glonass - Global Navigation Satellite System): the Watch 3 can track your run, swim or cycle without your phone needing to be close by. For anyone with even casual notions of a fitness plan, this is a big step up.

Then there's screen brightness. The new model has over twice the brightness of the earlier device. Extra speed is another factor (the Series 3 has an extra chip on board and more storage too), as is the fact that speed improvements in future WatchOS releases will likely favour this model over previous ones.

Finally, there's water resistance. While the Watch 1 can take a bit of rain, you can go swimming with the Watch 3.

I have had both the first Watch and the new model - the new one is well worth getting for those wondering between the two.

The choice becomes less clear for anyone who has last year's Apple Watch Series 2. This already has quite a few of the perks of the Watch 3, including GPS and reasonable waterproof capability. The biggest feature difference between the two models is that this year's device has a barometric altimeter, which can help tell whether you've climbed flights of stairs or other elevation-related statuses.

So for Apple Watch users who are into their fitness, it's probably worth it. For those who aren't there isn't a compelling reason to upgrade right now.

Speaking of fitness, how does this rate compare to the devices favoured by hardcore athletes, such as Garmin devices? The Watch 3 has a lot more general functionality and a much better screen than any of its sporting rivals, but it lags in one department: battery life. Garmin's Vivoactive 3, for example, gives you a week. The Apple Watch is around two days. However, some earlier complaints about Apple's device being less accurate in tracking location or users' fitness training than offerings from Garmin are now less significant, with the Watch 3's altimeter helping things here.

But what about the ordinary user, curious about the Watch's value to an everyday life?

I'll say straight off that I'm a fan of the new Watch 3. It feels significantly faster and better put together than the last two models. So if you're going to plump for one, this is probably the best time to get one (so far).

My test model was a 42mm aluminium screen (there's a 38mm version that's slightly cheaper). What do I use it for? Running (both through Apple's own fitness app and the Strava app), notifications and diary reminders. But it's worth stating that it can be used as a hands-free device to make or take calls as it has both a microphone and a speaker.

One cautionary note about water and the Apple Watch. The Series 3 has the same waterproof status (ISO standard 22810) as the Series 2. This, it says, extends both to the sea as well as the pool, but not to "activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below a shallow depth". It name-checks waterskiing and scuba-diving as examples of these 'activities'.

These exceptions need to be treated with sensitivity. My Series 2 Watch suffered through a creaking crown almost immediately after I jumped into the sea from a pier about 10 feet up. Given that this was my only sea swim since I got the watch, I don't know whether it was the impact of the jump or the salt water that did for the creaky crown. I'm hesitant to try the same move again with my Series 3 model, but I will before Christmas. Watch this space.

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