Review: Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular

When Apple released the Apple Watch Series 3 at its event last week, it added a few really big new features, including cellular capabilities to the device. I’ve been testing out a cellular model with an iPhone 8 for about a week.

It’s hard for me to express how much I love the Apple Watch. It helped me get healthier, lose a lot of weight, and with its notifications, it changed the way I use my iPhone. With the addition of cellular, that is going to change even more.

Even after the demonstration that Jeff Williams did on stage when he called a colleague on an Apple Watch paddling in the middle of a lake, I was skeptical. I was impressed, but I was skeptical because it sounded so good.

The only thing to do was test it myself.

I went to the financial district of San Francisco with my father. I left my iPhone at home, so all I had was my Apple Watch. He walked one way and I walked the other. A couple of minutes later, he called and I picked up the call on my Apple Watch.

I had the watch about chest high when I was speaking, but he said he could hear me “clear as day.” I could also hear him clearly from the Apple Watch speaker.

Next, I dropped my arm and started walking, but continued my conversation with him. He said he could still hear me just fine, even though my arm was down by my side and I was walking at a normal pace. To be honest, I wanted to see what I could do so that he couldn’t hear me, but he kept saying it sounded fine.

There was some traffic in the area, but it wasn’t incredibly busy with horns blasting when we were doing the tests. However, San Francisco is a busy spot around mid-morning on a weekday, so it was a good place to test the cellular capabilities.

Finally, I tried a phone call using my AirPods and the Apple Watch and he said that was the best—the sound was incredible at that point. Of course, that makes sense.

With technology so prevalent these days, we never want to miss out on anything that happens. We all carry our iPhones everywhere we go and check them nonstop—many would say too much.

In the past week, I’ve gone out multiple times without my iPhone and still received messages, emails, and phone calls. I was still in touch with people, but I felt a little free not having my iPhone with me.

If I left my iPhone behind accidentally, I’d be freaking out and need to get home to get it in case something happened—I didn’t feel that with the Apple Watch Series 3. I had everything I needed on my wrist.

Originally, I loved the notifications on the Apple Watch because it allowed me to see what was going on without having to pick up my iPhone. Every time I picked up the phone, I would get stuck going down a rabbit hole of checking everything that came in. With Apple Watch, I can look at a notification and decide if it’s something that needs to be dealt with or not.

What’s interesting about the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular is how it chooses to connect to a network.

The first thing the Apple Watch will try to do is connect to your iPhone. If your iPhone is off or not around, it will try to find a known Wi-Fi network, whether you’re at home or not. If it finds one, it will connect to make and receive phone calls. If it can’t find a Wi-Fi network, it will then connect to the cellular network.

It knows the Wi-Fi networks that it should connect to because it is paired with your iPhone. Whatever networks are on there, will be on the watch too.

You can check to see where your Apple Watch is connected by swiping up on the Watch screen. It will show a picture of an iPhone, Wi-Fi, or cellular connection.

The only time you will see any kind of indication on the watch face screen is when it’s connected to a cellular network—it will show the green dots. That can be confusing because you may think you don’t have a connection at all, but you could be connected to the phone or Wi-Fi. I wish Apple would change that—perhaps change the color of the dots to indicate what type of connection you have.

A few other things

Apple Watch Series 3 comes with an S3 dual-core processor that Apple says is up to 70 percent faster. This increased processing power allowed Apple to do things like enable Siri to speak on the watch.

I actually use Siri on my watch more than my iPhone. I set timers and simple things like that. I also tell Siri what music to play from my watch while I’m driving.

A new barometric altimeter allows Apple Watch to track the number of flights climbed in a day and you will get more credit for exercises going uphill. You will also see the elevation gain in your workout summary.

Speaking of workouts, that app received some updates too. The new workout app now supports HIIT by using custom motion and heart rate algorithms to accurately measure active and total calorie burn. You can also do multiple workouts in the new app by simply adding it—no need to stop one workout and start another.

One thing that Apple said during the launch that surprised me was that the watch was the most used heart rate monitor in the world. That’s incredible. With the new heart rate app, Apple Watch can even send you a notification if your heart rate is above a certain threshold during an inactive period of 10 minutes.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t try out Apple Music streaming on my Apple Watch—it will be available in about a month with a software update. However, Apple intelligently adds a couple of your most listened to playlists to the watch so you always have some music with you, even if you leave your iPhone at home. I use this a lot. You can choose different playlists if you want using the watch app on your iPhone.

Wrapping Up

I have a deep appreciation for the Apple Watch and the teams that work on all of this technology. It has changed my life and it continues to get better with every version. If you don’t have an Apple Watch and are thinking about getting healthier, do yourself a favor and get one.

For those of you that want to take a break away from your iPhone, even for a few hours, but are afraid you’ll miss something—meet Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular.



  • Makes me want to get this version but Three, the the UK, aren’t on the list of carriers and I don’t want to go back to EE 🙁 I’ve got the non-cellular version on order buy thinking of cancelling and waiting for Three to sort their act out

  • elmedin

    Great review. Can you say something about battery-life?

    I have three AppleWatches and with the AppleWatch Nike+ (Series 2), my battery is about 60% at the end of the day.

    • Meaux

      WSJ says that the battery life is much shorter and connectivity is unreliable.

      https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-watch-series-3-review-untethered-and-unreliable-1505905203

      • freediverx

        Well, the WSJ has also been unreliable since their acquisition by Rupert Murdoch.

        • Kip Beatty

          Except it is much shorter if you use the cellular connection regularly, and it has a pretty serious connection issue at the moment confirmed by other reviewers and Apple itself. I’m not a fan of the WSJ currently, but the issues they mentioned are real.

          • Of course it’s shorter if you use cellular heavily, the device is 1/6th the size of the regular iphone. It’s not a phone, it’s a smart watch that can do calls or data in a pinch.

          • Kip Beatty

            Yeah, except Gruber is wrong on that, and Apple and others have said as much. They aren’t trying to use those unauthorized networks. The Watch is connecting to them on its own rather than ignoring them and grabbing a cell signal. iMore has a great write up on the issue, and it’s not actually new to the Watch.

            Not sure your point on the batter. It’s “duh” to me as well. I was responding to freediverx who dismissed the report of “shorter battery life and cell issues” because it came from the WSJ. At least this time, they were correct.

      • Daring Fireball says it’s about the same — all day.

        “Battery life has been fine. “All day” is about right — charging at night, using it all day, and I’ve had plenty left in the tank when I went to bed again.”

        https://daringfireball.net/2017/09/apple_watch_series_3

        • Meaux

          Lots of other reviewers found the same issue as well. Gruber also didn’t notice that it was dropping calls, which numerous other reviews found and Apple even acknowledged. So I wonder how thorough his testing was.

          • GlennC777

            Bugs happen. It would be surprising if there wasn’t some sort of issue that some people experienced. It will be fixed, at which time the WSJ review will be obsolete.

          • Meaux

            Bugs are to be expected, but this is a glaring bug on a tentpole feature that should have been obvious in testing. The only way I could see this coming about is if they tested this the same way Gruber did, with a test watch paired to a test phone. Because of the amount of reliance the watch has for an assortment of things, it leaves itself open to missing a lot.

          • GlennC777

            I guess I’m not really qualified to know whether this should have been obvious. Certainly several reviewers found the bug; but also several didn’t.

            I do think the coverage is more than a bit hyperbolic as it is so obviously a bug. Leaping to the conclusion that the phone is fundamentally flawed, rather than treating it as a software glitch that will likely not affect any real-world buyers, does not serve readers well.

            Then again I do also admit to having my own bias.

          • Meaux

            I suspect that the other reviewers missed it because they did what Gruber did. Paired a review phone with a review watch. So you have two clean devices and fewer potential problems. Testing should test all sorts of edge cases (and the actual cause isn’t really that edge) and test watches should be paired with everything from a new device to a long owned 5S.

            Frankly, Apple is lucky that WSJ and the Verge found this because it would have been much worse when it hit the real world where a lot of people have their phones connect to open wifi (e.g. cable, Starbucks, airport, etc.).

            I don’t think this indicates a fundamental flaw in the device, though I think it shows a gap in testing.

  • Tom_P

    I take it when you click & hold the crown and tell Siri to “call my wife” it will call right away and not tell you to open the phone first like when Handing off? I know it’s obvious but just want to be very sure.

  • Miguel

    Makes me want to get this version but Three, the the UK, aren’t on the list of carriers and I don’t want to go back to EE 🙁 I’ve got the non-cellular version on order buy thinking of cancelling and waiting for Three to sort their act out

  • joshluiskir2

    Makes me want to get this version but Three, the the UK, aren’t on the list of carriers and I don’t want to go back to EE 🙁 I’ve got the non-cellular version on order buy thinking of cancelling and waiting for Three to sort their act out

    • same comment, three user IDs?

      • James Hughes

        This happened before. I mentioned it to Jim and Dave. I guess they were not able to stop it or figure out why it was and is happening just yet. It’s odd.

  • Great review Jim. My question is, can the cellular version of the watch be used with cellular turned off? Do you get a full GPS only Apple Watch if you turn cellular off for a while, then turn it back on? Thanks.

  • Caleb Hightower

    Makes me excited to get one now.

    I also read the WSJ article: Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Untethered… and Unreliable https://www.wsj.com/articles/apple-watch-series-3-review-untethered-and-unreliable-1505905203

    Seemed rather heavy handed at first. I couldn’t help but think, does Stern understand the purpose and value of the AW3c? Out of the gate she approached it as if the AW3c should be a complete replacement for your daily iPhone tasks, but that’s very impractical, if for nothing else, the screen is only 1.125’x1.5″.

    Anyway, I digress. Great writeup, you touched on all the features that I’m interested in. There’s so much to look forward to with the AW3c.

    • IanBlackburn

      Seems like Apple have acknowledged the connectivity concerns WSJ and The Verge had. See https://www.macrumors.com/2017/09/20/apple-investigating-fix-watch-series-3-cellular/ and also the middle of Lauren Goode’s video review here: https://youtu.be/lse3oJfPPk4

    • anybody who tries to review the AW as a replacement for their phone is an idiot, IMO.

      • The only thing more amusing than Stern’s takes on Apple are the comments on her reviews and Tweets.

        I half think she intentionally chooses an extreme or unreasonable position on Apple’s products because of how much coverage her review will get. She’s willing to suffer the blowback and the paper gets mega traffic, so it’s win-win-lose.

        • just another pro-troll…shame Gruber goes so easy on her on DF and his podcasts. IMO he is less harsh on females in tech as on males despite some very stupid positions.

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  • ComX

    Makes me want to get this version but Three, the the UK, aren’t on the list of carriers and I don’t want to go back to EE 🙁 I’ve got the non-cellular version on order buy thinking of cancelling and waiting for Three to sort their act out

  • IanBlackburn

    Nice review Jim – many thanks.

    Is there any more info on supporting “HIIT by using custom motion and heart rate algorithms to accurately measure active and total calorie burn” – starting a HIIT workout on series 2 with watchOS 4 doesn’t seem to offer anything new in terms of what is shown on screen? btw for anyone interested in using the multi-sport mode in a bit more detail I wrote a few notes here: https://theapplewatchtriathlete.com/blog-1/2017/9/19/multi-sport-activities-with-apple-watch-workouts-and-watchos4

    • the UI doesn’t tell you what to do for your HIIT workout, it only changes how it calculates calories while doing one. Just like all the other workout types.

      • IanBlackburn

        Thanks – makes sense since there is no structured workout support. Still i would have thought that the HR would be enough to calc calories, but interesting that Apple think not.

        • yeah i dunno what it does diff but imagine it’s about burn rates and sampling intervals.

    • your article is interesting, thanks. but one question – why do you record an “other” workout for your timeout between workouts putting on your shoes, etc? i don’t understand why you want to track this time as it’s not part of a workout activity.

      • IanBlackburn

        Thanks. I was trying to simulate a Triathlon event where you would usually record the Swim > Bike and Bike > Run transition time as part of the total event time. Garmin Sports devices have the option to do this automatically between each sport for example.

  • i don’t understand the multi workout thing. do they run simultaneously? does the latter workout(s) pause the former? what is the expected use case?

    • IanBlackburn

      It’s one activity after another, not simultaneously. The former stops and the latter begins. The use case is simply to make it easy to string different workouts together and then have a summary of all of them at the end. Could just be that you want to swim in the sea, then go for a run, or it could be a more formal event such as a duathlon or triathlon.

  • klahanas

    “If you don’t have an Apple Watch and are thinking about getting healthier, do yourself a favor and get one.”

    Cost of entry >$1500

    “If you don’t have an Apple Watch, but have an iPhone, and are thinking about getting healthier, do yourself a favor and get one.”

    There fixed it for you.

    • nonsense. the watch is an accessory to an iphone, for iphone owners. having the device it’s an accessory to is a fundamental given.

      • klahanas

        Clearly you did not read my entire comment, so the nonsense is on you. The author did not clarify “for iPhone owners”, and I said as much.

        But the real point is, there are barriers to entry. With iOS, and more and more with the Mac, you’re either “all in” or “all out”.

        • it goes without saying because watch is an accessory to the phone.

          • klahanas

            We’re going to have to agree to disagree. To me, it’s presumptuous.

            Why wouldn’t non-iPhone users (the vast majority) want to do themselves a favor? It’s because they can’t, and the author could have emphasized it.

  • John Kordyback

    Apple does have an embarrassing bug but I’m confident they will fix it. You can’t stretch technology forward without making mistakes. This model is an amazing piece of engineering.

    I’m thinking that the Watch 3 is the really V1 of real wearables. Not just for Apple, but anywhere.

  • anthony

    same comment, three user IDs?

  • Leo Berger

    Well, the WSJ has also been unreliable since their acquisition by Rupert Murdoch.

  • bobcats9498

    Great article Jim. You mentioned “In the past week, I’ve gone out multiple times without my iPhone and still received messages, emails, and phone calls.” I have been struggling to send and receive email from my series 3 when on LTE. I can only send from my primary account (can’t change from address on watch and that’s fine), but I can’t seem to send or receive email when on LTE. It just spins trying to refresh or gets stuck with “sending”. Have you been able to successfully send and receive email when connected only to LTE? Thanks!