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Apple Watch Series 3 review – new eSIM connectivity a real game changer

The latest Apple Watch Series 3 has certainly raised the bar in terms of functionality thanks to the addition of an eSIM that will allow you to make and receive calls and messages without your iPhone by your side.

Tech Guide has been using the new Apple Watch for a week and this new connectivity is a game changer.

For the customers who are still on the fence about buying an Apple Watch, this feature alone will change all that.

We’ve been using the Apple Watch since it was first introduced in 2015 and have always found it a useful companion to the iPhone.

We are able to see who’s calling, read our messages and see our notifications without having to take the iPhone out of our pocket.

But now Apple Watch Series 3 has taken it a step further with cellular connectivity and it has made the product even better.

Onboard is a faster dual core processor and the W2 wireless chip offers faster wi-fi and Bluetooth performance.

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DESIGN
The Apple Watch Series 3 is identical to the previous model that is available in the same 42mm and 38mm versions.

This is actually quite an achievement considering Apple had to add an antenna and the eSIM.

The antenna is actually located around the Apple Watch display.

The only physical difference is the circular charging base which extends further by the thickness of two sheets of paper.

And is also still water resistant so can take a dip in the pool or in the ocean.

There is also still built-in GPS so you can track your ride or run without your iPhone. This was a feature of Apple Watch Series 2 and has naturally been carried forward to this latest model.

The only other physical difference is the red dot digital crown to signify that it is the cellular model.

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eSIM

The biggest change to the Apple Watch Series 3 is of course the eSIM which makes it possible to replicate your phone number from your iPhone.

The eSIM is a small chip that is a tenth of the size of a regular SIM card and it can be imprinted with your iPhone’s number.

At the moment, Telstra and Optus are the only telcos offering this “one number” service with Vodafone expected to follow at the end of the year.

To activate the service, users simply go to the Apple Watch app on their iPhone and click on Cellular.

From here you sign in to your telco’s account, agree to the additional $5 monthly payment for the “one number” service and you’re done.  That’s it.

Telstra is offering the first three months of its “one number” service for free while Optus is giving customers the first six months on the house.

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Apple Watch Series 3 uses the LTE/UMTS networks.

But not all Apple Watches will work in every country. Apple Watch Series 3 sold in a respective country will work with that country’s network bands.

So if you purchase an Apple Watch Series 3 in the US and try and link it to the Australian networks it won’t work.

Australia’s Apple Watch Series 3 bands are the same as those in France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the UK. These are LTE bands 1,3,5,7,8,18,19 and 20 along with UMTS at 800Mhz, 850Mhz, 900Mhz and 2100Mhz.

Unlike the iPhone – which can cover all of the bands no matter where in the world you take it, the Apple Watch has a limited band compatibility presumably because it is so small.

The only downside of this is that you won’t be able to roam with the Apple Watch Series 3.

So even if you’re Australian number can roam overseas, the Apple Watch Series 3 will not.

It should also be noted that Telstra business and pre-paid customers will not be able to take advantage of the cellular capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 3 for the time being.

USING APPLE WATCH SERIES 3

Apple Watch Series 3 can sense when it has moved beyond the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth range of the iPhone.

When this happens the Apple Watch eSIM comes into play so you can make and receive your calls and messages and also receive all your notifications.

For our testing, we left our iPhone behind when we went for a walk with our dogs at the beach.

This Explorer Apple Watch face shows the signal strength when operating on its own with the eSIM
This Explorer Apple Watch face shows the signal strength when operating on its own with the eSIM

We were using the Explorer watch face which displayed our signal strength when the Apple Watch is operating independently.

For some people the idea of leaving their phone behind is unimaginable, mainly because they would feel cut off from the rest of the world.

With Apple Watch Series 3 that’s not an issue.

The calls we made and received were crystal clear, even though we were outside in a noisy area.

We could be heard quite clearly and it was easy to hear the caller through the Apple Watch’s speaker without having to lift the device to our ear.

As part of our testing in a shopping centre, we turned our iPhone to airplane mode and, within a few seconds, the Apple Watch Series 3 took over and we were still connected.

For those who want to exercise, run errands and just spend time away from their phone, the Apple Watch Series 3 does a great job while still keeping you connected.

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People who use their Apple Watch for their training and exercise will be happy they can now unburden themselves from having to carry their iPhone.

You might be out of the surf, in the pool or on a walk and still be able to make calls and receive them.

In these situations, you’re not going to miss the social media apps that generally keeps users glued to their iPhones.

Another feature coming soon will be the ability to stream music from your Apple Music account using the Apple Watch Series 3.

It’s also already possible to pair Bluetooth headphones to the Apple Watch so you can truly break free.

When we were out and about with just the Apple Watch Series 3 – the only feature we really missed from our phone was the camera.

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If you leave your iPhone behind, you also leave a great camera behind.

So, will Apple Watch Series 4 include a camera?

WATCH OS4

Onboard the Apple Watch Series 3 is the new watchOS 4 operating system which brings with it new watch faces, smarter activity monitoring, a redesigned workout app and deeper heart rate insights.

The new watch faces include a Siri watch face that shows you information about your day, Kaleidoscope turns the face into a stunning pattern and Toy Story watch faces with Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jessie.

Activity monitoring is smarter and more personal with updates to help you close your rings every day.

You’ll even receive a notification at the end of the day to let you know how close you are to hitting your targets, if you haven’t already.

The new workout app tracks a wider range of activities and also allows you to do multiple workout types in a single session.

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Heart rate monitoring has also been improved and it now registers resting and walking heart rates as well as during workouts.

You can also track your recovery rate to tell you how quickly your heart rate drops after a workout.

Users can also be notified when their heart rate is above a certain threshold during inactive periods.

PRICING

Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $559 for GPS & cellular and from $459 for non-cellular.

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VERDICT

The Apple Watch Series 3 is a breakthrough product that offers even more features and stand-alone connectivity with the freedom and versatility of not being weighed down by your iPhone while still having access to your calls, messages and apps.

As a sports watch, Apple Watch Series 3 is also a standout and can stand up against other dedicated sports watches on the market while still offering even more versatility.

About Stephen Fenech

Stephen is the Tech Guide editor and one of Australia's most respected tech journalists. He is a regular on radio and TV talking about the latest tech news, products and trends.

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  • Bruce

    the new apple watch 3 is fantastic, how ever you have not mentioned that it will not work on the Telstra network if you are a business customer or prepaid. tends to make it useless as far as these customers are concerned. Telstra are offering no indication as to when this feature may be turned on to the rest of their customers

    • stephenfenech

      Great point – I will add that to the review.

      • Bruce

        Stephen.. any chance you can look into this issue (im sure you may have a contact at Telstra that could shed some light on it).. even a definitive comment to wether they will enable it soon would help, it seems ridiculous that both business and prepaid account are excluded, not even the staff at apple were aware of it when purchasing it. ..thanks in advance.. Bruce

  • John Kelly

    Does the apple pay NFC work without the phone?
    I have a 6+ and a S7edge and im tossing up between an apple watch or Gear 3

    • stephenfenech

      Yes it does – all Apple Watches from Series 1 have had that capability.

      • John Kelly

        Very cool!

  • Trent Mulholland

    does this model support a bluetooth headset for making calls? thats the only question holding me back from purchasing one

    • stephenfenech

      Yes you can pair Bluetooth headphones and earphones to the Apple Watch to listen to music – pretty sure it can handle calls as well.