Apple Watch Series 3 hands-on: The war for your wrist goes wireless

You'll barely notice a change, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Chris Velazco / Engadget

You didn't think this show was just about iPhones, did you? Apple also pulled back the curtain on its 3rd-generation Apple Watch, which is... well, exactly what we expected. The physical differences between this thing and earlier models aren't much to write home about, aside from the nifty red dot on the digital crown. The good news is that means all the older watch bands will work with the Series 3, and Apple has some nice new ones you'll see in our pictures as well.

That the Apple Watch Series 3 doesn't feel different from the Series 2 I wear almost every day is a huge testament to Watch's design team. Apple says the actual difference in depth amounts to two sheets of paper, and, while I didn't have any spare sheets to test against, most people will never notice the difference. That's saying something considering what's inside: there's an LTE radio and an embedded SIM, and the screen itself acts as an antenna. Unfortunately, none of the Apple Watches I tested were actually provisioned on a cellular network, so no test calls went through. (I found this out the hard way by calling myself, and double-goofed by accidentally showing my phone number on YouTube.)

There's a pretty noticeable step up in performance too, thanks to the S3 chipset ticking away inside. The change doesn't seem quite as pronounced as the leap from the Series 1 to the Series 2, but I didn't notice any lag or stuttering on Apple's pre-release units.

Sadly, some of the Series 3's best features couldn't be tested yet. You'll eventually be able to stream Apple Music's entire catalog of tracks to the watch, a feature that should kick in next month. There's also a new barometer inside, but Apple wouldn't let me take a Watch up the long flight of stairs that connect the sunken Steve Jobs Theatre from the ground-level holding space. I'm most curious about how the activation process works: Apple says you'll still need to be connected to an iPhone for the initial setup, but I'm told you'll also have to add the Watch to your phone plan (with help from your carrier) so the Watch and iPhone share phone numbers.

All told, the Series 3 packs some handy upgrades and should serve as the starting point for people new to the Apple Watch. I'm curious to see how many people will actually embrace the wireless version, which costs $70 extra than the non-LTE model. Apple's vision of wearables is one where people don't have to worry about carrying their phones with them 24/7, but honestly, I think a lot of people like things just the way they are.

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