Building on the exceptional performance of the Apple Watch Series 2, the Series 3 claimed the top score overall and an Editors' Choice award for its stellar performance. This wearable is loaded with smart features and functionality, including the addition of standalone LTE connectivity — if you are willing to pay extra for it. It also offers an improved processor and the ability to make and receive standalone calls with the LTE capabilities. It's the best we have found when it comes to smartwatches for iPhone users.
Apple Watch Series 3 Review
Pros: Loaded with smart functions, great display, extremely easy to use
Cons: Not a great battery life, pricey
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Receiving the highest score of the entire group, the Series 3 unseated its predecessor, the Apple Watch Series 2, having slightly more smart features and functions, claiming the title of the best smartwatch for iOS users. It also outperformed the Samsung Gear S3, besting its performance by a single point.
To determine which wearable is the winner, we bought the best models out there and pitted them head-to-head to find our award winners. We ranked and judged the performance of the Apple Watch Series 3 against its peers in five weighted rating metrics: Smart Functions, Ease of Use, Fitness Impact, Battery Life, and Display. The following sections detail the performance of the Series 3 in each metric.
Ease of Use
Comprising the largest portion of the overall score at 30%, our Ease of Use metric is by far the most important of our testing process. We compared the input and interface methods of each watch, the responsiveness of the touchscreen, the water resistance rating, and ease of charging, as well as the ease of swapping wristbands. The Series 3 scored very well, earning an 8 out of 10 and landing near the top of the pack, as shown in the chart below.
The Series 3 has an exceptionally responsive touch screen with no noticeable lag when navigating through the menus. In addition to the particularly responsive touchscreen, the Apple Watch Series 3 also features a crown scroll interface that is exceptionally efficient at quickly scrolling through the menus, rather than swiping.
It is also extremely easy to switch out the bands on the Series 3 — simply depress a button and it slides right out. The new band should lock into place with only minor adjusting. However, the wristbands are proprietary, though there is a very wide variety of different bands available.
The Series 3 charges through the same style of wireless connector that the previous model did. It is very easy to attach and will only fall off with moderate shaking. Finally, the Series 3 is completely waterproof up to 50m and is suitable for tracking aquatic workouts, like swimming.
Ranking next in terms of importance, our Smart Functions metric accounts for 20% of the final score for each watch. We looked at compatibility with common apps, whether or not you could take phone calls or pay for transactions on the watch, control your music, and if there was standalone GPS or LTE connectivity. The Apple Watch Series 3 again scored very highly, earning an 8 out of 10 for its performance, putting it at the front of the pack, as shown in the chart below.
The Series 3 is fully compatible with every app that we tested, with the exception of Spotify, which had reduced functionality compared to some of the other smartwatches we tested.
You can take phone calls directly on the watch, both when it is paired with your phone or — if you have the upgraded LTE version — with the watch by itself. The sound quality is quite high and is definitely good enough to carry on a conversation.
You can control your music easily from the watch, even opening apps like Pandora directly from the watch. You can also pay for transactions with Apple Pay and more accurately track your workouts with the built-in GPS module.
Ranking the same as Smart Functions, our Display metric also merited 20% of the total score for each product. We judged each watch on its screen quality and the visibility of the display in bright light, as well as if there were modes that automatically adjusted the brightness of the screen and set it to be always on. The Apple Watch Series 3 again impressed with its superb display, earning an 8 out of 10. The chart below shows how this compares to the rest of the wearables in the bunch.
The screens on both of the Apple Watch models we tested are unmatched in terms of quality, tying for the top score of the group. The Series 3 42mm has a 312x390 OLED Retina display with 303 PPI, while the 38mm has a 273x340 display with 290 PPI.
The screen is also very easy to read in both bright and dark ambient lighting conditions, but there were no options to enable always-on or automatic brightness adjustment modes.
Accounting for 15% of the overall score, our Fitness Impact metric judged the workout tracking and health monitoring abilities of each watch. We tested the accuracy of the heart rate monitor, step counter, and stair tracker, as well as judged the number of different workouts and activities that can be tracked. The Apple Watch Series 3 again scored near the top of the pack, earning a 7 out of 10. However, it did fail to claim the top spot, with its fitness tracking abilities eclipsed by the Samsung Gear S3, Huawei Watch 2, and the Samsung Gear Sport, as shown in the chart below.
We found the step counter on the Series 3 to be quite accurate, only varying from our manual count by a little over 1%, or 24 steps over a mile walk. We also found the heart rate monitor to be similarly accurate, matching up closely with the chest strap monitor that we compared it against. The heart rate on the Series 3 never varied from the chest strap by more than 5 bpm or so.
This watch does have a dedicated GPS unit, allowing a whole host of data to be tracked when working out, such as route, distance, duration, and pace. In addition, the watch will also track your heart rate and estimate calorie burn while working out and even note the weather that was present during the activity.
This data collection can be applied to a handful of different activities, such as indoor and outdoor walks and runs, elliptical, rower, stair stepper, or a generic workout.
However, we found that the Series 3 wasn't the most accurate at counting stairs, frequently missing a flight if you repeatedly were going up and down stairs.
Accounting for the remaining 15% of the final score, our Battery Life metric tested how long each watch lasted with normal use and how much time it took recharge. The Apple Watch Series 3 earned a 6 out of 10 for its performance, with the chart below showing how this compared to the rest of the pack.
The Apple Watch lasted for about 36 hours of normal use before completely dying. It took about an average amount of time to recharge, taking 45 minutes to reach 50% and 110 minutes to charge to 100%.
While the Apple Watch Series 3 is a fantastic product, it's not a great value option, retailing for a premium price.
Earning the top score of the entire group, the Apple Watch Series 3 thoroughly earned its Editors' Choice award and title of best smartwatch for iOS and iPhone users. This top-of-the-line smartwatch is sleek, stylish, and loaded with smart features and functions. It also has an impressive set of fitness tracking features, a fantastic display, and a decent battery life. However, it is a little on the pricey side, especially with the standalone LTE connectivity and might not be enough to make you abandon your Series 2 watch just yet.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer