Flashback to September 2017. Tim Cook is onstage at Apple’s annual event. The Apple Watch Series 3 is unveiled, starting at $279. It now offers cellular connectivity, right from your wrist.
Jump to present day. Apple has just unveiled the Series 5, the first Apple Watch to have an always-on display (our review is coming soon). But the Series 3 is still here, and just two years after its debut, the starting price has been slashed to $199.
That’s a good deal.
I revisited the Apple Watch Series 3 — specifically the 42-millimeter case in space gray aluminum for $229 (the smaller 38mm is $199). It’s the GPS-only model, but for $100 more you can add cellular connectivity and get it in either silver or space gray aluminum. Apple also continues to offer the Nike version of the Series 3 in space gray aluminum at the same price points, which gets you a special band and exclusive watch faces.
So let’s revisit the Apple Watch Series 3.
Still looks like an Apple Watch
Series 3 maintains the original square design of the Apple Watch. It looks and feels kind of boxy, but it’s still a comfortable experience. In fact, if you don’t count the surface area shaved off by the slightly rounded edges, the Series 3 is about the same size as the newer watches that followed it.
There’s a digital crown and action button on the right side, microphones and a speaker on the left. The back features several sensors, including a heart rate monitor. The proprietary wireless charging sensor also lives on the back, so you can just plop the Series 3 down on the included charger to rejuice.
Choose your watch face
You have the option to customize by selecting a watch face that suits you — even on the fly. There are several to choose from, such as Modular, Siri, Activity Digital, Breathe, Kaleidoscope, Vapor, Mickey Mouse, “Toy Story,” Utility and Z-Large. In total, there are more than 20, with several new ones arriving soon with watchOS 6.
Each face supports complications – basically, smart watch widgets from apps. These let you view the local temperature, see your activity rings (real-time tracking of calories burned and times standing and exercising), monitor battery life, or shortcut to various functions. You can set up watch faces directly on the Series 3 or through the Watch app on your paired iOS device. It’s a lot of fun swapping out faces for different occasions. For a cocktail party, maybe you want a classic analog watch face, with second, minute and hour hands; when you’re back at the office, you might opt for a modular compact, which features a digital clock and includes several complications.
It’s running watchOS 6
WatchOS gives you Cycle Tracking, access to the App Store from your wrist, a Podcast app, improvements to Siri, and all-around better performance. It’s not the biggest update the Apple Watch has ever seen, but it does add considerable functionality to the watch device.
Series 3 performs well with watchOS 6. I did encounter slowdowns here and there, but overall I felt the dual-core S3 processor got the job done. Switching between apps or opening them from a complication on the home screen took under a second in most cases, though booting up an unopened app seemed to take an additional second or two. For instance, on the first open, Mail took about two seconds. The small hangup seemed related to operations requiring me to both open the app on the watch and pull info from the iPhone.
Siri is still available with a simple raise of the wrist. It’s handy for dictating a text that you can have Siri craft and send for you.
Core health features are here
The $199 price point is similar to that of the recently released Fitbit Versa 2 (see our review here), and while the Series 3 lacks sleep tracking, it does provide several of the same health features. You can track steps, a flight of stairs, how many times you stand in an hour, calories burned, and minutes of exercise. On the Series 3, these metrics then feed into to the Apple Watch’s three activity rings.
New in watchOS 6 (and iOS 13) are Activity Trends. After a few days of use, you’ll receive recommendations on how to make healthy changes in your life, like specific suggestions for additional exercise. It’s a virtual health coach, to some degree.
Unlike the Series 4 and 5, you can’t take an electrocardiogram with the Series 3, but you can monitor your heart rate and get an alert when it detects an increased heart rate without activity.
The bottom line
At just $199, you’re getting a lot with the Apple Watch Series 3. Sure, it doesn’t have the latest processor, the ability to take an ECG, or the larger display and always-on functionality of the Series 5, but it gives you all the basics, and then some, for $300 less.
It’s also the most affordable entry point into the Apple Watch ecosystem that’s been offered. It’s a great accessory to your iPhone and gives you the ability to disconnect to some degree if you opt for the GPS + Cellular version, as it’s fully a standalone device.
For $199 you’re getting an excellent device that is CNN Underscored’s pick for an entry-level smartwatch.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.