At its September event, Apple finally took the wraps off its long-rumoured Apple Watch Series 3. Just as expected, Apple is jumping into the world of LTE-enabled smartwatches.
Of course, this will finally allow Apple Watch wearers to gain some freedom from their iPhones. You'll be able to go on a run and listen to music, as Apple Music will be able to stream from the Watch, and of course you'll still get all of your notifications. You can even make and receive phone calls.
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This also begs the question: Is that enough to purchase? And if you have the Series 2, should you even upgrade? Let's take a look at the facts.
Why you would upgrade
LTE might be a single bullet point on the spec sheet, but the advantages it brings to the Apple Watch are numerous. Not only that, but there are halo effects that help improve other areas of the Watch – small quality of life improvements that make the upgrade larger than it might seem.
Firstly, and most quietly, the Series 3 with cellular comes with 16GB of storage space. This is double the 8GB of storage that comes on the Series 2, and the Series 3 with no LTE. Why? Thanks to LTE, the Apple Watch is getting Apple Music in the near future (it won't be available at launch). While this means you can stream 40 million songs, it also means you can save some music directly from Apple Music onto your Watch for offline listening.
Secondly, there's that greater convenience of being always connected. Smartwatches already allow us to prioritise our digital lives. We can quickly get glanceable notifications and reminders on our wrists, and based on their importance we can either take action or save them for later, reducing our need to reach for our phone.
LTE reinforces that in more situations. You'll be able to stream Apple Music's library right to your AirPods or ping Siri with a question. You'll still get your news alerts, sports scores, messages and app notifications.
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If you opt for the Nike+ Apple Watch Series 3, you'll also have the benefit of receiving its audio coaching while on the go. While we don't yet know what kind of audio coaching Nike has got up its sleeve, being able to receive it without your phone is an added convenience for workout enthusiasts.
Being connected all the time doesn't just mean managing your digital life, it can also mean you're always within reach during emergencies, or people are within reach of you should something bad happen. Now you can call directly from your watch with the same number your phone uses. So if someone needs to get hold of you and you're on a run or in the pool, they can.
In sum, if being connected is important to you, upgrading to the LTE-enabled Series 3 could be worth it.
Why you wouldn't upgrade
If you take a look at the Apple Watch lineup, you'll notice that it begins with the Series 1, then jumps to the Series 3 and then the Series 3 with cellular. The Series 2 has vanished, and there's a good reason for that.
The main differences between the Series 2 and the Series 3 are LTE, a barometric altimeter, a new W2 wireless chip and a processor that Apple says is 70% faster than the Series 2. However, the Series 3 – at least the aluminum version – is also available without LTE. That makes the big feature difference between the Series 2 and Series 3 a barometric altimeter.
Sans LTE, the Series 2 and 3 are so close in functionality that even Apple can't justify keeping the 2 around. If you drop down to the Series 1, you're losing GPS and GLONASS support and waterproofing up to 50 metres. If you stay with Series 2, you're not getting a barometric altimeter or the improved W2 chip.
If you have a Series 2 and you see no need for LTE, the decision is going to come down to that barometric altimeter. If you're not a hiker that likes to go out and climb on mountains, or run up and down hills, or cycle through various elevations, you're going to have little practical use for a barometric altimeter. Is a barometric altimeter worth the $329 it would take to upgrade to a non-LTE Series 3? Only you will know.
Read this: Everything you need to know about Series 3
The other major reason not to upgrade is to hold out for an all-new form factor. Rumours from the likes of John Gruber indicate that Apple does have plans for a new design. However, given that Apple is still packing technology into the current form, and had to slightly increase the thickness of the Series 3 to achieve that, a new form factor feels a year or two away.
What would a new design be like? The most likely option is something much thinner and lighter – the Apple way. Things get a little more foggy if you're looking for something far more radical. It's difficult to tell whether Apple would want to do away with the squarish look once and for all and opt for a rounded smartwatch.
If you've got a Series 2 and don't care about LTE, there's little reason to plunk down your hard-earned cash for a Series 3. If you've got a Series 1, you're getting a sizable upgrade regardless, thanks to GPS and GLONASS, waterproofing and the addition of a much faster processor, along with a dedicated wireless chip to help improve battery life.
The upgrade cost
The Series 2 is no longer available for purchase. If you already have a Series 2, the choice is between the $329 aluminum Series 3 without LTE and the $399 aluminum Series 3 with LTE.
Of course, that's just the upfront cost. In the US, you'll also have to pay $10 a month after the first three months on T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon (Sprint will carry the Series 3 LTE, but has not committed to pricing yet). In the UK, EE, the exclusive carrier, will add the Watch to your plan for £5 a month.
The Series 3 will be available for pre-order on 15 September, shipping beginning on 22 September. The Nike+ edition will be available starting 5 October for the same price.
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