Apple Watch 3 LTE is finally here, freeing the smartwatch of the smartphone and bringing to life millions of childhood dreams. Yes, the Apple Watch 3 LTE, as the name suggests, can work without a smartphone, connecting to the network on its own. All these superhero antics are possible thanks to a new e-SIM technology which lets this device make calls and pull data by connecting directly to the network by pairing to your SIM virtually. But what are the practical uses of a smartwatch with its own connectivity? I have been using the watch for a few weeks and here is my review.
There is just one design differentiator in the LTE version of the Apple Watch 3, and that is the red dot on the crown. There are some changes on the software side, though. For instance, the quick settings tray now has buttons for network and Wi-Fi. There is a new watch face too with a tap to call option. If the watch is connected to the network, you see four dots in the middle — this is like the tower icon on the phone to show signal strength.
Though the device seems to house a lot of complex technology, set up is quite easy and smooth with just one additional step. In the middle of the regular onboarding process, you are asked to set up mobile data, after which the watch app takes you to your service provider’s log in to link to your account. In a few minutes, even as the watch syncs, your service provider will link the e-SIM on the watch to your number and alert you via a message that this process has been completed. The process is seamless, except for the flurry of text messages in the first couple of days.
This is the best thing about the Apple Watch 3 LTE in India. I have a lot of friends abroad who use the LTE model but crib about the extra bill. Here service providers are considering the data as an add-on to your existing number and hence there is no extra bill for the data consumed. But frankly, this is insignificant as I have discovered over the past few weeks.
As someone who is stuck in a lot of meetings and other occasions where I can’t really be peering into my phone, I was looking forward to how the Apple Watch 3 LTE could affect a behavioural change. The first change I have noticed has been with my morning walks, which are usually 40-minute intense workouts with the smartphone where I am walking in the residential society, all the time reading or writing something — yeah, the latter is true, but not really recommended.
Today, like a few days before, I went for a morning walk without a phone. Yes, it was much more relaxing, but that does not mean I was cut off. I did reply to a few WhatsApp messages using presets, I even read a few emails subjects and took one call. To add to this, I also listened to songs via the watch. Yes, I was able to do this before with the songs I copied to the local storage of the watch, but this time it was streamed from iTunes, using curated playlists that pop up on the watch.
My most common use case of the watch without the phone has been this morning walk. There is one other scenario that has developed while using the new watch. Usually around 5 pm is when my phone is almost drained of battery and needs to be plugged in to charge. But then I also have other things to do at this time of the day. So over the past few weeks, I have been leaving the phone to charge on my desk while I go to other parts of the office building for work.
With the Apple Watch 3 LTE, I get to know as soon as someone is trying to call me. I don’t always take the calls on the watch, fearing colleagues would get the final proof to conclude that I have actually lost it if they seem to talk to my wrist. But it does give me the option to take the call in case it’s something I can’t miss. Or to just rush back to the phone. I also see a lot of WhatsApp messages while on these phone-less trips to the third floor.
The other use case I have encountered has also been related to the battery. One of a recent visit to Kochi, I landed at the airport with my phone fully drained. I had the option of getting a pre-paid taxi, but chose to try the Uber app on the watch. It was a one-tap experience after which the cab driver called me to figure out exactly where I was. I did answer that call on the watch. Ten minutes later I was on my way. I think this will help even in some emergency situations where you are alone with the watch and need to get home in a hurry. And the long rest on the power button still gets you the SOS option.
The battery life, if you are not using the LTE option much is about 24 hours which is good. Apple does not think users will want to use the watch as a replacement for the smartphone. So the LTE only option is expected to give a battery life of only around four hours.
So a lot of users might not like the fact that on LTE alone the battery life is not that good. But then technology, especially battery technology, has its limitations. Personally, I could not see a use case where I was left with just the watch for connectivity for more than a couple of hours.
My other issue is that at times I was unable to make calls from the watch when the phone was within range. It seems to have been done to prevent confusion on the network on where the cal is originating from. Also, I got the feeling that my outgoing calls on the phone are taking a bit longer now to connect.
I have realised that for some users at least there is great value in having connectivity on your wrist. There are times you don’t really need your phone, but then you can’t stay off the grid. Still, I think this is more an upgrade for Apple Watch users. It is not for everyone as the regular Apple Watch is good enough for the others.