Review: Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular

As many of you know, I’ve become a huge fan of the Apple Watch. Partially for the fitness functionality that’s present which has helped me to be far more disciplined when it come to staying active, and partially for the fact that I can discreetly see and respond to notifications, texts, and emails. Recently, I became the new owner of an Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular which promises all of that while leaving my phone behind. There was just one problem. My cell phone carrier at the time was Rogers, and I’ve documented extensively that Rogers does not support the Apple Watch because they don’t for whatever bizarre reason support the eSIM standard. Nor do they have a timetable that they are willing to share in terms of when they will support the eSIM standard. Thus after hoping that they would get on board with that in short order, I gave up on Rogers and went to Telus who does support the Apple Watch and the eSIM standard and I haven’t looked back. More on that experience in a bit.

Now the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular looks and feels exactly like the Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS. And if you want to see what the Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS is capable of, I reviewed it a few months ago here. But there are two major differences between the GPS version and the GPS + Cellular version. The first difference is that the GPS + Cellular version has a red dot on the digital crown. I guess that’s there so you’re friends or potential thieves know that you have the GPS + Cellular version of the Apple Watch. I for one would have prefered if they made both versions look the same so that it flies under the radar a bit more. The second difference is that there is 16GB of storage in the GPS + Cellular version rather than the 8GB in the GPS version. That I suspect is there to either load music onto the Apple Watch so that you can say go for a run with just the watch and a pair of Bluetooth headphones, or it’s there for use with Apple Music so you can stream music if you have a data plan with enough data to support that.

Now over to the one question I am sure that you have. Is this device truly independent of the iPhone? In short, no. The long answer goes something like this. The Apple Watch has always required you to pair it to an iPhone for it to fully work. And you could always leave the phone behind and still get notifications and the like on your Apple Watch as long as the Apple Watch could connect to WiFi and the iPhone was connected to WiFi or cellular. Now the WiFi in question has to be 2.4 Ghz WiFi, and it can’t use anything fancy like certificate based authentication, and it has to be a WiFi that your iPhone knows about. But assuming you get past all that, this use case works. For example, I have left my iPhone in the car downstairs in front of my condo to run upstairs to get something and I’ve been able to get notifications, send messages, use Siri, etc. The inclusion of LTE support in the Apple Watch takes this to the next level as the Apple Watch no longer has to rely on WiFi to do any of this. Though it will flip to WiFi if it can connect to it to save you a few bucks on your cell phone bill. But it means that you’re always connected without having to carry your iPhone with you.

But there is a catch.

If your iPhone is off or not connected to cellular or WiFi, only iMessage and phone calls can be received or sent via your Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular. Text messages won’t work. Also, voice mail won’t work, and e-mail won’t work. So it’s not completely an independent device. But even with that caveat, there is a lot a value in this. My wife for example hates carrying her phone on a run. So in her use case, she could use an Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular along with the Strava Apple Watch app to record her run without having to take her iPhone. But if she runs into trouble or decides to bail on the run, she can still make a phone call.

Speaking of phone calls, taking a phone call on the Apple Watch works really, really well from an audio quality perspective. Both ends of the conversation are really clear. Though I am going to point out that doing what I call the “Dick Tracy” thing is going to earn you either some strange looks, or a lot of questions, or in some cases both. Also, taking phone calls on a regular basis on the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular hammers battery life. And so does using the watch exclusively on cellular. Now Apple does promise “all-day battery life”, and you will get that. But to give you some perspective, when I didn’t use the Apple Watch to take phone calls and my iPhone was with me at all times, I was left with 70% to 75% battery life at the end of the day. If I did take a couple of phone calls, or I did use the watch extensively on cellular, the battery life I was left with was closer to 30% to 35% at the end of the day.

Now setting up the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular on the Telus network was a breeze. Telus provides step by step instructions here. But the prerequisites are that you have to have a postpaid consumer Your Choice Plan or SharePlus Plan (Business plans aren’t supported at this time. Thus when I made the switch to Telus, I had to sign up as a consumer to get support for the Apple Watch). A Telus My Account log-in is also required. The setup on the Telus network took me five minutes and required no human intervention which is always a good thing. You’ll pay an extra $10 a month on top of whatever you pay Telus for your cell phone service to give your Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular LTE access. That may raise some eyebrows as Bell offers the same thing for $5 a month extra. But you do get 1GB data on top of whatever your data bucket happens to be as part of the deal which is something that Bell doesn’t offer you. I should also note that the Telus site that I linked to above has all sorts of handy tutorials that new Apple Watch users will find to be valuable. Kudos to Telus for doing that. Now I have yet to roam with it, but I have heard that it is either a non-issue or highly problematic depending on where you’re going. Thus I will update you on what my experiences with roaming are like when the time comes.

The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular starts at $519 CDN. That’s $90 CDN more than the GPS version which makes it only a marginal price increase to get the ability to leave your phone behind when you go for a run and still be connected. If that’s your use case, then it’s money well spent.

 

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One Response to “Review: Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular”

  1. Richard Pearce Says:

    Why not try putting your red watch button on the other side in Watch Settings. It’s much less noticeable, easier to use, and the speaker is now on the outside, and easier to hear. btw when using the watch phone, resting your hand on the opposite shoulder looks much less weird! All much easier!

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