Reviews of the Apple Watch Series 3 and WatchOS 4

Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed:

I used the on-watch keypad to dial my on-shore boyfriend, and the dial tone came blaring through the built-in speaker, which I’m pretty sure disturbed some nearby seagulls. I’m sure the high volume was intentional to compete with loud, busy outdoor environments, and I was impressed by how much audio power was packed into the thing. His voice came in loud and clear, and we had a short conversation, before I hung up and attempted to send a text. Interacting with the screen with wet fingers is mostly miserable, but voice-to-text dictation worked supremely well.

Apple’s marketing materials for the Series 3 Watch heavily feature surfers and swimmers taking calls, so that’s what several reviewers tried, including Nguyen, Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal, and Lauren Goode of the Verge:

I actually went surfing, in the ocean, wearing the Apple Watch, hoping to replicate the glorious ad that Apple put out of a woman surfing and receiving a phone call on her Apple Watch. (Is this glorious? Real surfers would disagree. And I looked like a serious kook shouting “Hey Siri!” at my wrist in the ocean.) I wasn’t very far from shore, but the Watch vacillated between one bar of service and being disconnected entirely. I did manage to make one phone call from a surfboard. That was kind of wild.

Goode and Stern both found that their review units struggled to connect to LTE, leaving them with either a single bar — well, dot — or no service at all. For the defining feature of this model, that’s discouraging.

Serenity Caldwell of iMore dug into this problem and found out that an existing WatchOS 4 bug is the likely culprit:

Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)

Caldwell’s explanation sounds reasonable, but it’s surprising to me that Goode’s experience, out in the ocean, would be affected by a WiFi bug.

Regardless of the cause, this is a bad bug. Preordered Watches have already begun shipping, so this won’t be fixed before those are delivered. And, because the process of updating an Apple Watch is so slow and cumbersome, even for small updates, this bug’s impact will be pretty noticeable for anyone who has already ordered a Series 3 Watch.

In contrast to the Series 3 hardware, WatchOS 4 has been getting rave reviews, and I’m not surprised. Goode:

Speaking of saving a workout: when you finish a workout on the Watch now, there’s only one option, Done. The Apple Watch used to offer two options, Save and Discard. I suspect some people were accidentally discarding workouts when they were finished, instead of saving them. This is a much simpler way to do it.

I imagine the number of people who intentionally discarded a workout was vanishingly small compared to the number of people who accidentally did so. I know I have. This is one of the refinements that I love most.

John Gruber:

Second, there’s a new feature in WatchOS called “Auto-launch Audio Apps”. It’s in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, in the General: Wake Screen section. What happens with this is that when you initiate audio playback on your iPhone, if there’s a corresponding WatchOS app on your watch, when you raise your wrist that app is what you see, instead of your watch face.

The first time I saw this for Music, I was pleasantly surprised; the first time I saw this for Overcast, I was blown away that it worked for third-party apps without any developer intervention. Once you get used to it, it’s hard to imagine the Watch ever not showing audio controls by default.

The new Siri watch face is fantastic, by the way. I’m sure the other new faces featuring a kaleidoscope and Toy Story characters are cool, but I haven’t once switched from the Siri face since June. It is one of the best arguments for owning an Apple Watch, even — perhaps especially — if you are not a fitness buff. My only complaint is that it doesn’t work with third-party apps, so if you keep todos in Things, for example, it may not be as useful to you.

Matt Birchler wrote a much more comprehensive review, and it’s worth checking out. Of note, the Phone app now includes a keypad:

Second, this keypad is available from inside the app while you’re on a call, so you can interact with automated systems that require you to “PRESS 4 TO TALK TO A HUMAN”. This again is not required functionality, but it removes some of the limitations the watch used to have when making phone calls.

I never open the Phone app on my Apple Watch, but this might actually be useful for buzzing someone into my apartment. I’ll have to give that a try.