Review Roundup: Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3 reviews are in from around the web. While largely positive, an embarrassing bug affecting the Watch’s data connection has been discovered and acknowledged by Apple. I know I’ve been saying Apple Watch Series 3 could be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line, but I also wrote that I hope it would come without the controversy (antennagate). Oops. At least it didn’t get lost in a bar?

Let’s start with the reviews first.

Featured Reviews

John Gruber for Daring Fireball on Siri:

Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.

I am SO excited about this. I try to use Siri as much as possible on my original Apple Watch, but it’s way too damn slow.

David Pierce for Wired on connection logistics:

If your phone’s nearby, your Watch connects to it through Bluetooth and uses the phone as a modem. If you’re away from your phone, it looks for Wi-Fi, and as a last resort, jumps on LTE. I never noticed a difference between LTE and Wi-Fi, and in a week of testing didn’t experience any issues switching around. Others had a much harder time, though, and Apple has fessed up to problems switching to unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity.” So proceed with caution.

This is exactly how I figured they’d do it, as discussed on Fatherboard Episode 002. The Watch only uses its built-in LTE radio when there is no other option. This makes sense to conserve battery life, but as is being discovered, Apple bungled a distinct aspect of connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Brian Chen for The New York Times on how the Apple Watch is coming into its own:

Although I think most people can skip buying the cellular model, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the first smart watch I can confidently recommend that people buy. While I don’t personally find it attractive enough to replace my wristwatch, the new Apple Watch is a well-designed, durable and easy-to-use fitness tracker for people who want analytics on their workouts and general health (R.I.P., Fitbit).

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.

Wi-Fi Bug

Lauren Goode for The Verge on her extreme connection issues:

Where do I start with the connectivity issues with this Watch? It became apparent after my first full day using the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE that something wasn’t right. My review Watch was paired with an iPhone 8 and was on an AT&T wireless plan. In one of my initial tests, I went for a walk with the phone on airplane mode, and tried to send text messages and use Siri to initiate phone calls through the Watch. Those didn’t work. I tried asking Siri basic questions. That didn’t work. Siri also wasn’t “talking back” to me, something that’s supposed to be a new feature on the Series 3 Watch.

Sadly, Lauren experienced so many issues that she couldn’t even experience the Watch’s full potential. While most reviewers didn’t experience the issue described by Lauren, Serenity Caldwell may have figured out the underlying cause.

Serenity Caldwell for iMore:

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.)

In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.

This makes perfect sense, and I would hope it’s really a bug versus Apple not taking captive portals into account at all. Either way, it’s incredibly sloppy. I would expect this kind of launch bug from Samsung or others, but not Apple.

Apple has promised a fix in ‘a future update’, but that doesn’t sound nearly urgent enough. I hope they can fix the bug accurately for release this Friday, or a ton of people may be in for a surprise. Come to think of it, a lot of Apple Stores are in malls, usually surrounded by a few captive portals…