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Hands-on with the Apple Watch Series 3

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent

Apple (AAPL) on Tuesday finally introduced the Apple Watch Series 3, the first smart watch from the company to have a built-in LTE cellular connection.

The cellular version starts at $399, while the non-cellular version begins at $329. Both flavors of the Series 3 will be available for pre-order on September 15 and ship on September 22.

For the Cupertino, California-based tech giant, which unveiled the Series 3 at its new Apple Park campus, it wasn’t a matter of “if” Apple would introduce a watch with a cellular connection of its own, but “when.”

Yahoo Finance scored some hands-on time with the Series 3. Here are our initial thoughts:

It looks virtually the same…

Apple Watch aficionados hoping this year’s version of the Series 3 would look different will have to keep on waiting.

Hands-on with the Apple Watch Series 3

There’s nothing wrong with the Series 3’s design — it just looks a lot like previous Apple Watches. The only way eagle-eyed folks can tell the difference is if you own one of the two new colors available: a “new gold” color that looks like a paler take on the now discontinued “rose gold,” or the much pricier $1,299 dark gray ceramic. The knob, or dial, on the cellular versions of the watch are also red — a small change that doesn’t hurt the watch’s design but doesn’t add anything either.

It’s much faster…

I have no major issues with how my Series 2 runs, but I really wish it were snappier. Changing those digital watch faces with the swipe of a finger can be sluggish sometimes, and the same could be said of loading apps.

The Series 3 nips that in the bud with a new S3 chip that’s 70% faster than last year’s version. That certainly seemed to be the case, as I looked at text messages, swapped watch faces and loaded apps like Mail and Workout.

The Apple Watch Series 3 looks a lot like its predecessors. Source: JP Mangalindan/Yahoo Finance

That cellular connection comes in handy (most of the time)…

It was hard to gauge just how reliable the LTE connection was during our limited hands-on time — we couldn’t exactly walk around Apple’s sprawling new campus with it — but map data loaded quickly as we swiped and tapped around the watch, for example.

That should come in handy for people who want the option of leaving their phone at home while they go for a long run, or even if you just want to leave your phone in the house while you mow the lawn. The cellular connection also means you can listen to 40 million songs streamed directly from Apple Music — a nice bonus if you regularly use Apple’s popular music service. Spotify or Pandora customers, however, will have to stream music off their phones.

According to an Apple representative, the new watch uses an eSIM — a digital version of the traditional SIM card used by cellphones. One little perk: You don’t need a separate cellphone number for that Apple Watch. It’s just added to your current line. But doing that incurs a fee that depends on which cellphone carrier you use.

The other downside? Once you leave whichever country you call home — the U.S., for instance — the watch loses that cellular connection. No exception.

watchOS 4 as an evolution…

From what we glimpsed, watchOS 4 will be an evolution not a revolution for Apple Watch users, with new features and apps that cater especially to health-minded folks. Apple’s latest operating system for the smartwatch serves up personalized activity coaching, new features for swimmers, and an app called GymKit that syncs up with work-out equipment for work-outs.

Apple also played up a new heart rate app that shows your resting heart rate and your recovery heart rate, two metrics that can be indications of improving or degrading health. You can also now set the Apple Watch to notify you when you’ve achieved a certain workout level or if you experience a spike in stress.

For more thoughts on the Apple Watch Series 3 — and whether it’s worth the upgrade — come back to Yahoo Finance for our review.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.  

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