If you’re in the market for a new Apple Watch, you’ll need to decide whether the cellular Apple Watch Series 3 is worth an extra $70 over the next cheapest option, the non-cellular Series 3.
The $399 cellular Series 3 operates identically to the $329 non-cellular model except that if it has a $10-per-month cell plan enabled, it will make and receive phone calls and SMS text messages, plus provide Internet access, even when its companion iPhone is far away or turned off. For example, you might leave your iPhone behind while canoeing or at a concert. And, should you forget your iPhone or run down its battery, you’ll still be able to access smartphone-type features from your wrist.
Phone calls and voicemail work nicely on the cellular Apple Watch, helping you to keep projects moving by taking important calls wherever you are. Same thing with SMS messages, which are transmitted over the phone network (these are from green-bubble correspondents) to your wrist, letting you quickly confirm an appointment or touch base with an Android-using colleague. And, although we hope you never need to, it’s nice to know that you could use the Apple Watch to call for help.
Messages that come through Apple’s iMessage system (from blue-bubble correspondents) travel through the Apple Watch’s cellular-based Internet connection to reach your wrist efficiently. Whether it’s your teen wanting to confirm a pickup time or your spouse wondering if he should defrost some burgers, handling these messages without delay—even while you’re in the middle of kickboxing class—keeps life moving smoothly. And, if you need to send a message, it’s as easy as pressing the Digital Crown and asking Siri to “text my son ‘Time for dinner!’.”
Do you brainstorm best while walking or in the shower? If you often come up with important ideas or remember key to-do’s when it’s inconvenient to write them down, the Apple Watch is the perfect assistant for making sure you don’t forget. Simply invoke Siri by holding the Digital Crown, and speak your reminder “remind me at 4 PM to check when that contract is due.” The watch transmits the reminder to iCloud, and it is added to your reminders.
Mapping on the Apple Watch is brilliant. Once you’ve opened the Maps app, you can view a map of where you are or load directions to where you want to be, with walking, transit, and driving options. The directions work as you go, showing the length of the current route segment and tapping your wrist when it’s time to turn.
Another great mapping feature is Find My Friends, which allows your watch to act as a beacon so trusted people can track you. We tested this feature several times, and found that it does work with the iPhone left behind…most of the time! Don’t rely on it, but it’s a nice way for family to monitor your progress during a race, for instance.
Even without the cellular Apple Watch Series 3, you can copy songs from Apple’s Music app into your watch and listen through Bluetooth-connected earphones—we love using our AirPods. But with an Apple Music subscription, if the copied music doesn’t match your mood, you can instead stream music directly to your wrist using the Apple Watch’s Radio app. Another audio option in Radio is to play CBS News, ESPN, or NPR. We like to press the Digital Crown and ask Siri to play something, as in “play Ramones radio” or “play 70s pop songs.”
The Apple Watch’s cellular radio supports UMTS (3G) and LTE, but just as with any other cellular device, you shouldn’t expect much in an area with weak cellular service.
Only you can decide if the cellular Apple Watch Series 3 is worth the extra $70 and the $10-per-month plan, but if you often want connectivity without carrying a bulky iPhone, it’s a good solution.