Apple was a few years late to the wearable game when it launched the Apple Watch in 2015. Android Wear had been around for more than a year, and the Pebble pre-dated that. However, Pebble has since folded, and Android Wear is stagnant. Apple says it’s selling more Apple Watches than ever, and it’s looking to continue that trend with the third generation of the smartwatch. The Apple Watch Series 3 looks a lot like the existing watch, but it has a cellular data option. Your carrier is at the ready to take a little more money from you every month for that feature, too.
The new Apple Watch looks identical to the second-generation watch from the outside, which in itself is an impressive feat of engineering when you consider all the new stuff inside. Although, if you didn’t like the look of the Apple Watch before, you still won’t. It still has the squircle display and casing that makes it look like a tiny iPad. Android Wear devices have coalesced around a more watch-like round design.
The headlining feature here is the optional cellular radio. Apple was able to turn the display into an antenna for UMTS and LTE, which saves a lot of space. There’s no removable SIM card, either. Apple uses an integrated eSIM inside the device that takes up much less space. Most smartwatches with LTE end up thicker than their Wi-Fi-only cousins because of the added antenna bulk. There’s also a new dual-core processor and a W3 wireless chip that’s apparently faster and more efficient.
You’ll pay more for the version of the wearable with cellular built-in, both at the time of sale and over the life of the device. The LTE-equipped versions start at $399, but that’s for the smaller 38mm case. If you want the larger model, it starts at $429. Should you want anything other than the rubber “sport” strap with it, be ready to pay a lot more.
There are more than a dozen carriers around the world with support for the Apple Watch, and that number will almost double later this year. The only reason to get the more expensive cellular version of the watch is if you intend to use it on LTE. That means you can leave your phone at home and just take your watch, which seems like a niche use case. Most carriers are pushing their device add-on plans that allow you to use your wearable with your main phone number. You’re looking at around $10 per month to use your Apple Watch Series 3 on T-Mobile, Verizon, and ATT (no word on Sprint yet), but there are some introductory offers that get you a few months for free.
If you want to snag Apple’s new wearable, it’ll go on sale September 15. Pre-orders will ship on September 22, at which time it will also begin showing up in Apple retail stores.