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Apple Watch Series 3: Sport & Fitness In-Depth Review

AppleWatchSeries3-FitnessSportUse

Over the last 6 weeks I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular edition to see how well it works not just in daily use, but more importantly sport and fitness use.  This review is all about sport and fitness, since there’s a gazillion other places you can read about general stuff like looking at the pretty apps screen above.  Or just general apps.  Or talking to Siri.  Of course, I’ll briefly touch on those things below, but my focus here is how well this performs while working out or racing.

Of course, in many ways the Apple Watch Series 3 isn’t appreciably different for sports usage than the previous Apple Watch Series 2 unit.  In theory, it’s got the same heart rate sensor, as well as the same GPS capabilities.  What it gains though in ‘GPS+Cellular’ edition is…well…cellular service (and the associated magical red dot).  It also gains an altimeter, for better tracking of elevation. But in reality, most of the new features actually came with watchOS 4, which was introduced at the same time.  Most of those features got rolled out to previous Apple Watch units as well, as I outlined here.  So do consider that in many ways you can achieve almost everything in this review with previous generation Apple Watches and save a few bucks.

Note that I went out and bought my own Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular unit, at an Apple Store on launch morning.  With that – let’s dive into things!

Unboxing:

Not feelin’ like text and photos?  No worries, we can start off with an uber-detailed unboxing video I put together of the Apple Watch Series 3. I cover weights, size comparisons, and tons more.

Still want some photos though?  No problem!  First off, we’ve got the box itself, which sits behind all the things I took out of the box.  Namely because I forgot to take a picture before I started the video.

AppleWatchSeries3-Box

Inside you’ll find the watch itself.  The red dot on the digital crown means it’s the cellular version.  It’s how you can spot the cellular version a million miles away.

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Then there’s the charging cable.  This is the same as all past Apple Watch charging cables.  So if you’ve got those lying around from previous editions – then you’re well positioned for multi-location charging:

AppleWatchSeries3-Charger

AppleWatchSeries3-ChargingOn

Then there’s a small USB wall adapter.  If in Europe or elsewhere you’ll get the plug for your local country.

AppleWatchSeries3-WallAdapter

Then there’s the watch itself.  But you’re gonna get like 5 million photos by the end of this review, so here’s what it looks like chillin’ in the box:

AppleWatchSeries3-Watch

And finally, you’ll have noticed the secondary band.  The watch comes with a small and large band, which slides off by pressing the small button under the watch band.

AppleWatchSeries3-SmallBand

As usual from Apple – super clean box setup.  There’s also, of course, the paper manual and quick start guide that you saw in the video, but those somehow ended up flying off the table during the unboxing video and didn’t get photographed.  They were shy.  As always though, you won’t need the manual by the time you finish reading this post.

Weights and Sizes:

Taking a quick detour to look at the sizes and weights of the watches, I’ve lined up the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE with the Fitbit Ionic and Garmin Vivoactive 3.  Essentially, what are likely to be the three most popular fitness/sports focused watches this fall for the mid-range market.

Here’s how the three look side by side:

GarminVivoactive3-AppleWatch3-FitbitIonic-Size-Front

As you can see, they’re all fairly similar in sizes.  The Garmin is a bit more rounded than the Apple Watch, while the Fitbit is a touch bit bigger in terms of face.  Ultimately though, they’re all fairly similar.

GarminVivoactive3-AppleWatch3-FitbitIonic-Size-Side

Here’s a look at them from a slightly different angle:

GarminVivoactive3-AppleWatch3-FitbitIonic-Size-Thinness

Then to take a crack at the weights, I put all three on the scale.  I used the sport band in the case of the Fitbit Ionic, merely because I hate the regular stock band.  You can check out that in-depth review though for weights of all the band types.

Garmin-Vivoactive3-Weight Apple-Watch-Series3-Weight Fitbit-Ionic-Weight

All the weights are in grams, with the Fitbit and Garmin units being identical at 43g, and the Apple Watch sitting in at 63g.  Keep in mind this is the 42mm Apple Watch, so it’d be slightly heavier than the 38mm variant.

The Basics:

AppleWatchSeries3-Basics

To begin, we’ll start at the very beginning: The buttons.  I note this because when it comes to sport usage, this will become a clear item to pay attention to, especially for which apps you use to track your workout.  The Apple Watch has two buttons on the side.  One is a generic button towards the bottom, whereas the other is the digital crown, which can be both pressed and rotated (useful for zooming in and out or changing pages in an app).

AppleWatchSeries3-Buttons

In addition of course is the touchscreen, used for navigation within the watch. Further of note is that the watch can ‘sense’ whether or not it’s on your wrist.  So when it’s removed from your wrist and put back on, it’ll require you enter a pin to access it.

Apps are installed on your watch using your phone (only iPhones by the way), where you can select which watch apps in the ‘Watch’ app on your phone to sync to your watch.  Most iPhone apps offer Watch apps, merely because Apple has a long-standing practice of penalizing those phone apps that don’t offer a watch app, by generally skipping over them in ‘featured’ areas of the App Store.

Apple Watch Series 3 Apps Control Panel Apple Watch Series 3 Apps Control Panel

You can enable/disable individual apps on your watch (seen above), but generally speaking, any configuration of a specific app occurs within the phone app for that watch.  So, for example, you configure the Stryd Apple Watch app from within the Stryd iPhone app.  And so on.

Beyond the installation of apps, you’ll do most of your general setup of your watch from the phone app.  You can see some of these configuration options below.  These include things like the watch face (which you can also tweak from the watch itself), as well as more detailed features like how text message responses work.

Apple Watch Main Settings Apple Watch Main Settings Control Panel Apple Watch Default Apps

And it’s through some of these more detailed features that you really differentiate the Apple Watch compared to more sport-focused watches (Garmin/Suunto/Polar/Fitbit).  Take for example the text message responses.  First off, you can actually respond to text messages (something you can’t do on the other four brands I noted).  Not only that, but you can customize those responses and/or pick from a ton of pre-canned ones.

Apple Watch Series 3 Text Messages Settings Apple Watch Series 3 Text Messages Default Replies Apple Watch Series 3 Text Messages Custom Replies

I’ve long said that the best ‘smartwatch’ from a business/day to day standpoint is the Apple Watch, and that remains the same with the Apple Watch Series 3.  Where we see a divergence though is the sport and fitness pieces, which is essentially where the Apple Watch isn’t as strong as the other options on the market (as I’ll cover in depth here).

Switching a little bit into the health realm, one of the new features that was introduced with watchOS 4 is the elevated heart rate notifications.  This allows you to be alerted when your HR rises above a given threshold while your watch says that you’ve been inactive.  This can be indicative of a heart-related issue.  It’s actually a feature I often hear readers ask for, and two members of my extended family had been looking for similar features as well.

Apple Watch Series 3 Elevated HR Notices Apple Watch Series 3 Elevated HR Notice Customization

Now that said, I’ve found this feature does often trigger false positives, about once per week or so.  Almost always in the shower.  My HR will not actually be above 120BPM, but it thinks it is.  And it also thinks I’m inactive.  Of course, a false positive here isn’t a huge deal, since you can easily re-check your HR via the watch or other means.

When it comes to daily activity tracking, the unit monitors steps and heart rate, as well as your standing time.  It doesn’t consider flights of stairs one of the rings, but you can see it within the phone and watch activity apps.  You can configure some options for activity tracking within the Watch configuration app, but most activity tracking is done via the ‘Activity’ app on your phone (left – watch app, right, activity app):

Apple Watch Series 3 Activity App Settings Panel Apple Watch Series 3 Watch App Settings Panel

Which is of course seen on your watch, even as a watch face if you want it to.

AppleWatchSeries3-ActivityRings

You can also see a more textual version of the same thing:

AppleWatchSeries3-ActivityTotals

The ultimate goal on your Apple Watch is to complete the ‘rings’.  Each ring represents a different daily goal to reach.  Pink/Red for Move goal, Green for Exercise Goal, and Blue for Standing goal.  Each goal differs, but if you complete all three goals you get a puppy.

The watch itself will remind you at ten minutes to the top of the hour (i.e. 5:50PM) to complete your standing goal, if you haven’t done so yet:

AppleWatchSeries3-MoveReminder

Actually, to back up a bit you don’t get a puppy when you unlock all your goals for the day, but you can unlock achievement badges which are non-motivating icons that have the same amount of excitement as a fake 99 cent police officer’s badge for Halloween.

Apple Watch Series 3 Achievements and Badges Apple Watch Series 3 Achievements and Badges Move 300%

Still, I do very much like the history pane within the app, as it makes it simple (painfully or otherwise) to see your long-term progress.  You’ll also note the tiny green dot above certain days.  That shows a specific workout (as opposed to stuff grouped into the exercise category, such as just a brisk walk to the store).

Apple Watch Series 3 Activity History App Apple Watch Series 3 Activity Totals App

Finally, you can compete in sharing for challenges and daily activity stats within the app itself.  In fact, when you add contacts, Apple is even smart enough to know which of them have the Apple Watch and which don’t.  Regrettably, I don’t have too many friends with the Apple Watch.

Sport Usage:

AppleWatchSeries3-Workouts

It’s fair to say that a significant chunk of Apple’s marketing resources on the Apple Watch are aimed at courting the fitness crowd.  You’ll see that through the company’s numerous ads.  Of course, there are some slight nuances between a more general wellness focused slant versus an athletic/sport focused slant.  And some of that becomes quickly apparent when you start using the Apple Watch (any model).

Part of the appeal of the Apple Watch and other smartwatch platforms that have app stores is the ability to go beyond the basics of the built-in apps and go with 3rd party apps to fill gaps.  And as you’ll see in this section, that’s a darn good thing – because the default Apple sports experience leaves a lot to be desired.  As such, this section is fully on the default experience.  Whereas if you scroll down a bunch, I touch on some apps and filling in those gaps with much better 3rd party experiences (albeit, at a cost).

In any event, to start with using the default workout settings, you’ll dig around the colorful dots on your watch and find the neon green/yellowish colored one with a little runner icon:

AppleWatchSeries3-OpenWorkoutApp

After tapping it you’ll see a list of sports.  The last sport you used will show up first in the list, along with the duration spent in that sport.

AppleWatchSeries3-WorkoutSportModes

In total, the available native sports are: Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Run, Outdoor Cycle, Indoor Walk, Indoor Run, Indoor Cycle, Elliptical, Rower, Stair Stepper, High Intensity Interval Training, Pool Swim, Open Water Swim, and Other.

You can scroll through the sports to select them on your watch.  Additionally, within the Watch app on your phone, you can tweak a handful of settings.  These include Running Auto Pause, Power Save Mode (turns off optical HR), as well as workout playlists.  I personally leave the power save mode and running pause off, since I want all the data!

Apple Watch Series 3 Workout Config Apple Watch Series 3 Workout Views Settings

You can also slightly choose which data fields to use in the default app for each sport.  Up to five fields in total can be added.  If you want other fields you need to remove a given field to make room:

Apple Watch Series 3 Workout Field Selector Apple Watch Series 3 Workout Field Selector Data Options

In any case, back to the watch, and to select a sport – in this case Outdoor Run.  You can configure goals for your workout, like time or duration, which will give you progress towards that goal mid-workout.

AppleWatchSeries3-WorkoutGoals

Once you do so it’ll start at that moment to search for satellites and acquire your HR.  And this is super important to understand: It doesn’t tell you it’s doing this, nor does it tell you the status of that.  Why does this matter? Because the watch implies that it’s ready to go the moment you tap that icon and gives a three-second count-down.

AppleWatchSeries3-CountDownWorkoutStart

But in reality, it’s not at all ready.  In fact, if you look at most of your workouts, you’ll notice a 2-3 minute gap until it acquires heart rate, sometimes satellite too (as I’ll cover within my accuracy sections later).

And this happens over and over and over again.  Not just for me, but many people.  Part of the ‘issue’ here is that if you go for a workout with your phone, the Apple Watch will leverage that for GPS, not the watch itself.  But if you leave your phone behind and walk out the door, the handoff there telling the watch to look for GPS lags significantly, so it’s almost as if it’s caught off-guard. Note that it doesn’t appear to leverage cellular service for GPS acquisition.

What’s strange here is that every GPS watch made in the last half-decade has two things:

A) A GPS status indicator/icon: This lets you know it’s found GPS and ready to go
B) GPS Satellite cache: This helps the watch acquire GPS signal in a couple seconds

But the Apple Watch definitely doesn’t have item A above, instead you just have to guess.  And for item B above, it doesn’t seem to work well.  It shouldn’t take 2-3 minutes to acquire GPS outdoors.  That’s like the days of 2008-2011 for GPS watch acquisition times.

Either way, my recommendation is wait a minute or so after opening the ‘Workouts’ app on your watch, but before starting a workout, if you want the most accurate data.  With that, pressing start begins your workout and starts showing you data:

AppleWatchSeries3-HR-Locked

The unit will show you pace and distance and HR in real-time.  Even if it hasn’t locked onto satellites yet, it’ll use the accelerometer for pace and distance.  Whereas for HR it’ll show an empty/swirling heart icon if you don’t have that locked yet.

If you’ve enabled features like auto-lap, it’ll trigger notifications every kilometer or mile.  Note that the Apple Watch can connect to 3rd party Bluetooth Smart heart rate straps, in the event you don’t trust the optical HR sensor.  It cannot connect to ANT+ straps though.  Of course, many straps these days are dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, like the Wahoo TICKR series or 4iiiii Viiiiva.

When it comes to sport settings, for other sports like pool swimming, it’ll also ask you to confirm the pool size:

AppleWatchSeries3-PoolSizes

Pool swimming won’t use GPS of course, but rather the accelerometer internally, so it needs to know the length of the pool to be able to determine the total distance.  But there are some quirks to be aware of with the default.  First is that the pool size can only be whole numbers – like 25 meters or 35 yards.  It can’t be partial numbers.  In Europe, a 33 and 1/3rd meter pool is somewhat common, and there isn’t a way to set that within the app.  So I end up with weird distance at the end of the swim since it shaves off a third of a meter each length.  All other swim watches known to mankind take into account these sorts of pool size quirks.

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More importantly is that using the default app the screen turns off automatically when you start swimming.  So if you’re accustomed to tilting your wrist just slightly underwater when you push off the wall to see pacing, time, or distance, you can’t do that.  The screen will remain black/off.  So it’s really only useful after a set when you’re at the wall.

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When it comes to openwater swimming, it’ll use GPS then.  Given the time of year and travel schedule I wasn’t able to get in an openwater swim with it.  However, since the GPS hardware is identical to the Apple Watch Series 2, I will note that I’ve actually seen fantastic GPS accuracy there.  And even better is that since watchOS4, you can now actually export openwater swims.  Woot!

No matter the sport, you can swipe to the left to pause/stop/lock or create a multisport activity.  When in swimming mode, it’ll automatically lock the touchscreen.

AppleWatchSeries3-Unlockwater

While it does technically support a multisport activity, it’s a little bit wonky.  The way it works is by letting you change to another workout type, but it’s not quite as automated as you’d see in a typical triathlon setup.

Once you’ve completed your workout, you’ll get a simplified summary page of the workout stats.  Nothing fancy, but just top-line stats.

AppleWatchSeries3-WorkoutComplete

You can though get a bit more detail on aspects like HR charts and recovery graphs within the heart icon (for HR data) on the watch itself:

AppleWatchSeries3-HR-Graphs

And then finally, on the ‘Activity’ app on your phone you’ll see the workout listed in the workouts section:

Apple Watch Series 3 Workouts App Main Page Apple Watch Series 3 Workouts App Splits Apple Watch Series 3 Workouts App Maps

Again, the information is somewhat basic here compared to most other sport watches on the market, but it also covers much of the core stuff you’d be looking for.  Of course again, if you use 3rd party apps on the Apple Watch, then you’ll get more detail and more options.  I discuss that after we chat about accuracy.

Heart Rate Accuracy:

AppleWatchSeries3-OpticalHR-Sensor

Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy.  Apple says there have been no physical sensor changes between the Series 2 and Series 3 watches, though undoubtedly they’ve continued to tweak algorithms like all manufacturers do.  Accuracy roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

AppleWatchSeries3-RestingHR

When it comes to 24×7 HR, the Apple Watch measures at a rate of once every 5-6 minutes while at rest, and slightly more frequently if on the move).  This data can be seen on the watch itself (above), as well as within the Apple Health app on your phone (different from the Activity app):

Apple Wtach Series 3 HR Sources Apple Wtach Series 3 RestingHR Sources Apple Wtach Series 3 Sample HR Source Apple Wtach Series 3 24x7 HR Data

You’ll notice above that it actually separates it out into a few categories: Heart Rate (all day stats), Resting Heart Rate (per day), Walking heart rate, and Heart Rate Variability.  From a timing standpoint, once every 5-6 minutes is actually less than almost all companies these days (which are now mostly at once every 1-2 seconds).  But I don’t think it’s a huge deal either.  You can trend pretty well off of every 5 minutes, as long as it’s truly that frequent (and it does seem to be).

Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as tempo runs and rides – and even running up and down a mountain.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-TRI or Wahoo TICKR X), as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (many models during this testing period).  Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here if you want to use it yourself.

First up we’ve got a relatively simplistic run from two weekends ago.  It was with a baby stroller, which adds a bit more complexity to optical HR measurement, thus, it’s an interesting test.  Along for the ride were three other Garmin watches connected to a Wahoo TICKR-X HR strap, as well as the new Epson 307 optical HR-enabled watch.  So basically three HR data sources.  Here’s the overview (and the DCR Analyzer set here if you want to dig deeper):

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What I want you to pay particularly close attention to is that the blue line for the Apple Watch starts about two minutes into the run.  You’ll see this for almost every workout you do.  This is because the Apple Watch takes 2-3 minutes to acquire your HR.  And during that time it won’t record anything until it gets a lock.  Most other watches tell you the status of HR lock prior to starting the workout, but the Apple Watch doesn’t.

Now, the next thing you’ll notice is that the Epson watch got off to a bad start for some unknown reason, perhaps related to the stroller.  However, after that point all of the watches were very close.  And in fact, looking at the rest of the plot despite some variability in intensity, it stayed on quite nicely.  I could dig deeper into the above plot, but honestly there’s little reason to since it looks fine.  So let’s switch to another one.

Next, we’ve got a run with some nice intervals at the end of it.  Along for this run is the Apple Watch Series 3 with the Samsung Gear Sport, as well as two Garmin watches tethered to the Wahoo TICKR X HR strap.  Here’s the full data set.

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In this run I had to wait forever for the Samsung device to find GPS signal, which caused the chest strap to dry out and I forgot to wet it again (cold day).  So you see the ‘blocky’ looking start to the chest strap.  You also see that the Apple Watch doesn’t’ start until about 4-5 minutes in this time.  After that point the units are largely the same, except there’s the catch.

The Samsung Gear Sport might ‘look’ to be accurate here for the first 70% or so, but it’s only by luck.  That’s because my HR intensity was very even.  In reality, it only plotted about 5 HR data points that entire first 38 minutes.  That’s far more visible once you look at the last 15 or so minutes that I do some sprints in.

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The scale kinda makes these look wonky, but essentially I’m going from 160bpm to about 182-186bpm for each interval.  What you notice on this is that the Samsung just cuts a straight line through it all, plotting one point at the peak and one at the base of each interval, then it connects the dots.

The Apple Watch does reasonably well actually throughout this, following the ebb and flow until the last interval, the hardest, in which case it incorrectly plots a 199bpm HR as my max.  That’s a tell-tale sign of HR cadence lock, when your HR locks onto your cadence.  This often happens when going down hills, or in sprints (as was the case here).  The actual HR was about 185, per the TICKR-X.  Of course, the TICKR also showed a few hiccups in there on the previous one.

Next, we’ve got another run, this one with a bunch of stops and starts in it.  Again, despite waiting for 5 minutes outdoors for the Apple Watch (on the workout screen) to find HR, it still waited another 5 minutes into the run to actually lock and record that.  Here’s the full data set.  In this set, we have the Garmin Vivoactive 3 optical HR up against the Apple Watch 3, compared to a chest strap.

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What you notice is that at a high level things do look pretty good across the board.  Where it does struggle a little bit though is when I stopped, each time you can see it delay catching the HR dropping down.  The TICKR (chest strap) is fastest, and the Vivoactive 3 is a little behind that on some (and less fast on others).  Whereas the Apple Watch seems to almost spike a little bit each time.

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Next, let’s switch gears to some cycling. Cycling is actually really hard for optical HR sensors to get right when worn on the wrist.  This is because your wrist is usually flexed tight, and further opens up the band to light getting in.  Additionally, bumps on the road can be impactful as well.  Here’s an hour ride across the city to do some loops at a park before coming back.  I’ve got a Garmin Vivoactive 3 on one wrist, the Apple Watch 3 on the other, and then the chest HR strap paired to a flotilla of bike head units for some power meter tests (it’s why you see multiple copies of the TICKR X listed below).  Here’s the full data set.

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As always, the Apple Watch takes about 2-3 minutes to lock HR.  I do want to be clear here: If this was any other company, people would crucify them for this.  Yet somehow everyone is giving Apple a pass on this year.  Still, moving along you’ll see that the first 15 or so minutes things are kinda mixed in stop and go cycling.  This is usually what I see with optical HR sensors in this type of riding.

However, once I get to less trafficked areas around the 15-minute marker, you see near perfect alignment until the 52-minute marker as I get back into the city again.

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The one thing you’ll see if you look really closely on some of my sprints, is the slight delay that both the Vivoactive 3 and Apple Watch exhibit coming off the sprint (going easy again).

Of course, once I get back to stop and go riding, everything goes to crap:

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The Apple Watch appeared to simply get lazy at times and ignore any efforts, while the Vivoactive 3 seemed distracted.  Meanwhile, the chest strap did seem on-point here for what my efforts were.

Ultimately, what I see here is about the same as the Garmin optical-HR enabled watches for accuracy.  It’s generally good for me for running, save occasionally minor quirks.  And it’s generally good for me for cycling as long as I’m consistently riding.  Whereas if I’m in stop and go type situations for riding, then it’s rougher (true of both Garmin and Apple).

Of course again, no other watch I’ve ever tested has the issue of just ignoring the first 3-5 minutes of HR.  This is 100% because Apple doesn’t turn on the optical HR sensor until you start a workout, at which point that’s the absolute worst time to try and acquire HR since it’s got to de-noise things like arm movement, running cadence, and who knows what else you’re doing.  This would be trivial to solve if Apple just did HR lock on the screen prior to pressing to start a workout.

GPS Accuracy:

AppleWatchSeries3-GPS-Accuracy

There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Apple Watch 3 workouts).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my CamelBak.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period of Apple Watch testing.  Be it from major mountains and trails of the Alberta (Canada), to the deserts of Las Vegas, to the streets of Paris.  It’s been everywhere!

First up we’ll start with a city run I did yesterday.  Nothing too long, just a simple lunchtime run.  My route includes being next to buildings, under bridges, through tunnels, and past panda bears.  All of which could impact accuracy.  The watches for this run are listed below.  And as with all my data here, here’s the link to the DCR Analyzer page for this set, if you want to zoom in more.

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At a high level, things mostly look pretty good.  Let’s start by zooming in though.  In this case the Apple Watch did acquire GPS from the very beginning.  In large part because I stood around freezing my ass off for 12 minutes waiting for the Samsung Gear Sport to acquire GPS, which gave the Apple Watch plenty of time to do so as well.

In any event, the first five minutes or so along the river were just fine.  Then it was into the gardens for some loops.  What’s funny about these gardens (besides the real-life panda bears), is that they often trip up so many GPS units I test.  I think it’s because the garden pathways are so sharp that it makes it silly easy to spot GPS accuracy issues.  The trees are present, but not super dense.

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Looking at the above I’ve highlighted four areas of concern.  The upper and left ones are areas of concern on the Apple Watch, where it either cut corners (left), or dove into the bushes (top).  Meanwhile, the lower two were for the Vivoactive 3 where it also went bush-diving for no apparent reason.  What’s interesting is that it actually did it both loops in the exact same spot, which typically implies some sort of interference type issue.

As I exited the park I ran across the street and across the bridge.  The FR935 was most accurate here, and both the Apple Watch and Vivoactive 3 tracks ran through traffic and buses randomly, while all three watches nailed the bridge spot-on itself.

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Next, we’ve got the tunnel.  It’s perhaps 200-300m long.  It’s a great test of how a GPS unit handles losing signal, as well as regaining it.  Ideally you’d get a clean break/drop at the entrance to the tunnel, and then the same thing at the exit.

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While the Apple Watch gets close to that, it’s actually slightly offset from the real tunnel.  The Garmin units meanwhile get the entrance/exits closer, but then do a kinda odd ‘bend’ mid-tunnel.  None of which add more than a handful of meters either way, so it’s not something I’d nitpick too much.

Finally, you can see below where I turn onto the bridge, that the Apple Watch misses the ramp I have to run up, and shortcuts the whole situation.  The Garmins get it correct.  Meanwhile, a short distance later at the bottom of the picture you’ll see the Apple Watch stays perfectly on the road whereas the Garmins go through some buildings by a few meters.

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Overall though, in the above run, that’s largely nitpicking – but that’s what I do when tracks are mostly pretty good.

Next, let’s take a look at a run I did a few weeks back on an Island.  This was the same trio of watches, and here’s the full dataset.

image

Now what you’ll notice immediately is the wonky gap or straight line that the Apple Watch did for the first few minutes (it’s that red line you see across the middle of the picture).  That’s a perfect example of the unit briefly finding and losing GPS at the start.  See, it was within range of the AirBNB house, and thus my phone.  Yet, as soon as I started running away from it, it lost phone Bluetooth Smart signal and had to re-acquire GPS from the watch.  I’m actually surprised it had enough range on Bluetooth Smart since the phone was inside the house, but go figure.

image

The not acquiring GPS at the start isn’t unusual.  The secondary quirk you’ll see with the Apple Watch GPS is the just sorta ‘gliding’ around corners.  It’s like Mario Kart where it just drifts around.  Take for example this section later in the run:

image

The Apple Watch just casually floats through this whole section like a bird, ignoring the buildings and the path we took.  This is a super common occurrence, and oddly is exaggerated in the Apple Workouts/Activity app itself, where everything seems to be tweaked to make it more ‘flowy’.  The weird thing is that the above corner cutting doesn’t always happen, as you can see in the very same picture above, where the other turn along the beach was fine.

2017-11-07 15.37.58 2017-11-07 15.39.20 2017-11-07 15.39.53

Through lots of trial and error, what I’ve somewhat figured out is that workouts where you take your phone with you (and thus, it leverages the phone’s GPS) exhibit FAR more swinging/cut corners, than those with just the watch by itself.

Finally, I’ve got a bunch of cycling workouts, but the simple reality is that all of them are boring from a GPS standpoint.  They’re boring for two reasons: First, is that when cycling I have my phone on me, so it’s actually using the phone’s GPS.  And second, the data looks just fine and dandy.  Here’s one set for example.

image

If you zoom in a bit here and there you’ll find examples of cut corners, again, with leveraging the phone as the GPS source since it’s within range.

Overall though, the Apple Watch GPS accuracy isn’t bad.  It’s not spectacular, but it’s also not bad.  It’s roughly on-par with other mid-range GPS watches that I’ve tested, each having their pros and cons.  The one catch though is the start of a workout.  It’s really best to wait a bit outside, away from your phone (if you aren’t running/cycling/whatever with it), to ensure it gets GPS from the very beginning.

Data, Apps and Cellular:

AppleWatchSeries3-Apps

Now up until this point I’ve talked totally a native Apple Watch 3 experience.  No 3rd party apps up till now were used to capture the workouts or daily activity data seen above in the analytics sections.  I do that mostly because I want to ensure that mistakes made by 3rd parties in relation to GPS or HR recording aren’t reflecting on the base device.

However, there are a number of cool apps out there that I’ve used or toyed with that I want to briefly highlight.  First is the main app I use for getting data off the watch.  As it stands natively, the Apple Watch doesn’t integrate with any 3rd parties like Strava or TrainingPeaks or anything.  So to get data off of it you need 3rd party apps.  My favorite lately is a super simple app called HealthFIT+, which simply takes your workouts and exports them as industry standard .FIT files.  It can upload those to Strava, TrainingPeaks, Dropbox (as of tomorrow or so), e-mail, and Apple Cloud.

Apple Watch Series 3 HealthFit Workout Selection Apple Watch Series 3 HealthFit FIT File Creation Apple Watch Series 3 HealthFit E-Mail Option

The app costs $2, and is what I’ve used for all of the data analysis you see above.  Note, another app that’s similar in this vein is RunGap.  And that works well too (you can read a better review of that here).  But I find the swimming pieces and such just work better with HealthFIT+.  Also, I’m kinda a simple person. Just give me the files and let me do my own thing.  Whereas RunGap has more options/details.

Next, I used Stryd a bit, which connects to their Stryd running power meter footpod.  This app was just released, and is a good option if you’re more geeky endurance focused and want to get into running power but don’t have a Garmin or Suunto watch to pair to it to do so meaningfully.  The app is free, and is loaded as part their regular phone app.  Of course, you need their footpod, which is pretty pricey.

AppleWatchSeries3-StrydApp AppleWatchSeries3-StrydRun

If you’re looking to replace a portion of the mapping/navigation features of a Garmin or Suunto watch, check out the WorkOutDoors app.  It has things like importing GPX routes to navigate with, as well as caching of maps offline so you don’t need a phone or cellular service.  That’s actually really impressive.  Heck, your $600 Garmin Fenix 5 (non-5X) can’t do that level of mapping/caching.  And even the 5X doesn’t allow you to cache different map types like this beyond what’s on the unit already for your region.  It’s neat.

2017-11-07 12.30.24 2017-11-07 12.23.52 2017-11-07 12.21.27

And here it is on the watch:

Note there’s other fitness apps I use from time to time like iSmoothRun and RunMeter/CycleMeter, though I didn’t use them as much this go around.

(Note: I don’t have any paid/whatever affiliation with any of the above apps. I paid my two bucks or what-not for all of them…and plenty more.)

Finally, a brief word on cellular capabilities.  I bought the cellular edition, largely in thinking that I might end up using those capabilities, primarily in running.  But I found that over time I didn’t actually use them much.  On the cycling front, I always have my phone in my back pocket anyway.  And in running, well, I didn’t much care what was going on in the outside world.  That said, most of my runs the last month or so have been shorter (under 90 minutes), and thus the need to get ahold of me in that time period is less.  Whereas if I was training for a marathon right now with 2-2.5hr long runs, then it would probably be handy to be more reachable (especially with a wife due any hour now).

AppleWatch-Series3-Cellular

I will note that getting the cellular pieces set up on launch day/weekend was kinda messy, and required multiple attempts with ATT (my provider).  But once set up it worked well enough in day to day scenarios.  However, it broke again when I went to Canada (so I fixed it again), and then it broke again when I went overseas to France (and once again, I had to attempt to fix it).  All of which is mostly understandable, but at the same time the ATT agents don’t seem to know how to deal with the international pieces very well for the watch, even when you call the international services support desk.

And when it comes to functionality, certainly there are elements like Apple Music streaming that was just turned on last week, but for most other apps it doesn’t matter…yet.  Especially fitness apps.  Perhaps down the road we’ll see companies like Strava get around to adding truly live segments to their app, but for now, the cellular pieces aren’t leveraged much in the fitness realm.

Plus, you can find tons of other reviews out there about music, Siri, cellular, Apple Pay, text messaging, and so on.  As I said at the beginning, I’m all about the sports here!  Plus, I’ve covered things like Apple Pay and others in past posts.

Product Comparison:

I’ve added in the Apple Watch Series 3 into the product comparison database.  This allows you to compare it against other fitness/sport watches that I’ve reviewed.  Not for watches like the Samsung Gear Sport, I haven’t quite put it in the database, likely this week.  The good news is that you can make your own comparison here if you want against any watch in the database, which is pretty massive.

For the purposes of below I’ve compared it against the Fitbit Ionic and the Garmin Vivoactive 3, which are the ones most people will be comparing it against (plus the Samsung Gear Sport once I add it in).  Also note, with a unit like the Apple Watch specifically, there are many cases below where “with 3rd party apps” can be used.  The same is largely true of Garmin, and eventually Fitbit.  I’ve tried to thread the needle of apps that I roughly know exist where I’ve listed that.  But it’s not a perfection in terms of knowing every app on earth.  Ultimately, I don’t think any consumer does (or should).

Function/FeatureApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated November 16th, 2017 @ 9:55 amNew Window
Price$329/$399 (cellular)$299$299
Product Announcement DateSept 12th, 2017Aug 28th, 2017Aug 31st, 2017
Actual Availability/Shipping DateSept 22nd, 2017Oct 1st, 2017September 2017
GPS Recording FunctionalityYesYesYes
Data TransferBluetooth SmartBluetooth SmartUSB, BLUETOOTH SMART
Waterproofing50m50m50 meters
Battery Life (GPS)5hrs GPS on time (24-48hrs standby)6 hoursUp to 13 hours GPS
Recording IntervalVaries1-second1s or Smart Recording
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYes (but seems questionable)YesYes
Quick Satellite ReceptionNot generallyGreatGreat
AlertsVibration/Audio/VisualVisual/VibrateVibrate/Visual
Backlight GreatnessGreatGreat
Ability to download custom apps to unit/deviceYesYesYes
Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)YesYesYes
Can control phone musicYesYesYes
Has music storage and playbackYesYesNo
ConnectivityApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Bluetooth Legacy (pre-4.0) to PhoneNoNoNo
Bluetooth Smart (4.0+) to Phone UploadingYesYesYes
Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)YesYesYes
Live Tracking (streaming location to website)With 3rd party appsNoYes
Group trackingNoNoNo
Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)YesNoNo
Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)Yes (with cellular version)NoNo
CyclingApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for cyclingYesYesYes
Power Meter CapableNoNoWith some Connect IQ apps
Speed/Cadence Sensor CapableNoNoYes
Strava segments live on deviceNoNoNo
Crash detectionNoNoNo
RunningApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for runningYesYesYes
Footpod Capable (For treadmills)With 3rd party appsNo (but has treadmill functionality)Yes
Running Dynamics (vertical oscillation, ground contact time, etc...)NoNoNo
VO2Max EstimationYesYes via appYes
Race PredictorNoNoNo
Recovery AdvisorNoNoNo
Run/Walk ModeWith 3rd party appsNoYes
SwimmingApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for swimmingYesYesYes
Openwater swimming modeYEsNoNo
Lap/Indoor Distance TrackingYesYesYes
Record HR underwaterYesNoNo
Openwater Metrics (Stroke/etc.)Basic stroke type onlyYesNo
Indoor Metrics (Stroke/etc.)Basic stroke type onlyYesYes
Indoor Drill ModeNoNoNo
Indoor auto-pause featureYesNoNo
Change pool sizeYesYesYes
Indoor Min/Max Pool Lengths1y/m to 1,500y/m+10m/y-100m/y17M/18Y TO 150Y/M
Ability to customize data fieldsVery limitedYesYes
Can change yards to metersYesYesYes
Captures per length data - indoorsYesYes
Indoor AlertsYes (goals)Yes (distance)Yes
TriathlonApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Designed for triathlonNot reallyNoNo
Multisport modeYesNoNo
WorkoutsApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Create/Follow custom workoutsWith 3rd party appsNo (Premium Coached only)Yes
On-unit interval FeatureWith 3rd party appsNoSorta (2 preloaded ones, but no customization)
Training Calendar FunctionalityWith 3rd party appsNoYes
FunctionsApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Auto Start/StopYesYesYes
Virtual Partner FeatureNoNoNo
Virtual Racer FeatureNoNoNo
Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)NoNoYes
Day to day watch abilityYesYesYes
Hunting/Fishing/Ocean DataNoNoNo
Tidal Tables (Tide Information)NoNoNo
Jumpmaster mode (Parachuting)NoNoNo
GeocachingNoNoNo
Weather Display (live data)YesYesYes
NavigateApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)With 3rd party appsNoNo (but some 3rd party apps can)
Markers/Waypoint DirectionWith 3rd party appsNoYes (to pre-saved spots)
Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)With 3rd party appsNoNo
Back to startWith 3rd party appsNoYEs
Impromptu Round Trip Route CreationWith 3rd party appsNoNo
Download courses/routes from phone to unitWith 3rd party appsNoNO
SensorsApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Altimeter TypeBarometricBarometricBarometric
Compass TypeN/AN/AMagnetic
Optical Heart Rate Sensor internallyYesYesYes
Heart Rate Strap CompatibleYesNoYes
ANT+ Heart Rate Strap CapableNoNoYEs
ANT+ Speed/Cadence CapablenoNoYes
ANT+ Footpod CapableNoNoYes
ANT+ Power Meter CapableNoNoNo
ANT+ Weight Scale CapableNoNoNo
ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym)NoNoNo
ANT+ Lighting ControlNoNoYes
ANT+ Bike Radar IntegrationNoNoNo
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)NoNoNo
ANT+ Remote ControlNoNoNo (Yes for VIRB camera control)
ANT+ eBike CompatibilityNoNoNo
ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX)NoNono
ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)NoNoNo
Shimano Di2 ShiftingNoNoNo
Bluetooth Smart HR Strap CapableYesNoYEs
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence CapableNoNoYes
Bluetooth Smart Footpod CapableNoNoYes
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter CapableNoNoNo
Temp Recording (internal sensor)NoNoNo
Temp Recording (external sensor)NoNoYes
Compatible with Firstbeat HR toolsNoN/A-
SoftwareApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
PC ApplicationNonePC/MacGarmin Express
Web ApplicationNoneYesGarmin Connect
Phone AppiOS onlyiOS/Android/WindowsiOS/Android/Windows
Ability to Export SettingsNoNoNo
PurchaseApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Amazon LinkLinkLinkLink
Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programN/ALinkLink
Clever Training - Save a bunch with Clever Training VIP programN/ALink
DCRainmakerApple Watch Series 3Fitbit IonicGarmin Vivoactive 3
Review LinkLinkLink

Again, remember you can make your own comparison charts here using the product comparison tool/database.

Summary:

AppleWatchSeries3-Wrap-Up

In many ways the most important new features of the Apple Watch Series 3 aren’t at all new hardware.  Sure, cellular connectivity and its red dot gets all the attention, but I haven’t seen it be a huge deal for my day to day workouts.  Instead, it’s actually some of the new watchOS 4 items that are more interesting here, both the user-focused features like the heart rate charts and alerts, but also some of the developer focused features like finally being able to export/access swimming workout data (as an example).  All of these features combined make the Apple Watch (regardless of series) much more compelling than in the past, especially for more casual fitness and sport users.

The main strength of the Apple Watch as a fitness device is the app ecosystem.  But it’s also its main weakness.  Apple itself has made relatively small enhancements to the native fitness features specifically, year over year, compared to any of the big sport watch makers.  Instead, they rely on 3rd party apps to fill in those gaps and provide a more on-par experience to their hardware competitors.  And in many ways, that works out.  Sure, you’ll pay more for apps to get those features, but not more than a few visits to Starbucks would cost ya.  However, none of those apps boil the ocean in one fell swoop, in that no single app does it all.  So you end up with a motley collection of apps to equal what you might find on a similar product elsewhere.  In some cases the app might do it far better, whereas in other cases it might fall short and leave you with a fragmented experience.  It’s a mixed bag.

As such, it’s tough to recommend the Apple Watch 3 to compete in the endurance sport realm, partially because of aspects like usability in harder environmental conditions, and partially because for someone like a triathlete or endurance runner in the mountains you end up with a slew of apps to try and make it work, knowing that ultimately it doesn’t quite work as cleanly as other options.  Or you end up having to do a bunch of steps mid-race and still don’t capture things like transitions properly (or the start/ends of each sport). Or that the display makes it tricky to see while riding on a bike in a competitive situation because of the always-off nature, or while actively swimming.

Yet at the same time, for less complicated tasks like running a 5K/10K or even a marathon – it will fit the bill perfectly fine for most people.  And when you’re not doing those activities it continues to be the best all around smartwatch on the market.  No other device comes close to the level of polish that the Apple Watch exhibits.

And that’s what this is ultimately about – deciding what you value most.  If you’re looking for mostly an all-day watch that you use for less technically demanding sports, the Apple Watch 3 is an awesome bet.  Whereas if you’re the inverse of that, you may want to look elsewhere.

With that – thanks for reading!

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156 Comments

  1. M

    Do you know if there are any decent workout apps for it with a Strava Beacon type live tracking function that works when the phone isn’t paired?

    • I don’t know of one yet (though I suspect there is something out there). I’m hoping we see Strava do it, but I’m not sure if they’re interested there.

    • “Add a Polar H10. Add STRYD. Suddenly you’ve got accurate HR and accurate PACE for those ‘special runs’. They should also save the battery a bit and STRYD relegates the GPS INaccuracy of the watch down to just providing a pretty post-run track.”

      Probably AW3+H10+STRYD is a similar price to a high-end Garmin + HRM-TRI + Garmin footpod. Most people would think the Apple is prettier.

      I’ll still use the 935+HRM-TRI+STRYD myself but….

      Penny for your thoughts on that?

    • I was actually reasonably impressed with the Stryd app on Apple Watch, for a first attempt especially. Even more impressed when I noticed they actually used .FIT developer fields under the covers after I loaded it into the DCR Analyzer.

      Still, I’d agree with you that I’d go with FR935+Stryd (or whomever for power) over the Apple Watch app, mainly because I want things like better control of laps and a boatload more data options.

    • It’s 5 hours in sport mode with GPS and optical. I haven’t done any 5 hour workouts with it lately I don’t think.

      As for daily usage, I’m getting very consistently about 36 hours. I can wake up with it fully charged, on a Monday, and it’ll last me till just after dinner on Tuesday, with usually one indoor workout and one GPS workout of an hour each. But I can’t quite make it to bed on Tuesday night.

    • I’ve been trying various tests for battery life for workouts over the last couple of weeks – the best I have achieved for outdoor use is 15% loss per hour on an outdoor cycle, with a Bluetooth HR strap (Tickr X) and cellular turned off – it was a 3hr 9m cycle (link to strava.com) and I finished with 52% left, so around 6hr 40m in total if I’d carried on – or 100miles on a good day :)

      Treadmills and indoor cycling are in 14/15+hr zone – so unlikely you’ll ever get there and so not a concern.

      The worst was running with built-in HR and streaming Beats 1 over AirPods. That was killing the battery at around 70% an hour! So you are looking at less than 90mins with that combo – though to be honest I couldn’t listen to Beats 1 for that length of time, though other music is available I understand :)

      Great review as normal Ray – and many thanks to the link to my blog for the RunGap review :)

      I’ll be posting more detailed findings on battery life on the blog soon for those that are interested.

      Cheers

      Ian

    • Christian Kölner

      A bit short for many people who attempt to run a marathon for the first time.
      Even if you are a 4h marathon runner I think you should charge it, leave it off and turn it on a few minutes before the race.

    • Mike

      I’ve run my Series 2 to low-power mode (clock only) a several times. GPS + OHR is typically 4:00-4:30. Add BT music (non-streaming) and it’s down to 3:30. Needless to say, I use a different watch (Spark) for full marathons.

    • Stephen Thomas

      re: battery life. No problem with a 7-hour century so long as you carry your iPhone along (so the watch can use the phone’s GPS) and use an external HRM (so the watch doesn’t use its own optical HR sensor). Here’s a Strava link: link to strava.com, though, as you can see, the Strava activity was recorded on my Wahoo ELMNT. But the watch recorded the whole ride as well.

  2. Bridget

    Hello,
    Thank you for this thorough review. I was told by Apple technical support that the iWatch 3 can be set for interval running (i.e 1 min run, 1 min walk, repeat). Have you found this option on the watch? I’d like to confirm before I actually purchase the watch as this is an important feature for me. I don’t want to have to run multiple apps and drain the battery when I’m on a long run. Thanks!

  3. Nighthawk700

    Is it just my browser, or is the comparison table not there? (not that it matters too much, I’m an Android user…)

  4. Alan

    One other addition to the series 3 is the altimeter so it can track elevation changes and flights of stairs. It shows flights in the activity app now.

  5. Brett

    Thanks for the review, Ray. I liked how you kept it just to the fitness functions. Additional questions on the battery life… how does the AW3 compare to the AW2 in your analysis? Apple beefed up the battery, so am wondering if, outside of LTE usage, the 3 lasts significantly longer than the 2 with GPS/OHR. Also, what are your thoughts on the AW3 GPS only vs. GPS/LTE version in terms of battery life, again assuming not using LTE functions?

    • I find it actually the same as AW2. I think you end up with a case where they’ve increased performance specs which in turn burn more battery, and then at the same time the LTE signal being there (though I very rarely called/used it).

      I think if you have zero plans to use the LTE pieces, then just save the cash. However, I also suspect over time (within a year), we’ll see more interesting app use cases for the LTE options, and I feel like one might regret it if you didn’t have it. Just my guess.

    • Ryan

      an important note is that the LTE version provides 16gb rather than the 8gb that comes with the non-lte version, therefore providing the ability to sync numerous playlists so you don’t have to stream music and burn up extra battery.

  6. Alberto

    I used all this year an Apple Watch 2 but never really ended up using it satisfactorily for neither running, cycling or swimming. I’m also a data nerd and at the end I always had to go running/cycling with my iPhone. The apps simply aren’t there. It’s the best smartwatch for daily life though..

    I bough a couple of weeks ago a Garmin 735xt (wanted the 935 but got an incredible price and got it for half the price the 935) because I’ve started to train more seriously for triathlons and half-marathons, and its painful to see how much better the Garmin is for sports, and how much better the apple watch is for everything else.

    Now to decide if I sell the AW2 and just use the Garmin all day, or keep alternating both during the day…

    • The Real Bob

      Its funny, I had a smart watch and I thought I would use it more. I ended up getting the 935 and realize there only a few smart features I actually want that garmin does well. watch notification of calls and texts are the only smart features I find really useful. Everything else was like “oh, thats cool, then I never use it again.

      I really think most smart watch stuff is way over valued as compared to battery life and durability.

    • Alexis Michael

      Just switched from a pebble time to fenix 5. Missing some of the features of the pebble. But health and sport usage is way better. Had a 310xt for sports before. Would love to see some improvement to the SmartWatch features of the fenix.

    • Matt S

      Agree with this. Had a Series 2 Nike Edition and sold it for a 935. Thought I’d miss the smart watch features and haven’t at all as the Garmin stuff is good enough. The real deal breaker that made me switch was the stupid touchscreen which was useless given the merest suggestion of any liquid. The only thing I miss is no music playback on my Garmin but it has enough other plusses for me to live with that

  7. Marc D.

    Hum I presume you mean accelorometer and not acidometer ( Even if it hasn’t locked onto satellites yet, it’ll use the acidometer for pace and distance)

    Good review! Thanks

  8. Awesome review; I’ve been trying to decide if I should pick one of these up as daily wear plus casual runs, and I think I’ll give it a shot.

    One question if I may: are there any noticeable benefits to getting the “Nike” version that you can’t get with the regular one, such as custom apps? I don’t particularly care about the daily use faces.

    BTW you also have a minor typo; you say, “It’s actually a feature I often heart readers ask for,” which passes spell check and even grammar check in 2017, but probably contains an additional ‘t’.

    Thanks again for your diligent reviews!

    • @Richard I’m sure Ray loves his readers ;-)

    • Matt S

      I had a series 2 Nike and I say don’t bother. The Nike app is a terrible walled garden that is difficult to get your data out of if you want to use Strava (or similar). I sold mine and got a Garmin 935, but if you want an Apple Watch don’t think there’s anything great that you’ll miss by not getting the Nike Edition, equally there’s no real downside of getting the Nike edition, you can ignore the Nike stuff and use it like a regular model

  9. “So you end up with a motley collection of apps to equal what you might find on a similar product elsewhere.”

    Quite a bit of Garmin’s high-end watches’ functionalities are pre-loaded, Garmin-authlored CIQ apps

    Are Garmin’s CIQ apps motley?

    Someone should write an article on how to use the Apple Watch for triathlon. I wonder how it would stack up?

    • RE: Apps

      Not quite sure that’s the same. Garmin doesn’t have a separate app for intervals, then another for navigating, and another for mapping, and another for golf, and another for using the lap function, and then another for structured workouts, and so on. All of which require separate 3rd party apps on Apple.

      Garmin does have some pre-loaded apps, but it’s basically Strava Live Segments, and the Training Peaks workout loader. That’s it I think.

      As for triathlon, Ian did write something up on it (here: link to theapplewatchtriathlete.com). Essentially it can work, assuming you keep within the battery limitations. But you don’t get transition times, and you have to manually select/scroll through sports (no pre-structured formats). With not getting transition times you have to decide where your swim ends (as you exit the water, or as you start the bike but after running a few hundred meters?). Same goes for bike to run. Also, you’re not going to get any cadence/power sensors on the bike.

      That said, it’s all silly things Apple could address.

    • Thanks for the link Ray – yes would be nice if Apple did address these issues and created a Triathlon or Multi-sport Workout type. Not sure it quite fits their objectives though, and will more likely be left to third parties to create Tri apps (I know of at least two developers who are doing that currently).

      Cheers

      Ian

    • the5krunner

      sy meant
      eg intensity minutes, steps (etc) are widgets, sports profiles are apps, navigate is an app etc

    • Sure, technically they are apps/widgets, but they’re also effectively in-box and tired to underlying data sets natively on the device. Meaning, you’re not having to go off and search for them or download them or troubleshoot them.

  10. Surf techman

    Nice review. I have come to most of the same conclusions myself…the biggest being that I cannot edit workouts in apple’s app, which is really frustrating for someone that runs/bikes a lot at the gym.

    One note – the AW3 does detect VO2 Max. You have to go into the health app->Activity and it will show it. It seem mostly on par with Garmin too from my testing. And that’s another weird thing, they have data is apply health that wasn’t included in their activity app for the workout. Very strange software.

  11. Jim Fiorato

    How did you get Connect to give you Move credit on Apple’s Activity? I’ve been trying to get it to do that for months but to no avail… =

    • John

      Doesn’t seem to work that way… I think activity for the activity ring has to happen while wearing the AW

    • Jim Fiorato

      See his screenshot above though. It clearly shows Garmin Connect data in his Move credit. link to dcrainmaker.com

    • John

      He most likely was wearing the AW at the same time he was recording the connect activity. This is what it looks like when only wearing the Garmin.

    • John

      This is what I see when wearing both watches.

    • Jim Fiorato

      Strange though that he gets the gray “third-party” lines on the Move chart though. That suggests the data is coming from Connect. Hopefully he chimes in. I prefer to let Ray wear more than one watch on his workouts, so I only have to wear one. :)

    • Brian

      I have Connect and Strava linked and let Strava push the data to Apple Health. It does then get counted towards Move goals. I then banned Connect from writing any data Apple Health – they don’t seem to get it.

    • Yeah, I would have had a Garmin watch or three present on every run with the Apple Watch, so that’s where that’s coming from.

    • Jim Fiorato

      Right, but when I run with a Garmin watch, and no Apple watch, I don’t get any move credit once Connect sync’s with Apple Activity. Just workout credit. Based on your screenshot, it looks like Garmin is writing to your Move credit.

      You don’t have to have the Apple Watch on during that workout to get Connect to give you Move credit, right?

    • Jim Fiorato

      @John – That’s interesting… So do you have to start a workout on both watches, or do you just have to be wearing the Apple Watch?

    • john

      I was just wearing the AW, no workout… just there for the move credit and the music. I have started using ismoothrun.. it exports to many sites such as Garmin, Strava, and Apple Health. Structured workouts are a bit more arduous than Garmin, but it’s also nice to run with only one watch, no phone (Apple Pay on watch if I need a snack or a drink). Still have an old 220 laying around, but I’m more of a 5 day a week 20 ish mpw and some strength training. I tried using a 935 as a run and all day watch, but I missed the AW during the day more than I missed the running metrics from the 935 in the end.

    • Bsquared

      @Jim I’ve got an original Apple Watch. Earlier this year I rode a century and forgot to put watch on before rushing out the door for the 1.5 hour drive to ride start in Napa. Recorded ride with my Edge 520 bike computer, which then syncs to Strava. In turn, Strava writes to Apple Health. Upon returning home after 7 or 8pm, put on my Apple Watch and I had received full Move/Exercise/Stand credit (3 rings filled on watch and in Health/Activity apps).

      One thing to note, in Health app I’ve set the priority for which data source “wins.” I don’t track bike rides with Apple Watch, so in Health I clicked on Active Energy tile, then Data Sources & Access, then Edit, and under DATA SOURCES I moved Strava ahead of my watch. That way Strava’s calorie burn (from power meter via Garmin Connect) is used even though the watch is on my wrist for most rides (on wrist, but not tracking ride).

      Garmin Connect will not write anything to Health unless you have a Garmin activity tracker. I don’t have a Garmin wearable so Strava is the only way for me to update 3 rings. It works great, with that one tweak to giving Strava higher priority versus watch on Active Energy tile.

      Hope that helps.

    • Lance Finch

      I take off my Apple Watch on put on my Garmin 920xt when I run. When I get back Garmin uploads the run to Strava. If I then open the Strava app on my iPhone and look at the run for a few seconds, and then open the Apple Activity app (the 3 rings app) on the iPhone the run will appear under both my Move and Exercise fields, it will also give me credit for standing during the workout. Then when I put the Apple Watch back on the rings update and fill up.

      This also seems to work for the Garmin Connect app as well, I just prefer Strava. The trick is to make sure you open the Strava/Garmin app first and look at the run, then open the activity app on the iPhone.

      You also might need to go into the Apple Health app>active energy>Data sources & Access and make sure Strava or Garmin as there and at the top of the list.

      This seems to give me credit for the run even if I wasn’t wearing the Apple Watch. However it wont give me credit for “floors climbed” even though the 920xt is tracking elevation data.

      Hope that helps.

  12. Chris

    Ray – is there a way to get run or workout data from AppleWatch into Garmin Connect?

    • surf techman

      You can you just need to use 3rd party apps. The stats imported will vary.

    • Bsquared

      I recently used HealthFit to export .FIT file from an Apple Watch tracked walk, and then imported in Garmin Connect and TrainingPeaks. Worked fine.

    • Kiri Self

      Does this work automatically? What I want to know is can I ditch my vivosmart HR and just wear my Apple Watch, and everything will just seamlessly load into Garmin? (HR, Runs, Sleep, etc.) I’m a bit confused!

  13. Mike

    Can the Apple Watch broadcast heart rate (through Bluetooth Smart or other means) to a cycling computer? I haven’t seen any confirmation that it can so I’m assuming the answer is no.

    Thanks,
    Guillermo

  14. Dave

    “achievement badges which are non-motivating icons that have the same amount of excitement as a fake 99 cent police offers badge for Halloween.” I agree.

    The Apple Watch is great, but those badges, and congratulating me for exercising 30 minutes or getting off the lounge, are just ridiculous.

    I want to see Siri turn nasty and start calling me a turbbo; or making sarcastic remarks if I open the fridge- that would BE motivating.

  15. Lance Finch

    I tired using the Apple Watch 3 for a few weeks after it came out but I couldn’t get the HR to work reliably. In almost every run it would get cadenced locked for the majority of the run. I tried wearing it tighter, looser, higher on my wrist, it didn’t seem to matter it always got cadenced locked. I could get a bluetooth HR strap but honestly it was just easier to go back to my trusty Garmin 920 XT.

    However for the other 22-23 hours of the day when I am not running I adore the Apple Watch!

  16. Pedro Ibarra

    Thanks for the wonderful review.

    What I’m looking for in this new release of the watch is being able to go for a run or ride and not have to take my phone -iPhone 8 plus – which is bulky. This kind of watch will never replace something like my FR935 but it will make activities easier to do without having to worry about being disconnected while doing them.

  17. Kevin C Tofel

    FWIW, the RunKeeper app for AW does have a GPS signal meter on its main screen, which is super useful IMO. Always good to know if you have a decent signal before starting an activity. Why Apple doesn’t have one for its native app is beyond me.

    • Robert

      I think the target audience does not really care if the GPS only kicks in a few minutes into the run, When you don’t download your data and analyze it, you don’t care so much if it’s not so accurate… and you have nothing to compare it to. Just think of it – activities starts on a 3-second countdown, how does that fit with, say, running a 5k race?

    • Marcel

      You mean there is a countdown after pressing start? That would make it impossible to start an activity when crossing the starting line.That’s a bit odd, considering the fact they are making a fuss over the sports features. How do you ‘seduce’ runners to choose the apple watch if your gps doesn’t start on time, your race isn’t recorded on time, and your heart rate only starts recording after the AW has had it’s breakfast, coffee and read the newspaper? As Ray says – if they are marketing this as, in part, a sports watch, this is unacceptable.
      That said, all these issues are easy to fix with a software update. Also meaning that every day without a fix, is a day when Apple confirms this is really NOT a watch meant for sports.

    • While there are lots of ‘issues’ with using the Apple Watch in a competitive situation, I’m not sure I’d rank the 3-second timer all that high up there. It’s three seconds, most of us can predict crossing the line in three seconds. And more importantly, all of us know that the only time that really matters is the race clock, which is invariably off from our watches by 1-2 seconds anyway.

  18. Tom Murrell

    Any suggestion for a running app that shows Distance, Total Time and current Lap Time like the Garmin FR220? I find the display of “current pace” to be of little use and pretty much worthless in predicting a mile/kilo split if you are running on varied terrain.

    Thanks for the review.

    Tom

    • I’m pretty sure iSmoothRun will do this.

      Also, if you use the Workout app when running you can double-tap the screen to record a “segment” this will give you the pace for the previous segment immediately, and will show up in the summary after the run too. Not perfect, but of some use :)

  19. richard

    subscribing to the comments….

  20. Kyle Polansky

    How accurate have you found the Apple Watch HR to be while swimming? Curious considering that many other watches disable HR while swimming.

    • Brent Kendall

      great question as I didn’t see anything about it in this review. I know in previous reviews it was mentioned and I looked at other reviews of people who swam with it and had pretty good results. So would be be interested in Ray’s thoughts.

    • I think swimming HR and stats are one of the strongest features of Apple Watch. You can just start it and forget it, and then get your stats afterwards automagically. There are a couple of posts on my blog about it if you are interested. HR in the pool has worked great for me (note I use a Sports Loop which I suspect could help because of a tighter fit compared to other bands, though I haven’t tested it)

      I’m currently testing MySwimPro for structured workouts which though expensive, looks pretty good too :)

      Cheers

      Ian

    • I have the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS, and so far I’m happy with how it functions in swim workouts. This is the first time I’ve been able to track HR in the water, but the data looks accurate. I use the regular sports band that comes with most Apple Watch models, and wear it somewhat snuggly.

      Here’s the data from a recent swim, directly imported to SportTracks from the HeathFit app:
      link to sporttracks.mobi

      You can see how it didn’t record HR data on the first lap, but it picked it up after that. I love that it has stroke detection, SWOLF, stroke distance, stroke rate, etc. Auto-pause works well, too. The screen does remain dark while you’re swimming, but I only look at it at the wall during breaks. It would be better if the screen remained active the entire time, but this is universally true for every function of Apple Watch.

  21. Stephen Thomas

    Re: HR during swimming is hit or miss for me. Sometimes works great; sometimes the Activity app (on the phone) reports “not enough data”

    Ray, any thoughts on the VO2max estimate and/or HRV data the watch records in the Health app? For me the VO2max estimate seems consistent with other sources. I’m not sure what to make of the HRV data since it’s in milliseconds

    • It shows me as 54.2, and has been reasonably consistent day to day. The FR935 has me at 55 right now.

      I haven’t done any running-specific workouts lately though that’d fall into the realm of legit VO2Max pressing workouts where I’d get better numbers. The last time I measured it in a lab was five years ago at 63.6 (link to dcrainmaker.com).

      I could take a test again, maybe, in the event I feel like throwing up again. But I think there are far less painful ways of doing that. ;)

  22. Long Run Nick

    Thanks Ray, nice job as usual. I have had my AW2 Nike Edition about a year. My big complaint is the inaccurate GPS mileage distance. On routes measured by numerous running and bike devices the AW2 reflects .05 mile more on a 5 mile run and usually over 1 mile on a 10 run which of course changes the accurate pace. I really like the audio advising me of each mile, with pace- even though it is not “accurate”as far as my other GPS devices, mostly Garmin. I have used the FR235 since mid November, 2015 and picked up a Vivo Active 3,which I like a lot.
    Mostly use the AW as a smart watch and stick to Garmin for my runs.
    Closing in on 88,000 miles run over the last 41 1/2 years, you would think I would know exact miles, HR and pace without a watch:) Nick

    .

    • Long Run Nick

      Rereading my post, instead of .05 it should have been 1/2 a mile longer at the 5 mile mark and over 1mile at the 10 mile mark. My 3rd grade teacher would be pleased I corrected that. Nick

  23. Ryan

    RM:

    Thanks for the review. Bought the Apple Watch 3 stainless steel with cellular Sunday.

    Today was Day 1 exercising with the AW3C. To start, I’ve never returned from a run so confused as to what happened. I’ll preface with I know you’re not Apple support but the short run I went on was maddening.

    The goal was to track a normal run and see how heart rate and gps tracked during and post-jog . Given your comment on the delays of heart rate while you jogged through Paris , I stood outside of my house for 3 minutes after turning my phone completely off and leaving it inside. Figured that might beat the glitches which appears to work.

    Long story short, I think my first mistake was trying to start two apps, the “outdoor run” feature in Apple’s workout interface and a Strava Run. The Strava Run started as “cycling” since I hit start before reviewing and off I went only to stop after 100 yards and reset the Strava app as a run. Stopping the Strava app made the Apple workout start over, which then messed up the workout and probably led to my other issues.

    Running both apps at the same time, the watch kept resetting to the Strava settings screen showing me no data. I Couldn’t track how far I had gone mid-run as a result, but the workout app did note I was going extraordinarily slow, which makes sense for my skillset.

    When I returned home, the Health app saw several entries for exercise due to the multi app effort and my rings went around a couple times. Excellent!

    In the end, Strava was deadly accurate as I ran through some plants on the way (I ran up a coastal foothill Trail) and it noticed those diversions so I was pleased with the gps…

    However the confusion I likely caused my watch trying to run two apps made my watch ineffective mid-jog which finally leads to my question, when you went running or did an activity, what apps do you hit start on and/or which would you recommend on the Apple Watch for optimal sports tracking? My goal is leaving my phone at home always and I’ll only bike, run, and swim most likely.

    PS I downloaded the workoutdoors app you mentioned above and love that I now have a smaller Garmin fenix 5x for hiking made my Apple. Great $3 spent… hopefully they’re giving you equity in the company for that stellar marketing. :)

    Thank you, Ryan.

    I also downloaded the

    • I’m the developer of WorkOutDoors, so I’m glad to hear that you like the app. I really appreciated Ray mentioning it in his review, but unfortunately any equity in the company would not be worth the paperwork it took to transfer it!

      If you have any questions or want any new features added then please let me know.

    • Another big thumbs up for WorkOutdoors. I’ve used it for running, hiking, and kayaking, and it is flawless. I’m puzzled by the issue with delayed GPS connection on the AW3, and the lack of a connection icon. With WorkOutdoors, the GPS map is displayed almost instantly, with a bar icon showing the strength of connection. I have used it on the water and up in the mountains without a GPS delay. This app made me retire my TomTom Cardio 3 (a watch that I love, but it now duplicates what I have with the AW3 and WorkOutdoors).

      Mark

  24. Tom

    Thanks for the review. I’ve used AW3 for about 3 weeks and am a semi-serious runner. I found the apps on AW to be very poor for running. The GPS and HR seem okay but the screen setup on Workout, Strava, and Nike Run Club are not at all configurable. For example Nike displays pace in like 6 point font that’s very hard to read while running, particularly in a race or fast run, and there is no way to change the view. Workout does a poor job with screen real estate — it displays a useless animated icon that takes up a third of the screen and can’t be turned off. This means that the data fields are much smaller than they should be — hard to read. And the lack of a one button start/pause is a big drawback for me. I love this watch for office use but it is not a good choice for athletes, in my opinion.

    What app did you settle on for running?

    Thanks again for the review and the awesome website!!

    • In my case, I primarily used the default Running app. There are better apps for screen customization (some of them I mentioned in the app section). Check out iSmoothRun and RunMeter.

    • Robert

      I ran a half 2 weeks ago, in miserable conditions – rainy and cold. At somewhere around km 16, I passed this lady who asked me about where we were time-wise, pace-wise – since her watch GPS watch had let her go, ending the recording around km 10 when she tried to wipe the rain from it. Guess which watch she had?
      Conclusions: a) touch-screens are not a good idea for running, unless you only run in dry conditions; b) I don’t know how you can run without solid start/stop and lap buttons; and c) yes, the AW makes an awfully good all-day watch – but an awfully bad running watch as well.

    • BobV

      I run in the rain all of the time with my Apple Watch and never have any issues.

      I have an Apple Watch 3 now, but had the earlier versions also. The native Workout app does use physical buttons to pause the run, you push the crown and rectangle button together to pause.

      Taken in totality, it is probably the best running watch on the market right now. What other watch allows you to stream music, have LTE connectivity in case of an emergency, track your runs using GPS along with VO2 Max estimation, provide accurate HR recovery data after the run, and then function exceptionally as a day to day watch.

      It is far from an “awfully bad running watch”.

    • BobV

      Forgot to mention that you can also lock the touch screen during a run, so there would be no chance it would be affected by rain (even though it has never been an issue for me and I never lock it).

    • surfer techman

      Just tried out runmeter…apparently it requires your phone to work so you cant use it with the LTE Watch. You actually would need to run with your phone and control from the watch.

    • Pam Hill

      Tom, you can use the scroll wheel to choose from a few different faces with Nike run app. You can choose the one with the pace larger. I would prefer a lot more customization, like why take up space for the time of day?? But, at least it’s something. I didn’t realize it at first, so I thought maybe you didn’t either.

  25. Nic Zuraw

    Oh but so ugly

  26. John

    Hi Ray. Thanks for the review. If you want to generally track something like Tennis, how does that work? In the native sports profiles, do you choose “Other” and after the exercise, you can rename it to Tennis? Thanks.

    • Willem

      I think Ray overlooked this, but there ís in fact a native activity profile for tennis as well a whole host of other sports. The “Other” option is not a generic profile, but instead a submenu with a huge list of other sports and one of those is tennis.

    • John

      Thanks for the clarification. Do we know if they programmed those profiles, or is it just sort of one calibration for all of them? Do I assume correctly that you can choose those other profiles a minute or so after you start the ‘other’ profile[I don’t have the watch]?

    • Willem

      Hi John, I also don’t have the watch, but I was going of this video where you see it discussed: link to youtu.be
      I think you are correct in that it is just a generic calibration without any specific stats: link to support.apple.com

    • John

      Thanks for the links, Willem. It does appear to be a generic calibration, which is not a deal breaker but something to note. The apple link you provide seems to refer to that: “At the end of an Other workout, you’ll get the option to name your workout.”

  27. Evan

    Yes, would be interested to see how the vo2 max /HRV statistics compare in accuracy with a ‘firstbeat’ device, such as Garmin’s etc..

    • Surfer Techman

      Mine are 2 points off vs a Garmin Watch. However, its not working when I use 3rd party apps. It requires you to use Apples workout app.

  28. Nick Y

    Thanks for the review. What about altimeter accuracy?

    Did you reach out to Apple about displaying a GPS/HR lock symbol prior to initiating an activity by any chance?
    This would seem to be a pretty easy thing to implement!

    • I didn’t dive too much into altimeter accuracy, though each of the data sets linked does include elevation data charts on them.

      I have been in discussions with Apple PR/Engineering on the HR/GPS lock icon issues, but they haven’t come back with a final answer yet. I suspect the iPhone X release at roughly the same time may be delaying things a bit in getting back to me.

  29. Tim_RPM

    To me, this has all the drawbacks of a sports watch (really ugly and plastic-looking) with less-than-stellar sports features. It falls between two houses.

    • Nick

      Ugly and plastic looking? I beg to differ. I have the Space black milanese loop version of it and I have to say that it is a really nice looking watch. The watch I normally wear to work (Omega Speedmaster Professional) is seeing quite a bit less action lately.

      As for sports use- it depends on what you need the watch for. I recently sold my Fenix 5X and haven’t looked back. Using the AW3 with the Stryd app and an external heart rate sensor has been a revelation. Not to mention that I can finally listen to music on the run without my phone.

      To each their own!

    • I agree with Nick – if you buy various bands, it looks pretty crisp. I paid for the cheapest variant possible, since that’s what people are most likely doing for sport. But Apple (and 3rd parties) have some really stunning bands if you pay just a bit more.

    • Robert

      At 259 CAD, it better look good… Ouch.

    • Nick

      Agreed. Weirdly sold my Garmin 5X and replaced it with an AW3. Weirdly also enjoy my Speedie Pro. The music on the runs without a phone and the debulking of the wrist are two reasons I prefer the AW3 to the 5X. Great review as usual DCR.

  30. Esper

    Thanks for the detailed review, How would this and the Fitbit Ionic compare to the Tom Tom Adventurer Cardio and Music Watch that I am looking at?

    • The TomTom lacks apps, so that’s the first biggie. On the flip side, I’d argue the TomTom has a better health/fitness user interface on the phone/website than Apple does (but not better than Fitbit does).

      The Adventurer also has built-in navigation, but I’d argue 90% of that can be achieved through the couple dollar app I linked to above, and of course, with that app you’d get actual maps as opposed to breadcrumbs.

      All have music, but with Apple and Fitbit you’ve got streaming options too.

  31. Tim R

    Thanks for the review. Do 3rd party apps on the watch like Strava, Runtastic, Runkeeper or Nike+ experience the same delay problems as the native workout app? Or do they offer a GPS/heart rate lock indicator?

    • No, they don’t have that issue. Largely because all of them have icons of some sort to indicate lock/signal.

      It’s funny, because the lack of icons makes it exponentially worse. It’s so so so so much more difficult for both GPS and HR to lock once you start moving/running/cycling. What might have taken another 3-5 seconds standing still, now takes 3-5 minutes on the move.

  32. Mark Greaves

    What’s the difference between the workout doors app and view ranger? Can anyone help?

    Thanks

  33. Willem

    Hi Ray, you had a pretty scathing video of the AW2’s poor instant pace detection a while back (the video was “Apple Watch 2: Run Pacing is Dismal”). Did the new version of watchOS resolve that issue?

    • I did a few tests (though no video), and things seemed to respond much better. I vaguely remember someone saying around May or June last year Apple made a change that improved it.

  34. Moritz

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for the great review! Quick question: Are you going to continue wearing the Apple Watch on a daily basis? Are you going to continue using it for your workouts? Just would be very interested in your personal preference.

    • Not sure. I am wearing it today, almost exclusively because I changed yesterday my watch face to automatically pull a random photo from my ‘favorites’ photo album each time I raise my wrist. And now I’m kinda enjoying all these random favorited photos from over the last few years.

      But I suspect not long term, mostly because I usually forget to charge it, and then I never put it back on again.

  35. TK

    Is there a difference in heart rate accuracy when using HIIT workout vs. regular running workout ?
    Does the watch use different heart rate algorithms when using the HIIT exercise ?

    I read many articles where they mention “new motion and heart rate algorithms for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts” with watchOS 4. Or does that apply also for the rest of the workouts.

  36. BLD

    Great review as always

    Re swimming just to note that it has indoor autopause / automatic set recognition – you have it as a “No” in the product comparison table.

    It works well (on my wife’s AW3) and avoids having to button press when you are doing sets (as opposed to Garmin which still hasn’t implementated this feature).

  37. i’m pretty sure apple clearly stated that the LTE model of the watch only work in the original country of purchase. since your watch was “ATT” i assume it came from the USA and there should be 0 expectation that it will work anywhere else but in the USA, no matter how many times you call ATT or apple for that matter.

    • It actually doesn’t say that anywhere on Apple’s main sales page, or at the Apple store. Given that every other wearable out there can actually roam, there is quite the expectation that it should work. Anything else is like trying to say Apple made the first smartphone (they didn’t).

      None of which matters, because you can indeed call ATT and get them to add international roaming to the watch. And indeed, it’ll work in Canada too. The challenge is that Apple decided to have split the SKU into three pieces: Americas, Europe, Asia. With differing bands for each.

    • Phil Han

      Hey Rey

      Great review. Was looking out for this one.

      I too was surprised by your comments about getting ATT to sort things out when in Canada and France. I appreciate LTE calling when roaming isn’t really the focus of your review, but as someone who travels and trains for marathons, the safety aspect of having a phone in a sports watch has some appeal.

    • it doesn’t really work because the watch itself doesn’t not have a removable sim, so it’s tied to your original sim from your phone, which is what you link to when you do the original setup in your original country.

      if you’re traveling and put a new sim in your phone it won’t work with your phone anymore.

      i’m not sure they need to keep 3 skus, i think it’s just all the same thing and the internal sim card just links up to a single account at a time in the country of purchase/activation.

  38. Mike S.

    I bought the last generation AW because I found my Garmin 235 difficult to read when displaying notifications and other smart watch things. The screen on the AW is beautiful and very easy to read, but otherwise kind of boring. I have recently been using the swim activity and like that it incorporates my runs through Strava.

    If Garmin could take the AW screen that was always on and get decent battery life they would have a home run. Unfortunately I don’t think that is possible.

    I think I will pick up a 935 or 735XT during the upcoming November sales. Either one should have an easier to read display and better backlight than the 235. I’d like to have one watch to do everything.

  39. Chris

    I must admit that when traveling around it is just so convenient to go running indoor/outdoor or swimming with the AW. I find the heart rate monitor quite precise and the heart rate variability a good fitness indicator, the swimming native setup is stunning. Sleep tracking is good with an app
    Then for shorter bike rides the lte is a good safety companion.
    Some drawbacks like the difficulty to read the watch while swimming and total time is not clear if it is w or w/o pose. Where is cadence for biking? And it’s a bit messy to go back and forth between Health and Activities, not to mention the lack of external connectivity of native sports to Strava. Then I find using my xt 920 less and less.

  40. Thanks for another awesome review Ray and for mentioning RunGap :)
    There is an update (2.9.6) in the App Store now that addresses the limitations that you mention. Specifically RunGap now records laps, segments, markers, pauses, pool length, swimming strokes and swimming styles when importing Apple Watch workouts. Likewise swimming analytics from Health are now included when sharing workouts to Garmin Connect, Endomondo, Strava, SportTracks, TrainingPeaks and the other services supporting FIT data.

  41. Jeff farmer

    I realize this is Rays place and he can make any rules he likes but I think to evaluate the Apple Watch without apps kind of misses the point. It’s like evaluating a smart phone only as a phone. The strength of a smart phone isn’t strictly it’s abilities as a phone it’s really an instrument package that developers have done great things with. I can’t help but see the watch the same way, and it has only recently acquired the ability to run its own apps without the need for a phone in close proximity.

    While I certainly agree some gps caching would be an improvement, in reviewing my runs with ISmoothRun it looks like when you choose “watch only” it switches over quickly and for my runs at least the gps locks on in about a minute or so. It didn’t look that much mdifferent from my Garmin.

    I don’t see the Apple Watch replacing a Garmin for an Ironman but it’s more than adequate for the majority of runners, many cyclists and quite a few swimmers too. Triathlon is a special niche- for now and this is a mass market product.

    Of course Ray may have plans for a part 2 at some point where he talks about the apps that fix what the watch needs.

    • Yeah, I totally get that. It’s tricky though.

      One of the challenges I’ve seen in the past with evaluating apps on platforms is that sometimes those apps break, or become unavailable. So if I judge a watch on an app that’s awesome but then it becomes unavailable or dies or breaks, then doesn’t that impact the watch too?

      Also, I think there has to be a reality to the way consumers buy watches today (in 2017 anyway) is that it’s based on features built-in. So when you’ve gotta find all those features in different apps, that is a downside. It represents tremendous potential, but it’s not yet real.

      I tried to show which areas the watch is good for, and which areas it needs apps for. But I think (like you said), it’s a long way off from really replacing a multisport watch as it sits today in the apps department.

    • Jeff Farmer

      I understand what you’re saying. You wanted to evaluate “The Watch” as it is when you pull it out of the box and that’s not unreasonable. But if you were going to use your phone to record workouts, you’d use apps (because you have no choice). Whereas the apps Apple supplies are meant to cover the basics for an “average runner” or other athlete and they do. But I think apple sees it’s role as getting you started not covering all the use cases a consumer might dream up- that’s for the app ecosystem. Admittedly as of -today- this will not replace a 735XT, but what about some of Garmin’s single sport devices? Possibly. I have spoken to at least one developer who is planning a “multisport” mode for their app.

      I’ll admit I don’t use the phone feature that often for for long runs the ability to “call for help” if I twist my ankle 8 miles from home is comforting and that means I don’t need to carry a phone on long runs.

      Of course app developers can cease development, but so can first party manufacturers.

      By the way Apple does not recommend showering with the watch, something about soaps could accumulate and prevent the sensors from functioning properly.

      ***Thanks so much for the in depth review. Great work as always.***

    • surfer techman

      I am testing those 3rd party apps right now and basically I feel like I am trying to put a square peg in a round hole. None of the apps compare CG, you have to test a bunch, they are all additional expenses, your data is in multiple places, and you need to rely on 3rd party developers (who might just be one person doing this part time) to update the app.

      Additionally, you need to rely on their data algorithms. I feel like this is just something apple needs to do, 3rd party for the time being isn’t a solution…its a backwards workaround for something that should come with the device.

      Just as an example, I tested our runkeeper over the last 15 runs or so and keep getting differences in heart rate from what apple reports in their activity app vs runkeeper and garmin. Then I tried runmeter yesterday only to realize that it requires you to bring your phone along. And I’ve been reviewing the others as well. I can’t even try a free version of ismoothrun, you just have to pay to even see what it looks like, which is a huge negative in my book.

  42. Aaron

    Thanks for an informative review. I’ve got a question for anyone who can answer. Is it possible to get pace alerts while running indoors/outdoors with the Apple Watch? Thanks.

  43. Scott Hunter

    I will never consider the Apple Watch to be a running watch.

    The reliance on a touch screen has obvious limitations in the rain and can’t be relied upon in a race situation. For a competitive athlete, a physical start/stop button is an absolute must.

    Unbelievably, the watch won’t even tell you when it has a satellite fix and the screen will turn off during a run to save battery life. The native app can’t even show lap pace and won’t sync to Strava.

    I’m sure this watch is great if you want a fully featured smart watch with fitness tracking and you do the occasional run. But for more serious runners, the Garmin Forerunner 935 is so much better in just about every respect as it’s been designed specifically for running/triathlon, but still has all the basic smart watch features that most people really need.

    • BobV

      You can lock the touch screen, so that isn’t a limitation. Never had an issue in the rain.

      You can also use the two physical buttons to pause/resume a run.

      Plenty of 3rd party running apps display information regarding a satellite fix.

      Not saying the Garmin isn’t a better watch for triathletes, but the AW is more than capable as a running watch, and gives many features you just don’t get from a Garmin (i.e. music and music streaming).

    • BobV

      Also, the native app does sync to Strava via 3rd-party apps.

      @Scott Hunter .. The AW has come a long way as a running watch since it was first released in 2015. Sounds like your commenting on the AW Series 0 and WatchOS 1.0, not the current version.

    • Tom

      Pushing two buttons simultaneously to pause/resume is okay during easy runs but not that easy when you’re running faster. Or wearing gloves. And when you screw it up, you tend to exit whatever fitness app you’re using and find yourself back on the watch face or app cloud. Not fun. One button is much more foolproof.

  44. Lennart R.

    Shouldn’t that be 5iiiii ;-)

  45. Charles

    Does anyone know if you can utilize multiple Bluetooth devices seemlessly with 3rd party apps through the Apple Watch? Specifically, I’m envisioning using the Wahoo Tickr X for HR, Stryd footpod for pace, and a more developed app like iSmoothRun or RunMeter, with the Apple Watch Series 3 that I’m considering purchasing. Can that be done?

    • Stephen Thomas

      You can only use one app at a time for workouts (either the built-in app or third party), so you’d have to find an app that supported all of your sensors. The built-in app supports the Tickr (but not the Tickr Run or Tickr X).

  46. Robert

    Ray,

    I ran along the Seine this week and wondered if I’d spot you. Kept an eye out for the runner with excessive gadgets and didn’t see you.

    From reading your post and Ian’s blog it’s still unclear to me how auto-set works in pool swimming. If I swim ten 100s on a plus ten seconds interval and come in plus zero, will it pause for my ten seconds on the wall and also, recognize that the set was ten 100s? With my Fenix 3 HR, I pause for each one of the 100s so it doesn’t add that ten seconds to each of my 100s. Also, I have to hit start when I leave the wall for each 100. Does this mean the Apple Watch requires no pressing start when I leave the wall for each 100?

    Thanks for your fantastically thorough reviews.

    • Stephen Thomas

      @Robert,

      Assuming that I’m not misunderstanding your terminology, yes, the AW will automatically detect the sets and the rests. All you have to do is start the workout (and confirm the pool length): two taps.

      Then just swim. No need to do anything with the watch during the workout.

      When you’re done, rotate the crown a few times to unlock the watch, swipe to access the control screen, and tap to finish the workout. That’s it. (If you don’t want these last few seconds counted as a rest interval, you can optionally press the button and crown simultaneously to manually pause the watch first.)

    • Stephen Thomas

      As an FYI, here’s a swim workout uploaded TrainingPeaks: link to tpks.ws

      And the same workout on Strava: link to strava.com

      You can see that Strava notes an elapsed time of 50:06 and a moving time of 45:30. The 4.5 minute difference is rest time at the wall.

      I used HealthFit to upload to both. If you’re Strava-only there’s an alternative app Swim Exporter that includes more details, though I see from the release notes that RunGap has upped their game on swim workouts with the latest release (but I haven’t had a chance to test it.)

    • Robert

      @Stephen Thank you

  47. Harri

    Thanks for the very detailed review! I recently bought AW3 and have done some runs with it, and the data loss at the beginning of a run is driving me crazy. Why they just can’t show the GPS & HR lock when they are acquired? As a smartwatch, AW3 is excellent, but the forementioned ‘feature’ makes it a questionable running watch. I considered using Polar V800 just for for runs, but Apple Health complains that there is not enough HR data available to show it – have I misunderstood something? For me, it would be perfect to record runs with V800 and use AW3 for the rest.

    • BobV

      Why not try one of the 3rd party running apps on your AW? Most, if not all write your data to Apple Health, and some like iSmoothrun and Runkeeper will show GPS status.

      Personally, I use the Strava app and never have issues at the start of a run.

      I think the built in Workout app is among the poorest of the AW running apps.

    • WorkOutDoors also shows the GPS status at all times, so you can wait for a strong signal before starting. It has the option to either display signal strength in bars, or the raw GPS accuracy in metres from which the signal strength is determined.

      The iPhone app can display maps and profiles of various common stats (such as speed, heart rate, gradient and cadence), and the latest version added GPS accuracy. So you can now display a route map of a workout with the trail coloured according to the GPS signal strength, together with a profile of the signal strength below.

      This allows you to quickly identify any potential problem areas on the route, and to see the GPS accuracy values in metres at those points. There is even an option to include the accuracy in metres in the GPX file that can be exported from the app.

    • Harri

      Thanks BobV, I went for a run with Strava and had no problems with GPS. However, my HR recording has gaps in it, and I used Polar H7 chest strap this time. I might be missing something obvious here, but let’s see. Next I’m going to run with V800, sync with Strava, and see what Apple Health makes of it. I could live with that setup.

    • Harri

      Thanks Ian, I’ll check WorkOutDoors as well.

    • JM Bermal

      Currently I have a Garmin 5 x. Can you summarize the choice between this and an Apple Watch + Polar H10 + Stryd?
      Will I have running metrics? Something to lose? Something to win?

    • BobV

      I use a 4iiii Viiiiva chest strap with the Strava app and never have any issues with gaps. Are you sure the chest strap was connected to the watch prior to starting the run. I usually have to go to settings, bluetooth to connect it.

      I have used the Strava app without the chest strap, and then I did see gaps in the HR data.

    • Harri

      @BobV, thanks for the suggestion, but yes, I did check the bluetooth connection.

    • Richard Robbins

      I had the same issues you are having while using my Viiiiva heart rate monitor. The issues started after I updated to watch OS 4.2. I had a loss of connection when using the viiiiva during the run. It also seems like it affected the Apple Watch’s internal heart rate monitor while using the viiiiva. I ended up switching to the polar h7 until it’s fixed by either 4iiii or apple.

    • Richard

      My mistake. I am actually using watchOS 4.1.

  48. Charles

    I just got my AW3 w/LTE, so I’m still figuring things out, but figured I’d share in case there are others that are curious. My setup prior is/was Garmin Fenix 5 with HRM-Run and Stryd. Worked fine. I’m interested in seeing if I can make the AW3 work (14 days and counting before hitting return window!). My interest is based on trying to make the AW3 work as an Olympic Distance weekend Triathlete/Half-Marathon runner who is attracted to the idea of making one watch work “for everything”, rather than a specialized sports watch that I don’t like to wear outside of sports. (I should add, I have no interest in the religious war of AW vs Garmin, and think this is all personal preference for the most part, espeically if you aren’t elite level). My interest in going “all in” on Apple is less the watch or any other device, but rather the power of the platform (HealthKit), with a developing and robust app ecosystem.

    Anyway, my first run today was with the AW3, trying to connect 3 BT devices: TickrX for HR, Aftershokz earphones, and Stryd footpod. App used was iSmoothRun. First issue is I don’t think the AW3 can “handle” connecting all 3 BT devices at the same time. Still working through the issues here, and even went to the Apple Store which says “it should all work”, but I couldn’t get TickrX HR unless I gave up on the Stryd. Other than that, the run seemed to go fine, but I’d be curious if anyone has been able to connect multiple BT devices to just the AW3 (no iPhone in the mix)?

    I’d be happy if I could use the AW3 alone (streaming music), with the above BT devices for better pacing and HR accuracy and metrics. All using a solid 3rd party app to get the data into HealthKit, as well as export to my two sports platforms, TrainingPeaks and Strava. Based on that goal, today’s first run would be a “fail”, but I’ll see what happens over the next week.

    Ultimately, I think we may be a few years away from one platform being able to be a complete system. I see (unfortunately) a need for AW3 for shorter training runs and swimming (the MySwimPro app has my interest), and keeping my Fenix 5 and Edge 520 for cycling and longer events. We’ll see.

    • Tony

      I think the Apple Watch limits you to two Bluetooth connections.

      The stock Apple pool workout app is the best I have seen, try this before buying that expensive swim app.

      The watch GPS isn’t accurate enough if you are training to podium, pacing is off r-10sec per KM for the run app for example, I don’t think any app is going to fix this as it think it’s a hardware issue.

      Great watch for someone that isn’t in it to win.

    • Willem

      I think it might be possible, since an Apple Watch + iPhone + a pair of AirPods is already three simultaneous devices as well. However, you are pushing against the current limits of the bluetooth spec, which theoretically supports up to seven connections (link to en.wikipedia.org), but Apple is more conservative and states: “However, three to four devices is a practical limit, depending on the types of devices used. Some devices require more Bluetooth data, so they’re more demanding than other devices. Data-intensive devices might reduce the total number of devices that can be active at the same time.” (link to support.apple.com).

      Have you read the5krunner’s preview of running with AW+HRM+Stryd? There were some hoops to jump through in order to connect the BLE-HRM correctly (link to the5krunner.com)
      I’m interested to know if you get it to work and if you decide to keep the AW.

  49. David

    Do you know it anyone has or in the process of developing a triathlon app for the apple watch?
    I currently use the series 2, mostly running. I have found that not being able to set interval times and touch screen not responsive are the negatives.

    Many Thanks

    • Tony

      I started to as a hobby developer but gave up due to the inaccuracies of the gps and plus on the bike I prefer a bike computer for interval workouts. The pool workouts I couldn’t see as useful due to the water issue and apples indoor pool workout app is the best I have seen on any watch.

      I tested against my Garmin 935 and edge 820 for the running tracks

    • Luc

      You may want to chat with Ian about his experiences on link to theapplewatchtriathlete.com

  50. surfer techman

    I have an issue with the HR during working out where the HR will stop working after a few mins and then start up again after maybe a 5 min lag. Been happening about 50% of the time now with the activity app and other apps. Not sure what’s going on but others are reporting the same thing in forums and such where I have been posting trying to find a solution. Fortunately I am wearing a garmin on my other wrist to capture my workout data. I’ve tried a hard reset per apple’s suggestion but not sure if that is really going to fix the issue. Anyways, just letting others know in case you had a solution or are thinking about this watch as a workout watch.

    • Richard

      This is exactly the same issue that started with my watch after updating the firmware to 4.1. Not only did it screw up the optical heart rate (during exercise), it messed with the connection to my viiiiva hr monitor too. I ended up trying my back up polar hr monitor and that seems to work for the time being.

      Note to self….I need to wait a few weeks before updating the watch due to the fact that you cant downgrade the firmware once its done. Its done.

    • Harri

      I had problems with HR recording after update as well, with and without Polar H7 chest strap. There was a suggestion to do a hard reset for the watch, and it worked for me. Just hold the both buttons down until the Apple logo appears.

  51. Mark I.

    The other day I started the Workout app and strangely it took a while to lock on. Same thing a few days later. There was a correlation that might explain the delay after being used to getting a heart rate in 10 seconds. If, lets say, you’ve put on your watch immediately before starting Workout, or your watch was in a locked mode immediately before unlocking it and starting workout, then the Apple security doesn’t let you in and doesn’t let the watches capabilities (i.e. HR recording) out. Seems as though the periodic heart rate checks (every few minutes) when the watch is unlocked serve to prime the HR measuring readiness of the watch. Or maybe not. Just my brief observation.

    I know how Ray tests watches in terms of placement, but haven’t seen how he tests in terms of waking up a device immediately prior to an activity.

  52. Geoffrey

    I bought and Apple Watch 3 recently (no cellular) and I did a few runs. I did some with the Wahoo Runfit app, then with Activity app and then with my Garmin. I find that for a recovery run or a long run the Activity app works fine and the HR was suprisingly accurate (compared with my Wahoo TickrX) particularly considiering I had given up on optical HR due to my dark skin. For interval workouts it was a disaster I spent way too much time lifting my wrist and the data was just crap. If I do an interval workout definitely using Garmin Connect my Fenix 3 and for the other runs I can stick with the Apple Watch or use Wahoo Fitness app. Just my two cents.

  53. Shane H

    My wife gets super nervous while I am in the swim leg of a triathlon. Hundreds of swimmers all wearing the same cap, which one is it? (I tell her to look near the back….LOL) Was wondering if someone can live track an open water swimmer wearing a series 3 iWatch using the Find My iPhone app. Since it has GPS and cellular built in, it seems logical that as I move thru the water the location should update back on shore. Yes? No?​ Other live trackers? Thanks.