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Living with: Apple Watch Series 3

Rich Dean, Creative Director

By Rich Dean on

Supersonic Playground Ltd

Considering I’ve been a Mac geek since the early noughties, I’m relatively new to the world of Apple Watch having only recently purchased one. I’m glad I did, as it’s a great piece of tech. In this article I’ll talk you through how it’s been living with the device for the first few weeks.

Just what is Apple Watch Series 3?

If you’re not familiar, Apple Watch Series 3 is Apple’s latest entry into the world of smart watches. Like most of Apple’s products, it wasn’t the first smart watch, but it’s the device that’s done the most to bring wearable smart watches to the mainstream since it launched in April 2015.

Apple Watch is not really a mini iPhone on your wrist; it’s more of a mini extension of iPhone. Although the recent cellular version will let you add a sim card, for Apple Watch to work it needs to be paired with an iPhone, which is where you’ll do most of the setup. Most of the apps that run on Apple Watch have bigger, more feature-rich versions on the iPhone.

Customising the Apple Watch

One of the best features of Apple Watch is how easy is it to customise, both physically and digitally. For the case, I opted for the Aluminium version with fog sports band as personally, this version feels like the most adaptable. I wasn’t a fan of the fog sports band though, but there are plenty of places where you can buy different straps for Apple Watch. Apple itself has a wide variety, and their pairing with Nike has some great options. I wanted to balance everyday casual style with a sporty look, so I found some great straps that are very reasonably priced at online store That Gadget. I bought a brown leather number for everyday use (goes with my usual jeans/shoes/shirt ensemble), a blue sports band for when I’m active, and a spare Milanese number for when I fancy a change. Swapping the straps is just a case of sliding them in and out.

Image of leather strap and blue sports band for Apple Watch Series 3

Image of Apple Watch faceIn terms of customising the interface, there may not be as much flexibility as the iPhone, but there are still a number of options and the latest version of watchOS ships with a good selection of analogue- and digital-style watch faces that have various options for customisation. I opted for a simple analogue number.

What do I use Apple Watch for?

My main driver for buying an Apple Watch was fitness, not fashion (it looks a bit space age compared more traditional watches). As an avid gym goer and lover of running and mountain biking, I continually found myself in situations where an Apple Watch would give me greater freedom and flexibility.

Keeping track of my workouts is important to me, especially recording where I go, but previously to do this I’d need to take my iPhone with me for GPS tracking. If I wanted to listen to music, I’d have my old iPod Nano strapped to my arm, and when I was in the gym, I’d have to carry around my iPhone in my jacket pocket. It was all a bit limited. Apple Watch completely overcame all of this. My iPhone now stays in the locker at the gym or at home when I’m out, and all I need to take with me is my Apple Watch and a pair of Bluetooth headphones. Everything is so much easier, and the built-in features give me a much deeper insight into my personal health and fitness.

What is Apple Watch good at?

By far and away, health and fitness is where Apple Watch excels, largely thanks to its built-in heart rate monitor, motion sensors and GPS tracking. The design of the apps is also exceptional. Apple has always been strong in interface design, but Apple Watch’s is a level above anything else, which makes using the device a lush experience. Below are the apps that I find myself using the most.

Workout

Screen shot of Workout app for Apple WatchHaving been a Strava lover for many years, I was surprised that Apple Watch’s default Activity app actually has more options for different types of exercises. I can track indoor running, elliptical machine, indoor cycling, rowing machine, outdoor walking, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), dancing, outdoor running, outdoor cycling, indoor walking, stair stepper machine, pool swim (yes, the Apple Watch Series 3 is waterproof!) and open water swimming. Each workout uses the in-built heart rate monitor along with my basic information like age, height and weight to record my progress in the separate health app. I can get a fairly accurate estimate of how many calories I’ve burned. The only thing the Activity app doesn’t really do is location tracking via GPS, which is where Strava has the edge.

Strava (third party)

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/strava-running-and-cycling-gps/id426826309?mt=8

Screen shot of Strava app for Apple WatchAs mentioned above, Strava is more limited than the Activity app in terms of workouts, and will only let me record outdoor and indoor riding, outdoor and indoor running, outdoor walking, hiking and Nordic skiing, but that’s okay for me as it does have GPS, so when I do go out for a run or burn on my mountain bike, Strava is my app of choice.

GymBook (third party)

https://www.gymbookapp.com/

Screen shot of GymBook app for Apple WatchOne of the main reasons I wanted an Apple Watch was so that I could record my weight workouts in the gym. Previously I was using Notes on my iPhone, but I wanted to find an Apple Watch app that would do the hard work for me, and GymBook is definitely a great app for this. You can create your own custom workouts and it comes pre-loaded with 50 standard exercises, but you can easily add more. As with most Apple Watch apps, you do most of the setup on the iPhone by defining how many sets, reps and what weight you’ll be lifting. In the gym it’s then just a case of recording the numbers on Apple Watch.

Activity

Screen shot of Activity app for Apple WatchThis is probably the most famous, and most addictive of the Apple Watch apps. My three main ‘rings’ of movement (how many calories I’ve burned), exercise and standing (at least one minute for 12 hours a day) let me see how active, and therefore how healthy I’m being, and the little prompts that popup every now and then help me keep on track with my goals. Apple’s idea of ‘closing your three rings’ every day is genius and it’s probably the one app that sums up the main benefit of owning Apple Watch.

Heart Rate

Screen shot of Heart Rate app for Apple WatchWhile I’m sure the novelty of this app will wear off eventually, it was one of the main reasons I bought an Apple Watch. I’m a self-confessed health geek and so the ability of being able to monitor my heart rate is really beneficial. The app is continually checking my heart rate every few minutes and displays graphs of how high and low it gets over course of the day.

AutoSleep (third party)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/autosleep-tracker-for-watch/id1164801111?mt=8

Screen shot of AutoSleep app for Apple WatchI needed to purchase this one from the app store, but you wouldn’t think it was developed by a third party as the interface ties in beautifully with the activity app. I don’t even need to activate the app, but my wearing Apple Watch to bed every night it tells me how many hours sleep I’ve had, how much of it was ‘quality’ and how much deep sleep I’ve had, as well as my resting heart.

Music

Screen shot of Music app for Apple WatchWhile Apple Watch may not have the biggest built in hard drive (8Gb) it will allow you to copy across a decent selection of music from your iTunes library, which is invaluable for creating pumped up motivational playlists for the gym. You’ll need wireless headphones of some sort, and I opted for a set of Skull Candy Ink’d Wireless ones.

Watchify (third party)

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/watchify-for-spotify-on-watch/id1012564934?mt=8

Screen shot of Watchify app for Apple WatchThis is another third-party app, albeit a free one, and it allows me to listen to Spotify music on my Apple Watch as well. It’s a shame that Spotify don’t make their own app for this, but Watchify is decent enough. The only caveat is that I need to be in range of my iPhone, which rules it out for outdoor runs or bike rides.

Mail

Screen shot of Mail app for Apple WatchThe built-in mail app is very handy at letting me view my inbox in the same way that I would on the iPhone, but unfortunately, it’s limited to just being able to read the messages – I can’t send new ones.

Messages

Screen shot of Messages app for Apple WatchSimilar to Mail, Message will also alert me when I receive a text, but unlike Mail there is the ability to send messages as well, albeit with a more limited input but the ability to draw picture messages with a finger has proven to be great fun for my 4-year-old daughter!

Phone

Screen shot of Phone app for Apple WatchIt’s true, you can make and receive calls from the in-built phone app, but it’s pretty much impossible to do so without looking like Spock from Star Trek, so I still find myself reaching for my iPhone when the phone rings. In public at least.

Other notifications

While there aren’t Apple Watch equivalents for other popular apps like LinkedIn and WhatsApp, notifications from them do still popup on my wrist from time to time, keeping me in the loop of conversations that are going on even when my iPhone is tucked away.

This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are plenty of other great features I find myself using, from viewing my bank balances to checking what time the sun sets, and I can even control my Nest thermostat. Apple Watch is a very versatile piece of tech.

In summary

I can honestly say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised and just how brilliant Apple Watch is. I was initially concerned that it looked a bit too space aged, it’s actually a beautiful piece of tech when you see it in the flesh, it actually has a certain sixties charm like a Leica camera. As usual, Apple have excelled themselves. It may not be the cheapest smart watch out there (and if you don’t need GPS, the Series 1 may be a better options) but for what it offers, I actually think it’s great value and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking to buy a smart piece of wearable tech.

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