If you are now reaching the decision that perhaps you’d get value and use from an Apple Watch, you next have to wade through the different configuration options and choices.
Some of these choices are happily trivial, others are more complicated and impactful.
We also consider the relative merits of the current Series 5 watch or choosing a less expensive Series 3 watch.
This fifth part of our series helps you make these choices.
Read more in our series on Smart Watches
- Smart Watches Prior to Apple’s Watch
- Apple’s Original Watch
- Smart Watches 2015 – 2019 : In Search of the “Killer App”
- The Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 Review
- Which Apple Watch Should You Choose
Future articles to follow shortly :
- Other Smart Watches
- Smart Watch Buying Guide
So, you want to buy a Watch? Notwithstanding the final section on “missing features” in the previous part of this series (The Apple Watch Series 4 & 5 Review), we’d certainly support you in that decision.
And, talking about decisions, you’ve now got some choices to decide between.
When you choose an Apple Watch, you have a choice of two screen sizes, two finishes (aluminum or stainless steel), three colors, three versions (regular, Nike and Hermes), various different watch bands, and whether the watch can act independently as a phone or not.
We discussed screen size in the previous article.
Most people should choose the aluminum finish. We see no reason at all to spend $300 more to get a stainless steel version, with the major distinction being that the stainless steel version is slightly heavier (about 10 gm or 1/3 of an ounce), which is not a good thing, although hardly a major consideration.
Most people should choose the normal rather than Nike or Hermes versions. Again, there’s no apparent benefit associated with the higher cost of the other two versions.
As for color, mercifully there’s no price difference, and no other implications either. We might opine that the lighter silver color might be more versatile when matching to a variety of different bands, but the “space grey” which we have is very attractive, too. Of course, the pinkish gold color has more personality and – dare we say – femininity associated with it.
This leaves the question of watch band. The default (ie cheapest) band is some type of rubberised material. That was what we chose, but exactly as we expected, we hated it. It was always either too tight or too loose, and in hot weather our sweat coated it with moisture. We also found it clumsy and awkward to fasten.
Happily, there are about a bazillion other bands you can also choose, but be careful to avoid the trap inherent in those choices.
There are lovely “Milanese Loop” and link style metal bands as well as leather bands, but these are at extra cost – quite a lot extra. $150 and upwards. Apple shows its greed yet again.
However, there is no need to pay $150 when you can buy what appear to be identical bands for one tenth that price through Amazon. We purchased a Milanese loop band for $14, and there is a veritable galaxy of other watch bands also available on Amazon. Just be sure you are getting one that is the same size as your watch – either the 38/40mm size or the 42/44mm size (it seems that the older 38mm watches and the newer 40mm watches take the same size band connectors, and the same for the 42/44mm watches too).
Indeed, why not do what Apple so desperately hopes you’ll do, and buy several different bands so as to accessorize your watch to match your style and outfit – but don’t buy them from Apple. 🙂
The bands are very cleverly designed – you simply press in a little tab on the watch body and then you can slide the band connector in or out of the channel it fits into on the watch. No tools required, and it takes all of five seconds to swap over.
If you choose a link style of watch band, this will take some extra time and trouble to get the exact right number of links in the band, adding or subtracting full and half size links, one by one, until you’re comfortable. Unfortunately, “comfortable” is a moving target depending on if you’re hot or cold, and if your wrist is swelling or not.
It is easy to adjust the diameter of the Milanese loop any time you want just by sliding the magnetic tab on the end of it half an inch one way or the other to tighten or loosen it. But it is obviously harder if you have to add/subtract links.
We used to deliberately wear our earlier analog watch loosely as a solution to that potential problem. But the Apple watch works best when worn somewhat tightly, to that its heart monitor can most accurately detect your pulse-rate, and the watch itself can most accurately detect movement and gestures.
But, with easily swapped over bands, and band prices around the $15 point on Amazon, by all means experiment with a number of different band styles until you find the one or ones that most suit you. Perhaps you’ll even want to buy a special case for holding/carrying all your bands, too!
Is the Phone Feature Necessary?
All Apple watches will automatically connect with your iPhone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The Watch first tries Bluetooth, because it uses the least power, but if that doesn’t reach your phone, it will then switch to any available Wi-Fi networks that it has been “told” about by your phone.
Note that the watch only supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, not 5GHz Wi-Fi.
This connectivity between watch and phone means that you can receive and place phone calls via your watch, the same as you could with a Bluetooth headset, as long as your phone is within Bluetooth range (whatever that might be for the combination of watch and phone you have, and depending on how many walls and other obstacles there are between the two, but probably 30 – 50 ft) or sharing a compatible Wi-Fi network.
In addition to acting as a sort of “super Bluetooth headset”, for an extra $100 you can get a Watch that can directly connect to the cellular network, giving it access to the phone network and also to wireless data for those times when the Watch can’t either “piggy-back” off your phone’s connection or directly connect to the internet via Wi-Fi.
Of course, in addition to the $100 you spend for the extra capability on the Watch, you then have to pay some type of monthly fee to your choice of wireless services. The Watch uses an eSIM which currently is compatible with all the “Big Four” carriers in the US, plus US Cellular and Spire.
Unlike phones, the watches don’t support as many frequency bands, and so you have to choose whether you want a watch optimized for US/Canada/Mexico/Puerto Rico, or a watch optimized for the rest of the world.
So, for $100 extra, and perhaps $10-$20 a month in connectivity fees, you can use your Watch as an independent separate standalone phone. Neither number sounds outrageous by itself, but stop and ask yourself how often you are likely to do this? To be blunt, the Watch makes a bad phone, with not good sound at either end, and it uses up battery life very quickly if you’re on a voice call. It is hard to think of any time when using your Watch would be your first choice method to place or receive a phone call.
Some of the commentaries we’ve read are from people who said they signed up for this service, and after a year realized they’d only used it once or twice, and so they turned it off again. We’ve not seen a single commentary from anyone saying that they’ve found it to be a great feature that they use all the time.
Keep in mind that your Watch won’t work anywhere your current phone doesn’t work; indeed, it probably has inferior antennas in it and so will work in slightly fewer locations and will drop signal more quickly. It will only be useful if for some reason you find yourself without your cell phone and urgently needing to make a call.
On balance, it seems probable that few people will choose to pay the extra $100 for the cellular option on their Watch.
Should You Buy a Cheaper Series 3 or the Current Series 5 Watch?
The list price on a Series 5 watch is $399 or $429 for the 40/44 mm watch, and an extra $100 to add cellular capabilities.
The same as it does with phones, when Apple comes out with a new model Watch, it continues to sell the previous model, but at a lower price point. In a slight departure from this, when Apple replaced the Series 4 with the Series 5 watch, it withdrew the Series 4 watch entirely (probably because it was so embarrassingly similar to the Series 5) and reduced still further the price on a Series 3 watch. The list price on a Series 3 watch is currently $199/$229 for the 38/42 mm watches, and of course more to add cellular capabilities.
So there’s a $200 extra cost between the $199/$229 of the Series 3 watches and the $399/$429 of the Series 5 watches. Is a Series 5 Watch worth this extra cost?
We say possibly yes, for at least twelve reasons. But it is a huge price differential – you can buy two of the Series 3 watches for the cost of one Series 5 watch, so if you’re value-sensitive, perhaps get a Series 3 watch.
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We feel the best description of an Apple Watch is that it is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It has some great fitness and health type features, although these can usually also be obtained on much less expensive dedicated fitness devices. It has a range of interesting and fun apps, although these can usually be duplicated on a phone and often work much better on a phone – faster, and easier to use/understand.
But, at the end of the day, we really like our Watch and feel deprived whenever we have to take it off for charging. If you like gadgets, we’re sure you’d feel the same way. But if you’re trying to lead a simple life, perhaps not so much.
The Series 5 Watch is probably worth the extra money it costs compared to the Series 3, but if you don’t see clear value or purpose in a smart watch, maybe the $199 Series 3 watch is a better “toe in the water”. The Series 5 lists for $399 and up, the Series 3 is $199 and up.