Before Apple Watch came into my life, I ran with my iPhone 90% of the time. Even though my iPhone 6 Plus occupies more than half of my palm and I have the tendency to drop my phone occasionally, I couldn’t afford to run without a phone.
Firstly, my runs have to be tracked or they don’t exist. You can call me a millennial but you can’t tell me that tracking my runs is a useless habit. Secondly, I might send messages, make a call, take a photo and post it to Instagram, listen to music or podcast, use Maps to see my running route and calculate the distance, and many other things, while running.
There are many gears on the market that promise they allow you to run without a phone. What they actually mean is that you can do certain things, like tracking your run or listening to music, without a phone. But you can’t really perform all functions of a smartphone with running gears, at least not now.
When Apple Watch Series 3 promotes “Cellular Freedom,” I was intrigued. I wondered whether I need to pair the watch and phone via Bluetooth all the time to enjoy the freedom of making and receiving calls. So, I tried the new Apple Watch Series 3. And here are what I find.
The freedom is real
I honestly love the cellular (LTE) function. It allows the watch to use data and perform basic phone functions without being connected to the phone. I can now make or receive calls, reply to texts and track my runs (with GPS) without bringing iPhone on my training runs. I don’t even need headphones to make or receive calls; there’s a built-in microphone and speaker so I can talk directly to the watch.
Cellular freedom also means that it’s possible to stream songs through Apple Music subscription. But it doesn’t mean that one needs a subscription to listen to music. I can listen to the songs stored in my library as long as they’re manually downloaded to the watch by using Watch app on iPhone. A pair of Bluetooth headphones is required to listen to songs as the watch doesn’t play music through the speaker.
One day, I went out running at somewhere new without bringing my phone and I couldn’t figure out how to run home. To my surprise, the Maps app is able to show me the direction to my home! The most life-changing effect the watch has on me is the fact that I don’t have to worry about rain anymore when running because the watch is waterproof. Rain used to deter me from running, but not anymore. Also, if I get thirsty during my run but I don’t bring cash and phone, I can use Apple Pay at the convenient stores!
To enjoy the cellular feature, subscription to a mobile provider is required. As a Singtel user, I simply subscribe to their NumberShare service for a monthly fee of $6.90/month. Now, my phone and watch are sharing the same mobile number, data, talk time and SMS.
All the apps on my iPhone that are compatible with Apple Watch are automatically synced to the watch during setting up. As I download new apps, they are automatically synced to the watch if they are compatible with it. So, I don’t need to spend time downloading apps on the watch.
The syncing process of workouts, steps, and heart rate is almost instantaneous. I don’t need to waste time trying to sync the watch and my iPhone. And I think the Health app is cool. This Health app is the data library of all my steps, heart rates, calories burned, active durations and even my sleep analysis. Well, the Health app only gives the overview, not the full details of my workouts and sleep. To see the details, I need to open the apps that track my workout and sleep.
Apple Watch does have its own Workout app but it’s not possible to export the data from Workout app to third-party apps. So, I still prefer to use sports tracking apps, such as Runkeeper, Strava and NRC because I’m a millennial and I like to share my workouts on a platform that my friends can see and comment. The good thing is, my workouts from these apps will still be counted towards my daily Activity goals even though I don’t use the Workout app.
Other than tracking my runs, I occasionally track my swims and vertical runs with the watch as well. The new barometric altimeter is able to measure how much I’ve climbed up and down, while the waterproof feature allows me to wear the watch when swimming in the pool or open water. But I won’t wear it for diving, though, as Apple only recommends to use the watch in shallow water.
The battery lasts for 2 days on average, so, I have to charge it every alternate day. If I compare it with my other watch that had died even before I finished my full marathon, then Apple Watch battery life is commendable.
Almost a perfect watch
I’m a huge fan of sleep tracking. On my first day with Apple Watch, I wore it to sleep. The next day, I searched for my sleep analysis in the Health app but I couldn’t find it. Then, I realised that I needed to download a sleep tracking app in order to track my sleep. I told you I’m a tech noob. After trying out free apps such as Pillow, Sleep Cycle and Beddit, I decided to invest in the AutoSleep app. I feel that AutoSleep is the best app among the four apps, but it’s still lack of sleep stages details. I hope future watches are equipped with a built-in sleep tracker for more accurate tracking.
As much as I love the Apple Watch, I disliked the fact that it doesn’t have a Podcast app. As someone who listens to podcasts during the commute and running, I’m glad that there’s a way to listen to a podcast on Apple Watch. It’s a tedious process but it’s possible. You need to convert podcast files to music files through iTunes, then sync to the watch. The whole process may take up to 30 minutes for a single podcast file.
One day, my watch face was locked and Siri kept telling me the time. I wasn’t able to access any app and perform any function. I was so scared that I had unconsciously done something that damaged the watch. Later, I learnt that it was actually the VoiceOver function, designed to help visually-impaired users to navigate the watch. I didn’t know how I entered VoiceOver mode, I hope future updates of the watch will prevent users from entering VoiceOver function unintentionally.
- With the cellular function, I can run outside without bringing a phone and still able to track my run, reply to urgent calls and texts, make purchases, listen to songs, use the map, receive alerts and notifications.
- The workouts that I track with third-party apps (not Workout app) will be counted towards the total daily Activity goals, which include calories burned, exercise duration and standing frequency.
- Watch faces are customisable! PS: If you choose Mickey/Minnie Mouse face watch, the characters can announce the current time with a cute voice.
- Health App, the centralised platform that collects the user’s health data, is very useful for me when I want to analyse my health data over a week, a month or even a year.
- With other smartwatches, I needed to invest some time to sync the data between the watch and my phone. With Apple Watch, the data is synced pretty seamlessly without me even noticing it.
- When I’m too tired or in a rush, I speak to Siri directly on the built-in mic and she’ll do her utmost to help me with my needs
- There are so many colourful straps made of different materials! From Sport Loops made of soft and breathable nylon weave, waterproof Sport Bands made of fluoroelastomer, Woven-Nylon that gives the fabric-like feel to Leather, I’ll never be bored.
- A monthly subscription is required to enjoy cellular freedom.
- Apple Watch can only connect to 1 pair of Bluetooth headphones at any time. Thus, my running buddy and I can’t listen to the same music or podcast when running.
- As a podcast listener, I was disappointed at the lack of Podcast app. There’s a way to listen to the podcast on Apple Watch, but it’s tedious and time-consuming.
- For people who want to disconnect from the phone when running, Apple Watch Series 3 might be too distractive.