America’s most popular smartwatch gets a little smarter today. The Apple Watch Series 3 hits stores and major upgrades like the built-in LTE band will probably keep it the king of digital timepieces. For the everyday user, especially one living in Apple’s ecosystem, the Series 3 is a no-brainer. But for outdoors athletes and enthusiasts, there is a smartwatch that leaves Apple in its dust—the Garmin Fenix 5.
You won’t see a ultrarunner or a pro mountain climber wearing the new Apple Watch, but the 9-to-5 hikers out there might finally have something in the Series 3. After two generation that just fell short, has Apple finally created a smartwatch deserving of the outdoors?
The Apple Watch featured GPS since Series 1 but only now has the one thing a hiker needs in a smartwatch—elevation tracking. The barometric altimeter in the Series 3 will finally track elevation gain and loss, making it a competent device for road runners, trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers, and more.
Apple has a funny way of taking credit for tech already present in other devices (Samsung smartwatches used built-in LTE years ago), but this one feature makes Series 3 a big deal to a lot of people. LTE isn’t doing much good in the middle of the wilderness but it does give road athletes the ability to stream music while the phone stays at home. And speaking of music…
Edit: Apparently the LTE band in the Series 3 is already having issues.
W2 Wireless Chip
AirPods, Apple’s truly wireless Bluetooth headphones, are a love-or-hate product. But the people who love AirPods, love AirPods. The W2 chip in the iPhone 7, 8, and X (don’t called it ‘ex’) is now in the Apple Watch Series 3 and connects perfectly with the AirPods or W2 compatible Beats headphones.
The Series 3 is waterproof up to 50 meters deep, so it can surely withstand any downpour on the trail. This isn’t a departure from the Series 2 but it’s an important feature for any outdoors tech.
This one is more subjective. Apple claims that the Series 3 can last “all day” on a single charge, but surely how much you use the screen, GPS, and LTE changes that claim. We won’t know the true capacity of the battery until the watch is out for a few days. The Fenix 5, for comparison, lasts a colossal nine days in standard smartwatch mode (the watch is also physically much bigger).
Tech & Compatibility
The Garmin Fenix 5 can track every last detail of even the most obscure sports—from golfing all the way to hunting and fishing—but the Series 3 software (WatchOS 4) will appeal to athletes on a more consumer-friendly level. It’s activity tracking is easy to use and understand, and will soon communicate with popular gym equipment to sync fitness tracking.
Take your pick. There are literally infinity of them.
Should You Buy It?
I’m not sold on any smartwatch, personally. But if you want a watch that will take calls and play music during the week and track your 14’er on the weekend, then yes, you should absolutely buy this watch. The addition of the barometric altimeter alone finally puts the Apple Watch Series 3 into the category of a true outdoors smartwatch. The GPS-only edition starts at $329 and the LTE edition starts at $399.
However, if you have $500-$800 to burn and want the best fitness watch on the planet… well, then you still want the Garmin.