Apple Watch Series 3 review: A good watch, a so-so phone replacement

With each generation, the Apple Watch’s purpose has seemed to shift. The first one demonstrated what Apple thought a wearable should be, and the second tried to be the perfect workout companion. When it came time to build the Series 3, though, Apple took everything it got right with the fitness-friendly Series 2, polished it up, and threw an LTE radio inside.

And lo, the $ 399 Apple Watch Series 3 became the first of a new breed of Apple devices — it straddles the line between smartwatch and phone, with a dash of iPod thrown in for good measure. For those who’d rather play it safe, Apple also built a $ 329 Series 3 with just GPS and no cellular connection. In fact, that safe bet will probably pay off for most people — the cellular Series 3 is a little too inconsistent for my taste.

Hardware and design

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Despite what some redesign rumors suggested ahead of the big event, this year’s Apple Watch looks… just like an Apple Watch. Shocking, I know. As ever, the Series 3 comes in 38mm and 42mm sizes, so earlier bands will continue to fit just fine. And, as with the Series 2, all versions feature a built-in GPS radio and 50-meter water resistance. Don’t let that classification fool you, though — you can take the Watch for a swim, but you almost certainly shouldn’t take it 50 meters underwater. (Why the watch industry continues to use such counterintuitive terminology is beyond me.)

Not much has changed with the display either — we’re still working with a tiny OLED screen running at 390 x 312, covered by a plate of Ion-X glass. (The stainless-steel and ceramic models instead use tougher sapphire crystal, but this Watch’s glass face was very good at resisting nicks as I accidentally banged my hands into walls and fixtures.) Max brightness still tops out at 1,000 nits, which is more than enough to keep notifications and apps readable under bright sunlight. More interesting is the way the screen doubles as the Watch’s wireless antenna; it’s a nifty feat of engineering that seems to get the job done well.

In any case, I’ve been wearing a 42mm Apple Watch on and off since the first version launched in 2015, and the fit and finish of my 42mm cellular review unit is first-rate, as always. It’s impossible to tell that the Series 3 is slightly thicker than the models that came before it, and thankfully, it’s just as hard to feel the difference when it’s strapped to your wrist. That’s because the Watch’s aluminum squircle of a body hasn’t changed — the ceramic hump around back housing the heart rate sensor is, according to Apple, two sheets of paper thicker than it was before. The 42mm body’s weight hasn’t changed either, which is pretty impressive considering the extra stuff needed to turn this wearable into a tiny, functional phone. Throw in an improved, dual-core S3 chipset and a slightly bigger battery, and we’ve got a remarkably snappy little package.

Until you start talking into your wrist, there’s only one way to tell if a Watch is LTE-enabled or not: You need to spot the red dot. This red highlight serves no technical purpose; it’s purely for looks, and if you’re the type who likes visual metaphors, you’ll notice a certain symmetry with the Watch’s red notification dot. I get the need for some sort of visual signifier, but fashionistas, beware: That red flourish clashes with a lot of Apple Watch bands out there.

As a traditional smartwatch

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The original Apple Watch gave shape to the company’s vision for wearable computing, but, man, it was frustratingly slow sometimes. Fast-forward two years, and we finally have an Apple Watch that feels as fast as it should. Swiping between watch faces is smoother than before, and launching apps seems to take considerably less time, all thanks to Apple’s updated S3 chipset. Series 1 and 2 owners might not find the difference that pronounced, since both devices have dual-core processors of their own, but the fractions of a second I’m saving every time an action works more smoothly becomes time I get to spend doing something else that matters to me.

One of the best ways to see all this power in action is by talking to Siri — and, for once, the experience won’t make you want to tear your hair out. Siri can finally speak to you on the Series 3, and it uses the same natural-sounding voice you’d hear it use on an iOS device running iOS 11. I never really used Siri on the Series 2, because it required me to glance down at my wrist all the time. This year, Siri’s audible responses and generally spot-on voice transcription meant I could ask it to send a message or email for me and not worry too much about what happened next. Yes, this eventually bit me in the ass, but never too badly. Beyond handling messages and tasks, Siri has also been helpful for navigating to hole-in-the-wall restaurants and answering various random questions.

As useful as Siri is now, it still has its limits. For one, you need to be careful with how you ask for things — “open News” does what you’d expect it to, but “show me the news” kicked me out to external search results. Oh, and don’t forget that the Watch’s screen has to be on to get Siri’s attention with a voice command. A version of Siri that constantly listens for commands would be ideal, but that’d probably wreak as much havoc on battery life as, well, a cellular radio would.

The Series 3’s new watch faces sure are… interesting.

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Beyond just Siri, Apple’s new watchOS 4 offers a few other new features as well. There are new customizable kaleidoscope watch faces, along with a handful of faces starring characters from Toy Story. The music app has been updated with a new look and slightly more seamless syncing — some playlists, like “New Music” and “Favorites,” are transferred over by default while the Watch charges for the first time. Individual tracks and playlists can be moved over easily enough too, but literally any support for podcasts would’ve been nice. To make the most of the Watch’s music player, though, you need to be an Apple Music subscriber; the Watch still offers media controls for whatever audio is playing on the iPhone, but you’re out of luck if you’d prefer to interact with Spotify’s superior playlists.

The Series 3 technically works as a standalone device, but let’s be real: We’re so attached to our phones that the Watch will spend most of its time connected to an iPhone anyway. I’m not complaining either, mostly because the Watch has very good battery life as a result. I usually pull my Watch off its charger at around 8AM, and I’ve routinely seen it chug along until midafternoon the next day if I didn’t make many voice calls on it. Over the weekend, when my phone was gloriously quiet, I got nearly two full days of screen-on time before needing to charge the Watch again. Apple bumped up the Series 3’s battery capacity to maximize cellular usage time, so while I’m pleased that tethered battery life has improved, I’m not surprised.

As a standalone device

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The connection between the Apple Watch and an iPhone is the core of Apple’s wearable experience, and for the first time, the company gave the Watch the tools to function independently. Seeing the Watch hop onto an LTE network and use your same phone number is undeniably neat, but honestly, it’s not something I’d want to do very often.

First off, yes, you’re going to have to pay your carrier $ 10 a month for the privilege, not to mention an activation fee once this first wave of promotions dies down. Setting up the Watch with my AT&T phone plan was mostly a breeze, but some reviewers have experienced issues getting everything squared away, especially when older rate plans were involved. Your mileage may vary, but I suspect most of you won’t need to worry much.

Actually using the phone is easier than expected — you can either punch in a number or select one of your contacts — and call quality was generally very good. In a majority of conversations I had, the people on the other end couldn’t even tell I was talking into a watch. That can change suddenly, though. Earlier this week, I parked myself outside the office to take a few phone calls, and the signal indicator bounced between two and four dots of coverage while I was just sitting there.

As a result, call quality got really strange — I could hear the other party just fine, but I sounded like a mess to them. This happened only one other time, in a completely different location, and I’m at a loss as to why. In any case, if you’re interested in taking calls on a Series 3, a Bluetooth headset is a must. It’ll also help in situations where the Watch’s speaker just isn’t loud enough, which is most of the time, frankly.

Messages rolled in quickly too, but here’s the thing: Not all messages are treated equally. As long as you have some kind of wireless signal, iMessages will be delivered just fine. Text messages are usually subject to a delay, since they’re routed through your iPhone, but this also means that SMSes won’t come through at all if your iPhone is dead. Emails running through Apple’s Mail app worked fine but took longer than usual to pop up on my wrist, so I wouldn’t advise going watch-only when urgent business is in the offing. And most of the Watch apps I installed worked normally, though a few — like Slack and Twitter — either did nothing or force-quit when I tried to use them.

Early review models also seemed prone to connectivity issues stemming from a Wi-Fi bug — in a bid to conserve battery life, the Series 3 tries to latch onto wireless networks your other Apple devices have flagged as being suitable for use. The problem was, not every network was flagged correctly, so captive portals (like those used at, say, Starbucks) would get the OK and the Watch would try to connect, with no way of getting past whatever interstitial screen popped up. It’s not that the Watch was going out of its way to jump onto unfamiliar networks — it’s that some of the networks it thinks are kosher actually aren’t.

This is a major goof, but I can see why it might have escaped detection — I have had precisely zero issues with my Series 3 attempting to latch onto bum networks. Then again, I’m one person, and I find it hard to believe that not a single engineer testing the Series 3 prior to launch ran into this. I’m fairly sure you won’t run into this very specific kind of trouble, but it remains a risk; Apple promised a fix after catching some well-deserved flak, but it still hadn’t materialized when we published this review.

Really, my biggest concern is much more mundane: Going completely iPhone-free means the Watch’s battery life will take a huge hit. After an early-morning run while listening to music and using the GPS, followed by a couple of test calls, the Series 3 was on its last legs by early afternoon. Apple has always been clear that the Series 3 is more of a temporary phone substitute than an actual replacement, so this probably won’t seem shocking to you. Still, if this morning routine sounds like your idea of a good time, remember to have a charger handy.

I don’t mean to make the Series 3 sound terrible at this stuff — when everything works properly, it makes for an adequate untethered companion. It’s just too bad that those moments weren’t as common as I expected.

As a fitness tracker

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With the Series 2, Apple decided the Watch should be a serious fitness wearable, and its focus on getting people out of their chairs clearly isn’t going away. Thankfully, the Series 3’s blend of capable hardware and thoughtful software make it a great choice for people who take their workouts seriously, but not that seriously.

The Series 3’s step counts were in line with other wearables I tested it against, though accuracy is a weird thing to look for in cases like these. Every fitness tracker I’ve ever worn seemed to interpret my steps a little differently, but the Series 3 was consistently within +/- 10 steps of my own counts (in my head, up to 250). Strangely, I guess I define “a flight of stairs” differently from how the Watch’s new barometer does, since it consistently underestimated me on days when I decided to avoid the office’s elevators. Meanwhile, the updated Workout app packs support for new workout types (perfect for you crazy high-intensity interval people) and easier controls for setting time or calorie burn goals for your swim, walk or run.

Speaking of running, I’ve had no issue with GPS accuracy either — I run the same route a few times a week, and the distance was basically bang-on every time. Granted, I don’t precisely know how long that makeshift course is, so hardcore runners (like Engadget marathoner-in-residence Dana Wollman) may be better served by more purpose-built wearables that can more accurately measure one’s pace. Now, once I get moving, I don’t have too much trouble powering through to the end; the real trouble comes in getting off my ass to start with. For better or worse, Apple’s three-ringed activity app now offers more proactive notifications, the most effective of which tells me roughly how much longer I’d need to walk to hit my goals at the end of the day. It’s just enough of a push to get me where I want to be, and I’m surprised Apple didn’t implement this sooner.

Your author really needs to chill out.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Even though I’m not the exercise nut I used to be, I appreciated Apple’s enhanced focus on your heart. The Watch tries to get more accurate readings of your resting heart rate by checking it when it knows you haven’t been moving, and it plots your heart rate readings on handy graphs to show you changes over time.

It’s especially helpful for tracking your recovery after intense exercises, but that’s one of the few areas where the Watch offers a little more data than casual users are probably interested in. All told, this a wearable best suited for generalists. Good thing for Apple, then, that there are a lot of them out there. Hardcore athletes may get more mileage out of a wearable that measures even more, like blood oxygenation. (Curiously, the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor works in such a way that it could also function as a pulse oximeter, but the feature has never been activated.) What’s more unfortunate is that two features that should be great for exercise buffs — Apple Music streaming over LTE and integration with gym equipment through GymKit — won’t be ready for a few more weeks.

The competition

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There haven’t been too many Android Wear 2.0 watches released this year, which leaves the LG Watch Sport at the top of the proverbial pack. Chatting with Google Assistant is mostly a pleasure, and it uses a rotating crown button for navigation, just like the Series 3. One of Android Wear’s biggest assets has always been its visual flexibility, and I’ve spent more time than I care to admit sifting through watch faces in the Play Store in hopes of finding the perfect look for my wrist. The Sport can also jump onto cellular networks, but LG’s approach is problematic: There’s an actual SIM card inside, so the watch’s body is huge, and the antennas extend into the watch’s unremovable bands. It’s a solid option if you’re a smartwatch shopper who doesn’t care for Apple, but beware of its compromises.

Samsung’s Gear S3 Frontier comes to mind too, since it also packs an eSIM and an LTE radio for truly phone-free use. It’s a bigger, more masculine-looking watch than the Series 3, and it’s a little less comfortable, but its rotating bezel remains one of the most inspired interaction methods I’ve ever used on a smartwatch. It’s effing excellent, and so is its Spotify streaming support. The Frontier can also tell when you’ve started to work out and will track your movements accordingly, an intelligent touch that (sadly) doesn’t always work as well as it should. The biggest knock against the S3 Frontier, however, is its Tizen OS. Who cares if you can install apps in the woods if they’re mostly apps no one cares about?

Wrap-up

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The Apple Watch Series 3 often feels like two devices in one. When it’s connected to a phone, it’s an improvement over its predecessors in just about every way that matters. More important, the tight integration of improved hardware and more thoughtful software give the Series 3 a very notable edge over its smartwatch competition. It’s that good. As a standalone device, though, the Series 3 can be maddeningly limited. Over time, I’m sure apps will grow to take advantage of persistent data connections, and still other kinks will be worked out entirely. For now, though, the kinks remain and the overall experience suffers as a result. Apple’s vision of a wearable that remains forever connected to the things that matter to you is an enticing one, and the Series 3 is an important first step down that path. Here’s hoping Apple’s next step is as consistently good on its own as it is when connected to a phone.

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Apple Watch Series 3 first look: So far, no LTE problems

The Apple Watch Series 3 started shipping today, and our definitive review is still in the works. In the meantime, we wanted to give you a taste of what life is like with the company’s first LTE-connected watch, so when we got it in for review, we said eff it: let’s use nothing but the Watch all day. I was going to respond to every text, email and Slack message from my wrist, use it for listening to music on the subway and talk into it as much as I would with my usual iPhone. To be fair, Apple doesn’t seem like a huge advocate of this idea — it treats the Series 3 as an occasional substitute for an iPhone rather than a day-to-day replacement. That said, this is the first Apple Watch with cellular connectivity. How could we not try this?

Ditching the phone takes a little time, though; you’ll need an iPhone to completely the initial setup, which thankfully seemed much faster than on previous models. Well, until it came time to set up the cellular connection, anyway. I’m an AT&T customer, so this meant the Watch app kicked me into a browser window where I had to enable the carrier’s $ 10-a-month NumberSync feature. For whatever reason, the process seemed to fail the first time, but a subsequent attempt let me pick up where I left off after logging in again. At last, with NumberSync ready and LTE ostensibly ready to go, I took a moment to behold the Watch itself.

At its launch event, Apple said the crystal housing for the heart rate sensor is just “two sheets of paper” thicker than last year’s Series 2. The difference is subtle — the crystal pressed into my wrist a little more noticeably than before, but not enough to get worked up over. The weight hasn’t changed much, which is pretty impressive considering the stuff Apple had to squeeze inside to make the cellular connections work.

The more I thought about it, the less sense the cellular Series 3’s red dot makes. I’m told it serves no technical purpose; it’s just there to add a fun little splash of color, and serve as a reminder that this watch can indeed make phone calls. Whether or not Apple intended it, the visual metaphor is apt: The dot looks like the red notification indicator that pops up on-screen, a subtle, persistent suggestion that the Series 3 is always connected to the rest of your world. That said, the dot straight-up clashes with certain Watch bands. Yeesh.

After that, it was time to actually use the thing. I killed Bluetooth on the iPhone and waited for about 10 seconds until the Watch transitioned to… Wi-Fi. Oops. I’d need to be outside for the rest of this process. It took about 35 seconds for the Watch to acquire an LTE signal, and when messages started rolling in, I was honestly a little surprised how easily I could manage them all. Unlike other reviewers, I haven’t noticed any hiccups in network performance so far, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

The constant throbbing of notifications rolling in gets old quickly, but so far, the excellent voice recognition was tremendous in helping me get back to everyone. I’ve always liked the idea of “scribbling” out letters with my finger to respond to incoming messages, but it the process of figuring out what letter you’ve drawn takes just a tick more time. Voice recognition is the way to go, even if I looked like sort of a doofus using it.

Ditto for talking into the Watch, but at least it sounded pretty good, or so said the people I was chatting with. Of the four friends I called using the Watch, three of them had no idea I was talking into my wrist. Still, as far as the built-in speaker goes, you’re going to want a decent set of Bluetooth earbuds to get the best audio quality on your end. I should also mention that I didn’t notice the widely-reported issue where the Series 3 tries to latch onto open WiFi networks it shouldn’t. That’s probably because I’m kind of anal about what WiFi network settings I actually keep saved on MacBook and iPhone; I generally clear out everything but my home and work configurations. I’m going to be a little more lax about this, though, and see what happens from there. Moving on.

Using Siri was also a pleasant surprise — it typically gets a bad rap, but my experience so far has been great. It very quickly got to the point where I could ditch the precise pronunciation I reserve for virtual assistants and just talk like myself. There was one moment when I was walking around downtown Manhattan and Siri failed to connect, but she’s otherwise turning out to be the Series 3’s MVP. The other contender for that title is the updated chipset inside; it makes the Series 3 much more capable. Switching between apps (accessible using the flat side button) was the smoothest experience as I’ve had yet on an Apple Watch.

I kept up with work for about four hours, and while my co-workers could probably tell I wasn’t quite as responsive as usual, I was still managing to get things done. It was getting pretty late at this point, so I decided to wind down my night with a leisurely run along the East River, using the GPS to track my route. The Watch seemed to do a fine job here, except it basically obliterated what was left of my battery life. After six hours, the Watch was down to 10 percent and dipped into Power Reserve mode.

So far, the Series 3 has been a mixed bag. The big performance gains mean it’s much more pleasant to actually use, but most people don’t need what amounts to a second, more limited phone lashed to their wrists. I’m going to keep testing the Series 3 for a few more days, so stay tuned for our full review.

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The next Apple Watch might not need an iPhone for data

Well, Apple Watch fans have more to look forward to than just a new operating system. According to a new report from Bloomberg, Apple will release a version of its Watch with cellular network support built-in by year’s end, relieving users of the need to carry their iPhones around. Three words: it’s about time.

Rumors of a cellular Apple Watch are nothing new, and the whole concept should sound very familiar by now. After all, Samsung and LG have had LTE-enabled smartwatches for years, and the latter developed one such wearable to help launch Android Wear 2.0 earlier this year. While it’s not yet clear what Apple plans to let people do with these mobile data connections, it’s likely that users will be able to send messages and make phone and FaceTime Audio calls without being tethered to an iPhone.

Interestingly, Intel is said to be providing the modem for the new Apple Watch, which isn’t a huge surprise — Apple tapped the chipmaker for modems used in certain versions of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. Given the Watch’s small size, Apple and Intel may opt to use a digital “eSIM” rather than a traditional plastic SIM card as well. That could signal a similar decision for future iPhones, which would have potentially huge ramifications for how such smartphones (and their data plans) are sold.

If nothing else, though, use of an eSIM would likely preserve the Apple Watch’s compact footprint. Consider LG’s flagship Watch Sport: it was the more powerful of the two smartwatches that debuted alongside Android Wear 2.0, and the space required to fit a physical SIM card inside helped make it big and somewhat unwieldy. That’s not really Apple’s style, especially since the company’s new Watch is said to benefit from an all-new form factor.

If true, Apple’s next step in wearables may be an iterative one. Still, if the company’s most recent earnings release is any indication, demand for the Watch is still going strong. According to CEO Cook, Watch sales grew 50 percent year over year — seriously, Tim, would some hard numbers now and then really kill you?

Source: Bloomberg

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The Wirecutter’s best deals: Save $70 on an Apple Watch Series 2

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter‘s independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their continuously updated list of deals here.

You may have already seen Engadget posting reviews from our friends at The Wirecutter. Now, from time to time, we’ll also be publishing their recommended deals on some of their top picks. Read on, and strike while the iron is hot — some of these sales could expire mighty soon.

Garmin Forerunner 230 Running Watch

Street price: $ 190; MSRP: $ 250; Deal price: $ 155 with code AFFEMFIT

This is the lowest price we’ve seen on this GPS running watch at $ 155 after applying coupon code AFFEMFIT. While the street price of the Forerunner 230 has fallen under $ 200 in recent months, this is still a new low by a nice margin and a good opportunity to pick one up if you’re a runner looking to up your game. Black, Yellow, and Purple colors are available at the $ 155 price. Shipping is free.

The Garmin Forerunner is our pick for the best GPS running watch. Jim McDannald writes, “The Garmin Forerunner 230 (FR 230) has everything we were looking for in a great GPS running watch. It takes the accuracy and long battery life of our previous pick, the Forerunner 220 (FR 220), and makes the screen larger and more readable during activities, while retaining a light and small profile that won’t feel weird wearing as an everyday watch. The FR 230 can pass along smartphone notifications and track your steps and other casual activities. The interface and data syncing are easy enough to use if you are new to GPS watches, but the FR 230 also contains deep features and optional app downloads that experienced runners and statistics wonks can dig into. It can track some advanced running metrics we’ve only seen in higher-priced models and can also work with separate cycling monitors for speed and cadence. All of these features rest on top of Garmin’s unparalleled reputation for making reliable GPS watches; adding up to a watch that, while right in the middle of the pricing curve at about $ 250, feels many product cycles ahead of its competitors.”

Fitbit Flex 2 Fitness Tracker

Street price: $ 100; MSRP: $ 100; Deal price: $ 60

Here’s a nice drop on our new budget pick for best fitness tracker, the Fitbit Flex 2. This is the first sale we’ve seen on the Fitbit Flex 2 since making it one of our picks and marks a $ 40 drop from the usual street price. Most of the sales we see on this Fitibit only drop the price $ 20 down to $ 80, so this is a great price to pick it up. Since the only other time we saw this Fitbit at $ 60 was last year during Black Friday sales, it’s unlikely that this deal will stick around for too long. The deal is currently available in black, lavender, magenta, and navy.

The Fitbit Flex 2 is our new budget pick in our guide to the best fitness trackers. Amy Roberts wrote, “If you just want a simple way to monitor and track your daily activity (including workouts), nightly sleep habits, and get reminders to be more active, the Flex 2 is a great choice—especially if all your friends are on Fitbit. Unlike other Fitbits, it’s water resistant to 50 meters so you can track swimming and shower with it. However, there’s no screen—just five status LEDs to track progress towards your daily step count goal. It also doesn’t track heart rate, but Fitbits in general continue to struggle with heart-rate accuracy, so we don’t see this as a major issue; it helps the Flex 2 maintain its slim profile and lower price. The Flex 2 syncs wirelessly to the Fitbit app on a smartphone or the Fitbit website on a computer to keep a record of your activity and link you to other Fitbit users—a real highlight, as research shows that friendly competition can be very motivating.”

Apple Watch Series 2 – 38mm Aluminum

Street price: $ 370; MSRP: $ 370; Deal price: $ 300

This is the first big drop we’ve seen on our upgrade Apple smartwatch pick. We haven’t seen many (or any) really worthwhile sales on the Apple Watch Series 2, so if you’ve been waiting for a decent sale, now is the time. This deal is available in space gray, rose gold, and white, as well as the 42mm size for $ 30 more.

The Apple Watch Series 2 is our upgrade pick in our guide to the best smartwatch for iPhone owners. Dan Frakes wrote, “The Apple Watch Series 2 has three features that make it far more useful than the Series 1 for outdoor or water exercise: onboard, no-phone-required GPS, a waterproof design (up to 50 meters in fresh or salt water) that can handle swimming or surfing, and a brighter screen that’s easier to see outside. Combined with the watchOS 3’s improved Health app, these improvements mean the Series 2 watch can compete with fitness trackers and running watches while also being stylish enough to wear in casual and work settings.”

Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet

Street price: $ 90; MSRP: $ 90; Deal price: $ 65

This comes in $ 5 below the previous sale we featured last month and is one of the best sales we’ve seen on this tablet. Since those sales tend to be pretty short, it’s safe to assume that this one won’t last longer than a few days. Outside of the occasional lightning sale, this is likely the new best price you’ll find on the Fire HD 8.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 is our budget pick in our guide on the best Android tablet. Chris Heinonen wrote, “If you want a cheap tablet for watching videos, reading, or browsing the web, Amazon’s Fire HD 8 tablet is great. It doesn’t have access to the Google Play Store or any of Google’s apps, but it costs less than $ 100 and makes it easy to access Amazon content (especially for Prime members). Amazon’s Fire OS (based on Android) runs very well, and the Fire HD 8 offers better battery life than the Shield K1 or Pixel C. The display is only 1280×800, but that’s fine for a budget media tablet. Amazon’s app store is not as extensive as the Play Store, but it does have free versions of many apps and games that cost money on other Android tablets. The Fire HD 8 also has more extensive parental controls than other tablets, making it a great family device.”

Because great deals don’t just happen on Thursdays, sign up for our daily deals email and we’ll send you the best deals we find every weekday. Also, deals change all the time, and some of these may have expired. To see an updated list of current deals, please go to The Wirecutter.com.

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Hacker’s unofficial ‘Watch Dogs 2’ app is incredibly appropriate

After successfully linking GTA V to an iPhone, the same Hungarian hacker has now developed software that allows users to manipulate Watch Dogs 2 from their smartphone. Using the programming language, Python, YouTuber Planetleak DIY Projects has managed to recreate the game’s Dedsec app on his iPhone — and the irony of creating an iPhone hack for a game about hacking probably wasn’t lost on him.

Thanks to clever keypress emulation and screenshots mimicking the look of the game’s smartphone, the custom app instantly navigates a convincing replica of Watch Dogs 2’s in-game menu via the iPhone’s touchscreen.

It’s certainly a step-up from the hacker’s GTA V app. While his 2015 effort required an Arduino in order to recreate GTA‘s button presses, he claims this new software-only solution has resulted in a far smoother and less laggy experience. When the YouTuber contacted Ubisoft, the company expressed interest in the project, giving him permission to share the app’s source files. These means that anyone can modify the software (or simply use it as is) by downloading the source code for the Python server.

A couple of years ago, hackers didn’t need to bother creating these kind of solutions. After the Wii U launched, many publishers initially responded by releasing companion apps for Xbox 360 and PS3 games, offering non-Nintendo gamers a second screen experience of their own. While these apps were pretty useful, they were largely seen as a gimmick and after declining public interest, publishers quickly stopped developing them.

With this console generation seeing fewer and fewer games launching with companion apps, gamers who liked a degree of smartphone integration will have to rely on the work of hackers like this one.

Source: Planetleak DIY Projects

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Apple Watch could soon track your sleep and fitness levels

The Apple Watch is billed as a fitness-focused device, but it doesn’t really make sense of fitness data — you’re supposed to interpret the numbers yourself. However, Apple might soon give its wristwear some added smarts. Bloomberg sources claim that the Apple Watch will get apps that track sleeping patterns and fitness levels. It’s not certain how the sleep tracking would work (most likely through motion), but the watch would gauge your fitness by recording the time it takes for your heart rate to drop from its peak to its resting level.

It’s not certain when you’d get the apps. Apple, for its part, hasn’t commented. However, neither of these new features would require new hardware. Sleep tracking wearables have been around for a while, and the fitness measurement would just be a matter of parsing the heart rate data you can get from any Apple Watch.

If real, the move would be part of a broader effort to transform Apple’s overall approach to health. Reportedly, it wants its HealthKit framework to help “improve diagnoses,” not just collect data. You and your doctor could watch out for telltale signs of a condition, or measure your progress on the road to recovery. This would undoubtedly help Apple’s bottom line (you’d have to use at least an iPhone to get this information), but it could also help you make important life decisions.

Via: 9to5Mac

Source: Bloomberg

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Square Enix’s first Apple Watch RPG is stylish yet dull

There aren’t enough dedicated apps for the Apple Watch, let alone role-playing games from established publishers like Square Enix. The name alone conjures images of classic RPGs: Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger and Valkyrie Profile to name a few. That’s why Cosmos Rings, the company’s first Apple Watch-exclusive RPG, feels like such a departure from the norm. It’s vivid, gorgeous and inspired, but unfortunately it falls victim to the very same cliches of so many mobile games that came before it.

At first glance, Cosmos Rings looks quite promising, with a narrative that’s par for the course when it comes to JRPGs. As the God of Time, you’re tasked with wandering an endless expanse called the Rift in a bid to restore time to the way you once knew it. After being moved to stop time to grant the wishes of human beings, you’ve got to repent for causing the Goddess of Time to shatter into pieces. Her crystallized remains were scattered throughout the Rift, and it’s up to you to make things right. Lost love? Check. Protagonist taking it upon himself to make things right? Double check. Now all it needs is an amnesiac to fill the rest of its RPG trope quota.

The Rift acts as the stage on which Cosmos Rings plays out. Get used to the way it looks, because you’re going to be seeing a whole lot of it. After you launch the iPhone app and open up the companion version on your Apple Watch, you’re met with a bit of expository story coupled with artwork that’s meant to move you along. These quickly introduce additional characters whose presence don’t immediately make sense in the context of the God of Time’s story, but you’ll soon realize it won’t matter much when the game basically plays itself, barring a few player-controller machinations.

That’s right — Cosmos Rings is essentially an incremental game that requires little or no input from you. The game is perfect for the diminutive Apple Watch screen, and its neon pixel art absolutely sings on the small display. But in the end, it’s little better than playing Tap My Katamari or Cookie Clicker with a few added mechanics.

The God of Time continues to run headlong into the Rift, fighting off enemies as they appear before him. This is your default screen among the three the game’s comprised of. The God will automatically attack on his own, but if you so desire you can tap the Skills button at the lower right of the screen to utilize various attacks you’ll earn along the way. If you wait for the timer to count down and then fire off a Skill right after the first one, you can chain them for additional damage. You can also rotate the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown to head to the Fragments screen, where you can spend Fragments (displayed on-screen as you collect them in battle) to upgrade your weapons, unlock additional skill slots and most importantly, earn more time.

You’ll want to keep a close eye on the time you’re allotted, especially if you don’t want to keep playing the same “days” over and over. There’s a timer at the bottom left of the screen that continually counts down. Essentially, that’s your HP gauge. Let it run out, and you’re forced to start the game from the beginning, though you’ll retain any Skills or Relics acquired in the process.

It’s more akin to a roguelike in this respect than an RPG, and is one of the most challenging elements of Cosmos Rings. If you make a mistake or forget to use Fragments to level up or augment your equipment, you can also use the digital crown of your Apple Watch in the Rift to rewind time to a specific “hour,” as the game is split into during each day, to go back and do it all again. These light strategic elements add a little variety, but the game is otherwise so hands-off you’ll wonder why you’re even interacting with it.

Bizarrely, time doesn’t cease counting down unless you’re fighting a boss, when the ticker hits 3 minutes, or during a story event where you’re given a slice of story. So if you’re planning on not playing for a long stretch of time you’ll need to make sure you do keep an eye on the game when you want to make progress. It’s almost like toting around a Tamagotchi or a Giga Pet, except you can’t let your “pet” die.

Cosmos Rings is a strange amalgam of clicker mechanics, colorful pixelated graphics and a score that you’ll want to listen to more than once, but it’s also lacking in the RPG department. When compared to its competition, a fantasy adventure called Runeblade from Everywear Games, Cosmos Rings seems feature-deficient. The former utilizes several of the same mechanics Cosmos Rings does (namely time travel), but offers an offline mode, various quests, and other reasons to keep you coming back. It’s hard to recommend Square Enix’s offering over Runeblade, especially since Runeblade is free.

If you’re looking for something to idly tap on while on the way to work or need to use your Apple Watch for a use beyond regular apps, it’s an interesting experiment. If you’re hoping for anything more than an endless grind with little input required from you, you might want to take your 3DS or Vita with you along for the ride instead. Cosmos Rings is available now as an Apple Watch exclusive.

Source: App Store

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