When Apple unveiled the Apple Watch Series 3 on Tuesday, it took a critical step toward making its smartwatch more than just an iPhone companion. The new Watch, which launches on September 22 for $399, is capable of making phone calls on its own when an iPhone isn’t within range.
I tested this by placing a call to a TIME colleague in Iowa from Apple’s Steve Jobs Theater following the event. The call went though crisply and clearly, despite the fact that I was in an area packed with hundreds of journalists and Apple representatives. I had to hold the watch up to my ear in order to hear him (devices this small haven’t figured out how to jam Bose speakers in yet), but I presume most users would be wearing wireless headphones when making calls meant to last longer than a dozen seconds. Apple has also added subtle green dots to the watch face that indicate the signal strength, similar to cell phone bars.
Another big addition is the new Apple Watch’s altimeter — a sensor Fitbit device’s have had for years. This will let Apple’s fitness app add an elevation gain metric, making it possible to track uphill runs more accurately as shown below.
The crucial aspect of all this is that the new Watch doesn’t feel any bulkier than the Apple Watch Series 2. LTE-equipped smartwatches have existed for years, but many of them are way chunkier than the Apple Watch Series 3. This can make it difficult for those with smaller wrists to feel comfortable wearing them for extended periods of time. Take the LG Watch Sport and Samsung Gear S3: while both watches perform well and offer a range of features that ease worries about leaving a full phone behind, they’re not exactly the watches I’d choose to wear to a dinner party or a wedding.
In that sense, the Apple Watch Series 3 also serves as a testament to how far the industry has come in 2017. Back in 2013, the Kickstarter-funded Neptune Pine was viewed as a novel idea because it could do nearly everything a smartphone could. The problem: it looked comically large on most wrists.
Smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, can’t replace your phone and probably never should. But the addition of LTE may finally convince skeptics who’ve unsure whether buying a smartwatch (in addition to smartphone) is worth the money.
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