Since its debut in 2015 the Apple Watch has come a long way, even if to the untrained eye it looks the same in 2019. But under the surface, it is the most capable smartwatch on the market and the one you should buy – so long as you have an iPhone, of course. Naturally, the Apple Watch does not and has not ever worked with Android phones.
The latest version released in September, Apple Watch Series 5, added an always on display so the little computer on your wrist displays the time without you having to bring your wrist to your face with a flourish. It can also send texts, track your workouts, monitor heart rate and control your music to name but a few features – so long as it was connected to your iPhone.
That changed last week when on 13 December New Zealanders finally got the option to buy an Apple Watch with cellular capabilities thanks to a new partnership with Spark. The cellular Apple Watch has a virtual eSIM that is connected to your phone number, meaning you can leave your iPhone on and connected at home but venture out into the big wide world and still keep in touch.
That’s the theory. I’ve been testing the Apple Watch Series 5 on Spark’s NZ$12.99 per month plan and have been somewhat charmed. It gets you unlimited data to the Watch, so you can call, text and stream from Apple Music and never worry about the charges (though you’ll need wireless headphones for the music. Apple hopes you’ll pony up for some admittedly excellent AirPods Pro).
Despite the perks, cellular on a watch might not sound like a huge upgrade considering you have to pay the data charge on top of your existing plan, and that you have to pay NZ$200 extra on any regular Apple Watch model to get its cellular capable version.
But it’s been an oddly freeing experience, and one I am sold on.
Spark is the first operator partner in New Zealand to offer the service, so if you’re on another network you’re out of luck unless you want to switch providers. Vodafone and 2degrees say they want in but neither has confirmed a timeline.
Spark’s cheapest monthly mobile plan is NZ$39.99 – add to that the NZ$12.99 Watch plan and the price of the Watch itself and on the face, it looks like a lot to pay for the convenience of a smartwatch that can make phone calls.
And it is, if that’s the only reason you want it. But that’s to forget how good the Series 5 is in the first place. It is a phenomenally good smartwatch that makes all other wrist gadgets look amateur. It’s worth noting that in NZ the Watch cannot take advantage of its built-in electrocardiogram function, but once NZ health regulators give it the green light, Apple can update all Series 5 models with a software push.
The device can still tell you if you have an irregular heartbeat, a feature that has saved lives, and is a decent motivator if it thinks you’re lounging about. Much like the iPhone, it’s a piece of tech that gets better the more you customise it to your life and liking, reflected in the customisable watch faces and Watch app store.
I left my phone at home and ventured out, something that would normally instill dread on all but the hardiest millennial. But armed with my (admittedly pricey) duo of cellular Watch and AirPods, I knew I was reachable. I streamed music and paid attention to the world, free of the lure of the infinite Twitter feed. The Apple Watch can’t run full apps like a phone, so I couldn’t mindlessly scroll timelines, but the cellular option made me feel tethered to my digital world still.
Of course, no one phoned me or had an emergency, but I was comforted knowing I’d not missed a call. The texts I did get I could reply to quietly using voice dictation, but it made me realise that nothing is that urgent. Things can wait.
Some will say there’s no point in forking out for a cellular Apple Watch in order to leave your phone at home when you could save the money and just take your phone with you. But the point of the Apple Watch isn’t to replace your iPhone. It’s a great product in its own right, and the option to add cellular connectivity to it makes it the most versatile smartwatch ever made.
Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.