For the first time since its launch in 2016, there are three Apple Watch models to choose from, all of which look very similar at first glance. But on closer inspection, you will find that there are very different differences between them that go much deeper than the price differences. This is how they stack up.
Update 9/18: Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE are now available for purchase on Apple.com and wherever Apple Watches are sold.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Design and display
Apple has not come very far from its original square design during the seven generations of the Apple Watch, so there is not much difference between the three watches. Apple has not shared the exact dimensions of the Series 6 and SE yet, but they will probably be a little bigger and thinner than the Series 3, just like the Series 5:
- Series 3: 38.6 x 33.3 mm x 1
- Series 5: 40 x 34 x 10.74 mm
But your wrist will not notice the difference. Apple has the best and most recognizable watch design in the smartwatch industry, so some of the three will look and feel good on your wrist.
Where they are different, however, is with the screen. The Series 3 has Apple’s older screen, so it is smaller (38mm model: 563 sqm; 42mm model: 740 sqm) and has square corners. SE and Series 6 have larger screens (40 mm model: 759 sqm; 44 mm model: 977 sqm) with rounded corners that fit the screen housing.
While the SE and Series 6 have identical display specifications, only the Series 6 is always on, so you can see the time even when the wrist is lowered. Apple also says that it is always 2.5 times brighter on the screen than last year’s model, which will definitely help in bright light.
Our choice: While the sizes and designs are very similar, the screens make all the difference with the Series 6 and SE. And we always liked the Series 5 on screen.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Colors and Materials
While all three watches are available in silver and space gray aluminum as always, you have significantly more options as you go up the line. Apple Watch SE gives a gold color, while Series 6 has new blue and product colors (red).
If you upgrade to one of the mobile models, you can get silver, graphite (DLC) or gold (PVD) stainless steel, or natural titanium or space black titanium. In addition, the Series 6 and SE are available in Nike (silver and space gray aluminum), and the Series 6 offers a Hermes edition in silver and space black stainless steel.
Around the back you get a composite cover with Series 3 and an upgraded ceramic and sapphire crystal on SE and Series 6.
Our choice: While silver and space gray are very nice classic Apple Watch shades, we are very fascinated by the blue and red colors of the Series 6, and if you can afford one, graphite stainless steel.
Read more about Apple Watch SE and Series 6
6 surprising reasons to buy Apple Watch SE
The new Apple Watch Series 6 is a bigger upgrade than you think
Apple Watch Series 6 hands-ons
Apple Watch SE first impression
frequently asked questions about watchOS 7
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Performance and chips
Performance is not nearly as important on the Apple Watch as it is on the iPhone or iPad, but with so much going on inside the Apple Watch, speed matters. And with each of these watches, you get different chips:
- Series 3: S3
- I KNOW: S5
- Series 6: S6
As you might expect, the S6 is about 20 percent faster than the S5, which is about twice as fast as the S3. This is because the S5 and S6 processors have a 64-bit dual-core architecture while the S3 is 32-bit. In addition, you also get the newer W3 wireless chip, which provides support for Bluetooth 5.
The Series 6 watch also brings Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip to the Apple Watch for the first time. First introduced in the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, the chip provides greater spatial awareness, which according to Apple allows the device to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1-equipped Apple devices. Right now it does not mean much – especially since Apple Watch does not make AirDrop yet – but once the long rumors AppleTags look like that will change.
Our choice: If you want everything, Series 6 is obviously the only choice, but we think that SE will be pretty fast for most people. Series 3 will not be terrible, but it probably feels a bit pokey at times.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Connectivity
Apple may have launched the mobile LTE option with the Apple Watch 3 series, but now it’s gone. To use the watch outdoors and leave your phone, you need either Apple Watch SE or Series 6, both of which are available in either GPS or GPS + Cellular variants. This is especially important if you are planning to use Family Setup, which requires a mobile connection.
Our choice: We’ve never been big fans of the monthly fee for Apple Watch’s mobile connection, but the new Family Setup feature is exciting. After all, buying an Apple Watch tweens is cheaper than an iPhone. But if you are buying a watch just for you, it is probably not mobile that is needed.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Sensors and Features
Here the bells really stand out. First, let’s start with what all three watches have:
- GPS / GNSS
- Optical heart sensor
- Ambient light sensor
- 50M water resistance
- SOS for emergencies
In particular, the SE and Series 6 have a second-generation heart sensor for greater accuracy, as well as an altimeter that is always in use for tracking throughout the day. In addition, the microphone will track decibels in the Noise app, and the accelerometer will be used to detect falls, both of which are not available on the Series 3 watch. You also get 32 GB of storage on the SE and Series 6, compared to only 8 GB on the Series 3.
If you upgrade to SE, you get a compass and international emergency call, but to get the latest sensors you have to run to series 6. In particular, it has an SpO2 oxygen sensor that works with a custom algorithm to use light to measure the oxygen saturation of blood both on request and throughout the day. Oxygen saturation can help manage heart failure and asthma, as well as early respiratory illnesses caused by the flu or coronavirus. It is also the only watch Apple seller that has the electric heart sensor that was introduced with the Series 5 last year.
Our choice: Health and fitness enthusiasts will definitely be ours for the Series 6 and the blood oxygen sensor, but SE has a healthy selection of sensors and features at its price.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Price
There’s a big gap between the cheapest Apple Watch and the most expensive (it will be Hermes silver stainless steel case with $ 1,400 $, but the starting prices are not as outlandish:
- Series 3: $ 199 / $ 229
- I KNOW: $ 279 / $ 309
- Series 6: $ 399 / $ 429
Granted, the Series 6 costs twice as much as the Series 3 and $ 120 more than the SE, and it only goes up from there. Here are the prices for the mobile models:
- I KNOW: $ 329 / $ 359
- Series 6: $ 499 / $ 529
Somehow the Apple Watch SE mobile is an even greater value than the only GPS model. With a premium of $ 50 against $ 100 on the Series 6, the mobile Apple Watch SE is only $ 30 more than last year’s Series 3, which has far fewer features.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs SE vs Series 6: Conclusion
Unless you only have $ 200 to spend or simply can not live without the very best features and sensors, we would recommend the 40mm Apple Watch SE with LTE for $ 329 in our favorite color, gold (but if you want silver or medium gray , we will not complain). Yes, you spend $ 130 more than the Series 3, but you get so much more for your money: a bigger screen, better sensors, faster chips and more storage space. In addition, you obviously get a mobile connection, which is far more useful this year thanks to Family Setup.
Even buyers who lean towards the Series 6 may want to consider this model. It’s $ 160 cheaper than the comparable Series 6 watch, and while you don’t get the next-generation blood oxygen and ECG sensors, the rest of the SE matches extremely well with the flagship model at a fraction of the price.
Update 10:20 ET: The conclusion has been updated for accuracy and clarity.