So, Should You Buy the Apple Watch Series 3 Right Now?

Should you get the Series 3 for your tiny wrists and hands? Hmm.  (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo)
Should you get the Series 3 for your tiny wrists and hands? Hmm. (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo)

The Series 3 is a good smartwatch. Some would even say the Apple Watch Series 3 was the first real smartwatch that was worth the expensive price tag. That said, it’s been three years since the Series 3 launched. Apple’s offers it for $319, and these days, you can find deals that bring that price down even lower. But with the expected arrival of the Series 6 this fall, is saving a few hundred bucks on an older smartwatch worth risking obsolescence?

Since the Series 3 launched in 2017, Apple’s changed a whole lot with regard to the Apple Watch. The Series 4 added a bigger, crisper display and ECG capabilities. The Series 5 then added a spiffy LTPO, always-on display. All the while, annual updates to WatchOS have brought new features like period tracking, noise monitoring, a compass, and a bunch of other minor improvements. Apple could have retired the Series 3 — it certainly put the Series 4 to bed once the Series 5 came out. But it hasn’t. Now the older watch is a sort of “budget” entryway into the Apple Watch. For the past few years, I’ve heartily recommended it to friends who were intrigued at what the smartwatch had to offer, but balked at spending $600-$700 for a new one.

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This year, however, I have a little more reservation. At WWDC 2020, Apple showed us a bunch of the new software features coming with WatchOS 7. The fine print was that it would only work on Series 3 and later watches. That’s big. Previously, WatchOS 6 worked on all but the Series 0 watches. That means if you’re on a Series 2 or older and want the new WatchOS 7 features, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and upgrade. I get the appeal of opting for a Series 3. But no matter how sweet the savings might seem, buying something that could be ancient tech in a year isn’t really a deal.”

Here’s why. While WatchOS 7 will work on the Series 3, there’s absolutely no guarantee that WatchOS 8 will. Worst case scenario, your thrifty upgrade is just delaying the inevitable and only by about a year at that. Plus, the newer watches have faster processors than the Series 3. That means with each subsequent iteration of WatchOS, the Series 3 will only get slower and slower. Have you tried running WatchOS 6 on a Series 2 watch? It works decently, but app loading times aren’t always the snappiest.

Conversely, there’s no way of knowing whether Apple will continue to sell the Series 3 once the Series 6 launches. There’s a slight chance it just might be discontinued entirely. In that case, this might be your best shot at getting a cheaper Apple Watch that’ll still run all the latest software. In all likelihood, the Series 3 will be around so long as its hardware can keep up but again, we don’t really have any clue as to how long that may be.

So with that in mind, you should only get a Series 3 if you’re new to smartwatches and aren’t sure whether this is type of gadget is something you’re keen on. As a friend said to me recently, for $600 to $700, they weren’t sure that a Series 5 was worth it when they didn’t even know if a smartwatch was something they wanted. $319 was a way more palatable “risk” they felt comfortable either spending on themselves or asking a relative to pay as a gift. If you end up liking the Series 3, then upgrading later to a newer model might feel like less of a burden. If you end up hating it, well, at least you didn’t pay top dollar. (For the record, there are also other cheaper smartwatches out there that work well and aren’t the Apple Watch.)

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But, if you’re a Series 2 or older user who loves their Apple Watch, “upgrading” to the Series 3 is a fool’s errand. You already know you like your smartwatch. There’s no point in not upgrading to the latest model to future-proof yourself for a longer period of time. Case in point, the Series 4 was discontinued once the Series 5 came out, but Apple still continues to support the device.

This may be the last year that I feel confident in recommending the Series 3. Ultimately, I’ll have to see how the Series 3 handles WatchOS 7 to make that judgment call. But whatever model you end up deciding on, the Apple Watch itself is a great gadget and one that deserves a spot in an iOS user’s shortlist.