Do Not Buy the Apple Watch Series 3 Over the Watch SE

Screenshot: Apple
Screenshot: Apple

Another September, another Apple Event, and this year, we got two new Apple Watch models: the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE. But do you know which watch is also still around? The Series 3. And, I know the Series 3’s $319 price tag is enticing — a steal, even — but for the love of everything holy, I am here once again for Gizmodo dot come to remind you: Do not buy a Series 3.

The time to buy a Series 3 has come and gone. Earlier this winter, when sales were rampant and Apple’s spring launches were months away, you could’ve made a strong case for buying a Series 3. But as I said then, the only people who would really benefit from skimping out are people who have no idea if the #smartwatchlife was for them. Gadget nerds might scoff, but these people truly exist. In that case, yeah, a discounted Series 3 might have made sense. You could get the vast majority of software updates coming on WatchOS 7 and dabble within the Apple Watch ecosystem without “throwing away” $550 to $680 for a gadget you aren’t really sure you need, want, or will enjoy.

But the Apple Watch SE is here now. My friends, don’t be stupid. If you want to save some money, the SE is a better bet.

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Let’s get price out of the way. The SE will cost a reasonable $429, while the Series 3 will stay at its marked-down $319 price tag. You are effectively quibbling over $100. Now, $100 isn’t nothing — but you’re only saving in the extremely short term. In the long-run, if you do end up liking the Apple Watch, you are spending more. It was a major red flag that the Series 2 and older Apple Watches didn’t make the cut for WatchOS 7 — for better or worse, the older hardware in earlier watches is starting to see the end of their useful lifespan. We don’t yet know if WatchOS 8 will make its way to the Series 3, which is hobbling along on an Apple S3 chip. I would, however, choke on my water if the Series 3 makes it all the way to WatchOS 9.

So we’re talking at most, a year’s worth of use if you buy a Series 3 right now. From the moolah standpoint, you are saving $100 for one year’s worth of use before whatever flashy new software or hardware tempts you to upgrade. If you did this in say, June, July, or August, you’d actually make that $100 stretch 13, 14, 15 months. If you spent that extra $100 for a Watch SE, however, you’d make that $429 stretch for at least two years before it was time to start considering an upgrade. $319 over the course of 12 months is roughly $23 per month; $429 over the course of 24 months is $16. See! Money saved. Sort of.

These are just rough timelines and don’t account for if you want to upgrade. But let’s say you do want to upgrade — maybe the Series 7 is just a mind-blowingly insane update and WatchOS 8 is phenomenal. Apple has a pretty good trade-in system where you get a discount off older products when buying newer ones. On this front, if you wanted to trade in a year-old Series 3 versus a year-old Watch SE, you can reasonably expect to get a bit more for the SE. Let’s say the Series 7 is an incremental change, and you wait it out for the Series 8. You will get even less for that Series 3 when it comes time to upgrade, but you still might get something decent for the SE. So in terms of value, unless you find a Series 3 on sale for less than $300 you’re better off with the SE.

This also is true of the hardware. The SE is a bit of a Frankenstein watch in that it seemingly has the chassis and screen of the Series 4, with a mish-mash of chips and sensors from the Series 5 and Series 6. The SE has the S5 chip (the same one in the Series 5), which right off the bat is 20% faster than the S3 chip in the Series 3. While you won’t get things like an always-on display or ECG, you are going to get features like fall detection and noise-level monitoring, as well as the same accelerometer, gyroscope, and always-on altimeter that the Series 6 has. Heck, in some ways, the SE has more advanced components than the Series 5.

That means if you don’t particularly care about features like blood oxygen level monitoring, always-on display, and ECGs, and if you want just a little more than the basics, the SE is more than capable. It’s cheaper than every other major flagship smartwatch while providing at least some of the same advanced feature set. That includes the $649 Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, the $499 Fossil Gen 5, and the $499.95 Fitbit Sense. Actually, if you can get a trade-in discount, the SE could be just a little more expensive or on-par with the $399 Fitbit Versa 3.

At $429, the Watch SE is $160 cheaper than the GPS-only version of the Series 6. It also includes built-in GPS, which not every smartwatch in the sub-$300 category does. If the Series 6’s upgrades don’t really tickle your fancy, or you’re just not in a position to fork over at least $500 for a new smartwatch, or you’re one of those parents who have enough moolah to get a watch for your kid, the new Apple Watch SE is the safer bet for your wallet. Likewise, if you’re upgrading from a Series 2 or older, but really don’t want to spend over $400 on a new smartwatch, the SE isn’t a bad option. Hell, it’s also a nice upgrade option for budget-conscious owners of the Series 3 and 4 who don’t care about ECG. Not only do you get much faster components, if you do want to upgrade to a Series 7, you’ll likely get more from a future trade-in than a Series 3 too.

After reading all this, if you do buy a Series 3, you best be getting it on some fire sale or from a reseller for $200 or less. Otherwise, you’re just throwing your money away.