Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 3: Should you upgrade?

(Image credit: Future)

With a $200 price difference between the new Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch 3, there's not much to else consider if you're deciding which to buy new. But if your quandary is whether to upgrade your 3-year-old smartwatch to the latest model, this Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3 face-off can help.

The Apple Watch 6 brings a brighter display, better performance and blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring to users's wrists, making it a clear contender for the best smartwatch title. The Apple Watch 3, on the other hand, has slipped behind the competition in terms of health features and capabilities.

But the Apple Watch 3 supports the latest watchOS 7 software, which delivers other hot tools like sleep tracking insights and hand-washing timers. So should you try to eke another year out of it?

Read this breakdown of the Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3 for your answer. 

Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3: Specs compared

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch 6Apple Watch 3
Starting price$399$199
Size(s)40, 44mm38, 42mm
Heart rate monitorYesYes
SPO2 monitorYesNo
ECG sensorYesNo
Sleep trackingYesYes
Battery Life18 hours18 hours

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 3: Price

The Apple Watch 6 starts at $399 for the 40mm model and $429 for the larger 44mm model. Opting for premium Apple Watch bands will drive your price up (here are some of the best Apple Watch bands for less), as will the addition of LTE.

Last year Apple discounted the Series 3 to an accessible $199 entry price for the 38mm model. You can often find it for less thanks to the best Apple Watch deals, too. However, Apple killed off the Apple Watch 3 with LTE.

If you want cellular support, the Apple Watch SE is a good option, too. It's only a $50 premium for LTE on the new mid-range model, wheres it's $100 more for LTE on the Apple Watch 6.

Keep in mind you can trade in your Series 3 if it's in good condition, too.

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 3: Design and display

At a quick glance, you might not be able to tell the Apple Watch 6 from the Apple Watch 3. Unless you're looking at an Apple Watch 6 in the new blue or Product Red finish, or have a ruler on hand, the aesthetic differences between the two cases are negligible. 

Apple Watch Series 6

(Image credit: Apple)

The display is a dead giveaway, though. Not only does the Apple Watch 6 benefit from slimmer screen bezels, it has the Apple Watch Series 5's always-on display, too. Apple even claims the Apple Watch 6's screen is over twice as bright as the Apple Watch 5's.

If you've been squinting at your wrist, or are tired of the raise-to-wake feature, the expanded real estate and always-on setting of the Apple Watch 6 could justify an upgrade.

Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3: Health and safety features

The Apple Watch 6 is leaps and bounds ahead of the Apple Watch 3 in terms of health and safety features. Although the Series 3 still seemed pretty capable compared to the Series 5 last year, the Series 6's introduction of a blood oxygen sensor is a game-changer.

(Image credit: Apple)

Blood oxygen readings can inform sleep quality and respiratory health. Some of the best fitness trackers already packed SpO2 monitors, so it's nice to see Apple finally arrive with its own.

In addition, the Apple Watch 6 offers on-demand electrocardiograms (ECG), fall detection and international emergency calling. The Apple Watch 3 doesn't come with these assurances. 

Although the Apple Watch 3 is swim-proof up to 50 meters like the Apple Watch 6, it's not as impressive in other outdoor capacities. Yes, it has GPS, but it doesn't have a compass nor an always-on altimeter.

Inside, the Watch 3 still supported by software updates, so it'll receive new workout presets for Dance, Core Training, Cool Down and more. It'll also be compatible with Apple Fitness Plus, the company's upcoming subscription service with workout classes taught by real trainers. 

Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3: Battery life

Apple has retained the Apple Watch's 18-hour battery life for three years now. Yes, the Apple Watch 3 has the same battery life as the Apple Watch 6, despite the Watch 6 having the S6 chip built on the iPhone 11's A13.

The performance will vary during that time, though. The Apple Watch 6 has that always-on display, for one, and it's also just a faster smartwatch.

Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3: Should you upgrade?

If you have an Apple Watch 4, we'd say you can wait another year before considering an upgrade. But your Series 3 could be up to three years old, depending on when you bought it.

Perhaps you've noticed it's slower than it was out of the box, or the battery doesn't last as long as before. Six generations in, the Apple Watch is slipping into an upgrade cycle similar to that of the iPhone. Although you haven't been forced to a newer model for software support like Apple Watch Series 1 and 2 customers were, this is probably the last year it will make sense to use the Apple Watch 3 as a daily driver.

That's not to say you should go out and drop $399 or more on a replacement. If you're new to the Apple Watch ecosystem, the $199 Apple Watch 3 is still an attractive buy that offers lots of great software features. 

And while the Apple Watch 6's features and seamless iPhone compatibility are the most advanced you can within the company's ecosystem, the new $279 Apple Watch SE is also worth considering if you're on a budget. Check out our Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch 3 face-offs for more.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.