Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Apple Watch 3: Which Watch Should You Buy?

(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch Series 5 takes all of the features that made the Series 4 our favorite smartwatch and adds a few improvements, such as an always-on display, double the storage for music, and international emergency calling. What’s more, the Series 5’s price is the same as the Series 4: $399 for the GPS model, and $499 for the GPS + LTE version. 

However, Apple also dropped the price of the Series 3 to $199, down from $279, making it an even more affordable option for those who want a smartwatch with fitness features. Here’s how the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 3 compare.

Editor's note: Apple has introduced two new smartwatches, the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, and is discontinuing the Apple Watch Series 5. Be sure to check out our Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE comparison. 

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch 5 vs. Apple Watch 3: Specs Compared

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch 3 Apple Watch 5
Starting Price$199 (GPS) $299 (GPS + LTE)$399 (GPS) $499 (GPS + LTE)
Battery Life Up to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours
Size38mm, 42mm40mm, 44mm
Display Size272 x 340 (38mm), 312 x 390 (42mm)324 by 394 pixels (40mm), 368 by 448 pixels (44mm)
ColorsSilver, space-gray aluminumAluminum (silver, gold space gray), Stainless steel (gold, space black, polished) Titanium (natural brushed, brushed space black) Ceramic (white)
Music Storage8GB (GPS), 16GB (GPS + LTE)32GB
Water Resistance50 meters50 meters
LTEYes ($100 more)Yes ($100 more)
Heart Rate MonitorOptical heart rate sensorOptical heart rate sensor, electric heart rate sensor for electrocardiograms
Mobile PaymentsApple PayApple Pay
Special Featureshigh/low heart rate detection. Emergency SOSFall detection, low heart rate alerts, ECG, Always-on display, compass, Emergency international calling


The Apple Watch 5 has the same starting price as the now-discontinued Apple Watch 4: $399 ($499 with LTE). That’s not bad, considering the modest improvements. However, the Apple Watch Series 3 is now $199, down from $279. That’s the same price as the Fitbit Versa 2. 

Winner: Series 3

More: WatchOS6 new features, compatibility, and release date


(Image credit: Apple)

The size and resolution of the Apple Watch Series 5 hasn’t changed since the Series 4. You get two options: 40mm (324 x 394 pixels and 44mm (368 x 448 pixels). Still both are sharper than the Series 3’s options (38mm/272 x 340, 42mm/312 x 390). 

More significantly, the Series 5 has an always-on display, so you don’t need to lift your wrist to see the time. In our Apple Watch Series 4 vs. Series 3, the larger OLED display and smaller bezels on the Series 4 were a definite improvement. 

Winner: Series 5


The Series 5 is available in four materials with multiple finishes: Aluminum (silver, gold space gray), Stainless steel (gold, space black, polished), Titanium (natural brushed, brushed space black), and Ceramic (white). In addition, there are Nike and Hermes versions of the watch, with their own bands and watchfaces. 

The Series 3 is available only in silver and space-gray aluminum, though you can still find last year's gold aluminum models at other retailers.

Winner: Series 5

(Image credit: Apple)

Health and Fitness

The Apple Watch 5 has all of the same fitness features as the Series 4: an optical heart rate sensor, an electrical heart-rate sensor that can help detect atrial fibrillation, an accelerometer and gyroscope, that can sense if you fall down, and a compass that shows your heading, latitude, longitude, and incline.

The Series 3 has an older, but still effective optical heart rate sensor that can detect an irregular heart beat. Both models also have built-in GPS. 

Winner: Series 5

Safety Features

(Image credit: Apple)

In the event of a fall, the Series 5 can automatically contact emergency services and contacts for you. The LTE versions of both models have Emergency SOS, but only the Series 5 will work automatically with international emergency services (even if your cellphone isn't nearby), which will work in 150 countries.

Battery Life

The Series 3 and Series 5 have the same battery life: up to 18 hours. The Series 5’s endurance is with the Always-On display feature activated, so presumably you’ll get a longer runtime with that feature turned off. Still, we were hoping for something longer, as the Samsung Galaxy Active can last multiple days. 

Winner: Tie


The improvements in the Apple Watch Series 5 (starting at $399) are pretty modest: An always-on display, built-in compass, and international emergency calling are decent upgrades in a device that doesn’t cost any more than its predecessor. The best features of the Series 5—introduced on the Series 4—are its ability to detect atrial fibrillation, as well as fall detection.

However, the price cut for the Apple Watch Series 3 to $199 makes it a much more compelling smartwatch, especially when compared to similarly priced models such as the Fitbit Versa 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active

Mike Prospero
U.S. Editor-in-Chief, Tom's Guide

Michael A. Prospero is the U.S. Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide. He oversees all evergreen content and oversees the Homes, Smart Home, and Fitness/Wearables categories for the site. In his spare time, he also tests out the latest drones, electric scooters, and smart home gadgets, such as video doorbells. Before his tenure at Tom's Guide, he was the Reviews Editor for Laptop Magazine, a reporter at Fast Company, the Times of Trenton, and, many eons back, an intern at George magazine. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College, where he worked on the campus newspaper The Heights, and then attended the Columbia University school of Journalism. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, electric scooter, or skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine, smoker, or pizza oven, to the delight — or chagrin — of his family.