Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Series 4: Which Watch Should You Buy?

A new Apple Watch is now in stores, and we're big fans of the new device. But the Apple Watch Series 4 is expensive, starting at $399 for the smaller 40mm model without cellular connectivity.

As it released its new watch, Apple also dropped the price on the Series 3, which  starts at $279 for the 38mm GPS model. If you get the LTE version for $379, you're still paying less than a base model Series 4.

So is the Series 4 worth that much more? Yes, but the Series 3 still has a lot to offer.

Series 3 vs. Series 4: Specs compared

  Series 3Series 4
PriceStarts at $279 (GPS) or $379 (cellular)Starts at $399 (GPS) or $499 (cellular)
Battery Life18-24 hours18-24 hours
Size38mm, 42mm40mm, 44mm
Display Size272 x 340 (38mm), 312 x 390 (42mm)324 x 394 (40mm), 368 x 448 (44mm)
ColorsSilver, space-gray aluminumSilver, space gray, gold aluminum; silver, space black, gold stainless steel
OSwatchOS 5watchOS 5
Music Storage?8GB of storage, with offline support for Apple Music playlists16GB of storage, with offline support for Apple Music playlists
Water Resistance?Up to 50 meters (swim-proof)Up to 50 meters (swim-proof)
GPS?YesYes
LTE?Yes, for an extra $100Yes, for an extra $100
Heart Rate Monitor?Optical heart-rate sensorOptical heart-rate sensor and electrical heart-rate sensor for electrocardiograms
Mobile PaymentsApple PayApple Pay
Special FeaturesSeries 4 has all the same featuresFall detection, low heart-rate alerts, EKG app

Price

Let's get it out of the way: The Series 4 is expensive. The smaller, 40mm model is $399, or $499 if you want cellular connectivity. Want a bigger size? That'll cost you an extra $30: $429 for the 44mm GPS model, or $529 for the LTE version.

Series 4Series 4The Series 3 is downright affordable by comparison. The 38mm model is $279 for GPS and $379 with LTE. The 42mm version is $309 with GPS and $409 for cellular.


If your biggest concern is your wallet, the 38mm Series 3 without LTE is the way to go. It's also a great device, and in my experience, cellular connectivity isn't essential.

Winner: Series 3

Display

The Series 4's expanded display is its most obvious selling point. Apple stripped away the bezels and brought the screen nearly to the edges on both models. The smaller, 40mm Series 4 has a 394 x 324 display, which is larger than the 312 x 290 panel on the 42mm Series 3, despite the Series 3's bigger case. The 44mm has an even more massive 368 x 448 OLED panel, which looks beautiful but is also great for accessibility.

Series 4Series 4The bigger display is an improvement in every way. Apple designed new watch faces to take advantage of the extra space. Some are dynamic with flames, vapor and water, others are packed with complications for quick access to your most-used watch apps. Everything is more detailed. The dynamic faces are also available on the Series 3, but they don't extend to the edges of the display. Instead, the flames and vapor are limited to the radius encircling the dial.

Pulling up a map of Manhattan on the 38mm Series 3 and the 40mm Series 4, I was blown away by how much larger and more detailed my location appeared on the bigger screen. The Series 3 now looks dated by comparison, and it's only a year old.

Winner: Series 4

Size

With a bigger display comes a slightly bigger case, which is a bummer for people who preferred the 38mm size.

I still prefer the smaller size, but I found the 40mm to be a decent fit for my small wrist. I wish the new watch were smaller, but I found it to be a small sacrifice for the bigger screen and the health potential in the Series 4.

The 38mm Series 3 is still available to buy, and with all the features packed in watchOS 5, you'll still feel like you have a cutting-edge smartwatch, even without a giant display.

Winner: Series 3

Colors

Apple is nudging you to buy a Series 4 purely for aesthetic reasons — the new watch comes in two finishes (stainless steel and aluminum) and three colors (silver, space gray or black and gold).

Series 4Series 4The Series 3 is available only in silver and space-gray aluminum these days, though you can still find last year's gold aluminum models at other retailers.

Winner: Series 4

Health and Fitness

The Apple Watch was already a great swim-proof fitness tracker, but Apple doubled down on the watch's health potential with the Series 4. The new version has an electrical heart-rate sensor, which, combined with an FDA-cleared ECG app, is capable of diagnosing atrial fibrillation. That app is coming later this year via a software update.

Series 4Series 4The Series 4 also has a next-generation accelerometer and gyroscope, which can detect motion and impact if you turn on the watch's new Fall Detection feature. If you remain motionless for a minute after falling, your watch will  dial emergency services for you. This could be huge, especially for elderly watch wearers.

Series 3Series 3Other health features, including Low Heart Rate alerts and a forthcoming irregular heart rhythm alert, are (or will be) available on all watches running watchOS 5. The latest software also includes useful fitness features such as one-on-one activity challenges and automatic workout detection.

MORE: Apple Watch vs. Samsung Galaxy Watch: Which Smartwatch Is Best?

But the game-changing FDA-cleared atrial-fibrillation diagnosis is a sign of where Apple is taking its most personal device ever. If you're concerned about your health, the Series 4 is the watch to get.

Winner: Series 4

Performance

The Series 4 definitely has more zip than the Series 3, thanks to a new S4 chip. I opened the Maps app and selected Current Location on each watch simultaneously (both running the latest version of watchOS). The Series 3 lagged a few seconds behind the Series 4.

Series 3Series 3Siri is also faster on the Series 4, and easier to use now that you can just raise your wrist and start talking. On the Series 3, you have to press the Digital Crown or say, "Hey Siri" to activate the assistant.

Winner: Series 4

Battery Life

One area where Apple's wearables continue to fall short compared with rival watches is battery life. Competing smartwatches from Fitbit and Samsung can easily last four days on a charge, even with daily workouts.

The Series 3 and Series 4 both last about 18 hours on a charge with mixed use, or a little more than a day if you don't work out. If you try to rely on a cellular connection and leave your phone at home, you'll be lucky if the watch lasts eight hours.

Winner: Draw

Bottom Line

The Series 3 wins on size and price, if those are your biggest concerns. With watchOS 5, the Series 3 gains great new fitness-tracking features. Irregular-heart-rhythm notifications, one of the new FDA-cleared health features, is coming to all watches running watchOS 5 later this year, so the Series 3 will become a more capable health device then, too.

  Apple Watch Series 3Apple Watch Series 4
Price (15)1510
Display (20)1320
Size (15)1510
Colors (5)23
Health and Fitness (20)1520
Performance (15)1015
Battery Life (10)55
Total (100)7583

But the Series 4 has more advanced sensors, a larger, easier-to-use display, and the potential to become even more powerful with software features that take advantage of both the size of the Series 4's screen and the data from the watch's sensors.

If you have cash to spare and the 40mm isn't too large for your wrist, splurge on the Series 4.

Credit: Tom's Guide


Create a new thread in the Smartwatches forum about this subject
1 comment
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • mugsy47
    Male with small wrist. Originally purchased 38 mm. Upgraded to the 42. Thought it would be too big but the large screen made it worth it.

    Dilemma of course is stainless vs aluminum. $ 300 difference is a lot. Stainless has only a few dollars more in trade in value.

    Then I thought, it’s so negligible compared to depreciation on my car. With aluminum, I would definitely need AppleCare Plus. With stainless, no. My credit card adds 2 additional years of coverage on mfg warranty.

    Buying AppleCare reduces the cost difference significantly. With just one cracked lens, AppleCare Plus and the deductible total $150. That brings the difference to $75 per year, over 2 years,

    Is the Sapphire lens worth the difference?

    My wife and I both have Rolex watches, purchased new in 1988.
    Her gold stainless combo has a Sapphire. Bulletproof.
    My GMT lens is some form of plastic. Now they are a Sapphire.
    Have replaced the lens twice. Damage easily. Costly.
    Can not replace lens with Sapphire, wrong fit.

    My 8 month old Aluminum Series 2 has one scratch and two minor cracks. Replacement not needed, but irritating, Cracks happened during routine household activity.

    How irritating that Apple is making people pay an extra $100 for cellular, when they only want stainless GPS,