The Apple Watch is still one of the best smartwatches you can buy, but it's also pretty darned expensive. However, as Apple has introduced a new Apple Watch series each year, it's diversified its options.
You don't have to buy a brand new and shiny Series 3, complete with LTE. There's also the Series 1, which sacrifices a handful of features for a much more affordable price.
That begs the question: Do you need all of those features? Is the Series 3 perfectly suited for your everyday needs or will you be just as happy opting for the Series 1, making your wallet much happier in the process?
Apple Watch Series 3 v Series 1: Design
Apple has kept its same squarish design for years now, and at first blush there's little difference between the Series 3 and Series 1. In fact, other than the red dot on the crown of the Series 3 there is nothing perceivably different between the two.
Sure, the Series 3 is weighs in at 34.9g, heavier than the Series 1's 30g. And sure, it's slightly thicker at 11.4mm rather than the Series 1's 10.5mm. But unless you have both of them on you to compare, it's unlikely you're going to notice the difference here.
That difference, by the way, is due to the Series 3 packing in many more sensors. You've of course got LTE cellular, which actually has its antenna embedded into the display, but you've also got GPS and GLONASS support, a barometric altimeter, and the new S3 chip, which is considerably faster than the Series 1's S1P chip. The Series 3 also comes with Apple's W1 Bluetooth chip. And oh yes, the Series 3 is water resistant to 50m while the Series 1 is only splash resistant.
You will, however, notice that the Series 1 only comes in aluminum. The Series 3, on the other hand, also comes in stainless steel and ceramic. So if you've got some cash to splash you can upgrade your materials if you choose. There's also the second generation OLED display on the Series 3, which comes in at a bright 1,000 nits while the Series 1 display comes in at 450 nits.
So while it may feel like the only difference between the Series 3 and Series 1 is that red dot, there's a lot more here to consider. The Series 3 is slightly heavier, but it's also packed to the brim with new sensors and chips. Other than those, the big physical difference is that brighter display on the Series 3. This is what you're going to notice in the little moments, like when you want to check your workout in the sun – or are trying to read a text message on the way to work. If viewability is a big deal to you, the Series 3 is where you turn.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Series 1: Features
This is where the biggest gap between the Series 3 and Series 1 lies. The technology packed in the Series 3 gives it a couple of legs up on what the Series 1 offers. The biggest, and newest, feature is LTE connectivity. While having a cellular Apple Watch can't outright replace your iPhone (yet), it can make things a lot more convenient.
If you have to step away from your phone a bit, like heading to your bodega for an egg salad sandwich or running out on a quick errand, LTE can keep you feeling connected. You'll still get your messages and phone calls, though not all apps are built for standalone LTE connectivity yet. Additionally, it's so much nicer to head out on a run with just your Apple Watch and some Bluetooth headphones, rather than having a monolith of a phone clanging against your leg.
Essential reading: Trying out LTE music streaming on the Apple Watch
LTE also brings Apple Music streaming directly to your wrist, so you'll have access to the Apple Music catalogue without your phone in tow. There's also the Radio app, which will give you access to stations like NPR and Beats 1 on the go. The Series 1 will see you syncing over albums and playlists via your phone, and you only have 8GB of storage to play with. The LTE Apple Watch, by the way, has 16GB of storage for offline music.
While we're on the topic of standalone features, GPS and GLONASS support will also let you go for a run without your phone. If you like running outdoors and want to keep track of all your maps and routes, you need GPS support. With the Series 1, you're going to have to have your phone feed your Watch GPS. With the Series 3, you don't need to.
Series 3's water resistance allows you to swim and surf and do other kinds of water sports. The Series 1 is just splash resistant, which means its good for running out in the rain, or washing your hands, or even just taking a shower. But if you're looking to do anything intensive in the water you're out of luck.
The Series 3's more powerful processor also means that Siri can speak to you. On the Series 1, Siri's response is just text, so you have to look down at your wrist to see her responses. Siri's speaking abilities bring a whole new dimension to her on Apple Watch, especially when you're paired with Bluetooth headphones. You won't even have to look down.
If you want more of a basic fitness watch that can keep you connected to your phone and its notifications, the Series 1 is perfect for you. But if you want something a little more fully featured, something that allow you to keep the phone at home a little bit more, the Series 3 is the winner.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Series 1: Battery
The Apple Watch has been a day-long affair in the battery department since it debuted, and that hasn't changed drastically over the past couple of years. Apple says you'll get about 18 hours of life with both the Series 3 and Series 1, and that's been about what we've seen in daily use, too.
However, LTE on Series 3 will drain the battery faster than anything you can do on the Series 1 – especially if you're out and about and calling people from your wrist. So if you plan on buying a Series 3 with calling in mind, be wary that your battery life may take a hit because of it.
The other thing in regards to battery is that the Series 3 will be compatible with Apple's upcoming AirPower wireless charging mat. This basically means you can buy one charger for your Apple Watch, iPhone and AirPods, should you have all of Apple's newest toys. If you don't however, this probably won't matter to you.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Series 1: Price
The biggest differentiator of them all. The Apple Watch Series 3 comes in at $399.99, while the Series 1 is a much more affordable $249.99.
While you're getting many more features for that price jump, saving $150 can make a big difference. You could turn that money around and use it on a small collection of watch bands if you wanted. And let's not forget there's a hidden cost with the Series 3.
Cellular data isn't cheap, which means you'll have to pay $10 a month in the US to use LTE on your Apple Watch, while it's £5 a month if you're in the UK. The big question you have to ask yourself before buying a Series 3 is whether the small moments of cellular connection are worth monthly payments.
Apple Watch Series 3 v Series 1: Verdict
The Apple Watch Series 3 is easily the best and most capable Apple Watch the Cupertino company has ever made. However, that doesn't necessarily mean you should choose it over the Series 1.
Its value over the Series 1 comes down to whether you need water resistance, GPS and GLONASS support. If you do, the Series 3 is a clear winner. The question becomes much tougher if LTE connectivity is the deciding feature.
If those small, fleeting moments of connectivity away from your phone are valuable to you, and you can justify spending the data prices every month, then have at it. However, if that cost isn't something you can come to terms with, the Series 1 is better for you, and you can use that spare cash to upgrade your band collection.
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