Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Battle of the Apple smartwatches

How big an upgrade is Apple's new smartwatch?

The Apple Watch Series 4 is here and we're sure it has a lot of Series 3 owners wondering whether they need to make the upgrade, or hold off until the next Watch.

Apple's latest smartwatch has been well received and bagged a great score in our review, so there are definitely reasons to be excited about the Series 4. But it all boils down to how much you value the design changes and the new features added.

Wareable verdicts: Apple Watch Series 4 | Apple Watch Series 3

To help you in that decision of whether to stick or twist, we've compared the two Apple Watches to help you pick between the two. Got any questions about the Series 4 and the Series 3? Let us know in the comments section below.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Design

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: The redesign takes on the old design

Apple has finally done it – it's changed the design of the Apple Watch. No, we didn't get a round Apple Watch, but there are some big changes here. It's added 2mm to both sizes, so the 38mm Apple Watch has transformed into the 40mm Apple Watch while the 42mm Apple Watch has transformed into the 44mm Apple Watch. The good news is that all of the straps that are compatible with the 38mm/42mm Series 3 models will work with the new Watch.

Essential reading: Best Apple Watch straps to buy

While the Series 4 watches are slightly larger, it's hard to notice as Apple has reduced the size in other areas, like the bezels and thinness. The new displays are about 30% bigger than the Series 3 displays, and it helps make the new Apple Watch instantly look better on the wrist. That said, if you appreciated the Apple Watch for its slim and compact style, you'll want to try both on to compare – you might want to stick with the 38mm, say.

The Series 4 is also less boxy, with more rounded corners to accompany the larger displays and smaller bezels. This makes the Series 4 look sharper and more stylish than the Series 3, while also making the Series 3 look a lot more tech-y.

Because of all that new screen real estate, both Series 4 models feel even more usable. Apple has even redesigned the watch faces to cram in more information. It's much easier to swipe around the display as well.

Speaking of displays, the new Watches have many more pixels. The 40mm Series 4 watch will get you 324 x 394 resolution, up from 272 x 340 on the 38mm Series 3. The 44mm version of the Series 4 gets you 368 x 448 versus the 312 x 390 on the 42mm Series 3.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: The redesign takes on the old design

The back of the Series 4 has been upgraded too, featuring ceramic and sapphire crystal. There are now electrodes built into the back and Digital Crown to enable electrocardiogram readings. That Digital Crown now comes with haptic feedback so that you can feel every click as well. Also, that odd red dot on the Digital Crown has turned into a much-better-looking and more subtle red ring.

Apple has also gone ahead and improved the speaker, making it about 60% louder than the Series 3. Because of that louder speaker, it's also moved the microphone to the side with the Digital Crown so that it can hear you better.

Naturally, the internals have also been upgraded. There's a new W3 wireless chip and S4 system-on-a-chip to improve performance. Storage has been upped to 16GB for all models rather than just the cellular models. The accelerometer and gyroscope have also been improved, with the accelerometer capable of detecting 32 g-forces rather than 16 on the Series 3.

The Series 4 is improved in nearly every way on the design front. It's easier on the eyes, it's easier to use, it's easier to hear calls and sounds and it's even easier to wear. The Series 4 is 10.7mm thin while the Series 3 is 11.4mm thin.

One loss with the Series 4 is that there is no ceramic model any longer. It only comes in aluminium or stainless steel, in either space grey, silver or gold.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Features

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: The redesign takes on the old design

For the most part, all of the core Apple Watch and watchOS 5 features are even between the Series 4 and Series 3, which is a point in the Series 3's favour. Both watches offer LTE models, both have contactless Apple Pay, built-in GPS and sports tracking and a standard optical heart rate monitor.

There are only a few features that are truly different between the two, and it's all down to the new hardware on the Series 4.

The larger screen on the Series 4 means a whole lot of information is capable of being shown on that display. Thus, Apple has gone ahead and created the Infograph and Infograph Modular watch faces. The Infograph face is totally new, and it featured on all of Apple's marketing.

The Infograph Modular watch face is a new take on the most versatile watch face already offered on the Apple Watch, the Modular watch face. It's basically a digital version of the Infograph face.

Having all that information makes the Apple Watch slightly more glanceable than the Series 3. The most complications you can fit on the Series 3 are five, on the Modular watch face. So if you'd like your Apple Watch to give you more information with each glance, the Series 4 is a better choice.

Read this: Why ECG is a big deal

But where the Series 4 really stands apart is with its new health features. First, there's that FDA-certified ECG. That isn't actually live yet, and will be available later this year in the US with a new ECG app. We haven't been able to test it, but ECG is a big deal that can let you assess things like atrial fibrillation (a leading cause of strokes). You can also get an ECG reading you can give to your doctor.

What is live is low heart rate. You can set your low heart rate threshold, down to 40 beats per minute, and have your Apple Watch notify you if you go down below it.

Thanks to the new accelerometer and gyroscope, the Apple Watch Series 4 also has fall detection. So if you take a hard fall and stay down, it can call emergency services for you. We were unable to successfully test this by simulating a fall, which is a good sign as it doesn't seem to produce any false positives.

The little old Series 3 doesn't have ECG or fall detection but it does have an optical heart rate monitor which can tell you resting heart rate throughout the day – a useful indicator of fitness – and also measure heart rate in real time while running or working out. It's a solid performer though not perfect but that applies to most/all wrist based heart rate monitors.

In a way, the Series 4's features feel like a big safety net. Fall detection is important for anyone, not just seniors, and ECG readings can legitimately help save people's lives. More information on a watch face is great, but those two features can actually help people. It's no contest here.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Battery life

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: The redesign takes on the old design

Apple isn't claiming much difference in battery life from the Series 4 to Series 3, saying that you'll get 18 hours of use – that's Apple's now-infamous "all-day" metric.

In our real-world test, we found that to mostly holds up to snuff. We could get through the day with 50% on the Series 4. Like the Series 3, that means that some power management could get you through two days before having to charge. With both the Series 4 and Series 3, hitting it up with some LTE or GPS use will see your battery drain quicker than letting it lean on your iPhone.

Read this: Essential Apple Watch tips and tricks

While it's somewhat impressive that the Series 4 maintains the Series 3's battery life while powering a display 30% larger, it's also disappointing that Apple couldn't eke out better battery life overall.

This is a wash at first glance, but it depends how you want to look at it. The Series 3 has a smaller display and less features on the all-day battery life but as we'll come to, it's also now much cheaper than the Series 4.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Price

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: The redesign takes on the old design

Here we go, this is the kicker. The aluminium Series 4 starts at $399 for the GPS model and $499 for the LTE model. The aluminium Series 3 starts at $279 for GPS and $379 for LTE.

If you want stainless steel, your only option is the Series 4. Apple doesn't sell the stainless steel Series 3 any longer – same goes for the Hermès model. The Nike+ models are the same price as the aluminiums for both Series 3 and 4.

So you're paying a $120 premium for the Series 4 over the Series 3, and a lot of that is going to the larger display and more advanced health features. If that's worth it for you, than dive on in but for that price and feature set, the Series 3 is still very much worth considering.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Verdict

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: The redesign takes on the old design

The Series 3 still matches up well against most of the smartwatch competition. It's a great smartwatch that offers plenty of everything, and it's the catalyst of the Apple's smartwatch sales boom. Plus that's a nice price cut considering its rivals in the Wear OS camp.

However, if you have the choice between the Series 3 and Series 4 – the Series 4 is the one to go with. It's more expensive, sure, but it's better designed and offers more robust health features for now and for the future.

If you've got a Series 3, the choice is a little murkier. That'll depend on how much the larger screen and improved health offerings could help you, plus where you are in the world – ECG has been FDA cleared for the US, no word on Europe or the rest of the world yet.

You might want to sit out this cycle and see what Apple does next. If you think that fall detection could benefit you, though, or ECG is useful for you, then you should no doubt upgrade.


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