Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: How the smartwatches compare

If you're wondering if the Series 4 is worth it, read our guide
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While the Apple Watch Series 4 is easily the top pick of smartwatches available, the abundance of cheap Apple Watch Series 3 deals means choosing between the two models isn't clear cut.

Apple raised the price of the Series 4 to $399/£429, while patient shoppers can pick up a Series 3 for less than $200/£270. But when it comes to the Series 4 vs Series 3, is it worth saving money by dropping down a generation?

We've compared the two Apple Watches to help you pick between the two. Got any questions about the Series 4 or the Series 3? Let us know in the comments section below.

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

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Design differences

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: How the smartwatches compare

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 in the newer model. Apple added 2mm to both sizes, so the Series 4 now comes in 40mm and 42mm flavours.

That means the Apple Watch Series 3 is the only version now to come in the smallest 38mm size – so if you have tiny wrists, you may want to explore that option.

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 spot as Apple has reduced the size in other areas, like the bezels and thickness.

The new displays are about 30% bigger than the Series 3 displays, so you get more information on screen. Because of all that new screen real estate, both Series 4 models are more usable. Apple has even redesigned the watch faces to fit more information into the corners.

And it's not just aesthetics – the new Watches have 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.

In terms of waterproofing, the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 3 are both water-resistant to 5ATM (50 metres).

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: How the smartwatches compare

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. And that Digital Crown now comes with haptic feedback so that you can feel every click. Also, the odd red dot on the Digital Crown has turned into a much-better-looking and subtler 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: What can they do?

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: How the smartwatches compare

For the most part, all of the core Apple Watch and watchOS 5 features are available on both 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, automatic sports detection and 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 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.

But where the Series 4 really stands apart is with its new health features. First, there's that FDA-certified ECG. It's 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.

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 the optical heart rate monitor 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. Both devices will also alert you to high and low heart rate thresholds, which can be a life saver.

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 compared

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: How the smartwatches compare

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 mostly holds up. 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: How the smartwatches compare

Here we go, this is the kicker. The aluminium Series 4 starts at for the GPS model and for the LTE model.

The aluminium Series 3 starts at for GPS and for LTE.

However, the Apple Watch Series 3 deals are routinely available, which means you could bag one for . That's insanely good for one of the best smartwatches ever made. Yes, there are design and feature downsides, but that's one hell of a price. There are Apple Watch Series 4 deals around, but generally they take the price down to – not much of a saving.

If you want stainless steel, your only option is the Series 4. Apple doesn't sell the stainless steel Series 3 any longer.

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: Which is right for you?

Apple Watch Series 4 v Series 3: How the smartwatches compare

The Series 3 still matches up well against most of the smartwatch competition. It's a great smartwatch that offers plenty of everything, and if you can catch it during the regular price cuts, it's a no-brainer.

However, if you're willing to part with the full asking price, of course the Series 4 gets our nod. The improved design looks spot on, and the powerful internals make it better specced for the future, watchOS 6 and beyond. That's not to mention the obvious benefits of ECG.

But for those on the fence the Series 3 is an astounding smartwatch, and if it was released today would still trounce most full-specced smartwatches out there.

If you're an iPhone user looking for a smartwatch you simply can't lose.

How we test

James Stables


James is the co-founder of Wareable, and he has been a technology journalist for 15 years.

He started his career at Future Publishing, James became the features editor of T3 Magazine and and was a regular contributor to TechRadar – before leaving Future Publishing to found Wareable in 2014.

James has been at the helm of Wareable since 2014 and has become one of the leading experts in wearable technologies globally. He has reviewed, tested, and covered pretty much every wearable on the market, and is passionate about the evolving industry, and wearables helping people achieve healthier and happier lives.

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