Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

How do the three smartwatches in Apple's collection compare? We take a look
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With the arrival of the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Watch SE joining the Series 3, there are now three Apple smartwatches to choose from.

But which Apple Watch is the best fit for you? Which features could you live without? And do you really need to pay upwards of for the Series 6?

Here we've outlined the key differences between the three officially on-sale Apple Watch models.

Here's how the Apple Watch Series 6 compares to the Watch SE and the Series 3.

Apple Watch feature comparison

Series 6 Watch SE Series 3
40/44mm 40/44mm 38/42mm
Always-on display Yes No No
Storage 32GB 32GB 8GB
Pulse ox Yes No No
ECG Yes No No
LTE Yes Yes No
High/low HR Yes Yes Yes
GPS Yes Yes Yes
Waterproof 50m 50m 50m
watchOS watchOS 7 watchOS 7 watchOS 7

Apple Watch Series 6 v Watch SE v Series 3: Price

Without making this very confusing, here's a breakdown of the Apple Watch Series 6, SE and Series 3 pricing based on what's available on Apple's website:

GPS only
Apple Watch Series 6: From $399 (40mm)
Apple Watch SE: From $279 (40mm)
Apple Watch Series 3: $199 (38mm)

GPS and LTE/Cellular
Apple Watch Series 6: From $499 (40mm)
Apple Watch SE: From $329 (40mm)
Apple Watch Series 3: N/A

So what does those numbers tell us? Well, things haven't really changed for the top end Apple Watch in terms of pricing.

The Series 3 remains at the same price to make it the most affordable option and the SE is considerably cheaper than the Series 6, but a pricey jump up from the Series 3.

Apple Watch Series 6 v Watch SE v Series 3: Design

Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

Apple Watch Series 6

Let's get into the subject of case sizes before we get into case materials, bands and everything else.

Case sizing is something differentiates the Series 3 from the Series 6 and the SE.

The Series 3 offers 38mm and 42mm case options while the Series 6 and the SE both offer larger 40mm and 44mm cases. Those bigger bring larger, higher resolution displays that include more data on apps or watch faces.

We've appreciated the jump in screen size in Apple's most recent watches and if the idea of having more screen estate to play with appeals to you, then the Series 6 and the SE are the ones to go for.

The Series 6 is the only one of these three Apple Watch models that has an always-on display.

When it comes to the materials on offer for those cases, the Series 3 comes in aluminium as does the SE.

The Series 6 is offered in a choice of aluminium, stainless steel or titanium, with the latter options coming in significantly pricier than an aluminium Series 6.

Apple Watch color options:

Series 6: blue, gold, red, graphite, space grey, black, silver

Series 3: silver, space grey

SE: space grey, silver, gold

Nike: aluminium, space grey

Fundamentally, all of these watches work in the same way. You have a touchscreen display matched up with the Digital Crown.

That Crown on the Series 3 though lacks the haptic feedback included on the newer Watches.

There's also less storage kicking about on the 3 as well with its 8GB looking small in comparison to the 32GB you'll get on the Series 6 and the SE.

All models include built-in speakers and microphones to unlock support for things like Siri, though the SE and the Series 6 include a new version of that setup to offer an improved performance.

Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

When it comes to bands, Apple has been pretty good on making sure its newer bands can work with older models. So you can expect new Sport and Loop bands to be available to use for all three of these models.

If you care about water resistance (and we sure you do), the good news is that all of these watches carry are swim-proof up to 50 metres and include dedicated swim tracking features.

Choosing between whether you go for GPS or an LTE/Cellular Apple Watch is easier to do for the Series 6 and the SE. While you can find LTE versions of the Series 3, Apple itself doesn't offer that option through its own website.

Apple does still offer Nike and Hermès editions of its watches and those editions are all available for the 6. The SE gets a Nike edition while the Series 3 misses out all together.

Apple Watch Series 6 v Watch SE v Series 3: Smartwatch features

Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

When we're talking about smartwatch features, we talking about things like communication, watch faces, apps and music features.

Apple's latest watchOS 7 update is compatible with all three watches to offer the latest software upgrades.

Those core features remain consistent across the three watches.

That includes Apple Pay, support for services like Apple Music and offer access to the Apple App Store.

There are features that only make the cut on the Series 6 and the SE.

Like the new Family Setup, which can give the Watch more kid-friendly features when using cellular versions of the Watch. That support isn't extended to the older Series 3.

If you're hoping the Apple Watch can be potentially useful in an emergency situation, the Series 6 and the SE offer more on that front.

They both support Apple's Emergency SOS features, international emergency calling and fall detection. The Series 3 in comparison offers just the Emergency SOS support.

Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

We've mentioned speakers and mics, which features across the board. On the Series 6 and the SE, those speakers are 50% louder and the mic unlocks the noise app.

With all that the Apple Watch promises, it's relying on components to keep things running smoothly. With the Series 6, you're getting Apple's new S6 chip, which is apparently 20% faster than the S5 chip inside of the Watch SE. The Series 3 relies on a the older S3 processor.

The Series 6 and the SE also feature Apple's W3 chip compared to the W2 wireless chip included in the Series 3.

The Series 6 is the only Watch of the three that includes Apple's new U1 chip. It could be used to replace car keys or help find other devices that could pack the U1 chip in the future.

Apple Watch Series 6 v Watch SE v Series 3: Sports and fitness tracking features

Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

With every new iteration Apple has improved the ability for its smartwatch to be your fitness tracker and sports watch in one.

We've seen swim tracking added, one of the best fitness tracking ecosystems and you have a host of apps available to give you the freedom to track runs, rides and other activities how you want to.

The arrival of watchOS 7 also brings more features including native sleep tracking and better track for workouts outside core sports like running, cycling and swimming.

Looking at the key sensors that unlock those features, you're getting built-in GPS on board and an optical heart rate monitor.

If you like spending time outdoors hiking or trail running, you'll only find a compass on the Series 6 and the SE. All three have an altimeter to measure elevation, though you can only have an always-on altimeter on the newer Series 6 and SE watches.

Apple has also introduced its new Fitness+ workout subscription service where the Watch is at the heart of how it all works and tracks activities.

Whether you have a Series 6, SE or Series 3, you're good to go in terms of making use of the service when it's up and running.

Apple Watch Series 6 v Watch SE v Series 3: Health monitoring features

Apple Watch Series 6 v SE v Series 3: choose the right Apple Watch for your needs

Apple has talked up the health monitoring capabilities of its Watches particularly with its most recent models and you will see some disparity between what these three watches offer on that front.

Ultimately, if you want the most complete health monitoring experience, you need to go for the Series 6. That gets you ECG for serious heart health tracking and the new SpO2 sensor, which Apple says initially will be used for fitness and wellness purposes.

Where all three watches match up is the ability to offer high and low heart rate notifications as well as irregular heart rate rhythms.

You will also have access to third party apps that will seek to offer richer health insights even if those bigger sensors are missing in action.

Apple Watch Series 6 v Watch SE v Series 3: Battery life

When it comes to battery life, it's very straightforward to explain the numbers. Apple stated up to 18 hours in the original Apple Watch and that hasn't changed.

Now what has changed based on our experience is that every new Apple Watch has managed to optimise that battery performance to include more features, without dropping below 18 hours.

It does still trail behind smartwatches from the likes of Samsung, Garmin and Fitbit on pure numbers though.

Which Apple Watch should you choose?

So what are the big takeaways from looking over the spec sheets for the Series 6, Watch SE and the Series 3?

Choose the Series 6 if...

We'd say that if you care about serious health monitoring or on-trend style, and getting the best performance, you'll want the Series 6.

Choose the Apple Watch SE if...

The Watch SE might well miss out on some of those big health features, but it does match the Series 6 in most other departments including sports tracking and core smartwatch features. And the newer design and bigger screen means you get a much better experience than the Series 3, which is increasingly looking dated and boxy. We don't think you'll regret the extra in the long run.

Choose the Series 3 if...

If you're an iPhone user looking at the likes of Amazfit or other budget smartwatches, and you can't/won't pay more, the Series 3 is still a great smartwatch.

It's a solid smartwatch with top fitness tracking and sports capabilities.

You will miss out on the larger display, serious health features and general performance boosts - but it's still a world beater, despite being three years old.

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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