Apple Watch Series 5 is here with an always-on display and newly added compass, but Apple’s $200 entry level model is worth a serious look for buyers on a budget. Apple Watch Series 3 matches the new Fitbit Versa 2 in price while offering much deeper iPhone integration.

Priced to compete

Apple Watch Series 3 and Fitbit Versa 2 (each priced from $199) are highly capable fitness trackers, but there’s much more to the Apple Watch than counting steps.

Apple Watch has a highly motivational activity tracking system that uses three colored rings to measure your fitness throughout the day. Close all three rings by achieving three daily goals:

  • meet your personal active calories burned goal with movement
  • exercise for the globally recommended 30 minutes per day
  • stand and move around for at least one minute out of 12 hours

Move, exercise, and stand goals are rewarded with milestone achievements, and Apple Watch users can share activity and compete together for extra motivation.

Fitbit does offer built-in sleep tracking, but Apple Watch works with plenty of third-party sleep tracking apps that save data securely on the iPhone.

Apple Watch Series 3 also detects when your heart rate drops or increases unexpectedly. Low heart rates and high heart rates can sometimes require treatment.

The built-in Workout app offers a wide range of precision fitness tracking, and any activity can be measured with heart rate data — and yes, it’s also a step tracker.

Prefer to workout away from the iPhone? Apple Watch Series 3 includes a built-in GPS that isn’t included on the comparable Fitbit. The new Versa 2 does tout voice control using Amazon Alexa, but it’s limited to a few tasks. Siri is deeply integrated with the Apple Watch, including the ability to start specific workouts based on goals.

For $100 more, the Apple Watch Series 3 is cellular capable so you can use phone calls, messages, and stream music away from the iPhone.

Packed with features

I reviewed Apple Watch Series 3 two years ago when it debuted, bringing cellular connectivity to the watch for the first time.

It was absolutely an impressive achievement in miniaturizing much of the iPhone experience in a watch-sized fitness tracker, but how well can a two-year-old Apple Watch hold up in the fast-moving tech world?

That’s something I’ve had a chance to experience over the previous week. I sold my Apple Watch Series 4 at the start of last week to make room for the new Apple Watch Series 5.

I can’t imagine going a day without my Apple Watch, of course, so I’ve been wearing my old Apple Watch Series 3 while I await the arrival of the new model. After wearing Apple Watch Series 4 every day for a year, the older design definitely felt dated … then it started to feel normal in a matter of days.

In the last few days, I’ve enjoyed the Apple Watch Series 3 all over again to do common Apple Watch tasks like:

  • Read notifications at a glance and reply to Messages with voice while my iPhone stayed in my pocket
  • Use Siri to ask about the weather or control HomeKit smart home accessories
  • Withdraw cash from the ATM using Apple Pay
  • Pay for gas at the pump using Apple Pay
  • Sync music from the iPhone for listening offline from the Apple Watch with AirPods
  • Track an 8K bridge run with real time heart rate data and pace stats
  • Track a pool swim workout with the watch in the water

After a week of wearing Apple Watch Series 3 exclusively, I have to admit that I’ve wondered why I needed to upgrade last year and this year. Easy excuse: I’m a technology journalist. But you don’t have to have the newest Apple Watch to have the Apple Watch experience.

The $199 Apple Watch Series 3 was the state-of-the-art smartwatch not long ago, and it started at $329 at that. Now it’s cheaper than Fitbit’s most advanced smartwatch — which frankly is no looker.

Apple Watch Series 3 also gains several new features in watchOS 6, the latest version of the Apple Watch software:

  • Two new watch faces with Numerals Mono and Numerals Mono
  • New apps with Audiobooks, Calculator, Cycles, and Voice Memos
  • The all-new Reminders app and the built-in App Store
  • And Activity Trends for viewing fitness insights and actionable goals

You don’t get built-in ECG, fall detection, or the new hearing health features of Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5, but Apple Watch Series 3 remains super competitive.

If you’re in the market for a smartwatch or fitness tracker, Apple Watch is at the top of its class in both categories — and Series 3 is an excellent recommendation at its budget-minded new price.

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