For the first time ever, Apple has a new mid-range Apple Watch for potential buyers to consider this holiday season. The Apple Watch SE sits between the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 6 in Apple’s lineup, and it provides an interesting hybrid of features. Here’s how the differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Apple Watch SE stack up.
Design and Display
One of the most striking differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is the design. The Apple Watch Series 3 features a boxier design with a smaller display and larger bezels. It’s the same design that the very first Apple Watch model used and it’s available in 38mm and 42mm sizing.
On the flip side, the Apple Watch SE features the same physical design as the Series 4, Series 5, and Series 6. This means you get slimmer bezels with rounded display corners. In practice, this difference makes for a notable increase in display area with the Apple Watch SE compared to the last-generation design of the Apple Watch Series 3:
- 38mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 563 sq mm
- 40mm Apple Watch SE display area: 759 sq mm
- 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 740 sq mm
- 44mm Apple Watch SE display area: 977 sq mm
If you’re looking for the always-on display, you’re out of luck with both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE; instead, this feature is only available on the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6.
The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE both feature Retina OLED displays with 1000 nits max brightness, though the Apple Watch SE also includes the power-preserving LTPO display technology that could help battery life.
Performance and battery life
Another major difference between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is performance. The Apple Watch Series 3 is powered by Apple’s dual-core S3 processor, while the Apple Watch SE features Apple’s S5 processor. In terms of real-world performance, Apple says the Apple Watch SE is up to two times faster than the Series 3.
This means you can expect performance of apps, Siri, Maps, and other features to run notably faster with the Apple Watch SE than with the Apple Watch Series 3. The Apple Watch SE is also more likely to receive additional software features in the future, while the Series 3 could be excluded because of performance concerns.
As for battery life, Apple says that the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE can both run for up to 18 hours on a single charge. Actual battery life will always vary, but this 18-hour benchmark is a good way to shape your expectations.
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Both the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE miss out on Apple’s newest health features, including electrocardiogram support and blood oxygen level detection. If you’re looking for the best Apple Watch in terms of overall health features, the Apple Watch Series 6 is your best choice.
But with that having been said, the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE both support high and low heart rate notifications as well as irregular heart rhythm notifications. Both models also feature Apple’s Emergency SOS feature, but only Apple Watch SE features international emergency calling support, noise monitoring, and fall detection.
The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3 both feature support for Apple’s Fitness app and looming Fitness+ service, ensuring you’ll be able to close your rings, track fitness progress, compete with friends, and more.
Cellular vs GPS
One of the key differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE is the available connectivity options. The Apple Watch SE is available in two configurations: GPS and GPS + Cellular. The latter configuration allows your Apple Watch to connect to cellular networks and work independently of your iPhone.
This also has implications for the new Family Setup feature in watchOS 7, which allows you to set up an Apple Watch for a family member without an iPhone, such as a kid or elderly relative. Because the Apple Watch operates completely on its own in this arrangement, however, a cellular connection is required. The Apple Watch Series 3 is not available with cellular connectivity and therefore is not supported by Family Setup.
Note: Even if you have a cellular Apple Watch Series 3, which Apple used to sell, it does not work with the Family Setup feature.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs Apple Watch SE: Pricing
The Apple Watch Series 3 is available in Apple’s lineup in 38mm and 42mm sizes. The former will cost you $199, while the latter will cost you $229. These are the only two configuration options available, aside from your choice of silver or space gray casing.
The Apple Watch SE is available in 40mm and 44mm configurations, with the former going for $279 and the latter going for $309. If you opt for cellular, you’re looking at $329 for the 40mm size and $359 for the 44mm size.
Something to consider here is that if you plan on choosing the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 for $229, you could consider the 40mm Apple Watch SE. There’s a $50 price difference, but the 40mm Apple Watch SE actually gives you more display area (759 sq mm) than the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 (740 sq mm).
Be sure to also keep an eye on the folks over at 9to5Toys for retails on some of the best Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE sales throughout the holiday season this year.
Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Apple Watch SE: The verdict
For someone looking to enter the Apple Watch ecosystem at the most affordable price point possible, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a great option. Even though it’s several years old, it’s one of the best smartwatches on the market and one of the best fitness trackers on the market.
If you can justify the additional price jump to the Apple Watch SE, however, that is the best choice for most people. You’ll get significantly better performance, a more modern design, quadruple the internal storage, Family Setup integration, and much more.
What do you think of the differences between the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. the Apple Watch SE? Which are you planning to buy? Let us know down in the comments!
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