If you’re looking to buy a new Apple Watch you probably have eyes on the Series 5 that just landed. If you buy one, you certainly won’t be disappointed. But what you might not realize is that Apple is also selling its least expensive watch ever alongside its flagship wearable. The price of the 38mm Series 3 Apple Watch was slashed to $199, half the price of the Series 5 and one of the lowest-priced smartwatches you're going to find.
The question is, should you go all in on the top-of-the-line Apple Watch or save a bundle with the Series 3?
Update, 4:30 ET: This article has been updated to say that while watchOS 6 is compatible with Series 3, the new Noise app is not.
Why you should buy a Series 3 over Series 5
It has many of the same sensors
While Apple is touting its Series 5 watch as the next-generation of wearables, it’s really not all that difference from the Series 4 it replaces or the Series 3 that’s it’s still selling. With both watches you get an optical heart sensor, GPS, NFC, wireless chip, altimeter, emergency SOS, speaker, Wi-Fi, LTE, and water resistance up to 50 meters. The Series 5 watch adds a compass, ECG sensor, and a better heart sensor, but for the most part, you’ll be doing the same stuff with both watches. And it also comes in LTE for $100 more.
It has the same battery life
One of the biggest gripes about the Apple Watch—the only gripe, really—is that you need to charge it every day. That hasn’t changed with Series 5. While Apple has managed to introduce an always-on display without taking a hit own battery life, you’ll be getting the same 18 or so hours of use no matter which model you buy.
It supports watchOS 6
If you purchase a Series 3 watch, it will probably be running watchOS 5 out of the box, but rest assured, it doesn’t need to stay there. WatchOS 6 is already available and you can upgrade your Series 3 watch right away, bringing cool new features such as activity trends, period tracking, an on-watch App Store, and a new Noise app that will alert you when background sounds gets dangerously high. All said, it’s a big upgrade that will make your Series 3 watch feel far newer than it is.
It uses the same bands
While the Apple Watch Series 3 page only shows a small number of band options for sale, don’t fret: Every band Apple sells for Series 5 is compatible with Series 3: Loop, leather, Hermes, stainless steel, whatever your fancy.
You can save money for next year
Perhaps the biggest reason to buy a Series 3 Apple Watch over a Series 5 is the money you’re going to save. Even with an always-on display, the Series 5 upgrade isn’t all that exciting, but next year’s release might be, with sleep tracking, better battery, smart bands, and virtual buttons all rumored to be in development. The $200 you save this year could be money well spent next September.
Why you should buy a Series 5 over Series 3
It has an always-on display
The biggest upgrade over the Series 4 watch is also the most wanted feature: an always-on display. Thanks to a new Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxid OLED, Apple is able to keep the watch face visible without sacrificing any of its 18-hour battery life.
I've tested my fair share of watches with always-on displays, and Apple's method is unlike anything I've seen, with color, complications, and a smart sense of security. Where the Series 3 watch will be black for most of the day, the Series 5 display will be eye-catching even when you're not looking at it.
It has a bigger screen and more case options
The 40mm and 44mm watch sizes that were introduced with the Series 4 continue with the 5, while the Series 3 is still 38mm and 42mm. The bigger size won't be all that noticeable on your wrist, but the extra screen will be: the display on the Series 5 watch is more than 30 percent larger than the Series 3, so it fills up more of the face. Plus it has rounded corners, so full-screen clocks and photos look great.
You also have way more case options with the Series 5. While the Series 3 is available in silver and space gray aluminum, the Series 5 comes in gold, ceramic, titanium, and stainless steel. Of course, you'll have to pay extra for them.
You can fit more stuff
Storage isn’t usually a concern when picking out a watch, but with a new on-wrist App Store, you might be downloading a lot more apps than before. And those apps require space. On the Series 3 watch you only get 8GB of storage (16GB if you upgrade to LTE), of which about 5.5GB are available for storage. Throw in some music and a few podcasts and that can fill up pretty fast. If you don’t want to worry about clearing out space on your watch, the Series 5 model comes with 32GB of storage, which should be more than enough for your app and music needs.