Series 3 vs. Series 1: Which Apple Watch is right for you?

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Apple Watch Series 3
Series 3 has landed, but is it the best model for you?
Photo: Apple

Apple Watch Series 3 is now on sale, with prices starting at $329. If you want LTE connectivity — and you will — you’ll be coughing up at least $399.

That’s not cheap. But is it worth it? And should you even consider last year’s Series 1 model, which remains on sale as a more affordable alternative?

Find out right here in our 2017 Apple Watch comparison, which will help you decide which option is the best for you.

There are big differences between the Series 1 and Series 3 Apple Watch.

One has the best technology Apple has to offer, but at a premium price. The other sacrifices all that in favor of a significantly more affordable price tag. This makes choosing between the two a much easier task than you might think.

Here’s how they compare.

Apple Watch Series 1 vs. Series 3

Apple-Watch-comparison-chart-2017
Click to enlarge.
Table: Cult of Mac

Performance

Series 3 boasts Apple’s new S3 processor. It’s a dual-core chip, just like the S1P in Series 1, but it’s significantly faster. It’s combined with a W2 wireless chip, which cannot be found in Series 1 devices, that improves connectivity.

That means that just about everything you do will be noticeably snappier on Series 3, whether you’re sending Digital Touch drawings to a friend, checking the status of a parcel, playing a game, or just navigating watchOS.

The extra power also allows Siri to speak back on a Series 3 device, but the virtual assistant remains silent on Series 1.

Displays

Series 3 is packing the same OLED Retina display Apple introduced with Series 2 — and that’s not a bad thing.

The resolution remains the same across the board, but it’s twice as bright (up to 1,000 nits) as the display used in Series 1 and original Apple Watch units. That’s particularly important when you’re using your device outside on a sunny day.

In comparison, Series 1 displays can reach a maximum brightness of 450 nits. It’s quite a significant difference.

What’s more, if you buy a Series 3 with a stainless steel or ceramic case, you’ll get sapphire crystal glass. More affordable models, and Series 1, use ion-x glass instead.

Apple Watch 3
Do all this and more without an iPhone.
Photo: Apple

Battery life

Once again, Apple has taken the same battery used in Series 2 and brought it to Series 3. That means you can expect up to 18 hours of usage in between charges, regardless of whether you choose the LTE or GPS model.

Series 1 has a smaller battery — the same one used in the original Apple Watch — but because its display isn’t as bright and its processor isn’t as powerful, it offers the same 18 hours of usage. This is one of the only categories in which both devices match up.

Connectivity

This is the big one. This is the thing to consider above all other things when it comes to choosing the model that’s right for you.

Buy the pricier Series 3 models and you’ll get LTE connectivity, which makes Apple Watch considerably more useful. For the first time, you can use it without being tethered to an iPhone over Bluetooth, because it connects directly to a cellular network.

That means you can receive and reply to notifications, use all your apps, navigate using Apple Maps, find a lot iOS device, stream over 40 million songs on Apple Music, and even take calls — all without having an iPhone in your pocket.

More affordable Series 3 devices don’t have LTE, but they do offer GPS as standard. This means you can at least track your runs without an iPhone. All Series 3 devices also pack a barometric altimeter, which is new to Apple Watch this year.

Series 1 doesn’t have any of these things, but it does match its siblings when it comes to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Software

This is the only other category in which all Apple Watch models match up. No matter which one you choose, you’ll get the same watchOS experience.

There will be some features you don’t get on more affordable models — like calling or a Siri that talks — but the operating system itself is identical across all three.

Apple Watch Series 3
Some days, you won’t need your iPhone at all.
Photo: Apple

Other differences

There are a few other things you should be aware of before making your choice.

Series 3 with LTE has a ceramic back covering its heart rate monitor and other sensors, while the Series 3 with GPS and Series 1 have composite glass backs.

Series with LTE also has 16GB of internal storage for storing more apps, songs, and images, whereas Series 3 with GPS and Series 1 have just 8GB of space.

Finally, both Series 3 options are water-resistant up to 50 meters, so you can take them swimming or wear them in the shower. Series 1, on the other hand, is only splash-resistant, which means it’s not suitable for either of those things.

The verdict

Apple Watch Series 3 is obviously a better device on paper, and if you have the cash to spare, there’s no doubt that you should buy this model — with LTE connectivity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best model for you.

If you don’t need LTE connectivity or a GPS for fitness tracking, and you just want an attractive smartwatch that offers the best experience when paired with an iPhone, Series 1 is still a decent device. It’s also much more affordable at $249.

  • Arnold Ziffel

    Still wearing my Series 0 (since Day One) and use my watch for phone calls daily, e.g., while driving to connect with my wife, but I refuse to use LTE on an AW because of the high prices the telcos are charging for a service that costs them next to NOTHING. Think about it – just two years of LTE on my watch is going to equal > half the cost of the watch itself. Tired of all the nickel and diming, especially when it’s just a ripoff. Besides, I almost always have my AW with me.

  • Luca Olivari

    The biggest problem is that, at the moment – officially, as they say, but with really speaking it surely won’t happen neither next year – LTE is not sold in Italy, due to “disagreement” with TelCo. So, what to do? Keep my Nike+ Series 2 or change with Series 3 GPS? At the moment, the biggest improvement is barometer…