Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 3: Which one should you buy?

Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 3: Which one should you buy?


Our comprehensive comparison will help you choose your next Apple Watch.
Photo: Apple

The new Apple Watch Series 5 finally arrived this week, and it is by far the best smartwatch money can buy today. But it also costs $200 more than Apple Watch Series 3.

Is the latest model really worth the extra money? And should you consider upgrading if you already have a Series 3 or Series 4 device? Find out right here before parting with your cash.

Our comprehensive Apple Watch comparison will help you choose the right device for you.

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Apple Watch comparison

If you visit the Apple Online Store today, you’ll find only the Series 5 and Series 3 devices still available directly from Apple. The company discontinued the Series 4 following Tuesday’s big keynote.

Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 4 vs. Series 3

Despite that, we included the Series 4 in this Apple Watch comparison for a few reasons. Firstly, you can still buy one from third-party retailers (and prices are falling fast). Secondly, you might already own a Series 4.

Whether you spot a great deal on a Series 4 or you’re thinking about upgrading your existing device, then, it’s helpful to see how “>last year’s stellar Apple Watch stacks up against the Series 5.

Let’s take a look at what each version offers first.


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Table: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

A wearable supercomputer

Apple Watch performance has come a long way since the original model made its debut in 2015. It is far from the unbearable slouch it once was, thanks to significantly improved Apple chips.

The new S5 processor in Apple Watch Series 5 is up to twice as fast as the S3 processor in Series 3, and a fair bit faster than the S4 in Series 4. It’s also combined with a new W3 wireless chip.

Apple Watch Series 5 is powered by a new S5 chip
The new S5 chip powers Apple Watch Series 5.
Photo: Apple

This is a nice improvement that will help the Series 5 stay snappy for longer. But it isn’t an essential upgrade. You certainly shouldn’t consider spending an extra $200 (or upgrading) for the chip alone.

The slightly older processors in Series 3 and Series 4 devices are still good enough today. So no matter which of the three you end up with, you won’t have to worry about poor performance.

Four outstanding Apple Watch Series 5 finishes

If you’re buying a Series 3 device from Apple today, you’ll get an aluminum case. No other finish is available. If you’re buying a Series 4 elsewhere, you’ll find stainless steel models are still on sale.

Buy Apple Watch Series 5, however, and you can choose between aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic, and titanium cases. The fancier the finish, the more you’ll need to pay.

The new titanium finish looks terrific
The Apple Watch Series 5 with a titanium looks terrific.
Photo: Apple

I think the ceramic Watch looks outstandingly pretty, but I wouldn’t spend more money on it. Aluminum looks just fine — and I typically upgrade every year.

Only you can decide whether a more expensive finish is important to you. And if it is, that rules out the entry-level Series 3.

Superb screens

Any Apple Watch you buy today will ship with a stunning OLED display. But there are some big differences between the three.

Obviously the older Series 3 model comes with the oldest screen. It’s sharp and bright and colorful (and good enough for most), but it’s not edge-to-edge like those in the Series 4 and Series 5 models.

The advantage Apple Watch Series 5 offers over Series 4 is that it ships with Apple’s first always-on watch display. It never goes dark, so you can always see the time and complications without raising your wrist.

Apple Watch Series 5 is always ready with the time
Apple Watch Series 5 is always ready with the time.
Photo: Apple

Watch fans have been calling for always-on screens for years, so there are plenty who will upgrade for that alone. If it’s not important to you, Series 5 and Series 4 are on par in the display department.

Other differences in Series 5 vs. Series 3

An always-on display and a faster S5 processor aren’t the only advantage the Series 5 has over its predecessors, either. It’s also the first Apple Watch with a built-in compass.

And there are other things you miss out on if you pick the more affordable Series 3, such as ECG functionality, fall detection, a louder speaker, and haptic feedback from the Digital Crown.

That doesn’t mean the Series 3 should be ruled out, however.

Which Apple Watch should you buy?

The Series 3 remains a great smartwatch. It’s ideal for those buying their very first Apple Watch, and those on a tight budget. It’s a terrific deal at just $199.

If you can afford to spend a little more, however, you should absolutely opt for a newer model. The larger screen and additional functionality you get from Series 4 and Series 5 are well worth it.

The best smartwatch money can buy
The best smartwatch money can buy.
Photo: Apple

Deciding between the Series 4 and Series 5 isn’t quite as easy because they’re so similar. But here’s our advice.

If you don’t already own a Series 4, go for the Series 5. You’re getting the very best on offer, and you probably won’t end up paying a whole lot more for it.

If you do already own a Series 4, ask yourself one question: Do you really need an always-on display. If you do, well, you’ll have to upgrade. If you don’t, there’s probably no need to switch this year.


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