Why Cupertino should kill off Apple Watch Series 3


Save big on the Apple Watch Series 3
If you buy Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021, you're probably going to regret it.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

It’s about time Cupertino gave Apple Watch Series 3 the boot instead of allowing more customers to suffer. The nearly 4-year-old smartwatch isn’t just showing its age on the outside. It’s also painfully slow. And with just 8GB of internal storage, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

Priced at $199, Apple Watch 3 offers iPhone users a slightly more affordable gateway into Apple’s smartwatch ecosystem — but it’s one everybody should avoid walking through.

Don’t waste your money on Apple Watch Series 3

When it made its debut, Apple Watch Series 3 brought a pretty spectacular upgrade over its predecessors. Its faster S3 processor helped eliminate app performance woes, and a new W2 chip delivered better connectivity. It was also the first Apple Watch to add cellular connectivity via an eSIM.

But that was four years ago — a heck of a long time in the wonderful world of technology. Since then, Apple tried its best not to leave Apple Watch 3 out in the cold (and for the most part did an excellent job of it). But we’re now at the point where you really need more to enjoy watchOS.

Apple Watch 3’s biggest problem is its 8GB of internal storage, of which less than 4GB is usable. It’s not enough in 2021, and it makes life with the oldest smartwatch Apple still sells an incredibly frustrating and time-consuming experience — especially when it comes to installing new watchOS updates.

Storage is a major problem

When Apple rolled out watchOS 7 last year, Apple Watch 3 owners quickly discovered that they simply didn’t have enough space to install the update — even after removing all apps, photos and music. The only way to get around this was with a complete reset and restore, which can take several hours.

Search for “Apple Watch Series 3 update” on Twitter, Reddit and other online forums and you’ll find hundreds of complaints about the update process. Apple eventually published a support guide that details the many steps that Apple Watch Series 3 owners must take to get the latest software onto their aging devices.

Admittedly, watchOS 8 is expected to solve that problem next week by allowing software updates to be installed with less available storage. But if Apple finally drops Apple Watch 3 from its lineup next year, who knows if we can expect the same from watchOS 9 and subsequent versions of the firmware.

Apple Watch 3 performance isn’t much better

Sadly, software updates aren’t the only headache Apple Watch 3 users have to suffer. The device’s dual-core S3 chip, which seemed so snappy back in 2017, is certainly showing its age today. Navigating watchOS can be a cumbersome task. Using third-party apps can be even worse.

Of course, the performance issues are exacerbated every year by watchOS updates that add new apps and additional features — and new Apple Watch models with faster chips that developers lean toward. That doesn’t change with watchOS 8, and it won’t with future updates, either.

You might be able to put up with these things if you’re already an Apple Watch Series 3 owner who’s been holding onto the same device for a few years. But it’s not the kind of experience you should be getting from a brand-new smartwatch in 2021 — especially not one that costs $199 and comes with an Apple logo on it.

A screen so ugly

And then there’s the design. If you ignore its display, Series 3 looks just like every other Apple Watch, and that’s great. But you can’t ignore the display — it’s the one thing you’re going to be looking at all the time. And in 2021, with almost all of Apple’s devices packing edge-to-edge screens, it’s just ugly.

Not only can you see a lot less than on newer Apple Watch models, but the screen on Apple Watch 3 is flanked by big black bezels on all sides. They quickly make it clear to everyone that you’re not just sporting an older Apple Watch model, but the oldest model that can somehow still be purchased brand-new today.

Why is Cupertino still selling Apple Watch Series 3?

Apple could have fixed Apple Watch Series 3’s biggest issue by giving it twice as much storage. (The LTE option previously came with 16GB, but that’s discontinued.) Customers may have been able to swallow the performance issues then. Instead, Apple left it as it was — even after all the complaints.

So, while Apple Watch 3 may bring younger users and those new to smartwatches into the Apple Watch ecosystem, it’s almost certainly going to leave a bad taste in their mouths that could dissuade them from upgrading to a newer model in the future. It’s time Apple put the aging device out of its misery.

If you’re currently considering Apple Watch 3 because you’re on a really tight budget, we urge you to reconsider. Instead, pick up a used Apple Watch SE or even an Apple Watch Series 4 at a good price. You’ll get the edge-to-edge display, a faster chip, and more storage — and you’ll be a lot happier overall.


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