Whether you’re a lifelong Apple devotee, or new the whole Apple ecosystem, if you’ve decided it’s time to buy an Apple Watch, you’ve got a choice ahead of you. There have been six different iterations of the Apple Watch and there’s a new one about the hit the shelves in the coming months. As it stands, you’ve got two choices, the Apple Watch Series 5 starting at $399 and the Series 3 which starts fro $199. 

You’ll be glad to hear that both of your options are decent if you’re dead set on an Apple Watch. In terms of fitness tracking, notifications, and how it pairs up with your iPhone, there’s no difference at all. When it’s your budget dictating your tech choice, you’re not going to lose out of the good stuff by going for the sub-$200 Series 3. If your wallet is ready to get a little lighter, there are some cool extras you get with the Series 5 that could be worth the cash for you. Vanessa Hand Orellana and Lexy Savvidies went through each bit of kit for cnet, and here are the results. 

Apple Watch Series 5

Ready to go whenever

EDITORS ’ C H O I C E

Image credit: zdnet.com

If you’re looking for the best smartwatch out there, you need the Series 5. You get all the basics you’d expect from a smartwatch, plus cool extras like an always-on display and an electrocardiogram app that’s FDA-approved, making it just a little more special. In terms of longevity, you’re on to a safe bet with the Series 5, too. The WatchOS 7 recently landed and spelled the end of the for first three versions of the Apple Watch, and the lifespan of the Series 3 is now questionable.

Apple Watch Series 3

Will be buddies with your wallet

Image credit: cnn.com

Planning on getting your first smartwatch? Looking for a budget option? Then the Series 3 is the Apple Watch for you. Similar to the Series 5, it also has a fitness functionality and it keeps you updated about your heart rate. Besides, it can be easily integrated with your iPhone. Price-wise it’s half cheaper than the Series 5 which allows you to save an extra $200.

Does it need to be always on?

The biggest differentiator between the Apple Watch Series 5 and 3 is the fact the display is always on with the 5 – meaning you can check the time or the stats from your latest workout without actually having to raise your wrist. When you’re wearing the Series 3, the display goes out when not in use. You might not think it’s something to be too bothered about, but once you know about an always-on screen, you won’t want it any other way. Want to check the time in a meeting on the down low? That very intentional wrist flick you need with a Series 3 is going to give you away every time. With a Series 5, there’ll always be a dim watch face visible, and it doesn’t make the battery drain any faster than on the Series 3, either. 

Longer life with the Series 5

Image credit: appleinsider.ru

With normal use, you can expect to get about 18 hours of use out of both the Series 3 and 5. That means getting your notifications, checking the time, and getting the stats on a workout – although using GPS for your exercise tracking will drain the battery quicker. Where the Series 5 has the edge is the ability to switch off the always-on display so you squeeze more juice out of your battery. With the display turning fully off, you could pump out up to two full days of use, or up to 24 hours when you get the sleep tracking option that will come with WatchOS  7 soon. For another extra hour, you can do your training outdoors. With the Series 5 you’ll be able to track 6 hours of full-on activity, or 5 hours with LTE switched on, whilst on the Series 3, you get 5 hours, or 4 with LTE on.

Check out your workout

In term of size, the Series 5 is a barely noticeable couple of millimeters bigger than the Series 3, but the screen space will look bigger since the bezels are a lot smaller. It’s never going to be near the size of your iPhone screen, but it’s definitely easier to read the Series 5 screen. It’s also brighter than the Series 3, so outdoors and direct sunlight pose less of a challenge. When you’re out running and want to know your stats you should get an instant readout, rather than having to pause and squint to see your heart rate.

Fitness tracking is on par 

Whichever of these two that you choose, you’re getting a great workout buddy. Both of them can track just about any type of workout and will remind you to get moving when you’re on a day off. GPS comes as standard with both so you don’t have to bring your phone along on a run but can still monitor and record your stats directly on the watch. They’re both water resistant up to 50m whether you’re swimming in fresh or saltwater, too. The big difference here is the compass that you get on the Series 5, useful for sure if you’re a hiker.

No ECG on the Series 3

Image credit: cnet.com

If your heart rate gets too high or low, or you get signs of atrial fibrillation (aFib), both the Series 3 and 5 will give you notifications about it. However, you only get the ECG feature on the Series 5. As well as the standard optical heart rate sensor, you get a sensor that produces an ECG report through an app, which you can then send on to your physician.

Series 5 SOS improvements

Either watch that you get will give you an SOS feature whereby you long-press the side button when you’re in danger or need help. Once you trigger the SOS, a 911 call is made, plus your emergency contacts get a text with your coordinates included. The Series 5 even lets this feature work when you’re outside of your home country. You also get a fall detector in the newer version – it works like SOS but is activated automatically by you falling hard rather than long-pressing. If you fall and don’t move for a full minute, your Apple Watch gets in touch with the emergency services as well as your emergency contacts.

Series 5 is faster and roomier

Without doing a full side-by-side comparison of both watches, you’d never really notice the difference in the speeds they work at. However, the Series 5 does have a faster processor built-in, plus a faster WiFi chip so when you give it a task it will respond quicker, like when you begin your workout or switch up tasks. The Series 5 will be more reliable when connected to LTE, too, and you’ve got more storage for your offline music. 

Don’t wait to get the best deals

As a first smartwatch, you’ll probably get a better deal buying the Series 3. You get most of the same useful features as the Series 5 and save yourself about $200. You should also consider the shelf life of your new smartwatch, though. It’s pretty standard for Apple, and others, to stop supporting older models with software updates. The Series 3 is the oldest model that will be able to upgrade to WatchOS 7, so it’s probably next in line to lose support on the next upgrade cycle. Basically, when the next WatchOS comes out, probably next year, you can’t be sure the Series 3 will be supported. It’s worth considering if you want your watch to last a fair few years into the future and stay up-to-date.

APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 VS. SERIES 3 SPECS

Apple Watch Series 5 Apple Watch Series 3
Display size, resolution 40mm, 44mm Retina OLED 368×448 pixels 42mm, 38mm Retina OLED 312×390 pixels
Always-on Yes No
Dimensions (millimeters) 40mm: 40mm (height), 34mm (width), 10.74mm (depth) 44mm: 44mm (height) 38mm (width) 10.74mm (depth) 38mm: 38.6mm (height), 33.3mm (width), 11.4mm (depth) 42mm: 42.5mm (height) 36.4mm (width) 11.4mm (depth)
Weight (grams) 40mm Wi-Fi: 30.8g, Wi-Fi + Cellular: 30.8g 44mm Wi-Fi: 36.5g Wi-Fi + Cellular: 36.5g 38mm Wi-Fi: 26.7g, Wi-Fi + Cellular: 28.7g 42mm Wi-Fi: 32.3g Wi-Fi + Cellular: 34.9g
Materials/ finishes Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Ceramic, Titanium Aluminum
Colors Silver, Space Grey, Gold, White (Ceramic) Space Grey and Silver
Interchangeable bands Yes Yes
GPS Built-in Built-in
Automatic workout detection Yes Yes
Compass Yes No
Altimeter Yes Yes
Water resistance Yes, up to 50m Yes, up to 50m
Calls Yes Yes
Notifications Text replies Text replies
Microphone Yes Yes
Speaker Yes Yes
Voice assistant Siri Siri
Music Onboard, playback and streaming (with Cellular model) Onboard, playback and streaming (with Cellular model)
Mobile Payments Apple Pay Apple Pay
Sleep tracking No (starting in WatchOS 7) No (starting in WatchOS 7)
Period tracking Yes Yes
Special features ECG app and HR notifications, fall detection, hearing health alerts HR notifications and hearing health alerts
Emergency features Emergency SOS, International emergency calling, fall detection Emergency SOS calling (911 and emergency contacts)
Compatibility iOS/iPhone only iOS/iPhone only
Software WatchOS 6 WatchOS 6
Processor S5 chip dual-core processor and W3 wireless chip S3 chip dual-core processor and W2 wireless chip
Connectivity Wi-Fi and Cellular option ($100 more) Wi-Fi and Cellular option ($100 more)
Storage 32GB 16GB (Wi-Fi and Cellular model), 8 GB (Wi-Fi-only model)
Bluetooth 5.0 4.2
Power Magnetic Apple charging cable and USB connector (backward compatible) Magnetic Apple charging cable and USB connector (backward compatible)
Battery life All day (18 hrs.) All day (18 hrs.)
Price (USD) Starting at $399 (40mm aluminum) Starting at $199 (40mm aluminum)
Price (GBP) £399 £199
Price (AUD) AU$649 AU$399
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