Apple Watch SE vs Apple Watch Series 3: Which should you buy?

Apple Watch SE Close Up
Apple Watch SE Close Up (Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch SE is entirely new to the Apple Watch lineup. It's clear that Apple is trying to position the Apple Watch SE as a mid-level option while keeping the Apple Watch Series 3 going to attract new users and budget-conscious people to the platform.

How they stack up

The Apple Watch Series three was launched back in 2017, and while Apple has kept selling them at a discount during the reign of the Apple Watch Series 4 and then Series 5 after that, it now the cheapest its been since its launch. Starting at only $199, it's easy to think that this may lure some new people to the platform; however, the watch is starting to show its age and is missing out on some major features.

Meanwhile, the Apple Watch SE has a ton to offer and it can do almost everything the brand new Apple Watch Series 6, but it is missing the Blood Oxygen app and the ECG app. When you compare the Apple Watch SE to the Appel Watch Series 3, you'll find that pretty important features — like Fall Detection — are only available if you go with the Apple Watch SE.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch SEApple Watch Series 3
ProcessorDual-core S5 SiPDual-core S3 SiP
Case sizes40mm and 44mm38mm and 42mm
ColorsSpace gray, silver, and goldSpace gray and silver
Haptic feedbackYesNo
Fall DetectionYesNo
Noise monitoringYesNo
AltimeterYes, Always OnYes

You may not be able to tell from the spec sheet, but when you compare the models side-by-side, you'll how much bigger and better quality the screen is — even when comparing the old 42mm case size to the newer 40mm case size. The slightly more rounded design and thinner bezels of the Apple Watch SE make the watch look and feel sleeker.

Apple Watch Se And Apple Watch Series (Image credit: Apple)

They do both have the same 50-meter water resistance, so you can jump into the pool and swim laps with either model, but health features like noise monitoring, fall detection, and international emergency calling are only available on the Apple Watch SE.

Which should you buy?

At this point, if you're upgrading from an old and no longer supported Apple Watch — like the Series 2 — the Apple Watch SE is likely the better bet. With the aging hardware of the Apple Watch Series 3, we're not sure how much longer Apple will choose to support the device. The Apple Watch SE will likely be supported for at least a few years after launch, making it a safer bet.

If you're looking to buy an Apple Watch for the very first time, there maybe is a case to buy the Apple Watch Series 3. If you really don't care about the health features that much, and you're just looking for a good way to track your activity, get your notifications on your wrist, and take advantage of the usefulness of a smartwatch, maybe the Apple Watch Series 3 is a good place to start.

I think it's pretty safe to say that The Apple Watch SE is the best Apple Watch for most people, as it packs the most features of the Apple Watch Series 6, while still remaining relatively affordable.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.