Apple Watch Series 1

There are a lot of choices that go into picking an Apple Watch, including size, casing, color, and bands. And with multiple Apple Watch models available, you also have ot pick which features make the most sense for your needs. Now, when you go to order your Apple Watch, you'll have to choose between Series 1, Series 3 GPS-only, or Series 3 GPS + Cellular.

What's the difference? Which is best for you and your needs? Read on.

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What's the difference between Series 1 and Series 3?

When the Apple Watch was released in April 2015, it offered different casings, but only one set of internal features — call it "Series 0". In September 2016, Apple announced two new feature variations, called Series 1 and Series 2, respectively; and now, as of September 2017, there are three distinct Series options available for users: the existing Series 1, Series 3 GPS-only, and Series 3 GPS + Cellular.

Series 1 is nigh-identical in pretty much every way to Series 0 — 450-nit brightness OLED Retina display with Force Touch, splash-proof, runs watchOS 4 — but it gets the same dual-core processor present from 2016's Series 2 (without GPS, hence the S1P processor name instead of S2). It's only available in an aluminum Ion-X casing with composite back in silver and space gray.

Series 3 GPS-only has all of the awesome features from 2016's Series 2 — swim-proofing and a direct-fire speaker, GPS and run-tracking, a twice-as-bright Retina display — along with a new S3 dual-core processor that's 1.7x faster than the Series 1's S1P, an altimeter for elevation tracking, audible Siri response, and Apple's W2 wireless chip for easy pairing to your iPhone and wireless accessories. It's also a little thicker and heavier than Series 1 (though not noticeable), and only available in aluminum Ion-X casings with composite backs in silver, space gray, and gold, along with special Nike+ versions.

Series 3 GPS + Cellular has everything its GPS-only compatriot has and more. It's Apple's latest and greatest, so unlike the other models, the GPS + Cellular option comes in aluminum, Nike+ aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic casings, with many more band pairings. It also has stand-alone LTE connectivity (but no roaming), Apple Music streaming, more storage space, and a stylistic red dot on the Digital Crown.

We've broken down the nitty-gritty details between each series in the links below if you want more details:

Models and styles

Apple's Series 1, Series 3 GPS-only, and Series 3 GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models aren't just differentiated by features: They also have markedly different exterior styles.

Series 1 is Apple's entry-level option for new users, and its cases reflect that: Users can only buy silver or space gray aluminum casings with white and black bands, respectively, and pricing ranges from $249-$279.

The Series 3 GPS-only option is Apple's midrange watch for features, and gets a few more casing styles than the Series 1: You're still limited to aluminum, but you can choose between silver, gold, or space gray with matched Sport or Nike+ Sport bands. The GPS-only watch ranges from $329-$359.

Series 3 GPS + Cellular is Apple's top-tier smartwatch, and you can buy it in any of the company's casing options: aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic, with a number of different band pairings (including low-cost Nike+ Sport Loops and high-end Hermès leather bands). The GPS + Cellular model starts at $399 for an aluminum 38mm case, but can go all the way up to $1399 for an Hermès 42mm.

All watches are available for pre-order on September 15, and will ship on September 22.

If you're looking for a budget Apple Watch and don't care much about casing style, the Apple Watch Series 1 may be the wearable for you. If you're instead interested in the Nike+, Ceramic, Steel, or Hermes options, you'll want to consider Series 3 GPS-only or GPS + Cellular.

Speed, speed, speed

When it comes to the speed of your watch, you'll be equally served by either Series 3 models, with Series 1 at a markedly slower clip.

Both Series 3 models use the S3 system-on-a-chip with integrated GPS antenna, which Apple reports as up to 1.7x faster than the Series 1's S1P and Series 2. This results in much faster app opening times, hailing Siri, changing watch faces, starting and ending workouts, and more.

The Series 1 isn't bad when it comes to watch speed, but put it next to a Series 3 watch and you'll feel like you're trudging through molasses. If you want your watch to be as snappy and responsive as it possibly can be, you'll want either of the Series 3 models.

Battery life

While all three models sport an estimated 18 hours of battery life, this largely depends on what you're using your Apple Watch to do. Both Series 3 models come with integrated GPS, which lets you track your walks and runs in the Activity app and third-party programs without having to bring an iPhone along for the ride, and the GPS + Cellular model additionally packs in a cellular antenna.

Both GPS and cellular can potentially be a huge drain on your watch's battery because GPS chats with satellites and local cell towers to get your location, while LTE requires a constant of data between your watch and cell towers. On Apple's battery testing website, the company acknowledged that using GPS features like run-tracking without your iPhone nearby will nix up to three hours from your workout time (up to 10 hours with iPhone present, up to 5 hours without iPhone).

The Series 3 Apple Watch GPS + Cellular gets an even rougher time of it with its top-tier features: A continuous outdoor run with both GPS and LTE active drops the average battery life to just 4 hours.

That said, GPS isn't an always-on feature — it's specifically integrated into features like running workouts and turn-by-turn directions. If you don't use these kinds of features, you won't put strain on your battery. And if you're a distance runner, you can greatly improve your battery life by using an external Bluetooth strap to measure your heart rate, taking the stress off the Apple Watch itself.

The same goes for LTE: You don't even have to enable your watch's cellular network at all if you choose, and you can turn off the cellular antenna at any time while using the Apple Watch to have it default to communicating with your iPhone.

If you want the option for LTE data, no matter the battery drain, you'll want the Series 3 GPS + Cellular. If you really only need GPS for run and walk-tracking and don't already own a Series 2, the GPS-only will serve you well. But if you're worried about draining your battery and don't plan on using GPS, the Series 1 is the safest bet here.

Water resistance

Are you the next Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps? If so, the Series 3 models should surprise and delight: They're rated "swim-proof," with water resistance ratings up to 50m/150 feet. In addition, the hole in the Apple Watch's case — the speaker/microphone combo — has a "direct fire" feature that allows you to vibrate the water out of the casing after a swim or heavy water exposure.

Series 1 remains "splash-proof," with an IP7 water rating that allows for 30 minutes of water submersion, up to 1m/3 feet. We've never had problems taking the Series 1 Apple Watch in the pool, shower, or even on short swims, but that kind of regular exposure can slowly break down its internal seals and lead to wear and tear.

If you plan to swim regularly with the Apple Watch and you want to track your swimming workouts, you'll want the Series 3. If it's just brief water exposure for you, the Series 1 will do you just fine.


Series 1 has the same OLED Retina display present in the first-generation "Series 0" Apple Watch, rated at 450 nits. (A nit, as so helpfully explained by Apple, is the measurement of light equivalent to the light of one candle. Here's some more information about the craziness of measuring nits, from Gizmodo.)

Apple's Series 3 models blast the Series display with twice the luminance, however, offering a whopping 1000-nit display — the brightest Apple has ever created. Why so bright? Largely, this is to make glancing at your watch in broad daylight an easier experience.

I've personally never had problems with the Apple Watch in sunlight at its darkest setting, but if your eyes demand a bright, crisp screen, you can't go wrong with the Series 3 models. If you don't mind a slightly darker screen, Series 1's OLED experience should still serve you well.

Weight and materials

There is a slight weight and size difference between Series 1 and the Series 3 models: Series 1 has an identical casing to the first-generation Apple Watch Sport, with a 10.5mm depth and 25g or 30g weights, depending on which model you chose (38mm or 42mm).

In contrast, the Series 3 version of the Sport is 0.9mm thicker on the wrist — likely due to the waterproofing redesign — and sports an 11.4mm depth. It's also a few grams heavier.

There's no noticeable weight or bulk difference, but that's not to say it'll be invisible for every Watch user. And those wrist weights increase as you look at Steel or Ceramic options.

There's one other thing to consider: The durability of the back casing. Series 1 and Series 3 GPS-only models come with the same composite back found on the original Apple Watch; in contrast, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model offers a ceramic back for all models. (Also something to keep in mind: If you're planning on doing a lot of high-impact activity, the Series 3 Steel and Ceramic versions come with sapphire screens over the aluminum cases' Ion-X glass.)

If thinness and lightness are your absolute top priorities, Series 1 has the edge on the slightly bulkier and weightier Series 3 models. If you're worried about scratches on your back casing from dust or the magnetic charger interfering with your heart rate monitor, however, Series 3 GPS + Cellular's ceramic back may provide more peace of mind.


If you're on a budget, the Series 1 Apple Watch is the natural pick here: It starts at just $249, the lowest Apple Watch entry point ever, and the 42mm Watch will cost you just $30 more at $279.

The Series 3 GPS-only model, in contrast, starts $80 higher, with the 38mm Sport at $329 and 42mm at $359.

The top-tier model, surprising no one, is the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model: It starts at $399 for a 38mm aluminum casing, and goes up to $1399 for some 42mm Hermès models.

If you're not on an extreme budget but still want to be price-conscious, the decision centers around how much use you'll get out of the extra $80-$150 of features that the Series 3 GPS-only and Series 3 GPS + Cellular models provide. Do you need a faster watch, GPS or LTE, swim resistance, better screen, or a ceramic back? If not, you can easily grab a Series 1 model and still have a nice experience with Apple Watch.

Who should get the Apple Watch Series 1?

Series 1 Apple Watch

The Series 1 models are great for new Apple Watch users — especially those on a budget. The aluminum casing, Ion-X screen, and composite back is durable for most uses, and the dual-core S1P processor allows you to get the most out of watchOS 4 and third-party apps. The Series 1 is also a tad bit thinner and lighter than its Series 3 counterparts.

Who should get the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only model?

The Series 3 GPS-only model packs a lot of the great features found in the GPS + Cellular model, but without the necessity of fancier casing styles or an LTE antenna. The S3 processor boost will thrill new users and those upgrading from any prior series Apple Watch, and the GPS and new altimeter offer plenty of sports tracking for those looking for great workout tracking.

For swimmers, runners, and walkers, the swim resistance and GPS features in Series 3 models are huge selling points — it's one of the best smartwatch/fitness tracker hybrids on the market.

Who should get the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular model?

The Series 3 GPS + Cellular model is the latest and greatest in Apple Watch. It brings blazing-fast speed, high-quality casing styles, new bands, and cellular data to keep you connected no matter where you roam.

It does come with a few tradeoffs: We have yet to test actual battery life for the watch beyond Apple's claims, and LTE is sure to suck down a certain amount of power. Additionally, the watch is only available in a few countries and LTE configurations at launch, and limited space for LTE bands means that you won't be able to roam internationally with Apple Watch the way you can with your iPhone. (You can still use your iPhone's data connection on your Apple Watch, of course.)

The Apple Watch Series 3 can't roam, and won't work between countries

You don't need to buy an LTE plan when you purchase the watch, but should you decide to use cellular, you'll have to use the same network your iPhone uses — you can't have your watch on T-Mobile and your iPhone on AT&T, for instance.

Yes, you can buy Apple's GPS + Cellular Apple Watch and use it without LTE

But if you happen to be ordering in a country where the LTE model is available and you want the latest and greatest, you can't go wrong with the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model. It's a beautiful piece of technology, and the only smartwatch in the world to add LTE in a 38mm form-factor.

Which Apple Watch are you getting?

Planning to order a Series 1 or Series 3 Apple Watch on Friday morning? Have any other questions? Let us know in the comments.

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