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Which Apple Watch should you buy: Series 6, Series 3, or SE?

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Apple pulled off a surprise this year by launching a more affordable smartwatch with mass appeal – the Apple Watch SE. While the Apple Watch Series 6 is an amalgam of the most advanced features and cutting-edge hardware that Apple can offer, the Apple Watch SE serves more like an entry-point in Apple’s smartwatch ecosystem without cutting too many corners. Or to put it simply, the Apple Watch SE is to Apple’s smartwatches what the iPhone SE is to the current iPhone line-up. But starting at $279, the Apple Watch SE is not exactly cheap and is neither the cheapest smartwatch that Apple has to offer. That honor goes to the Apple Watch Series 3, which currently starts at $199 and is an attractive option for many buyers. So, which one is the best fit for you? Read our detailed comparison to find out the answer: 

Design

The underlying design of all three Apple smartwatches has a lot in common, and the only key difference is the size, color options, build quality, and the choice of bands you have at your disposal. Talking about the size, the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE come in two sizes – 44mm and 40mm. The Apple Watch Series 3, on the other hand, is available in 38mm and 42mm case sizes

Talking about the case options, the Apple Watch Series 6 can be yours in a trio of case options – Aluminum, Stainless Steel, and Titanium. Of course, the price of each case option differs as you go up from Aluminum to Titanium. As for the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series  3, they only come in an Aluminum case option

Apple Watch SE doesn’t offer ECG and blood oxygen monitoring features.

A noteworthy difference is that despite the bump in size, the Apple Watch Series 6 case is 11 percent thinner than the one on Apple Watch Series 3. Also, the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE rock a ceramic and sapphire crystal back which is more durable, while the Apple Watch Series 3 has a composite back. 

Talking about color options, the Apple Watch Series 6 comes in Silver, Space Gray, Gold, Blue, Red, Space Black, Graphite, and Titanium Colors. The Apple Watch SE only comes in Silver, Space, and Gold Shades. Coming to the Apple Watch Series 3, it is up for grabs in Silver and Space Gray colors. The Apple Watch Series 6 and its SE sibling also get an Apple Watch Nike version, while the Apple Watch Series 6 exclusively comes in a luxurious Apple Watch Hermes Edition too. 

All three devices are claimed to be swim-proof with a water resistance rating of 50 meters. However, Apple warns that you should not wear your Apple Watch while scuba diving, waterskiing, or other activities that involve high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth.

Display

Apple watch with yellow band and clock on the screen
Apple Watch SE features a Retina LTPO OLED display without Force Touch support.

As mentioned above, both the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE come in two sizes – 40mm and 44mm. The display on the 40mm version offers a resolution of 324×394 pixels, while the 44mm version’s display has a resolution of 368×448 pixels. A key difference here is that the Apple Watch Series 6 employs an Always-On Retina LTPO OLED display, while the Apple Watch SE opts for a regular Retina LTPO OLED display. If you compare the size, the display on the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE is 30% larger than the one on the Apple Watch Series 3.

Coming to the Apple Watch Series 3, the 38mm version has a display with a resolution of 272×340 pixels, while the panel on its 42mm version has a resolution of 312×390 pixels. Another difference is that the Apple Watch Series 3 opts for a Retina OLED display without the LTPO technology. Notably, the peak brightness output on all three Apple smartwatches is identical at 1000 nits.

Internals

The Apple Watch Series 6 uses the new dual-core S6 chip that is claimed to be 20% faster than its predecessor. It is accompanied by the W3 Apple Wireless chip that supports Bluetooth 5.0 standard. More importantly, the Apple Watch Series 6 comes equipped with the U1 Ultra Wideband chip that is also found inside the iPhone 11 series and is used for spatial awareness and more accurate positioning. 

Coming to the Apple Watch SE, it uses the last-gen S5 chip that is touted to be twice as fast as the S3 silicon. Plus, it also gets the W3 Bluetooth chip but doesn’t come equipped with a U1 chip inside. Lastly, the Apple Watch Series 3 draws power from the in-house S3 silicon ticking alongside the older W2 chip.

3 Apple watches with different monitoring abilities displayed on each screen
Apple Watch Series 3 misses out on cellular connectivity support.

The new generation Apple smartwatches also bump up the storage. The GPS-only as well as the GPS+Cellular variants of the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE pack 32GB of storage. The sole GPS variant of the Apple Watch Series 3 comes equipped with 8GB of onboard storage

The speaker on the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE is claimed to be at least 50% louder than the one fitted inside the Apple Watch Series 3. Plus, the accelerometer that comes equipped inside the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE can measure 32-g forces and also supports fall detection. In comparison, the accelerometer inside the Apple Watch Series 3 can only measure up to 16-g forces and does not support fall detection

Connectivity

Another huge difference between Apple’s 2020 smartwatches and the Apple Watch Series 3 is connectivity. The Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE both come in GPS-only and the GPS+ Cellular variants, while the Apple Watch Series 3 doesn’t offer cellular connectivity support.

GPS + Cellular variant of Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE support Family Setup
The GPS + Cellular variant of Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE support Family Setup.

The Apple Watch Series 6 also offers dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz + 5GHz) support, which means faster connectivity and speed. The Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series  3 can only latch on to the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band. 

Another key difference is that the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE support the Bluetooth 5.0 standard which offers a faster and more stable pairing experience compared to the older Bluetooth 4.2 standard supported by the Apple Watch Series 3.

Battery Life

Apple has not revealed the mAh count of the batteries fitted inside the three smartwatches, but all three of them are claimed to last 18 hours on a single charge. A key change Apple is making this year is that the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE will no longer ship with a power adapter in the retail package, a move that goes towards Apple’s commitment to reducing e-waste. You only get a magnetic charging cable that you can connect to any other adapter lying around or a USB power source to charge the smartwatches. 

Sensors

Apple watch with image on screen showing different sensor capabilities
Apple, Watch Series 6 comes equipped with an all new Blood Oxygen sensor.

The presence of sensors is what dictates the capabilities of every new Apple Watch generation. The Apple Watch Series 6 stands tall above the rest two by packing a dedicated blood oxygen sensor for measuring blood oxygen saturation levels, and an electric heart rate sensor as well, for measuring ECG. Neither the Apple Watch SE nor the Apple Watch Series 3 has these two sensors. All three feature an optical heart rate sensor for measuring the regular heart rate activity and have a digital crown as well.

Notably, the digital crown on the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE also offers haptic feedback, while the one on Apple Watch Series 3 doesn’t. Plus, the altimeter inside the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE is of the always-on type, while the Apple Watch Series 3 had a regular altimeter. Also, the Apple Watch Series 3 misses out on a compass

Features 

The biggest advantage of buying the Apple Watch Series 6 is its ability to measure blood oxygen saturation level and ECG, both of which are absent from the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE. You get the Emergency SOS feature on all three smartwatches, but the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series also offer support for international emergency calling and noise monitoring as well. 

Apple watch showing ability to measure blood oxygen saturation levels
The ability to measure blood oxygen saturation levels helps the Apple Watch Series 6 stand out.

Talking about heart-related wellness features, all three Apple smartwatches are capable of sending low and high heart rate notifications, as well as for irregular heart rate rhythms. Another major difference is that the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE also support the new Family Setup feature that allows you to configure an Apple Watch for family members without them needing to carry an iPhone. This feature only works on the GPS + Cellular variant of the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE. And since the Apple Watch Series 3 misses out on cellular connectivity, it doesn’t support Family Setup. 

Apple Watch Series 6 Apple Watch SE Apple Watch Series 3
40mm and 44mm 40mm and 44mm 38mm and 42mm
Always-On Retina LTPO OLED
display
Retina LTPO OLED display Retina OLED display
Blood Oxygen measurement
ECG measurement
GPS and GPS+Cellular variants GPS and GPS+Cellular variants Only GPS variant
Internation emergency calling Internation emergency calling
Fall detection Fall detection
Supports Family Setup Supports Family Setup
Compass Compass
Always-on altimeter Always-on altimeter Altimeter
32GB internal storage 32GB internal storage 8GB internal storage
U1 Ultra Wideband chip U1 Ultra Wideband chip
Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only) Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only)

Verdict 

The Apple Watch Series 6 comes with an all-new blood oxygen sensor that can measure the oxygen saturation level of blood. It shines multi-color LEDs and infrared light through the blood vessels, assessing their color and then using algorithms to measure how much oxygen they carry. Plus, it can also take ECG measurements which can alert users via notification when irregular heart rhythm is detected. This can prove to be invaluable for people with heart conditions and can help identify atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that can lead to strokes. 

If you are a fitness enthusiast who wants the best of health-tracking abilities, then the Apple Watch Series 6 with its blood oxygen level measuring capability is the better choice. Plus, if you or any of your family members suffer from heart issues, the ECG feature on the Apple Watch Series 6 can be a life-saving measure courtesy of a device that starts at $399.

The Apple Watch Series 3 and the Apple Watch SE miss out on both blood oxygen measurement and ECG. And if these features are not important for you, you can save a few hundred dollars by not buying the Apple Watch Series 6 because the rest of the package is more or less the same when it comes to the Apple Watch SE. However, if you’re not heavily invested in a fitness-centric lifestyle and just want a companion device on which you can check out notifications and do some basic tasks, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a great choice at just $199. 

    Apple Watch Series 6
    The Apple Watch Series 6 stands tall above the rest of its siblings by offering ECG two vital wellness capabilities – ECG and blood oxygen monitoring. Plus, it is also faster, packs a better display and comes in a new Titanium case option as well.
     The Apple Watch SE
    Carrying a base price of $279, the Apple Watch offers the same design as the Apple Watch Series 6. If you do not necessarily feel the need for ECG and blood oxygen monitoring, the Apple Watch SE is simply the best smartwatch out there for your needs.
    Apple Watch Series 3
    Apple Watch Series 3 is currently the cheapest smartwatch in Apple’s portfolio with a starting price of $199. It comes with heart rate tracking capability and is an excellent option if you don’t want to spend much for experiencing an Apple smartwatch.
Which Apple Watch should you buy: Series 6, Series 3, or SE? 2

Nadeem Sarwar

I’ve been writing about consumer technology for over three years now, having worked with names such as NDTV and Beebom in the past. Aside from covering the latest news, I’ve reviewed my fair share of devices ranging from smartphones and laptops to smart home devices. I also have interviewed tech execs and appeared as a host in YouTube videos talking about the latest and greatest gadgets out there.

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