Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Watch Series 3 and Watch SE: How do they compare?

With all three watches available from Apple and other retailers, the trick is to balance the features you want against the price you're able to pay.

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Apple Watch Series 6

Image: Apple

Those of you looking to buy an Apple Watch now have a few different choices. On Sept. 15, Apple unveiled not one but two new watches—the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE. Plus, Apple continues to sell the Watch Series 3, which was released in 2017. All three models are also available from Amazon, Best Buy, and other third-party retailers.

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Which among the three is the right one for you? That depends on two factors: the features you want, and the price you're willing to pay.

Starting at $399, the Apple Watch Series 6 offers all the latest and greatest features, particularly for monitoring your health. Starting at $279, the Watch SE provides some of the features found in its more expensive big brother. And starting at $199, the Watch Series 3 comes with all the basic features but without the more advanced tricks cooked up over the past few years. Let's look at each watch.

The Apple Watch Series 6

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Apple Watch Series 6

Image: Apple

Case and display

Available in 40mm or 44mm sizes, the Watch Series 6 case is 11% thinner and therefore lighter than the one on the Series 3. You can choose from three different materials for your case—aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium. Each material comes in a range of colors: 1) Aluminum: silver, space gray, gold, blue red; 2) Stainless steel: silver, graphite, gold; and 3) Titanium: titanium and space black.

The Series 6 features an always-on rounded LTPO OLED Retina display that's 30% larger than the display on the Series 3. The display is brighter than the ones used for previous Watch models, which means you can see it better in sunlight.

Processor and storage

The Watch Series 6 is powered by an S6 64-bit dual-core processor, which Apple says is up to 20% faster than the S5 chip in the Series 5 and the Watch SE, which itself is twice as fast as the chip in the Series 3. The Series 6 also introduces a U1 Ultra Wideband chip, which provides more precise location tracking and spatial awareness to help your watch better recognize its surroundings.

The Watch Series 6 comes with 32GB of built-in storage, so it can house a hefty number of apps and a substantial amount of data.

Connectivity

The Series 6 comes in both GPS-only and GPS + Cellular editions. The Wi-Fi is 802.11b/g/n with support for both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Bluetooth 5.0 is part of the package as well. Also included are a compass and an always-on altimeter to constantly monitor your elevation.

Power

The battery on the Series 6 is a rechargeable lithium-ion variety that is rated to last for 18 hours on a single charge. Though the battery life is the same as in prior versions, the Series 6 offers faster charging, with Apple promising a full charge in less than 1.5 hours.

Health

Apple has continuously enhanced its smartwatch with a focus on health and fitness. New with the Series 6 is a pulse oximeter that measures the level of blood-carried oxygen to your brain and other vital organs. The results of a scan can alert you to changes in your blood circulation or breathing as a potential respiratory or cardiac problem. With this new sensor and the sleep tracking introduced in watchOS 7, the Series 6 can monitor your blood oxygen level at night to detect such issues as sleep apnea.

The Series 6 includes the ECG app to check your heart rhythm for any signs of irregularity that could be a sign of atrial fibrillation. This app provides real-time monitoring of the electrical activity of your heart through an electrical heart sensor. The watch also offers a second-generation optical heart sensor and will alert you if it detects high or low heart rates or irregular heart rhythms.

Further, the Series 6 comes with fall detection, noise monitoring, emergency SOS, and international emergency calling.

Other options

The Series 6 is available as the standard model but also in Apple Watch Nike and Apple Watch Hermès editions.

The Apple Watch SE

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Apple Watch SE

Image: Apple

Case and display

The Apple Watch SE is available in the same case sizes as the Series 6 (40mm or 44mm), but your choice of material and color is limited. Aluminum is your only option, with a finish of silver, space gray, or gold. The SE comes with an LTPO OLED Retina display but it's not always-on, which means you'll need to raise your wrist anytime you need to see the screen. The display isn't as bright as the one on the Series 6, so you may face the usual trouble trying to see it in direct sunlight.

Processor and storage

The SE houses an S5 64-bit dual-core processor, so it's less powerful than the one in the Series 6 but twice as powerful as the one in the Series 3. Like the Series 6, the SE includes 32GB of built-in storage.

Connectivity

The SE comes in both GPS-only and GPS + Cellular editions. The Wi-Fi is 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz, so it doesn't support the 5GHz band. Bluetooth 5.0 is built in. The watch also has a compass and always-on altimeter as in the Series 6.

Power

The battery in the SE is rated to last for 18 hours on a single charge with the same fast charging found in the Series 6.

Health

The SE includes all of the key health features available in the Series 6, including high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rhythm notification, fall detection, noise monitoring, emergency SOS, and international emergency calling. But the SE does not include the ECG app with its electrical heart sensor or the pulse oximeter for measuring your blood oxygen level.

Apple Watch Series 3

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Apple Watch Series 3

Image: Apple

Case and display

The Series 3 is available in 38mm or 42mm case sizes, smaller than the sizes for the Series 6 and SE. Your choice of material is limited to aluminum in silver or space gray. The Series 3 includes a Retina display, but it's square and smaller than the display on the Series 6 and SE. As with the SE, the display isn't as bright as the one on the Series 6.

Processor and storage

The Watch Series 3 has an S3 dual-core processor, so it's considerably less powerful than the chips in the Series 6 and SE. The Series 3 also cuts the storage down to just 8GB.

Connectivity

The current Series 3 sold by Apple comes with GPS only, so there's no cellular connectivity. The Wi-Fi is 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz, so it doesn't support the 5GHz band. Bluetooth 4.2 is built in. The watch has no compass; it does have an altimeter, but it's not always on as in the Series 6 and SE.

Power

The battery in the Series 3 is rated to last for 18 hours on a single charge but without the fast charging found on the Series 6 and SE.

Health

Since the Apple Watch Series 3 was created in 2017, it lacks all of the health features that have since been introduced. So you won't find the ECG app, the pulse oximeter, fall detection, noise monitoring, or international emergency calling. The watch does come with emergency calling and will measure you current heart rate as well as alert you of an unusually high or low heart rate or irregular rhythm.

watchOS 7

All three watches are supported by watchOS 7, the latest release of the watch's operating system. However, not every feature is available for all three. As one example, some of the aspects of the new Family Setup require a cellular plan, but cellular service is not an option with the Watch Series 3. Apple's new Fitness Plus service will also work with all three watches.

Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Apple Watch SE and Watch Series 3: Specs and prices


Apple Watch Series 6

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch sizes

40mm and 44mm

40mm and 44mm

38mm and 42mm

Variants

GPS

GPS + Cellular

GPS

GPS + Cellular

GPS only

Dimensions

1.57" x 1.34" x 0.41" (40mm)

1.73" x 1.5" x 0.41 in (44mm)

1.57" x 1.34" x 0.41" (40mm)

1.73" x 1.5" x 0.41 in (44mm)

1.52" x 1.31" x 0.45" (38mm)

1.67" x 1.43" x 0.45" (42mm)

Display size

324 x 394 pixels;
759 sq mm display area (40mm)

368 by 448 pixels;
977 sq mm display area (44mm)

324 x 394 pixels;
759 sq mm display area (40mm)

368 by 448 pixels;
977 sq mm display area (44mm)

272 by 340 pixels;
563 sq mm display area (38mm)

312 by 390 pixels; 740 sq mm display area (42mm)

Display

Always-On OLED Retina display

OLED Retina display

Retina OLED display

Screen size

1.57" (40mm)

1.78" (44mm)

1.57" (40mm)

1.78" (44mm)

1.5" (38mm)

1.65" (42mm)

Weight

1.09 oz/30.5g (40mm)

1.31 oz/36.5g (44mm)

1.41 oz/39.8 g (40mm)

1.69 oz/47.8g (44mm)

1.48 oz/42.4 g (38mm)

1.87 oz/52.8 g (42mm)

Materials

Aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium

Aluminum

Aluminum

Processor

S6 64-bit dual-core processor

S5 64-bit dual core processor

S3 dual-core processor

Wi-Fi

802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz and 5GHz

802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz

802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz

Other connectivity

Bluetooth 5.0

Bluetooth 5.0

Bluetooth 4.2

U1 Ultra Wideband support

Yes

No

No

Sensors

Accelerometer, gyro, heart rate sensor, barometer, always-on altimeter, compass, blood-oxygen oximeter (SpO2, VO2max)

Accelerometer, gyro, heart rate sensor, altimeter, barometer, compass

Accelerometer, gyro, heart rate sensor, altimeter, barometer

Battery

Up to 18 hours on a single charge

Up to 18 hours on a single charge

Up to 18 hours on a single charge

Features

50m water resistant, ECG certified

50m water resistant, ECG certified

50m water resistant

Capacity

32GB

32GB

8GB

Colors

Aluminum: silver, space gray, gold, blue, and red.

Stainless Steel: silver, graphite, and gold.

Titanium: natural titanium and space black.

Aluminum: silver, space gray, gold

Aluminum: silver, space gray

Price

Starting at $399

Starting at $279

Starting at $199

Where to buy the Apple Watch Series 6

Apple's website and retail stores, Best Buy, and other retailers.

Apple's website and retail stores, Best Buy, and other retailers.

Apple's website and retail stores, Best Buy, and other retailers.

Availability

Preorder now. In stores on September 18.

Preorder now. In stores on September 18.

Available now

Which watch should I choose?

The decision naturally rests on which features you need and what you're willing to pay. Some of the features in Watch Series 6 are nice to have but not necessarily game changers, such as the brighter display, faster battery charging, and the wider choice of materials. The more important options are health related, specifically the ECG app and the pulse oximeter. If you have any preexisting conditions or are otherwise concerned about your cardiac or respiratory health, the Series 6 may be worth buying just for those reasons alone.

If you don't need those health features and you're fine wearing a watch with an aluminum finish, then you can shave $120 off your purchase and go for the Apple Watch SE.

And if you're on a budget or looking for a starter Apple Watch, the Series 3 is tempting at $199. Just keep in mind that you're buying an older watch without any of the advancements or improvements designed over the past three years.

Where and when can I buy the Apple Watch Series 6, SE, and Series 3?

The Watch Series 6 and SE are available for preorder from Apple, Best Buy, and other retailers. Both watches will be for sale in Apple stores and other retail outlets, physically and online, starting Friday, Sept. 18. The Watch Series 3 is currently available through Apple as well as other retailers.

If you plan to shop for an Apple Watch at a brick-and-mortar store, be mindful of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. Call the store before to see if it allows walk-in customers. In some cases, as with Apple Stores, you may need to make an appointment for your shopping expedition. In other cases, you may have to order online for in-store or curbside pickup. Remember to wear a mask and practice safe social distancing when in the store.

Also see

By Lance Whitney

Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.