Apple Watch Series 6 review: should you buy it or SE/Series 3?

Today Apple sells three Apple Watch models — the three-year-old Apple Watch Series 3 starting at $199, and the just-released Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 6 models, which start at $279 and $399 respectively.

With these options in mind, which Apple Watch should you buy? Should you go all out and spring for the Apple Watch Series 6, or should you take the more cost-conscious route with the Series 3 or SE? Watch our hands-on video walkthrough as we explore Apple’s wearable lineup as it stands today.

Apple Watch Series 3

Speaking as someone who’s owned every single Apple Watch since its debut back in 2015, if you’re considering the purchase of a new Apple Watch, I recommend avoiding the Apple Watch Series 3. While it was the first Apple Watch to ship with cellular connectivity, the Series 3 looks and feels outdated in 2020.

For starters, Apple no longer sells Series 3 models with cellular connectivity. If you’re someone who likes the idea of staying connected with your Apple Watch while away from Wi-Fi and your Bluetooth-paired iPhone, remove the Series 3 from your consideration.

Video walkthrough: Apple Watch Series 6 review

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Besides the lack of cellular, there are more important reasons to skip Apple’s cheapest watch. Series 3 Apple Watch models feature smaller cases with noticeably less screen real estate for watch faces and apps. Series 3 features inferior microphones and speakers when compared to the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 6.

Most importantly, Series 3 is stuck with the Apple S3 System in Package (SiP), which includes a relatively turtle-like 32-bit dual-core CPU. The Series 3 is usable, otherwise Apple wouldn’t still sell it, but the experience navigating around the OS is often hampered by lag and dropped frames.

I could keep naming features that the Apple Watch Series 3 lacks, but there’s really no need. All across the board, Apple Watch Series 3 provides a worse experience than more recently-issued hardware.

The biggest selling point for the Apple Watch Series 3 is its $199 price tag. It’s admittedly an attractive price point, but hold off and save an extra $79 and opt for the Apple Watch SE instead.

Apple Watch SE

At a $279 starting price, the Apple Watch SE is $120 less than the cheapest Apple Watch Series 6. If you’re looking for a wallet-friendly wearable, but don’t wish to make huge sacrifices on features, then the Apple Watch SE is the smart choice for most users.

Like the Series 6, the Apple Watch SE comes with larger 42mm or 44mm case options, with more generous display sizes in tow. And with the Apple Watch SE you aren’t making huge speed sacrifices. The SE comes with the S5 SiP, which makes it two times faster than Series 3, a very noticeable increase in performance.

Apple Watch SE can be configured with cellular connectivity for just $50 extra, which is $50 cheaper than the cellular upcharge for Apple Watch Series 6. In other words, the cheapest Apple Watch SE with cellular costs just $329, while the cheapest cellular-enabled Apple Watch Series 6, at $499, leaps well beyond impulse buy territory.

Also included with the Apple Watch SE is an always-on altimeter for measuring elevation. This feature, which gives SE users something that last-generation Series 5 users lack, paves the way for a new Altitude complication on the watch face.

Like the Apple Watch Series 3, users don’t have a large variety of case colors or finishes to choose from. The iPhone SE does have a gold aluminum case option not offered on the Series 3, but nothing beyond that. But unlike the Series 3, the SE can be configured during the build-to-order process with the new Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop bands. More on these excellent new band options later.

The Apple Watch SE forgoes the ECG capabilities and the flagship Blood Oxygen measurement features of Series 6. Depending on your reasons for buying an Apple Watch, you may deem those wellness-related features to be expendable.

In my opinion, the biggest downside between the iPhone SE and the Apple Watch Series 6 is the lack of the always-on display offered on the more expensive model. Debuting with last year’s flagship fifth-generation Apple Watch, this lets the display stay on perpetually, allowing you to quickly tell time without awkwardly raising your wrist.

Although I don’t consider the always-on display to be an absolute necessity for every user, now that I’ve experienced it for the last year, it’s a luxury that I wouldn’t want to go without. In fact, if you can find a used Apple Watch Series 5 in good condition, it might be the more desirable option for those wanting the always-on display.

Apple Watch Series 6

The Apple Watch Series 6 is basically an Apple Watch Series 5/Apple Watch SE with a 20% faster S6 SiP, improved always-on display, along with blood oxygen measurement and ECG capabilities.

The Apple Watch Series 6 is the only new watch that Apple sells that can be configured in a variety of aluminum (blue and red!), titanium, and stainless steel finishes. It’s the watch that will garner you the most customization options with regard to case finish and band choice.