Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021?

The Apple Watch lineup currently consists of options ranging from the Apple Watch Series 3, first introduced in 2017, to the Apple Watch Series 6, released in 2020. The Apple Watch Series 3 is a tempting option at $199 in Apple’s lineup, but should you buy it in 2021? There are a few things to consider.

Apple Watch Series 3 details

The Apple Watch Series 3 was announced by Apple in September of 2017 alongside the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. It’s powered by the dual-core Apple S3 processor and was the first Apple Watch to featured cellular connectivity. When it first introduced, prices for the Apple Watch Series 3 started at $369.

But in 2021, even though Apple still sells it as part of its Apple Watch lineup, the Apple Watch Series 3 is starting to show its age and is becoming harder and harder to recommend.

Apple Watch Series 3 in 2021

Looking at the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 6, the first thing you’ll notice is the different design. The Apple Watch Series 3 features a boxier design with a smaller display and larger bezels. The Apple Watch SE and Series 6 feature slimmer bezels with rounded display corners.

This makes for a pretty noticeable change in display size:

  • 38mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 563 sq mm
  • 40mm Apple Watch SE and Series 6 display area: 759 sq mm
  • 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 display area: 740 sq mm
  • 44mm Apple Watch SE and Series 6 display area: 977 sq mm

As for battery life, Apple says that the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE and Series 6 can all last for up to 18 hours on a single charge. Actual battery life will always vary, but this 18-hour benchmark is a good way to shape your expectations. Future software updates could also impact battery life on older hardware.

The Apple Watch Series 3 also misses out on some of the newest and most useful Apple Watch health monitoring features, including ECG support and blood oxygen level detection. It does, however, support high and low heart rate notifications and irregular heart rhythm notifications.

Best Apple Watch charging docks:

watchOS

Apple Watch ECG

One of the biggest things to consider when deciding whether to buy the Apple Watch Series 3 boils down to software. The Apple Watch Series 3 is supported by the latest version of watchOS, which is watchOS 7, but it’s unclear whether it will be supported by watchOS 8. We expect watchOS 8 to be introduced in less than a week at WWDC 2021.

One of the limitations of the Apple Watch Series 3 is its lack of internal storage. The GPS model of the Apple Watch Series 3, which is the only one that Apple sells, only features 8GB of internal storage. This means that there is very little room to store podcasts and music for offline listening, and you’ll likely have to completely restore your Apple Watch to update it.

If the Apple Watch Series 3 is supported by watchOS 8, it’s possible that it misses out on headlining features due to its slower processor and lack of internal storage. In fact, it could be that the Series 3 only receives security and performance updates, not new features.

Read more about the Apple Watch Series 3 experience:

The verdict

It’s hard to imagine a world where Apple continues to sell the Apple Watch Series 3 for much longer. Even at $199, it’s hard to recommend people buy due to the aging design and questions about future software features. If the Apple Watch lives beyond WWDC next week, it will likely be discontinued this fall when Apple introduces the Apple Watch Series 7.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is still an excellent starter Apple Watch if you can accept the limitations and are ok with the possibility of not getting many new software features in the future. If possible, it’s worth looking for an Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) from a third-party retailer for the 16GB of storage, compared to just 8GB of storage in the GPS-only model.

Ultimately, when someone asks me which Apple Watch they should buy, I generally recommend that they look for a refurbished Apple Watch Series 4 or Series 5. You can usually find these models on sale at Amazon, and Apple even sells them via its Certified Refurbished Store. Pricing can vary based on sales, but you can oftentimes track one down for not much more than a brand new Apple Watch Series 3.

Something else that’s important to keep in mind for new Apple Watch buyers: the Apple Watch Series 3, even the cellular version, does not work with watchOS 7’s Family Setup feature. This feature requires an Apple Watch Series 4 or newer with cellular connectivity, and it allows you to set up an Apple Watch for a family member without an iPhone, such as a kid or elderly relative. 

Going with the Apple Watch Series 4 or newer unlocks new health features, faster performance, a modern design, and more. The Apple Watch Series 3 is a good starter wearable, but opting for a slightly newer model will dramatically improve the experience.

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