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Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3: How Do They Compare?

Apple has released several generations of the Apple Watch since its debut in 2015. Two of the most popular and affordable models are the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3. These smartwatches have similar designs and features, but there are some key differences buyers should consider.

Overview of the Apple Watch SE and Series 3

The Apple Watch SE was released in 2020 as a new budget-friendly option, while the Series 3 first came out in 2017. Here‘s a quick overview of their specs:

Apple Watch SE

  • Released September 2020
  • Sizes: 40mm, 44mm
  • Display: Retina OLED, 1000 nits brightness
  • Processor: Dual-core S5 SiP
  • Storage: 32GB
  • Sensors: GPS, GLONASS, optical heart rate, accelerometer, altimeter, compass, gyroscope
  • Water resistance: Up to 50 meters
  • Battery life: Up to 18 hours

Apple Watch Series 3

  • Released September 2017
  • Sizes: 38mm, 42mm
  • Display: Retina OLED, 1000 nits brightness
  • Processor: Dual-core S3 SiP
  • Storage: 8GB or 16GB
  • Sensors: GPS, GLONASS, optical heart rate, accelerometer, altimeter, compass, gyroscope
  • Water resistance: Up to 50 meters
  • Battery life: Up to 18 hours

So at a high level, the SE offers a larger display, newer processor, and more storage, while the Series 3 is smaller and has older components. But let‘s dive deeper into the differences.

Design and Display

The Apple Watch SE features a more modern, rounded design compared to the boxier shape of the Series 3. The SE comes in 40mm and 44mm size options, while the Series 3 is available in 38mm and 42mm.

So the SE gives you a larger watch face to work with – 40mm vs 38mm and 44mm vs 42mm. This increased screen real estate makes content more immersive and apps easier to interact with.

Both watches have a bright OLED Retina display with 1000 nits max brightness. However, the higher resolution on the SE makes images and text look sharper. The 40mm SE is 324 x 394 pixels, while the 38mm Series 3 is 272 x 340 pixels.

The Series 3 does have a smaller footprint though, which some users may prefer for comfort and portability. But overall, the SE‘s larger, edge-to-edge display in a slimmer body looks more modern and sleek.

Performance and Hardware

One of the biggest reasons to consider the SE over the Series 3 is the improved performance. The SE uses Apple‘s newer S5 system-in-package (SiP) chip, while the Series 3 runs on the older S3 SiP.

Benchmark tests show the S5 offers around 2x faster performance compared to the S3. So you‘ll get snappier app load times and smoother animations with the SE. This is important for preserving a responsive user experience over the years as apps become more advanced.

The SE also comes with 32GB of storage built-in, versus just 8GB on the Series 3 GPS model or 16GB for GPS + Cellular. This gives you a lot more room for downloading apps, music, and images directly on your watch.

Both watches include a variety of sensors like GPS, heart rate monitor, compass, and accelerometer. The SE does have a more advanced accelerometer capable of detecting falls, one of its newer safety features. But for basic activity tracking, the sensor arrays are quite similar.

Features and Capabilities

Since the SE is a newer model, it offers some extra features and capabilities over the Series 3:

  • Fall detection: The SE can automatically detect falls and initiate an emergency call if you‘re immobile for 1 minute afterwards.

  • Compass: The SE has a built-in compass to keep you oriented and show compass headings in apps.

  • Elevation tracking: The altimeter in the SE provides real-time elevation tracking for hikes and runs.

  • International emergency calling: Cellular SE models allow emergency calls in over 150 countries, even without your phone nearby.

  • watchOS support: The SE can be updated to the latest watchOS 9 software. The Series 3 stopped at watchOS 7 and won‘t get new updates.

  • Water resistance: The SE is rated for 50 meters of water resistance, enabling swimming and high velocity water sports. The Series 3 is only rated to 50 meters without high velocity water – more splash and rain resistance.

Aside from those additions, the core features are quite similar. You get activity and workout tracking, heart rate monitoring, Apple Pay, notifications, music control, Siri, and third-party apps. Both watches also provide emergency fall detection and SOS capabilities as well.

So in terms of usefulness, the SE does give you a few extras. But for basic smartwatch functionality, the Series 3 is still a capable device.

Battery Life

Apple claims up to 18 hours of battery life for both the SE and Series 3. However, actual usage time will vary depending on your usage, settings, and model.

In general, smartwatch batteries degrade over time. So a newer SE will likely offer better battery life than a several year old Series 3. My own usage shows the SE comfortably lasting a full day while my older Series 3 needs an evening recharge.

Both watches charge to full in about 2 hours and use Apple‘s magnetic charging cable. One limitation is that neither watch supports fast charging. That feature didn‘t arrive until the Apple Watch 7. So you‘ll be charging for a bit either way.

For most users, battery life is similar between the SE and Series 3 and won‘t be a major distinguishing factor. But the SE may have an edge in maintaining max battery capacity over years of use.

Price and Availability

With the Series 3 discontinued, the Apple Watch SE provides the most affordable entry point for a new Apple Watch at $249 (GPS 40mm).

Meanwhile, the Series 3 has to be purchased refurbished or used now. Refurbished Series 3 models go for around $119 – $169 for 38mm and $149 – $199 for 42mm options.

So buying a refurb Series 3 can save you around $100 compared to a new SE. However, there are benefits to getting a new model – like having a fresh battery, full 1 year warranty, and longer lifespan before performance starts degrading.

Availability is also better for the SE, with lots of retailers carrying it. The discontinued Series 3 is harder to find from authorized sellers, so you have to be careful about fake/counterfeit units from sketchy third-party resellers.

Overall, the SE provides the best value as a budget-friendly Apple Watch with current specs and features. But deals can be found on the Series 3 for even lower investment, with the trade-offs of older hardware and limited availability.

Comparison Chart

Here is a helpful comparison chart summarizing the key differences between the Apple Watch SE vs Series 3:

Feature Apple Watch SE Apple Watch Series 3
Release Date Sept 2020 Sept 2017
Sizes 40mm, 44mm 38mm, 42mm
Display 324 x 394px or 368 x 448px
OLED, Retina, 1000 nits
272 x 340px or 312 x 390px
OLED, Retina, 1000 nits
Processor S5 chip S3 chip
Storage 32GB 8GB or 16GB
Sensors GPS, GLONASS, altimeter, compass, optical heart rate, fall detection GPS, GLONASS, altimeter, optical heart rate
Battery Life Up to 18 hours Up to 18 hours
Water Resistance 50 meters 50 meters (lower velocity)
Features Fall detection, compass, always-on altimeter, international emergency calling, watchOS 9 Basic smartwatch features
New Price $249+ Discontinued
Refurbished Price N/A $119 – $199

Which One Should You Get?

So is the latest Apple Watch SE the better buy over the older Series 3? Here are some guidelines:

Get the Apple Watch SE if you:

  • Want better performance for a smoother experience
  • Prefer a larger, edge-to-edge screen
  • Need more than 16GB storage for music, apps, etc.
  • Want new safety features like fall detection
  • Plan to use your watch for 3+ years

The Series 3 is a better buy if you:

  • Are on a tight budget (under $150)
  • Want a smaller watch for comfort/portability
  • Only need basic smartwatch functionality
  • Are ok with outdated hardware and display
  • Just need it for 1-2 years max

Overall, I think the SE is worth the extra $100-150 investment for a new watch with modern specs that will hold up well over time. But for kids or very basic use, a refurb Series 3 can still get the job done and save you some money.

I‘d caution against getting a used Series 3 of unknown origin given the flood of convincing knockoffs out there. Stick to authorized refurbishers like Apple or big retailers to ensure authenticity.

So weigh your budget, usage needs, and timeline to decide if the SE or Series 3 makes sense for your particular situation. Both are great smartwatch options with Apple‘s renowned quality and performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the Apple Watch SE have LTE/Cellular connectivity?

Yes, the Apple Watch SE is available with Cellular + GPS allowing you to get call/text notifications without your phone. Both sizes come in WiFi-only or WiFi + Cellular models.

How durable are the Apple Watch SE and Series 3?

Both watches have strong build quality with an aluminum case, Ion-X strengthened glass face, and water resistance up to 50 meters. They can withstand everyday use and activities like swimming. The SE may have better longevity before showing wear.

Can you change watch bands on them?

Yes, the Apple Watch has standardized watch bands that are interchangeable between different models. You can easily swap bands on the SE or Series 3 for a new look.

Do they work with Android phones?

Unfortunately no – the Apple Watch is designed to pair exclusively with iPhones. Key functions like messages, calls, and notifications require iOS integration.

Which model has more color options available?

The Apple Watch SE is offered in 3 different case finishes (silver, space gray, gold) and a variety of sport band colors. The Series 3 selection is more limited since it‘s discontinued, but you can usually find silver, space gray, and gold aluminum models.