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Do Not Buy the Apple Watch Series 3 Over the Watch SE

Illustration for article titled Do Not Buy the Apple Watch Series 3 Over the Watch SE

Screenshot: Apple

Another September, another

So we’re talking at most, a year’s worth of use if you buy a Series 3 right now. From the moolah standpoint, you are saving $80 for one year’s worth of use before whatever flashy new software or hardware tempts you to upgrade. If you did this in say, June, July, or August, you’d actually make that $80 stretch 13, 14, 15 months. If you spent that extra $80 for a Watch SE, however, you’d make that $280 stretch for at least two years before it was time to start considering an upgrade. $200 over the course of 12 months is roughly $16.67 per month; $280 over the course of 24 months is $11.67. See! Money saved. Sort of.

These are just rough timelines and don’t account for if you want to upgrade. But let’s say you do want to upgrade—maybe the Series 7 is just a mind-blowingly insane update and WatchOS 8 is phenomenal. Apple has a pretty good trade-in system where you get a discount off older products when buying newer ones. On this front, if you wanted to trade in a year-old Series 3 versus a year-old Watch SE, you can reasonably expect to get a bit more for the SE. Let’s say the Series 7 is an incremental change, and you wait it out for the Series 8. You will get even less for that Series 3 when it comes time to upgrade, but you still might get something decent for the SE. So in terms of value, unless you find a Series 3 on sale for less than $200, you’re better off with the SE.

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This also is true of the hardware. The SE is a bit of a Frankenstein watch in that it seemingly has the chassis and screen of the Series 4, with a mish-mash of chips and sensors from the Series 5 and Series 6. The SE has the S5 chip (the same one in the Series 5), which right off the bat is 20% faster than the S3 chip in the Series 3. While you won’t get things like an always-on display or ECG, you are going to get features like fall detection and noise-level monitoring, as well as the same accelerometer, gyroscope, and always-on altimeter that the Series 6 has. Heck, in some ways, the SE has more advanced components than the Series 5.

That means if you don’t particularly care about features like blood oxygen level monitoring, always-on display, and ECGs, and if you want just a little more than the basics, the SE is more than capable. It’s cheaper than every other major flagship smartwatch while providing at least some of the same advanced feature set. That includes the $400 Samsung Galaxy Watch 3, the $295 Fossil Gen 5, and the $330 Fitbit Sense. Actually, if you can get a trade-in discount, the SE could be just a little more expensive or on-par with the $230 Fitbit Versa 3.

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At $280, the Watch SE is $120 cheaper than the GPS-only version of the Series 6. It also includes built-in GPS, which not every smartwatch in the sub-$200 category does. If the Series 6’s upgrades don’t really tickle your fancy, or you’re just not in a position to fork over at least $400 for a new smartwatch, or you’re one of those parents who have enough moolah to get a watch for your kid, the new Apple Watch SE is the safer bet for your wallet. Likewise, if you’re upgrading from a Series 2 or older, but really don’t want to spend over $300 on a new smartwatch, the SE isn’t a bad option. Hell, it’s also a nice upgrade option for budget-conscious owners of the Series 3 and 4 who don’t care about ECG. Not only do you get much faster components, if you do want to upgrade to a Series 7, you’ll likely get more from a future trade-in than a Series 3 too.

After reading all this, if you do buy a Series 3, you best be getting it on some fire sale or from a reseller for $140 or less. Otherwise, you’re just throwing your money away.

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