Apple Watch 3: Which Model Should You Buy?
This guide will help you choose between the new Apple Watch Series 3 models, styles, sizes and colors. In all, the Apple Watch Series 3 comes in 70 variations ranging from $329 to $1,399. The good news is that all these models function virtually the same, but there are some important differences, especially for those using the Apple Watch Series 3 as a constant companion for health, safety or fitness reasons.
If you’re looking at the Apple Watch Series 3 primarily for its functionality and convenience, look no further than the base aluminum models. If you’re fashion conscious, then you may want to splurge on a more expensive Apple Watch.
Before we compare Apple Watch Series 3 models, it’s important to understand the difference between the Apple Watch Series 1 and Apple Watch Series 3. The Apple Watch Series 3 is a big leap forward and definitely worth the $70 premium over the Apple Watch Series 1, which starts at $249. The Apple Watch Series 1 is more susceptible to water damage, has a dimmer display, doesn’t last as long on a single charge, has a slower processor and Siri isn’t as useful on it. The Apple Watch Series 1 also lacks Apple’s W2 wireless chip, which speeds up wireless speeds on the Apple Watch Series 3. The Apple Watch 3 has a barometric pressure sensor that makes it track workouts more accurately, while the Apple Watch Series 1 does not. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two models is that the Apple Watch Series 3 can be purchased with built-in cellular service.
If you are on a budget and none of the above differences mean much to you, then the Apple Watch Series 1 is a fine device. If a doctor’s asked you to monitor your heart rate, sleep patterns or daily activity, the Apple Watch Series 1 will serve those purposes just fine. If you are really trying to improve your health, stay constantly connected while out on adventures or show off your style, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the only way to go.
These are the four major choices you’ll need to make when buying an Apple Watch Series 3:
- Apple Watch Case Material and Color
- Cellular or No Cellular
- Apple Watch Size
- Apple Watch Band and Special Editions
Apple Watch Series 3 Case Material and Colors
There are four case materials to choose from: aluminum, steel and ceramic. The base Apple Watch Series 3 and the Nike+ models are made of aluminum, which is exactly what most Apple products are made out of. There are several luxury Apple Watch Series 3 models made of steel, which is tougher than aluminum, but a little heavier. At the top of the heap are two models made of ceramic.
The aluminum models start at $329 and range up to $429. The cheapest version has a smaller (38mm watch face). The $429 version has cellular connectivity, a bigger watch face (42mm) and can fit bigger wrists. The aluminum models are available in silver, space gray and gold. All three have a slightly matte surface, just like the back of most iPhones, including the new iPhone 8. Aluminum is obviously much softer than stainless steel, which means the cheaper Apple Watches are easier to ding than the more expensive models.
Active Apple Watch users often opt for the aluminum model, even if they can comfortably afford the stainless steel models. That’s because the aluminum model is significantly lighter than the stainless steel Apple Watch. The 42mm aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 weighs in at 34.9 grams, while the stainless steel model weighs 52.8 grams. That’s a difference of almost 18 grams or .61 ounce, which is very noticeable when exercising.
The stainless steel models have the widest variety of watch bands and options. It’s important to note that the stainless steel models all come with cellular capabilities, which means you may be paying extra for a feature you don’t need. The cheapest Apple Watch Series 3 with a stainless steel case costs $599 and goes up to $799 with a metal Apple band. If you go with a leather Hermès band, the stainless steel Apple Watch can go all the way up to $1,399.
If you work in a professional environment or care a lot about style, stainless steel is the way to go. The stainless steel Apple Watch Series 3 models are available in natural stainless steel and in black. The black is noticeably deeper than the space gray aluminum Apple Watch models. The stainless steel models also have a glossy finish, which some people prefer as it looks more like a fashion accessory than a technology product.
The ceramic Apple Watch Series 3 is the way to go if you want to get the most durable model and don’t mind spending $1,299 to $1,349 for it. Apple claims that the ceramic model is four-times more scratch resistant than the stainless steel model. Another advantage of the ceramic model is that it weighs a few grams less than the stainless steel models, though it’s still heavier than the aluminum models. Apple calls the ceramic watch the Apple Watch Edition and comes with a cellular connection.
Apple Watch Series 3: GPS vs GPS + Cellular
The Apple Watch Series 3 is Apple’s third iteration of the device and the first to feature cellular capabilities, which means you’ll be able to use it out of range of your iPhone. If you’re like most iPhone users, you probably have your iPhone in your pocket, in your hand, or within arm’s reach most of the day. For some, it can be hard to imaging why you would need a phone on your wrist, but there’s a lot more to it than being able to place calls on your Apple Watch.
All Apple Watch Series 3 models come with GPS, which can do things like track workouts or trigger alerts. However, only the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch Series 3 models can fully function without a connected iPhone nearby. That makes doing things like getting directions, sending a message or placing a call impossible if you forget your iPhone at home or if its battery runs out of electricity. The Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular model can do all of that without your iPhone nearby, plus it can notify you of alerts from your apps. The cellular-enabled Apple Watch can also connect wirelessly to AirPods and stream 40 million Apple Music songs when your iPhone is out of reach or out of power.
The cheapest Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS costs $329. The cheapest Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular is $399, a $70 add-on compared to the base model. While the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular will use the same phone number as your iPhone, carries will charge a separate subscription fee to add the Apple Watch to your plan. For example, AT&T and Verizon will charge you $10 to add an Apple Watch Series 3 to existing family plans. That means the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular will cost about $340 extra over two years once you account for fees and taxes. Yes, opting for the cellular connectivity ends up more than doubling the price of the base Apple Watch Series 3.
AT&T will allow Apple Watch Series 3 to use NumberSync, which means your watch will be able to place and receive calls from the same number as your iPhone. Above is a video that details the NumberSync service.
If you’re trying to justify the extra $70, plus wireless fees, it is probably easier to do so on the more expensive models. The $70 cellular option is bundled in the non-aluminum models as they aren’t available with GPS only. The data fees are the same regardless of which model you choose.
There are some people that should absolutely opt for the Apple Watch Series 3 with the cellular, even if doing so is a stretch financially. Anyone that’s elderly, has a serious illness, works in dangerous environments, or is otherwise vulnerable should spend the extra money to get the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular service. That’s because it can serve as a lifeline to call 911 with just the press of the side button. It is much more common than you’d expect to be unable to call for help with an iPhone during an emergencies. The last thing you want to do during an accident or injury is to have to search around for your phone and hold a phone while dealing with the emergency.
Apple’s video above includes one example of someone who saved himself by placing a call with his Apple Watch. With an Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular connectivity, you don’t need to worry if your iPhone survives an accident or has a full charge.
Apple Watch Series 3: 38mm vs 42mm
The Apple Watch Series 3 comes in two sizes, with the smaller model meant for those with slimmer wrists and the larger model meant for those with slightly bigger wrists. The watch face on the larger model is noticeably bigger, even though 4mm doesn’t sound like a whole lot.
Don’t assume that the smaller model is meant for women and the larger one is meant for men. If at all possible, I recommend trying both models on before buying. If that’s not possible, you can measure your wrist’s circumference using a string and tape measure or ruler.
The 38mm Apple Watch with the standard bands fit wrists that measure 130-200mm, while the 42mm Apple Watch fits wrists that measure 140mm to 210mm. If your wrists are bigger than 210mm, you can track down bigger bands from Apple in a very limited variety of colors or buy a third-party bands. Apple will also sell you extra links for some of the bands that come with stainless steel models.
Note that some of the bands that come with the stainless steel models aren’t as long, which means you’ll need to have a wrist that’s 180mm or less if you want the 38mm with the Milanese Loop band. Your wrist can be a maximum of 200mm around if you wan the 42mm version with the Milanese Loop.
One thing to note about the 42mm display is that it has about 30% more pixels than the smaller 38mm model. That means it’s view text, images and apps on the display on the bigger model and it’s easier to tap small icons. I recommend getting one of the bigger Apple Watch Series 3 models if you have big fingers or have trouble tapping precisely.
Apple Watch Series 3 Special Editions
Apple is selling several special edition Apple Watch Series 3 models with distinctive bands. Besides the ceramic Apple Watch Edition, there’s the Apple Watch Nike+ models and several watches that feature Hermès bands. While most Apple Watch Series 3 models are available in both 38mm and 42mm sizes, several of the Hermès Apple Watches are only available in one size.
The Apple Watch Series 3 Nike+ models cost exactly the same as the basic aluminum Apple Watch Series 3. That’s because the Apple Watch Nike+ cases are identical to the non-Nike+ models. The only physical difference is that the Nike+ models have watch bands with an array of holes that help users’ wrist sweat evaporate a little easier. You can also opt for a Nike Sport Loop watch band which dries faster. The Nike+ models also come with exclusive watch faces that feature Nike+ Run Club stats. While these are nice touches, it really only makes sense to get the Nike+ version if you’re going to actually use Nike+ Run Club as your primary workout app. If you are already entrenched in Strava, Runkeeper or any other fitness app, then you should probably skip the Nike+ Apple Watch.
There are eight Apple Watch Series 3 models with Hermès bands. While Apple isn’t marketing these as gendered models, some models are clearly targeting men and others are targeting women. All of them have stainless steel cases and range from $1,199 to $1,399, but some are only available in 38mm, while others are only available in 42mm. All of the Hermès Apple Watches come with GPS + Cellular and leather bands. The Sy ingle Tour is the simplest version, featuring a simple leather band for $1,199. The Single Tour Eperon d’Or inspired by a Hermès scarf.
The Double Tour models have two leather bands and only come in 38mm. This model is $1,299.
The most expensive Apple Watch is $1,399 and comes with a strap called the Single Tour Deployment Buckle. It is clearly a men’s watch and only available with a 42mm face.
Apple Watch Series 3: Best Pick
The Apple Watch Series 3 is first and foremost a fitness and communications device. The basic aluminum models offer the best value and their lightweight make them better for active users. We expect Apple to introduce new Apple Watch models every year. Unless you really don’t care about your budget, we recommend sticking with the basic aluminum or Nike+ Apple Watch Series 3 and upgrading more often.
If you are well-groomed, fret over your accessories often, and don’t have to worry about the price difference, then by all means go for a stainless steel or ceramic Apple Watch. Just keep in mind that all of the Apple Watches can accept any other Apple Watch band. You can swap them around however you like if you end up buying next year’s model or if you want to buy a third-party band later.
I highly recommend buying the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular connectivity if at all possible. You never know when being able to place a call could save your or a loved one’s life.