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Apple Watch Series 7 vs 6 vs 3 vs SE: Which one's the best Watch?

Update: November 2021
Apple Watch Series 7 vs 6 vs 3 vs SE: Which one's the best Watch?

We compare the new Apple Watch Series 7 with the Watch Series 6 and 3 as well as the Watch SE, in order to answer this question: Which one should I buy? In the following comparison, you can learn about the technical differences between the Watch 7, 6, 3, and SE – and also find out additional information about watchOS 8 and the history of the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch 2021: All models compared

  Editor's recommendation Price-performance winner Best buy Old but gold
Product
Photo Apple Watch Series 7 41 mm Apple Watch SE Apple Watch Series 6 Apple Watch Series 3
Specifications 41 mm / 45 mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
396 x 484 pixels (45 mm, 1143 mm²)
352 x 430 pixels (41 mm, 904 mm²)
Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Apple S7, W3 and U1 chipset
Pulse sensor, ECG, SpO2
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
32 GB memory
40 mm / 44 mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
368 x 448 pixels (44 mm, 977 mm²)
324 x 394 pixels (40 mm, 759 mm²)
Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Apple S5 and W3 chips
Pulse sensor
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
32 GB memory
40 mm / 44 mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
368 x 448 pixels (44 mm, 977 mm²)
324 x 394 pixels (40 mm, 759 mm²)
Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Apple S6, W3 and U1 chipset
Pulse sensor, ECG, SpO2
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
32 GB memory
38mm / 42mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
312 x 390 pixels (42 mm, 740 mm²)
272 x 340 pixels (38 mm, 563 mm²)
GPS, no LTE
Apple S3 and W2 chips
Pulse sensor
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
8 GB memory
Pros
  • Bigger, brighter screen
  • Charges up to 33% faster compared to the Series 6
  • IP6X certified: Waterproof and dust protection now included
Cons
  • Nothing new, as the Apple Watch only works with an iPhone
Rating
Read review
Not yet reviewed
Not yet reviewed
Not yet reviewed
Offers*

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Just like last year, Apple continues to sell the Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE as official models alongside the current Watch Series 7. The cheapest Apple Watch is the Series 3 with a starting price of $199. The Apple Watch SE starts at $279 for the cheapest variant, while the new Apple Watch Series 7 is priced from $399 and above.

With a few additional configurations, such as a stainless steel or titanium case, with eSIM support or with the famous Milanaise strap, the Apple Watch Series 7 can be very expensive, even surpassing the $1,000 mark. Finally, the Watch Series 6 is no longer available from Apple itself, but is a candidate if you are on the lookout for an interesting bargain.

Interestingly, there's little visual difference between the four models. Even the battery has remained the same across all these models. So what are the differences between these Apple smartwatches?

Quick links:

  1. Current Apple Watch lineup
  2. The Current: Apple Watch Series 7 and 6 compared
  3. The Cheap: Apple Watch SE and Series 3 compared
    1. Price-performance winner: Apple Watch SE
    2. Entry-level model: Apple Watch Series 3
  4. Buying guide: Which Apple Watch is the best?
  5. Apple Watch Studio
  6. Software: watchOS 8
  7. All Apple Watch generations at a glance

The most successful watch in the world is: a smartwatch! Over the past few years, Apple has achieved the feat of becoming the largest watch manufacturer in the world. Their effort has left the entire Swiss watch industry behind. According to Strategy Analytics, Apple has already sold about 50 percent more watches in 2019 than all Swiss watchmakers combined (30.7 versus 21.1 million units).

The success of the Apple Watch certainly has a lot to do with the fact that the iPhone and watch work so perfectly together. In fact, you can now make payments, open doors, take your pulse or blood oxygen levels via the watch. It kind of feels like the future is on your wrist. But the main reason to own a smartwatch for many people is and probably revolves around the issue of "health".

The Latest: Apple Watch Series 7 (and 6)

  2021 model 2020 model
Product
Photo Apple Watch Series 7 41 mm Apple Watch Series 6
Display and size Retina LTPO OLED display
396 x 484 pixels (45 mm, 1143 mm²)
352 x 430 pixels (41 mm, 904 mm²)
Retina LTPO OLED display
368 x 448 pixels (44 mm, 977 mm²)
324 x 394 pixels (40 mm, 759 mm²)
Models Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Chipset Apple S7, W3 and U1 Apple S6, W3 and U1
Sensors Pulse sensor, ECG, SpO2
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
Memory 32 GB memory
Water resistance WR50 for water (up to 50m)
IP6X against dust
WR50 for water (up to 50m)
Charging Magnetic (USB-C cable)
*33% faster than the Series 6
Magnetic (USB-C cable)
Offers* Check price Check price

Let's move on to the flagship first and foremost, which is the Apple Watch Series 7. Compared to last year's Series 6, relatively little has actually changed in terms of features.

The most striking feature would certainly the 20 percent larger screen area. The portion of the frame or the so-called bezels was significantly reduced to create more space for the display. In addition, according to Apple, the brightness of the Always-On Display has increased by up to 70 percent when indoors compared to the Series 6. However, based on my experience, I can say that this is not a "game changer" in any way. Meanwhile, the brightness level on the active display has remained the same.

The Apple Watch Series 7 has become much more stable in its latest iteration. Even at its thinnest point, the thickness of the crystal glass has doubled, which should prevent display breakage almost entirely. However, in my seven years of using an Apple Watch, I've yet to experience a cracked display.

IPX6 certification offers an additional layer of protection to the smartwatch. In addition to being swim-proof, the Series 7 now also has a certificate for dust resistance. That may not sound like a big deal at first, but anyone who has worn the Apple Watch while playing beach volleyball, spending a day by the seaside, or running or mountain biking on dusty trails will know that this is a thoroughly important new feature. I myself had trouble with fine sand and dust on previous models regularly, as such dust and sand tend to migrate into the crevices of the digital crown which in turn, prevented proper rotation for a while.

NextPit Apple Watch 7 test fabi
The display has grown significantly on the Apple Watch Series 7. / © NextPit

Another new feature that I can't live without on the Apple Watch Series 7 is fast charging, apart from the great battery life. Within 45 minutes, it charges from 0 to 80 percent. You need just 8 minutes of charging for you to use the watch overnight for sleep tracking. However, this only works with the included new cable. The Series 7 can also be charged without any issues on old charging stations, albeit at a much slower rate.

The Apple Watch Series 7 is the first Apple smartwatch to come equipped with the ultra-wideband U1 chip. In the future, this should ensure that cars or hotel doors, for example, can be opened with the Apple Watch. In the US, there are already hotels that use this technology. Adoption of this technology on the Apple Watch outside of the US remains an unknown quantity.

As always with its top-tier Watch models, Apple offers the Series 7 in different finishes. In addition to aluminum, the Watch comes in stainless steel and titanium. The aluminum cases are available in five different colors to suit every taste.

The Apple Watch Series 7 comes in either a 41- or 45-millimeter variant. The aluminum version will begin at a $449 price tag, with the stainless steel model starting from $749 while the titanium version will set you back by $849.

Click here for NextPit's Apple Watch Series 7 review

Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3 compared

Before we go into the two cheaper Apple Watch models individually, we want to show you the differences between the Apple Watch SE and Watch Series 3 at a glance. You can view the most important information in the following table via a direct comparison.

  Price-performance winner 2017 model
Product
Photo Apple Watch SE Apple Watch Series 3
Display and size Retina LTPO OLED display
368 x 448 pixels (44 mm, 977 mm²)
324 x 394 pixels (40 mm, 759 mm²)
Retina LTPO OLED display
312 x 390 pixels (42 mm, 740 mm²)
272 x 340 pixels (38 mm, 563 mm²)
Models Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE GPS, no LTE
Chipset Apple S5 and W3 Apple S3 and W2 chips
Sensors Pulse sensor
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
Memory 32 GB memory 8 GB memory
Water resistance WR50 for water (up to 50m)
Charging Magnetic (USB-C cable) Magnetic (USB-A cable)
Special offers* Check price

Apple Watch SE: The price-performance winner

Apple has also cornered the entry-level smartwatch market with the Watch SE, where it hardly leaves anything to be desired. Even the design hardly differs from the premium version of the product, the Apple Watch Series 7. Only by taking a close look at the display will reveal which model you are wearing. The Watch SE does not have an always-on display and therefore does not always show the screen content.

The display of the Watch SE shares the same panel from last year's model, the Apple Watch Series 6. Compared to the Apple Watch Series 3, the SE has a display that is approximately 30 percent larger. At 10.7 millimeters, the case is also 0.7 millimeters slimmer than that of the Series 3. In addition, the Apple Watch SE comes in 40 and 44 millimeters variants, while the 3 only comes in 38 and 42 millimeters variants.

The Apple Watch SE is powered by a dual-core 64-bit processor, which debuted in the Apple Watch Series 5. While this is significantly slower than that of the Apple Watch Series 7, it is only 20 percent slower compared to last year's Apple Watch Series 6. In day-to-day use, this is unlikely to be noticeable under a regular usage pattern.

The Apple Watch SE lacks sensors for ECG and blood oxygen measurement. It also does not have a chip for ultra-wideband, which eliminates some of the convenience features, such as opening cars or hotel doors or close-range tracking. Apart from those shortcomings (if you may call them as such), the Watch SE has everything you need when it comes to sports: a real-time altimeter, a compass, and all the other sensors that arrives in the Series 7.

The Apple Watch SE can be purchased with a case size of 40 millimeters from $279 or $309 at 44 millimeters.

Entry-level model: Apple Watch Series 3

Apple watch Series7 Series3 SE
A comparison of the three Apple Watches / © Apple (Screenshot: NextPit)

It would not be surprising to see "Nothing new" make the headlines with the Apple Watch Series 3. Apple will continue to sell its smartwatch that was first released in 2017 throughout this year, and also in 2022 in a virtually unchanged form factor while sporting the very same components from four years back.

That's not necessarily good news as time has literally moved in terms of Apple Watches and the technologies included. Please don't misunderstand me: The Apple Watch Series 3 was and is a good smartwatch. It has an optical heart rate sensor, an altimeter, and also has water resistance up to 50 meters deep. Moreover, the Watch also runs the latest Apple Watch operating system, watchOS 8.

So most, or rather many, of the features offered in watchOS would not be available on the Apple Watch Series 3. If you were to pick this timepiece up, be prepared to forgo the likes of Apple Pay support, heart rate monitoring while exercising, and emergency calls in the event of falls.

That, however, is where things start to go wrong. The accelerometer required for fall detection is significantly less sensitive on the Apple Watch Series 3 than it is on the Watch SE and Series 7. This means a fall may not always be detected as such with the Apple Watch Series 3.

Otherwise, there are also other shortcomings in terms of performance with the Apple Watch Series 3. The S3 processor installed in the watch is clearly inferior to those of the Watch SE and Series 7 by at least 50%. Unfortunately, you can feel that even without having to make a direct comparison. There can be minor lags in the performance and user experience.

In addition to the perceived difference in performance, there is also a very obvious difference. Even if the displays all look relatively similar when inactive, the Apple Watch Series 3's display is much smaller than its two siblings thanks to the relatively wide bezels. Of course, the Watch Series 3 doesn't have an always-on display either.

Still, the Apple Watch Series 3 isn't a bad smartwatch and can definitely take on rival products. It costs $199 a pop.

Buying guide: Which Apple Watch is the best?

Let's begin with an exclusion strategy for now: I personally cannot recommend the Apple Watch Series 3 to anyone, at least not if you want to buy it new from Apple. Sure, the additional $80 that you would fork out for a Watch SE is a lot of money. But relative to the purchase price of the Series 3, the added dough forked out for the SE is simply money very well spent. You get plenty more features, a much better display and, in case of doubt, a better resale value if you put it up on the market someday down the road.

Whether you settle for the Apple Watch SE or directly for the top model Series 7 is a matter of taste and certainly also a question of budget. Subjectively, the Apple Watch SE can do everything that you do with a smartwatch on a daily basis: heart rate measurement, calorie measurement for plenty of different activities, and almost all the other functions that the top model offers.

With a Watch SE, you will have to make do without the ECG function and oxygen measurement. However, results of both functions are rather meant to be enjoyed with caution from a medical point of view and are at best a guideline.

The always-on display is also missing in the Watch SE. This is one feature I personally do not want to miss out on, as well as the fast charging and the dust resistance. In other words, I would personally accept the surcharge of around $150 compared to a Watch SE and go for the Apple Watch Series 7. But if you don't need or want all the features, you definitely won't go wrong with the Apple Watch SE.

Apple Watch Studio

Since 2019, Apple has offered in both its stores (physical and virtual) the so-called Apple Watch Studio. Customers can combine any available Apple Watch case with all available bracelets. This way, any number of combinations can be created, allowing buyers to piece together their own personalized Apple Watch.

apple studio
Apple Watch Studio lets you piece together your own Apple Watch to suit your mood. / © Apple (Screenshot: NextPit)

Software: watchOS 8

Apple announced watchOS 8 during its WWDC21 developer conference that was held in early June this year. The company then released a developer beta version of the new operating system for the Apple Watch within the same month. Apple is making the new watchOS 8 version available as a free update for the following Apple Watch models:

  • Apple Watch Series 3
  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch SE
  • Apple Watch Series 6

The new software release gets a number of improvements, such as:

  • Improved Wallet access features,
  • New workout types,
  • Sleep breathing rate tracking,
  • New Mindfulness app,
  • New ways to communicate, such as doodling, editing dictated messages, or adding emojis to messages.

We have all the information about watchOS 8 here.

All Apple Watch generations at a glance

If you've always wanted to see all Apple Watches at a glance, you've come to the right place. NextPit has listed all models for you.

Apple Watch: Model overview over the years

Year Models Highlights / Innovations
2021 Apple Watch Series 7
  • Brighter Always-On Display
  • Fast charging
  • Larger display
  • IPX6 certification (waterproof and dustproof)
2020 Apple Watch Series 6
  • New Always-On Display
  • SpO2 Sensor
Apple Watch SE
  • 'Gimped' model without always-on display, ECG and SpO2
  • SoC from the Watch Series 5
2019 Apple Watch Series 5
  • Always-On Display
  • Compass
2018 Apple Watch Series 4
  • Larger displays: 44mm and 40mm
  • ECG function
2017 Apple Watch Series 3
  • Comes with optional LTE (via eSIM) and can also make calls without an iPhone
  • Altimeter
2016 Apple Watch Series 2
  • Apple S2 marks a dual-core SoC in an Apple Watch for the first time
  • Ceramic instead of gold for 'Watch Edition'
  • IP68 certification
  • GPS sensor
Apple Watch Series 1
  • Slightly improved SoC (780 MHz instead of 520 MHz)
2015 Apple Watch
  • First ever smartwatch from Apple!
  • Two different sizes: 38 mm and 42 mm
  • Gold edition debuted with $10,000 price tag
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