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Which Apple Watch Should You Buy: Series 1 or Series 3?

Written by  Simone Dresler Sep 19, 2017

Not sure which version of the Apple Watch to order? Here are the pros and cons of each model.

There are a lot of choices that go into picking an Apple Watch, including size, casing, colour, and bands. And with multiple Apple Watch models available, you also have to pick which features make the most sense for your needs. Now, when you go to order your Apple Watch, you'll have to choose between Series 1, Series 3 GPS-only, or Series 3 GPS + Cellular.

What's the difference between Series 1 and Series 3?

When the Apple Watch was released in April 2015, it offered different casings, but only one set of internal features — call it "Series 0". In September 2016, Apple announced two new feature variations, called Series 1 and Series 2, respectively; and now, as of September 2017, there are three distinct Series options available for users: the existing Series 1, Series 3 GPS-only, and Series 3 GPS + Cellular.

Series 1 is nigh-identical in pretty much every way to Series 0 — 450-nit brightness OLED Retina display with Force Touch, splash-proof, runs watchOS 4 — but it gets the same dual-core processor present from 2016's Series 2 (without GPS, hence the S1P processor name instead of S2). It's only available in an aluminum Ion-X casing with composite back in silver and space gray.

Series 3 GPS-only has all of the awesome features from 2016's Series 2 — swim-proofing and a direct-fire speaker, GPS and run-tracking, a twice-as-bright Retina display — along with a new S3 dual-core processor that's 1.7x faster than the Series 1's S1P, an altimetre for elevation tracking, audible Siri response, and Apple's W2 wireless chip for easy pairing to your iPhone and wireless accessories. It's also a little thicker and heavier than Series 1 (though not noticeable), and only available in aluminum Ion-X casings with composite backs in silver, space gray, and gold, along with special Nike+ versions.

Series 3 GPS + Cellular has everything its GPS-only compatriot has and more. It's Apple's latest and greatest, so unlike the other models, the GPS + Cellular option comes in aluminum, Nike+ aluminum, stainless steel, and ceramic casings, with many more band pairings. It also has stand-alone LTE connectivity (but no roaming), Apple Music streaming, more storage space, and a stylistic red dot on the Digital Crown.

We've broken down the nitty-gritty details between each series in the links below if you want more details


Models and styles

Apple's Series 1, Series 3 GPS-only, and Series 3 GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models aren't just differentiated by features: They also have markedly different exterior styles.

Series 1 is Apple's entry-level option for new users, and its cases reflect that: Users can only buy silver or space gray aluminum casings with white and black bands, respectively, and pricing ranges from £200-£240.

The Series 3 GPS-only option is Apple's midrange watch for features, and gets a few more casing styles than the Series 1: You're still limited to aluminum, but you can choose between silver, gold, or space gray with matched Sport or Nike+ Sport bands. The GPS-only watch ranges from £250-£300.

Series 3 GPS + Cellular is Apple's top-tier smartwatch, and you can buy it in any of the company's casing options: aluminum, stainless steel, or ceramic, with a number of different band pairings (including low-cost Nike+ Sport Loops and high-end Hermès leather bands). The GPS + Cellular model starts at £350 for an aluminum 38mm case, but can go all the way up to £1199 for an Hermès 42mm.

If you're looking for a budget Apple Watch and don't care much about casing style, the Apple Watch Series 1 may be the wearable for you. 

See also: Fitbit Ionic UK Review: This is Fitbit’s answer to the Apple Watch 

Speed, speed, speed

When it comes to the speed of your watch, you'll be equally served by either Series 3 models, with Series 1 at a markedly slower clip.

Both Series 3 models use the S3 system-on-a-chip with integrated GPS antenna, which Apple reports as up to 1.7x faster than the Series 1's S1P and Series 2. This results in much faster app opening times, hailing Siri, changing watch faces, starting and ending workouts, and more.

The Series 1 isn't bad when it comes to watch speed, but put it next to a Series 3 watch and you'll feel like you're treading water. If you want your watch to be as snappy and responsive as it possibly can be, you'll want either of the Series 3 models.


Battery life

While all three models sport an estimated 18 hours of battery life, this largely depends on what you're using your Apple Watch to do. Both Series 3 models come with integrated GPS, which lets you track your walks and runs in the Activity app and third-party programs without having to bring an iPhone along for the ride, and the GPS + Cellular model additionally packs in a cellular antenna.

Both GPS and cellular can potentially be a huge drain on your watch's battery because GPS chats with satellites and local cell towers to get your location, while LTE requires a constant of data between your watch and cell towers. On Apple's battery testing website, the company acknowledged that using GPS features like run-tracking without your iPhone nearby will nix up to three hours from your workout time.

The Series 3 Apple Watch GPS + Cellular gets an even rougher time of it with its top-tier features: A continuous outdoor run with both GPS and LTE active drops the average battery life to just 4 hours.

That said, GPS isn't an always-on feature — it's specifically integrated into features like running workouts and turn-by-turn directions. If you don't use these kinds of features, you won't put strain on your battery.

The same goes for LTE: You don't even have to enable your watch's cellular network at all if you choose, and you can turn off the cellular antenna at any time while using the Apple Watch to have it default to communicating with your iPhone.

If you want the option for LTE data, no matter the battery drain, you'll want the Series 3 GPS + Cellular. If you really only need GPS for run and walk-tracking and don't already own a Series 2, the GPS-only will serve you well. But if you're worried about draining your battery and don't plan on using GPS, the Series 1 is the safest bet here.

See also: Fitbit vs Apple Watch: Which smart fitness tracker should you buy? 

Water resistance

Are you the next Katie Ledecky or Michael Phelps? If so, the Series 3 models should surprise and delight: They're rated "swim-proof," with water resistance ratings up to 50m/150 feet. In addition, the hole in the Apple Watch's case — the speaker/microphone combo — has a "direct fire" feature that allows you to vibrate the water out of the casing after a swim or heavy water exposure.

Series 1 remains "splash-proof," with an IP7 water rating that allows for 30 minutes of water submersion, up to 1m/3 feet. We've never had problems taking the Series 1 Apple Watch in the pool, shower, or even on short swims, but that kind of regular exposure can slowly break down its internal seals and lead to wear and tear.

If you plan to swim regularly with the Apple Watch and you want to track your swimming workouts, you'll want the Series 3. If it's just brief water exposure for you, the Series 1 will do you just fine.



Series 1 has the same OLED Retina display present in the first-generation "Series 0" Apple Watch, rated at 450 nits. (A nit, as so helpfully explained by Apple, is the measurement of light equivalent to the light of one candle.

Apple's Series 3 models blast the Series display with twice the luminance, however, offering a whopping 1000-nit display — the brightest Apple has ever created. Why so bright? Largely, this is to make glancing at your watch in broad daylight an easier experience.

I've personally never had problems with the Apple Watch in sunlight at its darkest setting, but if your eyes demand a bright, crisp screen, you can't go wrong with the Series 3 models. If you don't mind a slightly darker screen, Series 1's OLED experience should still serve you well.



If you're on a budget, the Series 1 Apple Watch is the natural pick here: The 42mm Watch will cost you just £20 more at £279.

The Series 3 GPS-only model, in contrast, starts £80 higher, with the 38mm Sport at £280 and 42mm at £320.

The top-tier model, surprising no one, is the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model: It starts at £350 for a 38mm aluminum casing, and goes up to £1199 for some 42mm Hermès models.

 Image of Apple 38 mm Series 1 Smart Watch with Black Sport Band - Space Grey

Apple 38 mm Series 1 Smart Watch with Black Sport Band - Space Grey

£279 Buy now

Who should get the Apple Watch Series 1?

The Series 1 models are great for new Apple Watch users — especially those on a budget. The aluminum casing, Ion-X screen, and composite back is durable for most uses, and the dual-core S1P processor allows you to get the most out of watchOS 4 and third-party apps. The Series 1 is also a tad bit thinner and lighter than its Series 3 counterparts.


Who should get the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only model?

The Series 3 GPS-only model packs a lot of the great features found in the GPS + Cellular model, but without the necessity of fancier casing styles or an LTE antenna. The S3 processor boost will thrill new users and those upgrading from any prior series Apple Watch, and the GPS and new altimetre offer plenty of sports tracking for those looking for great workout tracking.

For swimmers, runners, and walkers, the swim resistance and GPS features in Series 3 models are huge selling points — it's one of the best smartwatch/fitness tracker hybrids on the market.


Who should get the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular model?

The Series 3 GPS + Cellular model is the latest and greatest in Apple Watch. It brings blazing-fast speed, high-quality casing styles, new bands, and cellular data to keep you connected no matter where you roam.

It does come with a few tradeoffs: We have yet to test actual battery life for the watch beyond Apple's claims, and LTE is sure to suck down a certain amount of power. Additionally, the watch is only available in a few countries and LTE configurations at launch, and limited space for LTE bands means that you won't be able to roam internationally with Apple Watch the way you can with your iPhone. (You can still use your iPhone's data connection on your Apple Watch, of course.)

The Apple Watch Series 3 can't roam, and won't work between countries

See also: Garmin Forerunner 735XT UK Review: Tailored to multisport athletes 

You don't need to buy an LTE plan when you purchase the watch, but should you decide to use cellular, you'll have to use the same network your iPhone uses — you can't have your watch on T-Mobile and your iPhone on AT&T, for instance.

But if you happen to be ordering in a country where the LTE model is available and you want the latest and greatest, you can't go wrong with the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model, it's a beautiful piece of technology.

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