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

apple watch se vs series 3

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

Apple Series 6 vs. Watch SE: 4 Must-Know Facts

  1. The Apple Watch SE is the first “budget-friendly” smartwatch from Apple.
  2. Apple released the Apple Watch 3 with aluminum, ceramic and stainless steel cases.
  3. The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch 5 are the first smartwatches from Apple with 32GB of storage.
  4. Apple introduced its first eSIM with the LTE version of the Apple Watch Series 3.

Apple has kept things fairly streamlined with the Apple Watch lineup as we’ve only seen a handful of variants since 2016. Consumers interested in an older model commonly compare the Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3, the first attempt by Apple to produce a lower-cost smartwatch. While these wearables can’t compare to the new Apple Watch Series 8, you might be surprised by how they stack up against one another.

Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3: Side-by-Side Comparison

Apple Watch Series 3Apple Watch SE (1st gen)
ReleasedSeptember 22, 2017September 18, 2020
Sizes38mm, 42mm40mm, 44mm
DisplayRetina OLED 1,000 nitsRetina LTPO OLED 1,000 nits
ProcessorDual-core S3 SiPDual-core S5 SiP 64-bit
Resolution272 x 340 (38mm), 312 x 390 (42mm)324 x 394 (40mm), 368 x 448 (44mm)
ConnectionWi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth 4.2Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth 5.0
Storage8GB, 16GB32GB
SensorsGPS, GLONASS, Galileo, GZSS, gyroscope, ambient light sensor, altimeter, accelerometer, optical heart rate sensorGPS, GLONASS, Galileo, GZSS, gyroscope, ambient light sensor, altimeter, Always-On accelerometer, optical heart rate sensor (2nd gen)
Battery/Power18 hours18 hours
Still SupportedNoYes

Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3: What’s the Difference?

In the past, when you compared Apple smartwatches, you found plenty of similarities. That began to change when the company unleashed the Apple Watch SE into the world. Consumers had a more affordable version of the Apple watch, but had to make some tough decisions. Style was one of them, but so were deliberations regarding storage and sensors.


Built for Your Health
Apple Watch SE (Gen 1) [GPS 40mm] Smart Watch with Space Grey Aluminium Case with Midnight Sport Band
  • SE is 2x faster and has a 30% larger display than Series 3
  • Safety features like Fall Detection and Emergency SOS can get you help when you need it.
  • Available in a range of sizes and colors, with dozens of bands to choose from. Change up your look by switching your band or by customizing your watch face in millions of ways.
  • Works seamlessly with your Apple devices and services. Listen to music with your AirPods. Unlock your Mac automatically. Find your devices with a tap. Pay and send money with Apple Pay
  • Apple Watch requires an iPhone 6s or later with the latest iOS version.
  • Swimproof and built to be tough. Take it on a hike, hit the gym, or catch some waves without worry.
  • Advanced sensors that track all the ways you move and measure your favorite workouts
  • Comes with three months of Apple Fitness+ free
  • Fitness & Activity Tracker
  • Heart Rate Monitor
  • Retina Display
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/04/2024 01:19 pm GMT

Apple didn’t break any new ground with the Apple Watch 3 design, as it largely resembles the generations that came before it. It’s a good-looking smartwatch, which comes in two sizes at 38mm and 42mm. The aluminum case is sleek on the standard model, but not quite as streamlined as newer versions of Apple’s smartwatch – including the SE.

The Apple Watch SE looks like the Apple Watch 4, so you’re getting smaller bezels and rounded corners. It’s not as boxy as the Apple Watch 3, even if it is larger. The 1st generation SE is available in 40mm or 44mm. That’s 2mm more display to work with in either size which may not seem like much, but makes a difference on devices of this size.

Style is something that will vary depending on your taste, but we feel the Apple Watch SE is the winner when it comes to design. It simply puts off a more modern vibe, although some users may prefer the smaller, squared style of the Apple Watch Series 3.


Smartwatches have been around for a decade, but we haven’t seen a significant increase in display size for a number of reasons, including battery life. That’s why you won’t see much of a difference between the displays on the Apple Watch 3 or Apple Watch SE 1st gen, although one has a higher resolution thanks to the larger display.

The 44mm version of the Watch SE has the largest display area, measuring 977 square millimeters. It has a resolution of 368 x 448 compared to the 42mm Watch 3 at 312 x 390 pixels. The display area on the Apple Watch Series 3 is also considerably smaller at 740 square mm. Both watches have a peak brightness of 1,000 nits.

Images will appear sharper on the Apple Watch SE, even if you can’t tell a difference in brightness or color range. Apple used an OLED display for both, but the SE uses LTPO tech to converse battery life. Neither variant of the Apple Watch has an Always-On display, which began with the Apple Watch 5.

Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3: Performance

You may not need a cutting-edge processor to keep track of how many steps you take, but nobody wants a sluggish device strapped to their wrist. Apple has always been great about upgrading the hardware on their products each year, so there’s a noticeable boost in performance between the Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3 smartwatches.

The older Apple Watch Series 3 gets its power from a dual-core S3 SiP from Apple. It has plenty of pop but is a few steps behind the 64-bit chip found in the Apple Watch 3. The company claims the new S5 SiP is almost twice as fast as the older models; and based on user reviews, we would have to agree. Everything will feel snappier on the Watch SE.

Storage varies by model on the Apple Watch 6, but the Watch SE comes with 32GB of internal storage out of the box. With the Watch Series 3, you have a choice between 8GB and 16GB. The GPS + Cellular variant of this smartwatch has 16 GB of storage while the GPS model only comes with 8GB.


So far it may seem like the Apple Watch SE is the clear winner based on performance, display, and style. With sensors, things begin to get closer, as you’ll find that both devices have the same ones with two important exceptions.

GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and GZSS are present on the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch 6. Both have an ambient light sensor, gyroscope, and altimeter as well. The altimeter on the SE has Always-On functionality, however, and a more sensitive accelerometer rated at 32 g-forces.

The Watch SE’s accelerometer has built-in fall detection as well. By comparison, the Watch 3’s accelerometer has a rating of 16 g-forces. The flagship sensor for both smartwatches is an optical heart rate sensor. It’s also newer on the Watch SE, which has a second-generation sensor compared to the older one on the Watch 3.


Whether you plan to purchase an Apple Watch for fitness or casual use, you’ll find the same basic features on the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 3. That’s due in part to the sensors, as you won’t find a SpO2 gauge or ECG support on either device.

Health features are limited on these watches, although both still provide an array of statistics and metrics. You can receive an alert if the watch detects an irregular heartbeat or you can sync up to dozen of fitness apps to track your workouts. The smartwatches support a long list of applications along with Apple’s GymKit and Apple Pay.

Want to jump in the pool with your watch on? You can do that with the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 6. They are waterproof up to a depth of 50 meters whether you are swimming in a lake, pool or taking a dip in the ocean. You can also send an emergency SOS from these smartwatches, but will only get International Emergency Calling through the Apple Watch SE.  

While not exactly a feature, you also have to consider the software. These watches run Apple’s watchOS operating system, but the Watch SE is still supported by Apple. It currently runs watchOS 9.0, which gives it an edge over its older sibling.

Battery Life and Charging

A drawback of early models of the Apple Watch and other smartwatches was battery life. Some companies have managed to extend that range considerably since the Apple Watch 3, although you’re not going to notice much of a difference between the Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3.

The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch SE have a built-in lithium-ion battery which Apple says will get you around 18 hours of battery life. That’s pretty accurate considering neither has an Always-On display. You won’t get as much battery Life from the LTE variants, but both provide enough juice to get most people through the day.

Another feature missing from both of these older Apple Watch models is fast charging, which didn’t arrive until Series 7. Both watches can charge from zero to full in around 2.5 hours and use a USB-C magnetic charging cable.

apple watch se vs 7

The Apple Watch SE has a built-in lithium-ion battery which Apple says will get you around 18 hours of battery life.

Pricing and Availability

When shopping or comparing older tech, pricing can be challenging depending on the age of the products. In this case, both watches are discontinued and no longer sold through Apple. You can purchase the Apple Watch SE and Series 3 smartwatch through a number of third-party retailers, however.

The 40mm 1st gen Apple Watch SE is priced at around $199 to $250 new. Colors vary by retailer and available stock, and you can expect to pay between $30-50 more for the LTE variant. Refurbished or renewed models are much easier to find, but we found the price difference minimal compared to the old stock on the Apple Watch SE.

If you’re interested in the Apple Watch 3, you can purchase the 42mm refurbished Apple Watch 3 with GPS + Cellular for under $120. The smaller model is about the same price, and there we were able to find a broader selection overall. What you won’t find are any “new” Apple Watch Series 3’s in the same price range. We found a handful of these watches, but with price tags of $250 or more.

Apple Watch SE vs. Series 3: Which One Is Better?

These two smartwatches are only a few generations apart despite the difference in design. The 1st generation of the Apple Watch SE was one of the first wearables to feature Apple’s new design language, but it’s also snappier than the Apple Watch 3 thanks to the 64-bit chip under the hood.

We found that the watches have the same basic set of features and sensors, although you’ll get a few more bells and whistles with the newer Apple Watch SE. Fall detection and the more sensitive accelerometer will be a perk for some users, while the price difference will be a bonus for others.

The Apple Watch 3 is almost half the price of the Watch SE, which makes it an attractive option for users buying their first smartwatch. You’ll still get a great experience from the device, even if the Apple Watch SE is a bit faster with a few more features.

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Last update on 2024-01-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Apple Watch Series 3 considered outdated?

Yes, when compared to the newer Galaxy Watch series or the Apple Watch 8. There are much smarter watches on the market today.

Can you upgrade the storage on the Apple Watch?

No, the internal storage is fixed so consider how much you need beforehand.

Is the Apple Watch 7 a big upgrade to the Series 3?

Yes. It’s not only faster and has better sensors, but it’s also considerably larger and has thinner bezels.

What’s the last update the Apple Watch Series 3 received?

The Series 3 ships with watchOS 4.0 and the last update was watchOS 8.7.1.

Does the Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch 3 have an IPX rating against dust?

No, IP6X dust resistance didn’t begin until the Apple Watch 7 release.

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