Apple Watch Series 3 review: more than three years on and Apple’s cheapest Watch offering is still going strong

Here’s our verdict on Apple’s oldest available smartwatch, through a 2021 lens

Apple Watch Series 3 review
T3 Verdict

Even three years after launch, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a very impressive bit of kit thanks to an intuitive UI, super beautiful screen and premium fitness-tracking features.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Great, solid design

  • +

    Amazing value for money

  • +

    Super smooth performance and navigation

  • +

    Easy-to-use UI

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Battery life just under two days

  • -

    Won’t track sleep natively

  • -

    No always-on display option

Apple launched the Series 6 of its popular smartwatch back in September, so you might be wondering why on earth we’re reviewing the Apple Watch Series 3, which hit the market over three years ago? Well, while the Series 6 is the best Apple Watch you can buy right now, the Series 3 is not only still a very decent smartwatch, but it’s still officially available through the Apple Store at a great, low price starting at just under £200/$200.

Okay, so it’s a little bulkier and missing some of the newer features in the latest and greatest Series 6, but the foundations that make the Apple Watch great are all still there. Take for instance its extensive fitness tracking capabilities, waterproofing, music playback, Apple Pay support, heart health notifications, interchangeable straps and iPhone notification mirroring. 

With that, here is our review of the Apple Watch Series 3 through the eyes of the year 2021, with a focus on how the smartwatch fares today as a wrist companion over three years after its initial launch date. 

Apple Watch Series 3 review

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Pricing and availability 

The Apple Watch Series 3 is available in the UK in two sizes of 38mm or 42mm.

The smaller of the two starts at just £199, that’s almost £200 cheaper than the starting price of the most recent version, the Series 6 (40mm), at £379. 

If you think 38mm is a tad on the small side, don’t fret. The Series 3 also comes in a 42mm variant, costing just £30 more at £229. 

Unlike when it first launched in September 2017, there is no LTE version officially available through Apple at the moment, only a WiFi GPS edition. For cellular connectivity, you’ll have to take a gander at the Apple Watch SE, a newer low-price Apple Watch, which boasts a 40mm or 44mm case and starts at a still pretty decent £269.

When it comes to colour options, the Apple Watch Series 3 is only available with a silver or grey aluminium case although there are hundreds of different strap designs available if you’re looking to mix things up a bit, check them out on Apple band Store - just be sure that you’re choosing the right strap to fit your case size (it’ll be displayed in millimetres).

Apple Watch Series 3 review

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Design

So what can you expect to find in terms of design for the Apple Watch Series 3? 

Apart from retaining the same iconic design that we’ve come to know and love from Apple, the Series 3 is slightly thicker chassis than the ones you’ll find in today’s Apple Watches, measuring 11.4mm thick. Comparably, the Apple Watch Series 6 measures a whole millimetre slimmer at just 10.4 mm. The Series 3 is also a little heavier, weighing 52.8g as opposed to the 47.1g weight of the Series 6. Still, these aren’t exactly massive differences and the average Joe is unlikely to even notice.

Where there’s no haptic feedback on the Digital Crown (this arrived in the Series 4 in 2018), Apple did upgrade it over earlier iterations of the Watch, giving it firmer feel than on the Apple Watch 2, for instance.

As for comfortability, the Series 3 feels great on the wrist thanks to the silky smooth silicon band that it ships with. You really can’t fault it in that department. 

Apple Watch Series 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Display 

Unlike the majority of Wear OS wearables, the Apple Watch Series 3 retains the square display that the first-ever model had. While not to everyone's tastes, it does fit in well with the aesthetic of other Apple devices, making perfect sense for iPhone users. 

While it’s not exactly edge-to-edge, it’s slightly more rounded than previous iterations, giving the impression of a more curved face without losing the benefit of the square display.

Best of all, though, is the Series 3’s 1.65-inch OLED screen, which is nice and easy on the eye thanks to it offering some stunningly rich colours and deep blacks. If you want us to get down to the display’s nitty-gritty, we can tell you that the Series 3’s 42mm variant has a 312x390 resolution display, whereas the 38mm edition boasts 272x340 pixels. This means that - while it’s not quite as crisp as on the latest Series 6 watch, there are still enough pixels to ensure the screen offers short text and graphics. 

In terms of the screen’s performance, it’s impressively crisp and vibrant, featuring all the display features you'll find on Apple's Retina-equipped iOS and OS X devices.

Apple Watch Series 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Set-up

Setting up the Apple Watch Series 3 is incredibly easy, as long as you have an iPhone 6S (or newer) running iOS 13 (or later), which will have already put the Apple Watch app on your smartphone.

Switch Bluetooth on, open the app, scan the face of the Apple Watch using your iPhone's camera, and you're pretty much done. 

Your iPhone will then ask for a few details – such as your Apple ID, whether you'll be wearing the Apple Watch on your left or right wrist, which apps you want to install on your smartwatch, and whether you want to set up a passcode – which you definitely should do.

After this, the two devices will sync – a process that took around two minutes during our attempt.

Apple Watch Series 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Performance and battery life

Under the hood, the Series 3 smartwatch comes with Apple's S3 chipset that sports a dual-core 64bit processor and GPU. While it’s not going to quit as nippy as the Series 5 or 6, for instance, it’s still able to perform all the tasks you need it to with ease.

We've noticed no issues in terms of swiping through screens or firing open apps, for example - but when have you ever experienced this on an Apple device? Everything is super fast and fluid. It’s really a delight to use. 

While the feature set on the Series 3 watch has been vastly improved over previous editions, relatively poor battery life still remains. 

We found battery life was similar in performance to the Series 2; from a charge in the morning it will last all day and evening (if you’re not using the GPS for exercise). If you are using the GPS, you can expect around five hours or so of use, although it’s more likely you'll use it for an hour with the GPS and then you’ll need to charge it before you have dinner, for example.

On the days that you don’t use the watch’s features as much and it performs more as an everyday time keeper, you might be able to squeeze another few hours out of it. Although it is worth pointing out that there is no always-on display option like you’d find in more recent models. Weep.

Apple Watch Series 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 3 review: Our verdict 

All in all, the Apple Watch Series 3 is a very impressive bit of kit for the price. Not only is it able to accurately track a host of workouts - being intuitive and a pleasure to use throughout - but it is also a beautiful and super premium lifestyle device. 

Even with all the negatives highlighted, such as the no always-on display option and a lacking battery life when compared to what else you can get on the market these days (take Huawei’s lineup of smartwatches, for example), the negatives aren exactly huge. They’re more like little niggles - especially when you consider this super luxe-looking smartwatch retails for under 200 quid.

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Lee Bell
Lee Bell

Lee Bell is a freelance journalist & copywriter specialising in technology, health, grooming and how the latest innovations are shaking up the lifestyle space. From national newspapers to specialist-interest magazines and digital titles, Lee has written for some of the world’s most respected publications during his 11 years as a journalist.