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Apple Watch Series 2 vs 3 (2021): Are The Upgrades Worth It?

The Apple Watch Series 2 was a big improvement on its predecessor. It was faster, had water resistance and included a GPS sensor, making it more attractive to fitness buffs who want to track their workouts more accurately. Apple aimed for an even bigger gap when they released the Apple Watch Series 3, boosting its processor and adding even more features. With hardly a difference in price, this newer Apple Watch is clearly the better choice.

Apple Watch Series 2 vs 3 Comparison Chart

ModelApple Watch Series 2Apple Watch Series 3
 Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS, 38mm) - Silver Aluminum Case with White Sport Band 
Price Check Price 
Rating
 

93,664 Reviews 
Case Sizes38mm, 42mm 38mm, 42mm
ProcessorDual-core S2 processorDual-core S3 processor
Wi-Fi and BluetoothYesYes
LTE CapabilityNoYes
Phone Numbers Needed21
GPSYesYes
Heart Rate MonitorBasicAdvanced
AccelerometerYesYes
Barometric AltimeterNoYes
Apple GymKit CompatibleNoYes
Sleep TrackerNoYes

Display and Design

The Apple Watch Series 2 and 3 look virtually identical, but this only makes the Series 3 even more impressive considering all the new sensors and antenna it’s packing inside.

Apple Watch Series 3 Design
The Apple Watch Series 2 and 3 have the same design; the differences are all internal.

Design-wise, the Apple Watch Series 3 looks just like the earlier generation, and still comes in 38mm and 42mm case sizes. The resolutions for either size are also still the same (272 x 340 for the 38mm, 312 x 390 for the 42mm), as well as the ultra bright 1000nits screen. Both smartwatches have displays that are easy to see even in bright outdoor light.

The only visible difference between the two is that the rotating crown is now red on the LTE-enabled Series 3 version (see below). Keeping this dial was a wise choice, as it makes scrolling through the display better, since your finger will be blocking much of the small touchscreen space.

Performance and Connectivity

The Apple Watch Series 3 is much faster than the Series 2.

Apple Watch Series 3 LTE
The Apple Watch Series 3 has built-in cellular connectivity.

The new dual-core Apple S3 processor on the Series 3 is about 70% faster than the Series 2’s S2 chipset. This makes it more responsive and smooth even when you’re using multiple apps.

As impressive as that sounds, the bigger improvement is perhaps the addition of an LTE cellular antenna that’s built into the screen itself. You can now make calls and go online even without connecting to Wi-Fi or to your iPhone via Bluetooth. To compensate for the additional power requirements, its new W2 chipset is 50% more efficient than the Series 2, up to 85% more for Wi-Fi in particular.

A common gripe Apple Watch owners have is that they need separate phone numbers for their iPhone and their smartwatch. To address this, the Series 3 now uses an e-SIM, so it will use the same number as your iPhone’s, eliminating the need for an additional mobile contract just for a wearable device.

Battery performance remains the same at 18 hours per single charge, which actually makes the Series 3 more impressive considering its more power-hungry specs.

Sensors and Other Features

The Apple Watch Series 3 has additional sensors to track sleep, determine elevation and more.

Apple Watch Series 3 Sensors
The Apple Watch Series 3 has an altimeter and improved heart rate monitor.

Both the Series 2 and 3 are waterproof up to 50 meters, and they have a GPS sensor, a pedometer, an accelerometer, and a heart rate monitor — all great to help you track your runs and intensive workouts. What the Series 3 adds are a barometric altimeter and a gyroscope, which allows it to measure your elevation while hiking, cycling uphill or even skiing.

Combine this with the Apple GymKit feature introduced in watchOS 4.1 (Series 3 already ships with watchOS 5) and you’ll get even more accurate information on the intensity and calorie burn of your workouts. Apple GymKit lets you share fitness data, such as distance and heart rate, between your Apple Watch and compatible treadmills, elliptical machines and other equipment.

The Series 3 smartwatch focuses more on health, allowing you to also monitor the length and quality of your sleep as well as keep better track of your heart rate with an improved optical sensor. You’ll be able to check your heart rhythm even when at rest, and you’ll get a notification if you have an irregular heartbeat or sudden spike.

Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 3 is simply superior to the Series 2.

As it stands, there’s no sufficient reason to pick the Apple Watch Series 2 over the Series 3, as the latter is faster, has better wireless connectivity and comes with better and more fitness trackers. There’s barely any difference in design and their prices are quite close, so going for the newer generation smartwatch is highly recommended.

The more important choice is really between the non-cellular and cellular versions of the Series 3. The former is about 30% cheaper, but an LTE-enabled wearable will finally let you leave your iPhone at home and still enjoy all the added features on outdoor workouts.

Last update on 2020-12-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Derick Bondoc

Managing Editor at Compare Before Buying. Writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, gaming and snacks.