Upgrading from my Apple Watch Series 3 to the Series 5 was quite an experience. While I had long been envious of the larger screen size of the Series 4 watches and their accompanying exclusive watch faces, the feature set of my Series 3 had been more or less adequate.
Released last year, the Series 4 was at the forefront of the wearable pack with its larger screen display (30% larger) and addition of industry-defining features like Fall Detection and ECG functionality.
This year, the Series 5 adds a magnetometer for on-wrist compass functionality and cutting-edge LTPO display technology for an always-on display. WatchOS 6, announced a few months prior, brings Cycle Tracking, a Noise app for hearing health, and a smattering of other features big and small.
What other wearables can you get for S$299?
Around this price-point, we can find the Fitbit Versa 2, Garmin Forerunner 45, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active – all devices launched in 2019. For reference, the Apple Watch Series 3 was launched back in September 2017 – in tech terms, a dinosaur … or is it?
|Apple Watch S3||Fitbit Versa 2||Garmin Forerunner 45||Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2|
|Price (SGD)||From $299 (38mm), $349 (42mm)||$318||~$299||From ~$387|
|Display||OLED, 563mm2 (38mm) 740mm2 (42mm)||OLED, 580mm2||LCD, ~543mm2||Super AMOLED, 720mm2 (40mm), 995mm2 (44mm)|
|Resolution||340×271 (38mm), 390×312 (42mm)||300×300||208×208||360×360|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, LTE||Bluetooth||Bluetooth||Bluetooth, LTE|
|Sensors||Barometric Altimeter, Optical Heart Rate Sensor, Gyroscope, Accelerometer||Optical Heart Rate Sensor, Relative SpO2 Sensor, 3-axis Accelerometer, Altimeter||Optical Heart Rate Sensor, Accelerometer||ECG Sensor, Optical Heart Rate Sensor, Accelerometer|
|Payment||Apple Pay||Fitbit Pay||No||Samsung Pay|
|Reply to Calls/Messages||Yes (Scribble, voice to text, preset replies)||Yes (voice to text, preset replies)||No calls, Preset replies only||Yes (T9 keyboard, voice to text)|
|Battery Life||~ 1 Day||~ 5 Days||~ 1 Week / 13 hours GPS on||~ 1 Day|
|Controls||Touch, Digital Crown, Side Button, Voice (Siri)||Touch, side button||Side buttons (5)||Touch, Side Buttons (2)|
|Additional Features||Cycle Tracking, VO2 Max, Siri||Female Health, Sleep Score, Sleep Tracking, Alexa||Sleep Tracking, VO2 Max||Sleep tracking, Google Translate|
A quick comparison with its competition shows that even though it was released in 2017, the Apple Watch Series 3 stands its ground in most, if not all areas. The strongest competition comes in the form of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which touts ECG functionality alongside LTE connectivity, just like the Apple Watch.
Other weaknesses like its battery life and lack of always-on display also stand out, but what users get in return is a plethora of sensors, functionality, usability features, one of the best-looking displays – all at an even lower price.
Where the real difference comes is in real-life usage. The Apple Watch Series 3 still dishes out a fantastic performance with vibrant colours and inky blacks, making information on the Watch jump out unlike any of its competitors – even those equipped with OLED technology.
The Digital Crown allows intuitive interaction with the Watch without blocking the screen, something eschewed by Samsung with the Galaxy Watch Active 2 that ditches its rotating physical bezel for a touch-sensitive one. As touch-screen interaction goes, Apple’s 3D Touch allows users to access a deeper set of controls like customising watch faces without any finicky menu-diving.
Like the Samsung device, the Versa 2 is touch-centric, opting for a single (non-physical) “button”. The Garmin goes the opposite way, with its five-button, no-touch interface.
What’s more, the Apple Watch also offers additional functionality when paired with the iPhone. Push notifications, message replies and answering calls aside, users can also use their Apple Watch to navigate slides on Keynote or trigger the shutter for the camera on their phones with on-wrist live view. Most convenient is Siri integration, which allows quick access to timers, alarms and other information without the need to navigate the Watch interface.
Series 3 vs Series 5
Though they share a vaguely similar design, the Apple Watch Series 5 like the Series 4 is markedly different from previous Apple Watch devices. Its redesigned display allowed for higher screen-to-body ratio, allowing graphic elements pushed much closer to the edge.
That is a distinct advantage over the Series 3 Apple Watch, but isn’t the only physical difference. While the corners of the rectangular device also got more rounded, the rear of the Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 also changed to feature a harder and more durable ceramic backing instead of the metal on the Series 3.
The Digital Crown has also been upgraded to offer haptic feedback as it rotates, which is particularly satisfying.
The microphones and speakers have also been improved for better Siri functionality. Size-wise, the 38mm and 42mm devices have been upsized to a 40mm and 44mm form-factor, but basically still feel roughly the same in terms of footprint and wrist presence.
Speaking of footprint, one of the main advantages of the larger displays are some of the more stunning watch faces that allow plenty of information to be presented. A new California dial brings edge-to-edge colour while showing off Apple’s Californian heritage with half the face bearing Roman numerals, and the other half Arabic. Fire and Water, Gradient, Kaleidoscope, Liquid Metal and Vapour, however, all exist solely to show off the larger display.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Those faces do present more information, like on the Solar Dial above, which allow for four additional complications on each corner. The Series 3 accommodated the complications I required on a daily basis on my favourite Modular watch face, such as time, day, and stock weather complications, with shortcuts and readouts at the bottom for Activity, precipitation, and third-party Pedometer++ step tracking.
To get around the limited readouts, I keep interactive functions like the stopwatch, Pomodoro timer and heart rate on an adjacent face (Chronograph), easily accessible with a simple swipe, since I would already be interacting with the watch to access these functions.
Noise, Compass & Calculator
On the Series 5, the addition of Noise and Compass gives users an excuse to add two more “live” complications to their watch faces that react to user orientation and ambient noise levels.
That’s cool and all, but this information is easily overstated. I’ve glanced at the compass meaningfully a grand total of once in the week I’ve owned the Series 5, and it was out of simple curiosity as to how the sun would set that day.
The Series 3 also lacks a native Calculator app that can perform nifty on-wrist calculations and even split the bill and suggest a tip amount.
Health & Safety
Other functions are hidden under the hood and would be particularly useful for specific groups of users. On-wrist ECG would be, I dare say, essential for those who consider themselves at risk of heart disease, and has on plenty of occasions alerted individuals of yet-undiagnosed heart conditions.
Fall detection at its best might save your life, and at the very least would mean peace of mind for loved ones.
Couple those with the Noise app (requires AW4 and above) and the Apple Watch Series 5 does perform a rather holistic job as a wrist-borne guardian angel.
In any case, the Series 3 watch still provides Cycle Tracking and Heart Rate monitoring including checks for Cardiac Arrhythmia. Should the worst happen, All Apple Watches allow for Emergency SOS and Medical ID for better chances for survival.
Perhaps the feature that would convince most to pay about twice the price of the Series 3 to upgrade is the new always-on display.
Pros: I no longer have to ostentatiously raise my wrist to exhibit my Apple Watch to wake the display when someone asks for the time. Cons: the battery takes a noticeable hit, even compared to the Series 3 from two years back.
Where my Series 3 lasts something like a day and a half of intermittent usage, the Series 5 with watchOS 6 struggles lasts a full day.
At SGD 299 (USD 199), the Apple Watch Series 3 still keeps abreast with 2019 smartwatches like the Fitbit Versa 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. While it has its limitations like one-day battery life and iPhone exclusivity, it has one of the most intuitive user interfaces, one of the best-looking displays, and top-notch activity tracking and on-board GPS.
Against the Apple Watch Series 5, the Series 3 retains the same screen pixel density at 326 dpi despite its smaller display size. It also lacks the always-on display, along with newer features like Noise, ECG, Compass, Fall Detection, native Calculator app.
Newer faces enabled by the larger display are also not available on the Series 3 with its smaller screen. Infograph, Solar Dial, and Meridian offer some of the most utility, although Chronograph, Modular offer more than adequate utility on a single face. It also makes it up slightly with a better
At half the price of the Series 5 watches that start at SGD 599 (USD 399) the Series 3 Apple Watch is an extremely attractive proposition. The SGD 299 Series 3 38mm will also be available with cellular connectivity at SGD 440, and in a 42mm version at SGD 349, with a cellular option at SGD 499.