The new Apple Watch Series 7 has a larger display, increased durability, and faster charging than its predecessors, but is it really worth at least $120 more?
We won’t have a definitive answer to that question until we get our hands on the Series 7, which is slated to arrive in stores on Friday, October 15, but in the meantime, we can compare Apple’s current smartwatch lineup based on specs and features.
Let’s start with your options. At the time of this writing, Apple is still selling the Series 6, its 2020 flagship smartwatch, but plans to open pre-orders for the Series 7 on Friday, October 8. Once that happens, Apple will bid adieu to the Series 6, but keep two other models in its lineup as more budget-friendly alternatives to the Series 7: the Watch SE and Series 3.
Let’s dig into how the three models differ.
Price and Design
In terms of pricing, the Series 7 starts at $399, while the Watch SE and Series 3 will remain at their current starting prices: $279 and $199, respectively. Upgrading to a model with cellular connectivity adds $50 (except for the Series 3, which doesn’t have a cellular option). Sizing and materials affect pricing as well.
While the Watch SE and Series 3 only come in aluminum, the Series 7 will also be available in stainless steel, which is generally shinier and more durable. All come in small and large versions, but feature slightly different case sizes: 41mm and 45mm for the Series 7, 40mm and 44mm for the SE, and 38mm and 42mm for the Series 3.
The aluminum Series 7 comes in a new blue tone, as well as green, midnight, starlight, and Product Red color options. The stainless steel Series 7 will be available in gold, graphite, and silver.
The Series 7’s display is its standout feature. If you have a hard time reading tiny text on a smartwatch screen, it might be the best model for you. The Series 7 offers 20% more screen area and a much slimmer bezel than the SE (which has the same size and resolution display as the Series 6). Compared with the Series 3, it offers 50% more display real estate.
Apple says the Series 7 can display 50% more text on the screen compared with the Series 6, which means less scrolling when reading texts and emails. It also features two larger font size options, so you don’t have to squint. In addition, Apple is introducing a new QWERTY keyboard on the Series 7 that supports taps and swipes and offers machine learning-powered word predictions for quicker and easier text entry.
And like the Series 6, the Series 7 features an always-on display option, so you can simply glance down to check the time without having to lift your arm to wake the screen, a feature you don’t get on the Watch SE or Series 3.
Another major differentiator of the Series 7 is its durability. This is Apple’s first smartwatch with an IP6X certification, meaning it’s totally dustproof. That’s a big plus if you live in the desert or by the beach.
Apple also says its front glass is 50% thicker than its predecessor, so it’s less likely to crack. If your Apple Watch screen cracks, you’re probably not going to want to wear it anymore (and its resale value will plummet), so if you’re accident prone, the Series 7 might be a better investment than the SE and Series 3.
All three models are water resistant to 165 feet, and hold up fine to shallow water activities like swimming in a pool or in the ocean, showering, and hot tubs.
Battery Life and Charging
Apple’s latest flagship smartwatch promises the same 18-hour battery life as the SE and Series 3.
Whether it lives up to that promise in the real world remains to be seen. When we get our hands on the watch, we’ll run down the battery and report our findings in our full review, so stay tuned.
In our testing, the Series 6 lasted nearly 25.5 hours (with the always-on display and Do Not Disturb mode enabled most of the time) before getting a low-battery alert. We expect similar results from the Series 7, but again, we’ll have to test it before we can say for sure. The SE—which, remember, doesn’t have an always-on display—lasted 30 hours (with Do Not Disturb enabled most of the time) before getting a low-battery alert.
While you shouldn’t expect a bump in battery life for the Series 7, it does juice up faster than earlier models thanks to a new charging architecture and a Magnetic Fast Charger USB-C Cable. Apple says it charges 33% faster than the Series 6—just 45 minutes of charging will take the watch from dead to 80% battery life. And eight minutes on the charger offers eight hours of juice for overnight sleep tracking.
Don’t Pay Full Price For the Series 3
We’re leveling with you here: Don’t pay $199 for the Series 3 in 2021.
It’s already four years old at this point, it isn’t available with cellular connectivity, it only has 8GB of storage (as opposed to 32GB in newer models), and it lacks a number of other features you get on the SE and Series 7, including international emergency calling, fall detection, Family Setup, noise monitoring, a compass, and an always-on altimeter. Apple’s latest smartwatch operating system, WatchOS 8, will be available on the Series 3 (with the exception of the new Portraits watch face), but we don’t expect it to offer the best experience on the watch, given that the last generation was reportedly causing crashes, failures, disconnections, and significant battery drain.
If you can find the Series 3 for under $150 on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, and mostly just want an Apple Watch for workout tracking and notifications, it’s fine. Otherwise, if you’re in the market for a budget-friendly Apple Watch, we recommend the SE, which is far superior to the Series 3 for an additional $80.
Should You Buy the Series 7?
If you already own an Apple Watch Series 6, you’re probably fine sticking with it for now. Aside from a larger display, enhanced durability, and faster charging, the Series 7 doesn’t offer any revolutionary new features that aren’t already available on last year’s flagship.
The Series 7 features several advanced health-tracking features Apple introduced on the Series 6 that you don’t get on the SE, including sensors for blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) and electrocardiogram (ECG) readings. The SpO2 sensor is incredibly useful in light of COVID-19, as it indicates how well your circulatory and respiratory systems are delivering oxygenated blood to your body, and can help you gauge whether a hospital visit is necessary. The ECG function checks for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFIb), an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other serious complications. Those features, plus the larger screen and always-on display option, justify the Series 7’s $120 markup from the SE.
That said, the SE remains an excellent, cost-effective option for kids, the elderly, or anyone who wants the apps, fitness, and safety features of the Series 7 without paying a premium for its always-on display and advanced health metrics.
We’ll be reviewing the Series 7 when it comes out, so check back soon.