Apple Watch Series 3 versus Series 2: Worth the upgrade?

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
The Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS + cellular starts at $399.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is finally upon us, and with it, comes perhaps the most sought-after feature smart watch aficionados have wanted from on day one: cellular connectivity.

Unveiled at Apple’s (AAPL) event on Tuesday, the cellular version of the Series 3 starts at $399, while the non-cellular version begins at $329. Both flavors will be available for pre-order on September 15 and ship on September 22.

For the Cupertino, California-based tech giant, which unveiled the Series 3 at its new Apple Park campus, it wasn’t a matter of “if” Apple would introduce a watch with a cellular connection of its own, but “when.”

But how does the Series 3 stack up against the Series 2, and is it potentially worth an upgrade?

Same look, speedier watch

In some ways, the Series 3 is more of the same. If you were hoping for an all-new design this year, you may be somewhat disappointed: the Series 3 still has the same display and look as the Series 2, for instance. Battery life is also the same as last year: up to 18 hours in-between charges.

In fact, the only way folks can tell the difference is if you own one of the two new colors available: a “new gold” color that looks like a paler take on the now discontinued “rose gold,” or the much pricier $1,299 dark gray ceramic. The knob, or dial, on the cellular versions of the watch are also red — a small change only eagle-eyed Apple fans may notice.

But if you’re more concerned about speed or having a cellular connection, the Series 3 outshines the Series 2. The Series 3 uses a new dual-core S3 chip that Apple says is 70% faster than last year’s version — something borne out during my hands-on time with the watch on Tuesday. The bump up in speed was instantly noticeable: apps like Mail and Workout loaded much quicker. It was also a snap to swap digital watch faces, which could sometimes be a sluggish experience on the Series 2.

The LTE connection could be a game changer

As for that LTE cellular connection, it was hard to gauge just how reliable the connection was during our limited time with the Series 3, though map data loaded quickly as we swiped and tapped around the watch.

But the cellular connection should help the Series 3 finally become its own standalone device. Although I’ve enjoyed using previous Apple Watches, I always felt like my Apple Watch Series 2 was just an extension of my iPhone — and for the most part, it was. Stray too far from that phone, and you lose access to things like messages, Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Instagram, Uber and Lyft because all that information is crunched on your phone and fed to the watch.

Not so with the Series 3. Assuming that LTE connection is solid, the watch should become that much more useful for people like me who want the option of leaving their phone at home while they go for a long run, or even if you just want to leave your phone in the house while you mow the lawn. The cellular connection also means you can listen to 40 million songs streamed directly from Apple Music — a nice bonus if you regularly use Apple’s popular music service. Spotify or Pandora customers, however, will have to stream music off their phones — at least for now.

For more thoughts on the Apple Watch Series 3, come back to Yahoo Finance for our review.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.  

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