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The Good Costs less than Apple Watch Series 3. Has Apple Pay, heart rate functions, and runs all the same apps. Similar design and uses same bands, too.

The Bad Lacks swim-ready water resistance and onboard GPS found in Series 3 models. Only comes in aluminum. Doesn't have the Wi-Fi music streaming and Radio app of Series 3 models.

The Bottom Line If you're not a runner or a swimmer, the entry-level Apple Watch has most of what you'll need at a more affordable price.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Battery 6.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Software 8.0
  • Features 8.0

You don't need a smartwatch. And if you think you do, paying more than a couple of hundred dollars feels pretty hard to swallow.

The Apple Watch is in Year Three now, and there are three choices: the fancy Apple Watch Series 3 that's also a phone, the Series 3 without cellular, and the entry-level Series 1. 

The Apple Watch Series 1 is frequently offered on sale throughout the year, and especially over the holidays. Should you buy it?

The Series 1 name is confusing because it's actually newer than the original Apple Watch -- now dubbed "Series Zero" which launched in 2015. In fact, the Series 1 debuted in 2016 alongside the now-discontinued Series 2, but both of them shared the identical second-generation speed and smarts. But if you're looking to get a basic smartwatch and you're not a runner or swimmer, the Series 1 is still probably your best budget bet.

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But, keep in mind that the Series 3, for a little more, has battery life, speed, and extras like GPS and added water resistance that are welcome adds for serious everyday fitness users.

The best part about this year's Apple Watch is the new WatchOS 4 software. Like the previous version, it offers a bunch of new features: more heart rate-tracking functions, an improved Music app that now syncs albums and playlists in Apple Music more easily, and better fitness and workout features. And, in addition, a few new watch faces.

Apple Watch Series 1 can use all these features. And, a year later, it still handles well. I wore one on my wrist again, and it's still good -- in fact, for everyday use, it's everything you'd need. It also costs less than the Apple Watch Series 3. But it also feels like less of a great deal this year than it was last year. It's slower, and the price gap between it and the non-cellular Series 3 is smaller than last year's jump from Series 1 to Series 2.

Apple Watch pricing 2017, aluminum models (38mm, 42mm)


US UK Australia
Apple Watch Series 1 $249, $279 £249, £279 AU$359, AU$399
Apple Watch Series 3 $329, $359 £329, £359 AU$459, AU$499
Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular $399, $429 £399, £429 AU$559, AU$599

Here's what you're missing out on if you get a Series 1 over a Series 1: GPS, swim-proofing, a brighter outdoor display, slightly faster speeds, slightly better battery life, and access to a few Wi-Fi-streaming features on the Music app and Radio app.

This year, if you can get an Apple Watch Series 1 for half the price of the Series 3 on a sale (it happens, sometimes), it's definitely worth considering. If not, your better bet is the Series 3.

Here's a more detailed look at the differences mentioned above.

Editors' note: This review has been extensively updated since its original publication on November 19, 2016 to account for the new features of WatchOS 4, a lower price and comparisons to the Apple Watch Series 3. The rating has dipped slightly, from 4 stars (8.0 out of 10) to 3.5 stars (7.8).

03-apple-watch-series-1-vs-series-3

Which is which? (Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular in more expensive steel on left, Apple Watch Series 1 on right)

Sarah Tew/CNET

No GPS, but fine for workouts, step-counting and heart rate

The built-in GPS in Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 2 tracks run data when running without a phone, and maps the route afterwards when you're back at your phone. You can't do that on Series 1, but you can still track runs with it and use it for workouts without your phone. If you're not a hardcore runner, the loss of GPS isn't a big deal. One thing Series 1 does get is the improved heart rate tracking features of WatchOS 4: resting heart rate and walking heart rate averages are calculated automatically.

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