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Apple Watch 4 vs Apple Watch 3: Which one should you buy?

Edward Munn
25 Sep 2018
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We compare the design, features and specs of the Apple Watch 4 and Apple Watch 3

The Apple Watch Series 4, otherwise known as the Apple Watch 4, was unveiled by Apple during its annual September launch event. The watch has had a total redesign compared to its predecessor, the Watch 3, and includes a number of new features including fall detection, atrial-fibrillation alerts (explanation further down) and even the option to record an electrocardiogram, although there’s no confirmation on whether two of those features will be supported in the UK.

READ NEXT: Best smartwatches

This sounds impressive but if you’re not sure you need these health-related features, you’d be justified in wondering how much else is really new about the new watch. What’s more, the Watch 3 has had a £50 price cut, now starting at £279, meaning it’s never been a better time to buy the older device.

Buy the Apple Watch 3 from Currys

Apple Watch 4 vs Apple Watch 3: Design

The Apple Watch 4 represents the biggest design change Apple’s smartwatch has ever seen. For a start, the device is larger than before, now available in 40mm and 44mm variants, where previous versions of the watch were 38mm and 42mm in size.

That may not sound like a huge difference but it results in a display that’s more than 30% larger. This will make a significant difference to how apps such as Maps, Calendar and Photos appear on screen.

READ NEXT: Apple Watch 4 review

It’s also enabled Apple to give the user interface an overhaul. For example, the Watch 4 lets you customise up to eight different complications on a watch face, where the previous model only allows you to change five.

Buy the Apple Watch 4 from Currys 

Despite its larger display, both versions of the Apple Watch 4 are thinner (10.7mm vs 11.4mm) than their predecessors and have a lower overall volume. Other design changes include adding haptic feedback to the digital crown to make it easier to navigate menus, and a rear casing made entirely from black ceramic and sapphire crystal to boost mobile reception.

Finally, the microphone has been moved alongside the digital crown, as far as possible from the speaker, to improve sound quality in phone calls.

Winner: Apple Watch 4 – The Apple Watch 4 has a significantly larger screen than its predecessor, which should make the user interface and apps much easier to navigate. What’s more, the new models are both thinner than their predecessors, making them altogether more appealing.

Apple Watch 4 vs Apple Watch 3: Features

Perhaps the Apple Watch's most eye-catching feature, however, is its ability to perform an ECG test thanks to its all-new electrical heart-rate sensor. By simply placing a finger on the digital crown for 30 seconds, the watch can monitor your heart rhythm and record its findings to HealthKit, enabling you to download a PDF report of its findings. That’s mighty impressive and could help to identify heart conditions that might otherwise go undetected.

However, there’s one significant caveat here, which is that the ECG feature will reportedly be unavailable at launch and will only be supported in the US when it eventually arrives. Considering the hardware is there, it might be a case of Apple needing to get regulatory approval outside of the US, as suggested by GSM Arena. If you only want a new Watch 4 for its ECG capabilities, you should hold fire until it’s confirmed for the UK.

The Watch 4 can now also warn you if your heart rate drops too low (previously it’d only warn you when it was too high) and also if there are any signs of atrial fibrillation (AF). However, the latter feature again is only be available in the US, at least to begin with.

Finally, one more headline feature offered by the Apple Watch 4 is that, thanks to its improved accelerometer and gyroscope, it can detect when you have a fall. Should this happen, the device will give the option to make a call to the emergency services directly from your wrist. If it doesn’t detect any movement from you within a minute of the fall, then it makes the call automatically while also sharing your location information with the emergency services.

With the exception of these features, though, there’s very little to separate the Watch 4 from the older Watch 3. Both are water resistant to 50m, have a built-in barometric altimeter (for logging steps climbed) and can track your workouts accurately using GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and QZSS satellites.

Winner: Draw  You might not feel you need them, but there’s no doubt that the Watch 4’s new features, namely its ECG functionality and fall detection, will have an enormous impact on users’ lives. Until ECG functionality is confirmed in the UK, though, there’s not yet enough here to make us pick the Watch 4 over its predecessor.

Apple Watch 4 vs Apple Watch 3: Performance

If speed is important to you, then you’ll definitely want to pick the Apple Watch 4 over the older model. Apple claims its 64-bit, dual-core S4 processor is up to two times faster than the chip in the Watch 3. The Watch 4 also supports the newer Bluetooth 5 standard, which has a longer range and better power efficiency than Bluetooth 4.2. Having said that, despite its new chip, Apple claims the Watch 4 produces the same 18-hour battery life as its predecessor. You’ll have to keep waiting, then, if you want an Apple Watch that can last three days between charges.

Winner: Apple Watch 4 – The Watch 4 comes out on top in this head to head, but there’s not a lot in it. Yes, it’s faster than the Watch 3, but if you’re totally happy with how your Watch 3 runs, then there’s little reason to upgrade from a performance perspective.

Apple Watch 4 vs Apple Watch 3: Price

The Watch 4 is more expensive than the Watch 3 when it first went on sale. Hardly surprising when you consider all the new sensors that Apple has crammed into the newer device, along with its larger display and sleeker design.

Prices start at £399 for the 40mm, Wi-Fi-only model, and £499 for the cellular model, which you'll need if you want GPS. If you want the larger 44mm version of either model, you’ll need to part with an additional £30. That means the most expensive Watch 4 will set you back a pretty hefty £529.

Conversely, the Watch 3 has had a price cut of £50, so prices start at £279 for the Wi-Fi-only model and £379 for the 4G and GPS version. And it's still a great smartwatch.

Winner: Apple Watch 3 – The Apple Watch 3 is £120 cheaper than the Watch 4, which makes it a clear winner in the price stakes. One small caveat is that the Wi-Fi-only version of the Watch 3 has only 8GB of storage, where the equivalent Watch 4 has 16GB. Conversely, you get 16GB of storage with the 4G versions of both the Watch 3 and the Watch 4.

Apple Watch 4 vs Apple Watch 3: Verdict

The Watch 4 improves on the Watch 3 in a number of different ways. It’s thinner, faster and has a larger display, making it the most appealing smartwatch Apple has produced to date.

A number of new features such as fall detection and the option to conduct an ECG test from your wrist make the Watch 4 a truly groundbreaking device, but otherwise there’s not as much to separate the devices as you might think. They both share the same core functionality – you can make calls, listen to music, get your notifications and track your activities with both devices – and the Watch 3 is still one of the best smartwatches we’ve ever tested.

The Apple Watch 4 definitely has plenty of appeal, not least the sleeker design and larger display, but thanks to the fact that its main feature won't be ready outside the US at launch, we're not ready to outright recommend it just yet.