It used to be that choosing an Apple Watch was very easy. All you had to do was choose which size you wanted. Then, in 2017, the Series 3 introduced cellular connectivity, which was an additional factor to consider. And then, in 2020, Apple introduced yet another model in the form of the more affordable Apple Watch SE. Later this year, there are rumors that Apple will expand its range even further with a rugged Apple Watch for outdoor enthusiasts. So, what do you do if you want to buy an Apple Watch now?
No worries. We’ve tested every single version of the Apple Watch you can buy right now and can point you in the right direction.
The reason why you would prefer an Apple Watch over its competitors is simple. It is the best overall smartwatch for iPhone users. Many smartwatches are better than the Apple Watch for hardcore athletes, but they fall short when it comes to productivity, security features, controlling your smart home, and interacting with other Apple devices and services. It also has the most robust third-party app ecosystem of any smartwatch on the market.
By their very nature, wearables are incredibly personal devices – and you won’t get the benefits of an Apple Watch if you don’t wear it regularly. The last thing you want is to spend hundreds of dollars on something that ends up dust in a drawer. The best way to avoid this is to stack the deck in your favor and put comfort first. Before you start thinking about which Apple Watch model you should get, take a moment to find out what size and band material best fits your wrist.
Each Apple Watch model is available in two sizes. The larger model is more readable, while the smaller model is more comfortable for those with small wrists. The case is also available in multiple materials. Most people will be fine with the standard aluminum housing, but if you’re clumsy or very active, you’ll benefit from the added durability of stainless steel models. You might also like the look of stainless steel – and that’s right, because watches are a personal piece of technology. Just be prepared to pay a hefty premium for that. As for straps, we recommend the nylon sport loop as it is the most breathable, has the easiest closure and is less irritating, which is great for sensitive skin. If you want more fashionable options, we recommend visiting Amazon or Etsy for a wider variety of styles and more affordable prices.
But whatever you do, don’t buy the Apple Watch Series 3 setup. This was a great smartwatch when it launched in 2017, but it’s struggling to keep up with it in 2022. While it can run watchOS 8, updating is of the software is often more effort than it is worth. There is also no guarantee that the outdated hardware will support watchOS 9 when it launches later this year.
And while the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch you can get as an iPhone user, you can always check out our fitness tracker buying guide.
Apple Watch Series 7 vs Apple Watch SE
We recommend the Apple Watch SE for younger people in good health and anyone about to spend at least $400 on their first smartwatch. However, we recommend the Series 7 for those who prioritize health features and want an always-on screen. It’s also our choice for longtime Apple Watch users upgrading from previous models.
The Series 7 is Apple’s current flagship smartwatch. You get the fastest processor, fast charging, a bigger screen and the latest sensors. (At least until the Series 8 launches later this year.) Prices start at $399 for the 41mm version and $429 for the 45mm version. Adding LTE connectivity raises the price to $100 plus what your carrier charges for the service.
The SE is a kind of Frankenstein Apple Watch. It combines the Series 5’s processor with the Series 6’s always-on altimeter, motion sensors and optical heart rate sensor. You can get a mobile version and it supports many of the same advanced features as the Series 7, such as fall detection, emergency calls, Fitness Plus, Apple Pay, and Family Setup. The main difference is that it lacks an always-on display, the ECG sensor, and the SpO2 sensor. The display is also slightly smaller on both sizes of the SE. It starts at $279 for the 40mm and $309 for the 44mm. Adding LTE costs an additional $50, in addition to your carrier’s cost.
To be quite honest, if you’re young and healthy, you don’t need the Series 7’s advanced health sensors. This is especially true because SE is still able to provide abnormal heart rate alerts. At this time, Apple’s SpO2 features are limited to samples. There isn’t much you can do with that information, and unlike the EKGs, this is only cleared for general wellness purposes. It will not replace a fingertip pulse oximeter and you should never use it in this way.
Meanwhile, the EKG sensor’s main purpose is to enable detection of atrial fibrillation — and if your doctor has given you a clean bill of health, you’ll likely only use this feature once or twice. According to the American Heart Association, the greatest risk factors for AFib are advanced age, underlying heart disease, high blood pressure, family history, and sleep apnea, among other lifestyle choices. If this doesn’t apply to you, the SE will still give you an excellent health tracking experience and the same smart features. You might as well save the extra $129 — as long as the lack of an always-on screen isn’t a deal breaker.
However, there are situations where opting for the Series 7 is the better choice, such as if you always want a display or want the latest and greatest. The larger display also offers much better readability for anyone with poor eyesight. It’s also the better choice if you have heart disease or are at higher risk of developing AFib.
If sleep tracking is a priority, the Series 7 is also more convenient as it supports fast charging. No Apple Watch has amazing battery life, but the Series 7 is the only one to support fast charging so far. For context, the Series 7 takes 75 minutes to go from 0 to 100 percent. The SE would take 2.5 hours. The higher speed kicks in when you’re about to go to bed and you only have 15 percent battery. And if you’re the type to value future-proofing, the Series 7 hardware will be able to support newer features for a longer period of time thanks to the newer processor. This is why people who love their watch and want to upgrade from a Series 4 or older should also choose the Series 7. If you’re already in the habit of wearing the watch on a daily basis, you’ll get more mileage out of a Series 7, as the SE is more of a gateway device.
The best Apple Watch if you’re on a budget
While you might be tempted to buy the Series 3 due to its $199 price tag, there’s actually a much better option out there: buying a used or refurbished Apple Watch.
This is another great option if you’re new to smartwatches or if you’re not sure if this is a device you can stick with long-term. For starters, you get newer hardware that gives you a more accurate watchOS 8 experience. Buying used appliances is also better for the environment and a more affordable way to get more expensive materials. If you buy a new watch, materials like sapphire crystal, stainless steel or titanium can add hundreds more to your final bill.
It will take some patience to find the best price and the model you want. After all, you are limited by what is available. However, there are several sites that offer older models. Sometimes you can also find offers and sales. If you’re afraid of being scammed, look for deals recommended by sources you trust (cough, cough Verge Deals). Apple also sells its own refurbished models, that come with a full Apple warranty and are generally in “as new” condition, although the selection may be limited and you’re unlikely to pay less than a new SE. Sites like BackMarket also allow you to sort by condition and get a 12 month warranty.
As for the models to look for, we recommend the SE, Series 5 or Series 6. (Although you can still find the Series 4.) We also recommend using $280 as a benchmark. That is the price of the base model of a new SE. That said, if you’re getting premium materials, like a stainless steel model, it’s fine to go a little higher. It is worth repeating: do not buy a refurbished Series 3 or older. While you can find them for around $100, they struggle to run newer software, and you’ll have to replace them sooner.
The best Apple Watch for your kids
If you want your child to have an Apple Watch, we recommend choosing a cellular Apple Watch SE or, if you can find one, a refurbished Series 4, 5, or 6 with cellular. All of these watches come in smaller sizes than the Series 7, which probably fit better on their wrist. Also, the lower price gives you more peace of mind if you have a rambunctious child who is prone to breaking things.
Since you’re buying for kids, you’ll probably want to use Family Setup as it gives you more parental controls. (You can read our review of the feature here.) However, there are technical specifications that you must meet in order to use it. You need a mobile version of the device and it must support at least watchOS 7. Again, don’t buy Series 3. While it supports watchOS 8, Apple’s support page states that you need a Series 4 or newer or an Apple Watch SE for Family Setup.
Keep in mind that if you go the Family Setup route, not every feature will be available. While you can get Apple Pay and certain health features, you don’t get the following: health data sharing, respiratory rate, irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKG, Cycle Tracking, Sleep, Blood Oxygen, Podcasts, Remote Control, News, Home, and Shortcuts.
The best Apple Watch for older family members
This can be a tricky one, but we recommend a Series 7 mobile.
For starters, the Series 7’s larger screen is much easier on the eyes. You can also increase the text size to be larger than any other Apple Watch currently available. The always-on display is also better if arm mobility is a consideration. You also get the full suite of health features, including irregular heartbeat alerts, steady walking, EKGs, fall detection, and emergency calls.
If your elderly relative has an iPhone and you hope to use it for health reasons, we also don’t recommend Family Setup. That’s because you can’t use features like irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKGs, and health data sharing. However, if your relative doesn’t have an iPhone, Family Setup is a great option. You still get high and low heart rate notifications, gait stability and fall detection.