Picking an Apple Watch used to be very simple. All you had to do was choose what size you wanted. Then the Series 3 introduced cellular connectivity in 2017, which added another 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, it’s rumored that Apple may expand its lineup even further with a rugged Apple Watch for outdoor enthusiasts. So, if you’re looking to buy an Apple Watch right now, what do you do?
Not to worry. We’ve tested every single version of the Apple Watch you can buy right now and can steer you in the right direction.
The reason you’d pick an Apple Watch over its competitors is simple. It’s 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, safety 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 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 a thing that ends up collecting dust in a drawer. The best way to avoid this is to stack the deck in your favor and prioritize comfort. Before you try to start mulling over which Apple Watch model you should get, take a second to figure out which size and strap material will best fit your wrist.
Each Apple Watch model comes in two sizes. The larger model is better for readability while the smaller one is more comfortable for those with petite wrists. The case also comes in multiple materials. Most people will be fine with the standard aluminum case, but if you’re clumsy or very active, you’ll benefit from the extra durability of stainless steel models. You might also just like the look of stainless steel better — and that’s valid since watches are a personal piece of tech. Just be prepared to pay a hefty premium for that. As for straps, we recommend the nylon sport loop, as it’s the most breathable, has the easiest clasp, and is less irritating, which is great for sensitive skin. If you want more fashionable options, we recommend checking out Amazon or Etsy for a wider variety of styles and more affordable pricing.
But whatever you do, don’t buy any configuration of the Apple Watch Series 3. This was a great smartwatch when it launched in 2017, but it’s struggling to keep up in 2022. Although it can run watchOS 8, updating the software is often more trouble than it’s worth. There’s also no guarantee that its aging 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 also always check out our fitness tracker buying guide.
Apple Watch Series 7 versus Apple Watch SE
We recommend the Apple Watch SE for younger people in good health and anyone on the fence about spending at least $400 on their first smartwatch. However, we recommend the Series 7 for people who prioritize health features and want an always-on display. It’s also our pick for long-time Apple Watch users upgrading from prior models.
The Series 7 is Apple’s current flagship smartwatch. It’s going to get you the fastest processor, quick charging, a larger display, and all 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. Adding LTE connectivity will add $100 to the price, plus whatever your carrier charges for the service.
The SE is sort of a 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 cellular version, and it supports many of the same advanced features as the Series 7, like fall detection, emergency calling, Fitness Plus, Apple Pay, and Family Setup. The biggest difference is that it lacks an always-on display, the EKG 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 will tack on an extra $50, in addition to your carrier’s fees.
To be perfectly honest, if you’re young and healthy, you do not need the Series 7’s advanced health sensors. This is especially true since SE is still capable of providing abnormal heart rate alerts. Right now, Apple’s SpO2 features are limited to spot checks. There’s not much you can do with that information, and unlike the EKGs, this is only cleared for general wellness purposes. It will not be able to replace a fingertip pulse oximeter, and you should never use it in this way.
Meanwhile, the main purpose of the EKG sensor is to enable atrial fibrillation detection — and if your doctor’s given you a clean bill of health, you will likely only use this feature once or twice. According to the American Heart Association, the biggest risk factors for AFib are advanced age, underlying heart conditions, high blood pressure, family history, and sleep apnea, among other lifestyle choices. If this doesn’t apply to you, the SE is still going to give you an excellent health tracking experience and all the same smart features. You may as well save the extra $129 — so long as the lack of an always-on display isn’t a deal-breaker.
There are some situations where opting for the Series 7 is the better choice, however, like if you want an always-on display or need to have the latest and greatest. The larger display also provides much better readability for anyone with bad eyesight. It’s also the better choice if you have a heart condition or are at a higher risk of developing AFib.
If sleep tracking is a priority, the Series 7 is also more convenient since it supports quick charging. No Apple Watch has amazing battery life, but the Series 7 is the only one thus far that supports fast-charging. For context, the Series 7 takes 75 minutes to go from 0 to 100 percent. The SE would take 2.5 hours. The faster speed comes in clutch when you’re about to head to bed and you’ve only got 15 percent battery. Also, if you’re the type that values futureproofing, the Series 7’s hardware will be able to support newer features for a longer period of time thanks to its newer processor. This is why folks who love their watch and are looking to upgrade from a Series 4 or older should also pick the Series 7. If you’re already in the habit of wearing the watch daily, 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 may be tempted to buy the Series 3 because of its $199 price tag, there’s actually a much better option — buying a used or refurbished Apple Watch.
This is another great option if you’re new to smartwatches or aren’t sure that this is a device you can stick with long term. For starters, you’ll get newer hardware that will give you a more accurate experience of watchOS 8. Buying second-hand devices is also better for the environment as well as a more affordable way to get more expensive materials. If you buy a new watch, materials like sapphire glass, stainless steel, or titanium can add hundreds more to your final bill.
It’ll take some patience to find the best price and the model you want. After all, you’re limited by what’s available. However, there are several sites that offer older models. Sometimes you can also find deals and sales as well. If you’re worried about getting scammed, look for deals recommended by sources you trust (cough, cough Verge Deals). Apple also sells its own refurbished models, which come with a full Apple warranty and are generally in a “like new” condition, though the selection can be limited and you likely won’t pay less than a new SE. Sites like BackMarket will also let you sort by condition and obtain a 12-month warranty.
As for which models you should look for, we recommend the SE, Series 5, or Series 6. (Though you can still find the Series 4 as well.) We also recommend that you use $280 as a benchmark. That’s the price of the base model of a new SE. That said, if you’re getting premium materials, such as a stainless steel model, going a little higher is fine. It bears repeating: do not get a refurbished Series 3 or older. Although you can find them for about $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 picking 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 will likely better fit their wrist. Also, the lower price will get you better peace of mind if you have a rambunctious kid prone to breaking things.
Since you’re buying for children, you’ll likely want to use Family Setup, as it will give you greater parental controls. (You can read our review of the feature here.) However, there are technical specifications that you’ll need to match in order to use it. You’ll need a cellular version of the device and it must at least support watchOS 7. Again, do not get a Series 3. Although it supports watchOS 8, Apple’s support page states that you need a Series 4 or later, or an Apple Watch SE, for Family Setup.
Keep in mind that if you opt for the Family Setup route, not every feature will be available. While you can get Apple Pay and certain health features, you will not get the following: health data sharing, respiratory rate, irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKG, Cycle Tracking, Sleep, Blood Oxygen, Podcasts, Remote, News, Home, and Shortcuts.
The best Apple Watch for elderly relatives
This can be a tricky one, but we recommend a cellular Series 7.
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 that’s currently available. The always-on display is also better if arm mobility is a consideration. You’ll also get the full suite of health features, including irregular heartbeat alerts, walking steadiness, EKGs, fall detection, and emergency calling.
If your elderly relative has an iPhone and you’re hoping to use this for health reasons, we also don’t recommend Family Setup. That’s because you cannot use features like irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKG, and health data sharing. If your relative doesn’t have an iPhone, however, Family Setup is a fine option. You’ll still get high and low heart rate notifications, walking steadiness, and fall detection.