After eight series and several spin-offs, the Apple Watch is now the wearable equivalent of the TV box set. But when it comes to choosing the right episode, it’s not as simple as starting with the last one.
From connected apps to fitness tracking to contactless payments, every Apple Watch has the smarts to embarrass traditional watches. But there are also important differences between each version. Not all of them share the same screen size, dimensions, or sensor setup, for starters. The price varies greatly depending on which indicator you choose.
Don’t know your Series 8 from SE 2? Our guide below explains the distinct features of each available Apple Watch model — and suggests which one might be the best fit for your wrist and budget. Whether you’re shopping for an Apple Watch for the first time or upgrading from an older version, we’ve got all the options covered.
Our pick of the best Apple Watch options
Apple Watch Series 8
Overall the best Apple wearable
Evolution not a revolution, the Series 8 doesn’t deliver the all-encompassing design many had hoped. Instead, it carries many of the specifications that made its predecessor famous. Along with the symmetrical design, it uses the same always-on Retina display, 18-hour battery life, and 50m water resistance. So what’s new? The S8 chip powers the rendering, but it doesn’t offer any significant performance improvements. More important is the Series 8’s ability to take temperature measurements: With one sensor on the back and another below the screen to adjust for ambient warmth, it uses body temperature readings to augment the suite of health features already in watchOS 9. Specifically, this data should improve Precise menstrual cycle tracking. Other tweaks rely extensively on software: Low-power mode promises to extend life to 36 hours, while crash-detection algorithms can sense if you’ve been in a serious car accident and call emergency services if you’re unresponsive.
Apple Watch Ultra
The final hour for outdoorsy types
Bigger, more powerful, and built for the great outdoors, the Watch Ultra is Apple’s ultimate take on a technical pointer. At 49mm, the case is big and in charge, with chunky hardware that reflects its rugged credentials. Protected by a rugged bezel, the flat panel has twice the brightness of any previous watch screen, for better visibility on expeditions. A customizable Action button can be set to start workouts or mark segments, while dual-frequency GPS works with state-of-the-art positioning algorithms to deliver Apple’s most accurate wrist-based location tracking yet. Heading towards the hills? Battery life can be increased to 60 hours in low power mode. Twice as water-resistant as the Series 8, it’s also not suitable for diving: the Depth app launches when the Ultra is submerged, and displays information underwater. And if the aerospace-grade titanium casing doesn’t impress your fellow explorers, the Wayfinder’s face is guaranteed to give them data envy.
Apple Watch SE (2022)
The best Apple Watch for beginners
Offering the core Watch experience without breaking the bank, Apple’s second-generation SE follows a similar formula to the first. It’s not a flagship upgrade, it comes with the same design as its predecessor. New is the nylon composite rear, which shaves 2.9g and 3.4g from the 40mm and 44mm Cell versions, respectively. Besides the lighter load, the updated SE shares a dual-core processor with the Series 8 and Ultra, giving it a 20% speed boost. Like those models, it also offers crash detection to help you in the event of a car accident. But arguably the biggest shift is the price: It starts at $249 in the US, much cheaper than the 2020 version’s $279 price. And even as the pounds suffer, the updated SE is still £10 less than it was in the last version.
Apple Watch Series 7
The latest flagship from Apple at a lower price
Previously the top-tier benchmark in the Apple Watch family, the Series 7 represents a capable smartwatch that’s even more enticing at its updated price point. Larger than previous versions at 41mm and 45mm, its cases are also more rounded and more durable – including a scratch-resistant front crystal. Likewise, the always-on Retina display has increased in size and brightness from Series 6, with thinner bezels contributing to a more immersive setup for faster typing. Series 7 has been updated with watchOS 9, and it’s still a sleek and stylish watch today. Blood oxygen sensors and an ECG provide a complete fitness experience, while three metal vests allow you to select them at will. Battery life has left us wanting more, but find the right discount and this shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Apple Watch SE (2021)
An affordable smartwatch option
Launched in 2021, the original SE was touted as an accessible path to Apple Watch ownership. While affordability is a relative term in Cupertino, today’s first-generation SE is approaching the sweet spot for price and performance. And while it’s missing some of the features that newer, more expensive Apple Watch models offer and isn’t quite as good as the newer SE, it’s still a wearable for most smart people who wear it every day. The screen is smaller, there’s no always-on display and you don’t get ECG sensors or blood oxygen sensors. But the Apple Watch SE is still a swim-proof smartwatch with a premium aluminum finish, Retina OLED display, and plenty of health-tracking skills. Besides a large app library, the SE also supports the latest watchOS 9.
Apple Watch Series 3
An ideal choice for buyers on a budget
The third-generation Apple Watch that survived 2017 may look like it used to be at an existing company. However, there’s a good reason Apple has been shipping the model for so long: It’s easily the best value watch you can buy. And as a straightforward wearable that nails the basics, it still has a lot going for it. Sure, it’s not the fastest, sharpest, or brightest of current standards. But if you want a reliable, waterproof Apple Watch to record workouts, control your music, and receive notifications, the Series 3 delivers at an affordable price. The 38mm version, which looks positively nicer compared to its younger cousins, is a great fit on smaller wrists. And while it’s officially discontinued now, move quickly and you’ll find it stocked online.