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Best Apple Watch: the ultimate guide to pick your iPhone compatible smartwatch

Best Apple Watch
The Apple Watch 3 (left), Apple Watch 4 and Apple Watch 5 (right) (Image credit: Apple)

Donning an Apple Watch in 2020 is a little more tempting with all the deals, fresh features, the watchOS 6 update, and a higher app count. It's a fantastic smartwatch series, as long as you're happy with an iPhone-tied convenience gadget - don't expect a life-changing piece of technology. 

Why? Two versions of the watch makes our best smartwatch list, but smartwatches aren't game-changing tech like smartphones were when they burst onto the scene over a decade ago. Instead, smartwatches are just an everyday awesome add-on, a true accessory that makes everything you do with a smartphone just a little better.

Apple never ended up calling this the 'iWatch', but it really is "my watch" - with all its iterations the company has proved this is Apple's most personal and customizable gadget yet.

We've put together the guide below to talk you through the differences between all six iterations of the Apple Watch. There's the original Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Series 1, Apple Watch Series 2, Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Series 4, and now, the Apple Watch Series 5.

It's a complicated mix of smartwatches now, with over 100 different flavors once you factor in the variety of case materials, colors, sizes and interchangeable Apple Watch bands, so there are a bunch of a tough decisions to make. That's not even getting into the fact that we're expecting an Apple Watch 6 later in 2020. But let's start with the big question: which is the best Apple Watch for you?

Best Apple Watch: which is for you?

Apple Watch 5

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple Watch 5

The latest and greatest Apple Watch

OS: watchOS 6 | Compatibility: iOS | Display: 1.57" / 1.78" OLED | Processor: Apple S5 | Band sizes: Varies based on watch size | Onboard storage: 32GB | Battery: Up to 18 hours | Charging method: Wireless | IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Always-on display
More storage
Battery isn't incredible
Still pricey

The Apple Watch 5 was unveiled in September 2019, and it's the most high-tech device from the company's wearable line yet. It isn't a huge upgrade over the Apple Watch 4, but this latest version comes with an always-on display for the first time. 

That will allow you to see all of your key stats without having to turn on your watch's display. You've got the choice of either a 40mm or 44mm case for this watch, and it comes with a wide variety of fitness features.

If you're looking for the absolute best from Apple, the Series 5 watch is sure to offer it with its ECG monitor, GPS tracking, impressive heart rate monitoring, and lots more. 

Read the full Apple Watch 5 review

Apple Watch 4

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple Watch 4

Once the best, but now cheaper

OS: watchOS 6 | Compatibility: iOS | Display: 1.57" / 1.78" OLED | Processor: Apple S4 | Band sizes: Varies based on watch size | Onboard storage: 16GB | Battery: Up to 18 hours | Charging method: Wireless | IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Larger display
Lightweight design
Battery isn't amazing
Difficult to find now

Don't need that always-on display we've mentioned above? The Apple Watch 4 doesn't come with that, and it's far cheaper than the Apple Watch 5. So you may prefer to get this version instead and save a bit of money.

It also comes in both 40mm and 44mm variants, plus a lot of the features are similar such as the excellent heart rate tracking and the larger display than you'll find on older Apple Watches.

The most exciting tech here is the fact that there's an ECG feature within the heart rate tracker. It can test your heart to see if you're at a high risk of atrial fibrillation, which will allow you to seek help earlier if your health is in danger. This is found on the Apple Watch 5 too, but not older models.

Read the full Apple Watch 4 review

Apple Watch 3

(Image credit: Apple )

3. Apple Watch 3

2017's best smartwatch is now cheaper than ever

OS: watchOS 6 | Compatibility: iOS | Display: 1.53" / 1.65" OLED | Processor: Apple S3 | Onboard storage: 8GB / 16GB (Non-LTE and LTE respectively) | Battery duration: Up to 18 hours | Charging method: Wireless | IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m | Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Brilliant fitness tracking
Non-LTE version much better value
LTE is an unnecessary expense
Battery too short for sleep tracking

The Apple Watch 3 (or Apple Watch Series 3, if you're picky) was once the very best smartwatch, but it has since been bumped down by the Apple Watch 4 and 5. That said, it's still a great device, especially as it's now cheaper than ever.

It comes with a smaller display than the Apple Watch 4, and you won't get features like the ECG monitor on the devices above, but it's still a strong wearable for those wanting fitness smarts.

There's also an LTE version of the watch available, for if you're in need of a watch that can receive messages or phone calls even when you're away from your iPhone. If you need a cheaper smartwatch but you want to buy an Apple Watch, this is our top choice.

Read the full Apple Watch 3 review

Are there other Apple Watches?

You'll probably notice that the original Apple Watch, the Series 1 and Series 2 device are all missing from this list. That's because it's hard to buy those devices new anymore, so we've focused on the more easily available devices.

You can still source the original Apple Watch and a variety of older devices from some places, but we'd recommend opting for one of the devices above as they support software for longer and are generally more refined devices.

Apple Watch price comparison

Largely the pricing for the Apple Watch works by how old the product is. If you want the Apple Watch 3, you'll be able to find that for a lot less money than the Apple Watch 5.

Below we've got a live widget that will show you the latest deals for all the versions of the Apple Watch if you want to see the exact price right now. Bear in mind you can also get the Apple Watch 5, 4 or 3 on a contract because of the LTE features, and you can't do that for the other two devices.

What iPhone do you need to use an Apple Watch?

Unlike Google's Wear OS devices, the Apple Watch only works with one type of phone. You'll need to have at least an iPhone 5 running iOS 10 or later to be able to use an Apple Watch or Apple Watch 2.

If you want an Apple Watch 3, you'll need to have at least an iPhone 5S running iOS 11 software for the non-LTE version or an iPhone 6 to be able to use the LTE variant.

But if you're buying an Apple Watch 5, you'll need an iPhone 6S or later, which is the cutoff for watchOS 6, which is what that smartwatch ships with. 

Apple Watch colors and sizes

A big change for the Apple Watch 4 is the size, so now it comes in 40mm or 44mm options.

All of the other models of the Apple Watch come in either 38mm or 42mm versions. Some color options are limited to certain size watches, but our simple advice here is go for the larger version if you want a watch with a bigger screen and you don't mind spending a touch more.

It's difficult to get the difference in size across here, but if you're uncertain on size it's worth trying each on in the shop to be sure. Below we've got three examples showing off the four different sizes, as well as a comparison of the screen sizes.

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40mm Apple Watch 4 on the left and the 44mm model on the right (Image Credit: Apple)

40mm Apple Watch 4 on the left and the 44mm model on the right (Image Credit: Apple)
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38mm Apple Watch 3 on the left, 42mm on the right (Image Credit: Apple)

38mm Apple Watch 3 on the left, 42mm on the right (Image Credit: Apple)
Image 3 of 4

38mm Apple Watch 3 on the left, 42mm on the right (Image Credit: Apple)

38mm Apple Watch 3 on the left, 42mm on the right (Image Credit: Apple)
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Apple Watch 4 on the left and Apple Watch 3 on the right (Image Credit: Apple)

Apple Watch 4 on the left and Apple Watch 3 on the right (Image Credit: Apple)

You've then also got to choose the color of your watch as well as what material you want it to be made of. The Apple Watch 4 comes in gold, space grey or silver if you want it to be made of aluminum, and the same colors come in stainless steel too.

White and grey are also color options if you choose the ceramic version of the Apple Watch 3, but these are much more expensive and are called the Apple Watch Series 3 Edition. These are now hard to come by as Apple doesn't officially sell them.

There's also the Apple Watch Nike+, which is the same device as the Apple Watch 3 but comes with exclusive watch faces, the Nike+ Run Club app pre-loaded and a choice of lots of Nike branded sports bands.

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Apple Watch 3 Edition with ceramic case (Image Credit: Apple)

Apple Watch 3 Edition with ceramic case (Image Credit: Apple)
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Apple Watch 3 Nike+ (Image Credit: Apple)

Apple Watch 3 Nike+ (Image Credit: Apple)

That's not all though. If you like the idea of a handcrafted leather strap, you may like the look of the Apple Watch Hermès. Again, it's the Apple Watch 4. but here you get an exclusive watch face using the Hermès Carrick font as well as high-end leather straps for your wrist.

The Apple Watch Series 1 is only available in aluminum in space grey or silver.

Apple Watch bands and straps

Apple Watch Hermès with the Double Tour strap (Image Credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Hermès with the Double Tour strap (Image Credit: Apple)

There are dozens of straps sold by Apple that offer a huge variety of styles for your wrist. When you first buy your Apple Watch you'll have a strap included, but you can buy and easily switch out different straps that you buy separately.

There are material and color options available including woven nylon, Nike sport, leather, bracelets and much more. Any Apple Watch strap works with any Apple Watch, as long as you've got the right smaller or larger size watch.

Plus there are lots of third-party bands available too, but make sure you get the right size as it won't support all watch straps.

Apple Watch apps and watch faces

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Since the original Apple Watch, we've seen the company grow its titles that you can use on the watch as well as the amount of watch faces you can switch around to give the screen a different look.

For a full guide to our favorite bits of software on the wearable, check out our best Apple Watch apps guide as well as best Apple Watch games and best Apple Watch faces.

Got your Apple Watch? Learn how to use it

Below are a selection of the how to guides we have at TechRadar to help you understand some of the complicated parts of setting up, customizing and using your new smartwatch.