The best Apple Watch 2023: Top smartwatches to use with your iPhone

Best Apple Watch
An Apple Watch on a green background (Image credit: TechRadar / Apple)

The best Apple Watch for you is going to vary depending on several factors, such as your exercise habits, budget, and even the size of your wrist. With an increasing number of options available, it isn't simply a case of the latest being the greatest: different watches are aimed at different audiences, and that's before you consider older devices that still hold their worth and purpose. 

With all of them being made by Apple over the years, you can expect a certain baseline quality threshold here with many of them sharing the same features. That's whether you opt for an Apple Watch 8, the cheaper Apple Watch SE, or the almighty Apple Watch Ultra.

If you want an Apple Watch but can't afford the Apple Watch 8, that's OK. Not everyone needs blood oxygen and ECG monitoring, which is where the two Apple Watch SE models can help. The SE range cuts some corners by omitting certain features and making the back of the watch out of nylon rather than using more expensive steel. If you're looking for something pricier and only want the best, the Ultra is the logical step, with the biggest screen and reams of tools ready for die-hard adventurers, such as sirens and a functioning dive computer. 

Apple may not sell every model now, but some retailers continue to sell previous-generation entries like the Apple Watch 7, which still receives software support and useful functionality, while some retailers offer refurbished models. There are also Apple promo codes which could help you save on the cost of a new smartwatch.

Remember – Apple Watches only work with iPhones, so if you're an Android user, you may want to check out the best Android smartwatches instead. Or you may want to switch sides and pick up one of the best iPhones instead.

The best Apple Watch 2022

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best Apple Watch Apple Watch Ultra in use on wrist and on table

(Image credit: TechRadar)
The best Apple Watch overall

Specifications

OS: watchOS 9
Compatibility: iOS
Display: 1.9" OLED
Processor: Apple S8
Onboard storage: 32GB
Battery: 36 hours
Charging method: Wireless
IP rating: Water-resistant to 100m
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Reasons to buy

+
Large display
+
Action button is very useful

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery life could be better
-
Lack of navigation features

The Apple Watch Ultra is the ultimate Apple Watch. It's bigger and bulkier, adding an action button that you can customize with genuinely useful features. Designed to survive all kinds of terrain, the Apple Watch Ultra rivals many Garmin watches.

It could still offer better battery life (despite surpassing the regular Apple Watch) but a powerful and accurate GPS is great for exploring, plus there's a diving sensor for the avid underwater adventurer. Plus, there's all the benefits that come from other Apple Watches, ensuring you can always see how you're doing, health wise. 

It's expensive but powerful. And, during testing, we easily found this to be the best wearable that the brand has ever made.

Read our full Apple Watch Ultra review

Image of best Apple Watch Apple Watch SE 2 on someone's wrist

(Image credit: TechRadar)

2. Apple Watch SE 2

The best Apple Watch for users on a budget

Specifications

OS: watchOS 9
Compatibility: iOS
Display: 1.78" OLED
Processor: Apple S8
Onboard storage: 32GB
Battery: 18 hours
Charging method: Wireless
IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Reasons to buy

+
Light and comfortable
+
Good battery life for price

Reasons to avoid

-
No always-on screen
-
No ECG built in

The Apple Watch SE 2 is the Apple Watch for anyone who doesn't need an always-on display and isn't too fussed about tracking their blood oxygen level or ECG. It has the car crash detection tool of the 8, plus extensive fitness tracking so you're hardly missing out.

There's a gorgeous screen with brightness up to 1,000 nits so flicking your wrist up isn't exactly suffering here. Using the same processor as the Apple Watch 8 means you get speedy performance while surprisingly, we found the battery overperformed with around two days of life here.

Read our full Apple Watch SE 2 review

best Apple Watch Apple WAtch 8 on a blue desk and wrist

(Image credit: TechRadar)
The best all-round Apple Watch

Specifications

OS: watchOS 9
Compatibility: iOS
Display: 1.69 / 1.9" OLED
Processor: Apple S8
Onboard storage: 32GB
Battery: 18 hours
Charging method: Wireless
IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Reasons to buy

+
Useful temperature sensor
+
Car crash detection

Reasons to avoid

-
Average battery life
-
Almost the same as the Apple Watch 7

The Apple Watch 8 is a fairly incremental update to the Apple Watch 7 but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. While its battery life remains average and it looks the same as before, you get a new temperature sensor that's designed to help those trying to get pregnant spot when they're ovulating. 

We found that the new processor boosts the speed a tad, while there's a new car crash detection tool that could just save your life (but hopefully you'll never need it). Plus, there's all the benefits of WatchOS 9 with improved fitness stats and better interval training features. If you want the standard Apple Watch experience, the Apple Watch 8 is a decent all-rounder.

Read our full Apple Watch 8 review

best Apple Watch Apple Watch Series 7 images of watch on test

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Not far off the best Apple Watch

Specifications

OS: watchOS 8
Compatibility: iOS
Display: 1.69 / 1.9" OLED
Processor: Apple S7
Onboard storage: 32GB
Battery: 18 hours
Charging method: Wireless
IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Reasons to buy

+
Brighter, larger screen
+
Faster charging

Reasons to avoid

-
Workouts are varied, but basic
-
Battery life needs to be longer

The Apple Watch 7 isn't the latest and greatest any more, but it's still more than respectable. It comes with lots of the same features and tools that are staples of the Apple Watch range, including an ECG, exercise tracking, access to Apple Fitness Plus (through a separate subscription), Apple Pay and all the fitness tracking modes you've come to expect.

When we tested the Watch, we found that although it's definitely the best of Apple's wearables, but while it brings you all the great features of Apple Watches, it also brings some of the issues the series has had. This includes limited battery life and the workout modes are a little basic.

So if you’re buying this, you’re probably mostly buying it for the screen, but that extra size does make a real difference, leaving the wearable feeling less cramped to interact with, and it does so without adding much to the size or weight.

Read the full Apple Watch 7 review

best Apple Watch Apple Watch SE on a wrist.

(Image credit: TechRadar)
Once the best value Apple Watch

Specifications

OS: watchOS 8
Compatibility: iOS
Display: 1.78" OLED
Processor: Apple S5
Band sizes: Varies based on watch size
Onboard storage: 32GB
Battery: 18 hours
Charging method: Wireless
IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Reasons to buy

+
Smart design
+
Extensive features

Reasons to avoid

-
No always-on display
-
Average battery life

You might be surprised that this ranks higher than its contemporary, the Apple Watch 6. After all, it’s lower end, but the Apple Watch SE has all the best bits of the Apple Watch 6 and costs less money, making it a better buy overall.

It has GPS, water resistance to depths of 50 meters, sleep tracking, a heart rate monitor, great fitness tracking abilities, a decent display, and a design that makes it look a lot more premium than its price tag suggests. When we tested the device, we did miss the always-on display that newer Apple Watches have, so if that's a feature you're interested in you might want to skip this device.

The Apple Watch SE also has a speedy Apple S5 chipset. It’s not quite as powerful as the Apple Watch 6 and can't compete with the Apple Watch 7 or 8, but again, it’s cheaper, and we reckon that for most people it strikes just about the best possible balance between price and tech.

Read the full Apple Watch SE review

best Apple Watch Apple Watch 6 on a wrist

(Image credit: TechRadar)
Still a top-tier Apple Watch

Specifications

OS: watchOS 8
Compatibility: iOS
Display: 1.78" OLED
Processor: Apple S6
Band sizes: Varies based on watch size
Onboard storage: 32GB
Battery: 18 hours
Charging method: Wireless
IP rating: Water-resistant to 50m
Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, LTE

Reasons to buy

+
Great color additions
+
Always-on display

Reasons to avoid

-
Lacks a headline upgrade
-
Battery life needs to be longer

The Apple Watch 6 is still a strong watch despite the release of the Apple Watch 7, so of course it places high on our list. New additions in this model include blood oxygen monitoring, plus the still respectable Apple S6 chipset. That extra efficiency helps improve battery life, though the Apple Watch 6 still doesn’t last as long as we’d like – especially now that you can track your sleep, a feature that debuted on this model but is available as a software update for others too.

The screen has also been improved a little over previous generations, and you can get the Apple Watch 6 in some new colors (relative to its original launch), including a flashy red shade. Even so, for the most part this is much the same as the Apple Watch 5 – just a slightly better and more expensive alternative to it.

Read the full Apple Watch 6 review

best Apple Watch Apple Watch 5 on a wrist

(Image credit: TechRadar)
A still-great Apple Watch

Specifications

OS: watchOS 8
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

Reasons to buy

+
Always-on display
+
More storage

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery isn't incredible
-
Still pricey

The Apple Watch 5 is admittedly a bit past it at this point but it's almost as good as the Apple Watch 6, and like that wearable it comes with a handy always-on display. That will allow you to see all of your key stats without having to turn on your watch's screen. 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.

It also has ECG monitor, GPS tracking, impressive heart rate monitoring, and lots more. We sometimes see the Apple Watch 5 on sale, so even though it's lower down our list, it still might be worth picking up if you find it for a low enough price.

Read the full Apple Watch 5 review

best Apple Watch Apple Watch on a wrist

(Image credit: Future)
Once the best, but now cheaper

Specifications

OS: watchOS 8
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

Reasons to buy

+
Larger display
+
Lightweight design

Reasons to avoid

-
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 - though Apple doesn't officially support it any more.

It also comes in both 40mm and 44mm variants. 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, which we enjoyed testing in our review, is that this is the first example of an Apple with with ECG functionality, set within the heart rate tracker. It can test your heart to see if you're at increased risk of atrial fibrillation, which will allow you to seek help earlier if your health proves to be in danger. This is found on the Apple Watch 5 and up too, but not older models.

Read the full Apple Watch 4 review

How to choose the best Apple Watch for you

The main thing to consider when buying a new Apple Watch is the price - Apple always keeps multiple smartwatches around, offering older ones as affordable counterparts to the newer ones.

Features are also worth bearing in mind - some newer Apple Watches have always-on displays, more advanced sensors and newer software, with even newer tools.

There's one other thing to consider, and that's availability. Apple only sells certain models of its watches, and while third-party retailers usually offer a bigger range, depending on where you run it might not be all of them.

Is it worth buying an Apple Watch?

If you have an iPhone, Apple Watches are great additions that help you make the most of your handset with extra features and tools, and great connectivity between the two.

However if you're an Android user it's not worth buying an Apple Watch, as Apple doesn't let its wearables connect to smartphones it doesn't make.

Wha can you do on an Apple Watch?

Apple Watches offer loads of features including workout-tracking, health monitoring, calling and texting, handling notifications from your phone, setting alarms, stream music to headphones, check maps, monitor your sleep, contact the Siri AI assistant and more.

Plus, thanks to the watchOS App Store, you can download third-party apps to get extra features and tools.

Each newer generation of Apple Watch comes with newer features too, so definitely check out the review of the handset you're interested in to make sure it does what you need it to.

Are there other Apple Watches?

You'll probably notice that the original Apple Watch, the Series 1, Series 2 and Series 3 devices are all missing from this list. That's because it's hard to buy those devices new anymore and the latest watchOS iteration, watchOS 9, doesn't support those 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 will be supported with software updates for longer and are generally more refined wearables.

How we test Apple Watches

When we use Apple Watches, we don't just hook them up to a machine in a lab and see what numbers pop out. 

We wear the smartwatches all day, every day - we go for runs with them on, take calls on them, track our sleep with them, check our notifications with them, and even test out all the weird and wonderful apps available.

But we don't just use them for a week or two - we keep them on our wrists day in, day out (okay, we take them off when we wash) all year round; just to make sure we know the Apple Watch experience in and out.

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 8 running iOS 16 or later to be able to use an Apple Watch running watchOS 9, the latest version of the software. This gives you new features such as advanced running metrics, including on-wrist running power, and Crash Detection.

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. The Apple Watch 6, Apple Watch 7, and Apple Watch SE also require an iPhone 6S or later.

However, if you're buying a watch for the foreseeable future, we recommend opting for devices running iOS 16 and watchOS 9.

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 leather link, solo loop, Milanese loop, braided solo loop, 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.

Alex Walker-Todd
Senior Phones Editor

Alex joined as TechRadar's Senior Phones Editor in June 2022, but brings over a decade's worth of experience to the role, with an expertise in smartphones, tablets and wearables. He's covered keynotes hosted by the biggest brands and attended the launches for some of the most influential mobile products of the last few years. His experience was amassed at some of the most reputable consumer technology publications out there, including GSMArena, TechAdvisor and Trusted Reviews. Alex is currently holding out hope for the Pixel Watch's success and is excited for the advancements coming to the world of foldable phones in the near future.