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

A selection of the best Apple Watches
(Image credit: Apple)

If you're looking to buy the best Apple Watch, it's very easy to assume that the newest automatically gets that trophy - however, you'd be wrong to make that assumption.

While the newest top-end Apple smartwatch is great - we gave the Apple Watch 6 a top review - its high price and wide feature set might be too much for some potential buyers. Lots of people might find the Apple Watch SE or older Apple Watch 3 better choices - and we'd concur, as the list below shows.

The Apple Watch 7 is very likely to join the list soon thanks to offering more screen area and thinner bezels, along with a brighter Always On display, but it's not out yet. For now, the Apple Watch SE takes the trophy. 

While the 6, SE and 3 Apple Watch series are the only ones sold directly by Apple, you can still get other models elsewhere, and some of them might be worth considering too if you can find them. To further complicate matters, there are all sorts of different straps, sizes and colors to choose from on top of that.

This guide aims to simplify things though so we've ranked all the best Apple Watches, including  pros, cons, an overview, and a specs list. That way, you can quickly see which ones are the right fit for your wrist. If you need more information, you can click through to our full reviews for a more detailed look at each model.

Below all that, you'll find price comparisons and other considerations, such as colors, sizes, bands, straps, and even the apps and watch faces you might want to load up once you’ve bought one.

And if after all that you decide an Apple Watch isn’t for you, then take a look at our best smartwatch list for all the top options across the various wearable platforms.

Best Apple Watch: which is for you?

Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

The best value Apple Watch at the moment

Specifications
OS: watchOS 7
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 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.

The Apple Watch SE also has a speedy Apple S5 chipset. It’s not quite as powerful as the Apple Watch 6, and it lacks that wearable’s always-on display, 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

Apple Watch 6

(Image credit: Apple)

A top-tier Apple Watch

Specifications
OS: watchOS 7
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 the most high-tech wearable Apple has made so far (until the Apple Watch 7 is released), so of course it places high on our list.

New additions in this model include blood oxygen monitoring, plus a new – and more efficient - Apple S6 chipset. That extra efficiency helps improve the 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, and you can get the Apple Watch 6 in some new colors, including a flashy red shade.

But 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

Apple Watch 5

(Image credit: Apple)

A still-great Apple Watch

Specifications
OS: watchOS 7
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 isn't Apple's latest wearable 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. 

Read the full Apple Watch 5 review

Apple Watch 4

(Image credit: Apple)

Once the best, but now cheaper

Specifications
OS: watchOS 7
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.

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 and 6 too, but not older models.

Read the full Apple Watch 4 review

Apple Watch 3

(Image credit: Apple )

2017's best smartwatch is now cheaper than ever

Specifications
OS: watchOS 7
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
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant fitness tracking+Non-LTE version much better value
Reasons to avoid
-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, 5 and 6, as well as the SE. 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


Apple Watch FAQs

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 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 models.

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.

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 6.

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 SE, Apple Watch 6, Watch 5, 4 or 3 on a contract because of the LTE features, and you can't do that for the older devices - though some are more widely available than others.

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 but we'd strongly recommend you upgrade both your iPhone and Apple Watch choice, otherwise it's going to feel very slow and you won’t really reap the benefits.

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

Apple Watch colors and sizes

Every new generation of the Apple Watch brings with it new colors and case finishes – and the Apple Watch 6 sees the arrival of a first-time blue coloring for the aluminum case, with a bright red style available too.

Both models are available in 40mm and 44mm sizes – which have been the sizing options since the Apple Watch 4, and which replaced the 38mm and 42mm sizes of its predecessor.

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.

Image 1 of 4

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)
Image 2 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)
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)
Image 4 of 4

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.

For the Apple Watch 6, you can pick between blue, gold, space grey, silver, graphite or red cases - many but not all of which come in both aluminum and stainless steel versions.

If you opt for an Apple Watch SE then you have the choice of gold, silver, or space grey, all made from aluminum. The Apple Watch 3 is currently just available in a silver or space grey finish and aluminum for the material.

The Apple Watch 5 meanwhile while no longer available from Apple, can be found elsewhere, and comes in gold, space black or silver if you want it to be made of aluminum, and the same colors come in stainless steel too.

White is also a color option if you choose the ceramic version, but this is quite a bit more expensive.

There's also the Apple Watch Nike, which is the same device as the Apple Watch 6 or Apple Watch SE, but with the Nike Run Club app, exclusive watch faces, and Nike Twilight Mode, which fills the screen with solid color to help make you more visible

Apple Watch Nike

The Apple Watch 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 same old Apple Watch, but here you get exclusive watch faces as well as high-end leather straps for your wrist.

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.

James Peckham

James is Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He has also worked on other leading tech brands, such as T3 and Gizmodo UK, as well as appearing as an expert on TV and radio for the BBC and other publications. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all the latest smartphone news.