Donning an Apple Watch in 2018 is a little more tempting because of new deals, fresh features, the watchOS 4 update and a higher app count. It's a fantastic smartwatch series, as long as you're expecting an iPhone-tied convenience gadget, not a life-changing piece of technology.
Why? It makes our best smartwatch list, but smartwatches aren't a game changer or revolutionary like smartphones from ten years ago. They're just an everyday awesome add-on; truly an accessory.
We've put together the guide below to talk you through the differences between the Apple Watch, Apple Watch 2 and Apple Watch 3 as well as the decisions you need to make on style, software and much more.
There are more than 71 flavors, with different case materials, colors, sizes and interchangeable Apple Watch bands too, so there are a bunch of a tough decisions to make.
- You don't have to choose an Apple Watch - here are our best smartwatches for iPhone
What Apple Watch models are there?
It's best to think of the Apple Watch in four distinct generations, so far. There was the original device that was released under the name Apple Watch in April 2015, but you'll struggle to find retailers selling this device now and you'll probably only be able to get it second hand.
It was replaced by the Apple Watch Series 1 in September 2016, which is largely the same device but with Bluetooth 4.2 technology and a faster dual-core chipset. The original Apple Watch is now referred to as Series 0, but you probably shouldn't worry about that if you're buying a new watch as it's difficult to find it.
The Apple Watch Series 1 is easy to find as Apple is still selling it, as are third-party retailers.
Alongside the Series 1, Apple announced the Watch Series 2 (which we refer to as the Apple Watch 2 to make things a little simpler). This brought new technology like built-in GPS and water resistance and a slightly larger battery.
Apple is no longer selling the Watch Series 2, but you can buy this from a variety of third-party retailers.
The third and most recent generation of the wearable is the Apple Watch 3. It comes with LTE technology (if you want it) as well as a variety of new fitness features and improved GPS.
Apple Watch price comparison
Largely the pricing for the Apple Watch works by how old the product is. If you want the Apple Watch Series 1, you'll be able to find that for a lot less money than the Apple Watch 3.
Below we've got a live widget that will show you the latest deals for all three 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 3 on a contract because of the LTE features, and you can't do that for the other two devices.
Apple Watch vs Apple Watch 2 vs Apple Watch 3
- Original Apple Watch is cheaper, but it's very difficult to find
- Apple Watch Series 1 is faster, but lacks Watch 2 features
- Apple Watch 2 has GPS, a brighter screen and is water-resistant
- Apple Watch 3 has a faster chipset and optional LTE
You can't buy the original Apple Watch easily anymore, so here we're going to break down the differences between the watches referred to as the Apple Watch, Apple Watch 2 and Apple Watch 3.
So far, the Apple Watch series has been very similar in terms of design. There are a few minor changes, including a little red dot on the crown on the Apple Watch 3 and a slightly slimmer body, but largely each watch looks the same.
Only the Apple Watch 2 and Apple Watch 3 are waterproof though, so don't try taking the original watch in the pool with you.
All generations of the Apple Watch feature square displays, but the technology used differs. The Apple Watch featured an OLED Retina display with Force Touch at 450 nits, while the two later models have an improved technology that runs at 1000 nits.
You don't need a huge amount of power in the Apple Watch, but each passing generation has been a little snappier. The Series 1 features an Apple S1P system on a chip, while the Series 2 and Series 3 feature an S2 and S3 respectively.
Each watch has featured 512MB of RAM, apart from the Apple Watch 3, which features 768MB.
All versions of the Apple Watch feature a heart rate monitor, accelerometer, gyroscope and ambient light sensor. The Apple Watch 3 was the first time the device sported an Altimeter though.
For GPS, you will get that on the Apple Watch 2 and an improved version of the tech including Galileo and QZSS features is on the third iteration. Both the Apple Watch 2 and Apple Watch 3 feature swimming modes.
The battery life of the Apple Watch has remained largely unchanged. If you go for the 38mm version it has a smaller battery inside than the 42mm one, but that's largely because of the difference in screen size, as you need a bigger battery to power a larger display for the same amount of time.
Each version of the watch has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology built-in, but the Apple Watch 3 is the only one to have a cellular option. This means you can use an optional eSIM to give yourself a connection when on the move.
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.
- We answer the big question: can the Apple Watch work without an iPhone?
Apple Watch colors and sizes
All the 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 42mm version if you want a larger 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 two examples of the 38mm and 42mm sat side by side.
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 3 comes in gold, space grey or silver if you want it to be made of aluminum, and there's either silver or space black if you want it in stainless steel.
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.
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.
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 3 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
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 38mm or 42mm size.
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.
- Want to see our favorites? Here's our selection of the best Apple Watch bands
Apple Watch software updates
Apple's watchOS 4 update gave every model a boost, including the original Apple Watch. The update added a watch face with Siri built-in, allowing you to tap it to get details from Siri, such as your reminders.
Activity and workout tracking has also been improved, while the Apple Music app will automatically sync music to your watch. You can also now pay your friends via Apple Pay on your watch and there have been various other small tweaks and improvements made.
Prior to that the original Apple Watch was updated to watchOS 3, which sped things up and made the once-confusing menu interface actually make sense. This was a complete overhaul for the Apple Watch series.
That update also added a Dock to easily access your frequently used apps, new watch faces, and a Control Center menu (just like on iOS) to toggle settings. New to the miniaturized Control Center (as of watchOS 3.2) is a Theater mode so that the watch's raise-to-wake feature can be turned off.
Before that, the Apple watchOS 2 update opened up its Engine, Digital Crown and microphone to developers, meaning we've now got a whole host of apps that have supercharged the watch experience.
That Apple Watch update also featured Wi-Fi connectivity, new watch faces with different customizable options, better Siri capabilities, email replies and even Transit directions courtesy of iOS 9 and beyond.
If you've got an older Apple Watch, it's likely it won't support new software for the same amount of time as the most recent product. With Apple's iPhone devices it usually supports them for around four years since release, so we'd expect a similar amount of time for the Apple Watch too.
Apple Watch apps and watch faces
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.
What's next for the Apple Watch?
If you're planning to buy an Apple Watch soon, now is quite a good time. We expect Apple will announce a new version of its wearable, but not until around September this year when we expect to see the Apple Watch 4.
Nothing is confirmed yet, but if you want an Apple Watch right now then it's the perfect time to buy as you won't find out there's a new device announced right after you've purchased your new watch.