If you want to buy the best Apple Watch, you might just think that the newest one will suffice, but you'd be wrong. There's a lot more than that to think about than the release date.
Apple often keeps its older smartwatches around as affordable alternatives to its newer ones, and does also launch lower-cost ones on occasion too, like the Apple Watch SE.
These are well-rounded - but often rather pricey - wearable gadgets that help you track your workouts, handle your notifications or pay from your wrist.
Apple rules the smartwatch roost, and if you see a wrist-mounted gadget, it's probably one from the fruit company - that's why you might consider buying one. We've tested all from Apple's roster, so we can help you find the best for you.
TechRadar tests every single Apple Watch that comes out, wearing them non-stop during the day, at night, when working out and at any other time too. Not only do we test them for our reviews, but we use them all-year-round - so you could say we know what we're talking about.
Apple Watches only work with iPhones, so if you're an Android user - or want to see what else is out there - you might want to check out our list of the best smartwatches overall. And if you're looking to fully buy-in to the Apple ecosystem, we've also got a guide to the best iPhones for you.
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- Check out all the latest Apple Watch deals available now
Best Apple Watch: which is for you?
The Apple Watch 7 is the best smartwatch purely by being the newest - it's got a larger screen, charges faster and has a more premium-looking design than the Watch 6.
It's not exactly a huge redesign of its predecessor, and 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
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, 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
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 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
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.
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
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, 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, that we enjoyed testing in our review, 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 up too, but not older models.
Read the full Apple Watch 4 review
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, 6, and 7, as well as the SE.
That said, it's still a great device, especially as it's now cheaper than ever - you can often find it on sale.
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, 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
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 - 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.
How we test the best Apple Watch
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 on them, 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 around the year, just to make sure we know the Apple Watch in and out.
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.
- Need to buy now? These are the best Apple Watch deals
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 7, 6, 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.
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.
- We answer the big question: can the Apple Watch work without an iPhone?
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.
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
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
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.
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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.
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.
- How to pair your Apple Watch
- How to turn on your Apple Watch
- How to reset your Apple Watch
- How to change your Apple Watch face
- How to change your Apple Watch band
- How to set up Spotify on your Apple Watch
- Is your Apple Watch waterproof?
- How to take an ECG with the Apple Watch 4, 5 or 6
- Lost your wearable? Here's how to find your Apple Watch