The best Apple Watch can do way more than tell the time. The smartwatch can give you up-to-the-second information about your health, track and record your exercise, and even perform smartphone-like tasks when you want to leave your iPhone at home.
Apple has continually updated the Apple Watch's software, which is named WatchOS, to bring new features to the smartwatch every year. These changes vary from year to year, but you can count on your Apple Watch getting smarter over time, especially as more third-party app makers embrace the platform. If you're curious about the Apple Watch, but haven't taken the plunge yet, we've broken down the differences between each model.
How We Picked the Best Apple Watches
Our Apple Watch recommendations are based on a mix of research and hands-on testing. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which Apple Watches to include in this buyer's guide.
Screen Size: Apple has steadily increased the screen size of its smartwatches, and has done so to allow you to see more information on the display at once. Apple has done this by shrinking the bezel (border) around the screen instead of making its smartwatches appreciably larger. You can currently get an Apple Watch in screen sizes between 38mm (millimeters) and 45mm.
Display Type: The Apple Watch is available with either a glass or sapphire screen. Both displays are crystal clear, but the sapphire display is a lot more durable. If you plan on keeping your Apple Watch for several years, it's worth paying for one with a sapphire display.
Case Material: Similarly, Apple offers its smartwatch in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium configurations. Aluminum Apple Watches are a lot lighter than their metal counterparts, but are more prone to getting scratched up over time. Stainless-steel and titanium Apple Watches look a lot more luxe, but you'll feel them on your wrist.
It's important to note that the Aluminum Apple Watch comes with a glass display, whereas stainless steel and titanium Apple Watches have a sapphire display.
WiFi Only vs. Cellular: Every Apple Watch can connect to your home's WiFi network, which allows it to receive notifications, access Siri, and perform other tasks that require the Internet. However, the Apple Watch is also available in configurations that include a cellular radio, which allows it to access the Internet anywhere it gets a signal. Cellular-connected Apple Watches can even place phone calls, as they get their own separate phone number. Cellular Apple Watches require you to pay a monthly fee to your carrier to use those features.
Always-On Display: Newer Apple Watch models have a display that's "always on," which means the screen will dim, but not completely shut off. This feature allows you to check the time and incoming notifications at a glance instead of having to physically turn or pick up your arm. Apple Watches with an always on display have batteries that can accommodate this feature without requiring you to constantly reach for a charger.
Health Features: Apple has steadily improved the Apple Watch's health-focused features by building newer and more powerful sensors into each successive model. Getting the latest Apple Watch means you'll have access to the most up-to-date health-related hardware, which is very important to consider if you intend on using the smartwatch for health tracking.
Processor: The Apple Watch is literally a tiny computer on your wrist, and it's powered by a custom-built processor designed by Apple. Each successive Apple-designed chip is better than the next, and allows the smartwatch to launch applications, answer questions, and change settings more quickly.
Charging Speed: The latest Apple Watches support fast charging when you use the included cable and a USB-C PD power adapter. Apple says Apple Watches that support fast charging can be topped up from 0 percent to 85 percent in 45 minutes.
Best Apple Watches: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Apple Watch Series 7
Why It Made The Cut: The Apple Watch Series 7 is Apple's most powerful and capable model yet.
— Display Sizes: 41mm, 45mm
— Always-On Display: Yes
— Fast Charging: Yes
— Large, always-on display
— Fast charging
— Most durable glass screen
The Apple Watch Series 7 feels like the true realization of Apple's vision for the smartwatch.
Its large display is capable of showing several lines of text, which means you won't have to scroll through messages as often, which is very useful if you get a lot of notifications. The Series 7's large display also comes in handy when you need to tap the screen, whether it's to enter your password, or access an app.
Apple introduced the always-on display feature with the Apple Watch Series 5, but the Series 7's larger screen makes it shine. It's far easier to check the time (imagine that as a watch feature) than ever before. These advantages apply to both the 41mm and 45mm version of the Apple Watch Series 7, but are especially true of the larger model.
Apple says the Series 7 has its most "crack-resistant" glass display yet, and it has held up better than the Series 4 model we've tested it against. This is great news if you were worried about the screen getting scratched up, but don't feel like upgrading to a stainless-steel or titanium Apple Watch. The sapphire screen on those higher-end models will be more durable than even the toughest glass, but it's nice that Apple has made an improvement to the entry-level model. This is also the first Apple Watch that's dustproof, which is a great feature if you plan on taking your Apple Watch hiking or to the beach.
This is the first Apple Watch to support fast charging, which makes a big difference if you use the smartwatch for sleep tracking. If you rest the Apple Watch on its charger for a few minutes every couple of hours, you should get through an entire day with plenty of battery to spare. In our tests, the Apple Watch Series 7 lasted around 20 hours with light usage. If you use the Series 7's more power-hungry health features, like fitness tracking and ECG reading, you'll have to charge the Apple Watch more often.
The Apple Watch Series 7 runs on the company's S7 processor, which is only marginally better than the S6 in the previous-generation Apple Watch. That said, everything from launching apps to navigating around the system's settings felt snappy. Summoning Siri to get a piece of information from the Internet, or set a timer or reminder felt fast enough that it saved us from reaching for our iPhone on several occasions.
If you don't mind its slightly higher price, the Apple Watch Series 7 should be the only model you consider. It's Apple's best smartwatch yet, and gives all of its competition a run for their money.
Best Value: Apple Watch SE
Why It Made The Cut: The Apple Watch SE shares a remarkable number of features with the Series 7 at a far lower price.
— Display Sizes: 40mm, 44mm
— Always-On Display: No
— Fast Charging: No
— Health features
— No always-on display
— No fast charging
The Apple Watch SE shares many of the core features that make the Series 7 a great smartwatch, but at a much lower price.
The SE has the same amount of storage, sleep, step, and heart-rate-tracking features, and water-resistance rating. Its screen, though smaller, also has the same maximum level of brightness, which is helpful if you need to check the smartwatch in broad daylight. This level of feature parity with the Series 7 highlights the SE's best points, but some sacrifices needed to be made to help it hit its low price.
The biggest difference between the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE is the lack of an always-on display. To see the Apple Watch SE's screen, you need to twist your arm or flick your wrist. The smartwatch does a remarkably good job at registering your movement, and the screen flicks on almost immediately, but you won't be able to quickly check the time by looking down.
The always-on display was sacrificed in the name of battery life. The screen technology and processing power required to balance power and battery aren't available in the Apple Watch SE. We expect this to change in the future, though. The SE also lacks the Series 7's fast-charging feature, blood oxygen sensor, IP6X dust proof rating, and more durable glass screen.
In everyday use, you're only likely to notice the SE's lack of an always-on display. If you primarily plan to use the Apple Watch as a way to track your steps and check texts, this shouldn't be an issue. You can set the Apple Watch SE to vibrate every time a notification comes in, flick your wrist, and decide whether the message you see is important enough to grab your iPhone.
Best for Small Wrists: Apple Watch Series 3 (Refurbished)
Why It Made The Cut: The Apple Watch Series 3 is the only smartwatch released by a major tech company that can fit comfortably on smaller wrists.
— Display Sizes: 38mm, 42mm
— Always-On Display: No
— Fast Charging: No
— Band compatibility
— Small screen
— No always-on display
— Won't receive further WatchOS Updates
The Apple Watch Series 3 is the best smartwatch available if you've got smaller wrists, or don't want to wear a big watch on your wrists. It's available in screen sizes as small as 38mm, which is minuscule compared to the 45mm display on the largest Apple Watch Series 7.
Despite its age, the Apple Watch Series 3 does share many of the same basic health-tracking features as newer models. If your needs are modest, you can use this smartwatch to reliably track your steps and sleep. You can even wear the Apple Watch Series 3 while swimming to track your laps.
This is Apple's least-expensive smartwatch, and this refurbished version makes it even easier on the wallet. We don't feel like it's as good of a value as the Apple Watch SE given the hardware inside it. Its years-old processor isn't fast enough to run WatchOS 9, the upcoming version of the Apple Watch's operating system. Apple typically does a good job supporting out of date hardware with security patches, but don't expect much else.
Things to Consider Before Buying an Apple Watch
Apple bundles the Apple Watch with the band of your choice, but the company has made it easy to swap it out for a new band without any tools. Apple has also allowed third-party manufacturers to create Apple Watch-compatible bands, including several lower-priced dupes of its official bands. All Apple Watch bands work with every model of the smartwatch regardless of its screen size, case material, or age.
Every generation of the Apple Watch since the Series 4 has come with 32 GB (gigabytes) of storage. You can use the watch's storage for photos, music, and apps.
Any credit card or ticket you add to the Wallet app on your iPhone will automatically be synced over to your Apple Watch. If you press the Apple Watch's power button twice in rapid succession, your digital wallet will appear on the watch's screen. This feature allows you to pay for goods using your Apple Watch the same way you would using an iPhone.
Unlocking Your Mac
If you own a Mac, you can set the Apple Watch to authenticate you when you turn your computer on. This allows you to get into your machine without typing in your password. This feature doesn't work the first time you power on your computer, but will thereafter. You can also use your Apple Watch to authenticate digital purchases from the Mac App Store instead of typing in your iCloud password.
Every Apple Watch since the original model has supported Bluetooth, which allows you to pair the smartwatch to a pair of wireless headphones. This is an especially useful feature if you take the Apple Watch while you're exercising, and don't want to carry your phone.
Apple offers its aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium watches in an array of colors. A smartwatch is a fashion accessory, so consider your wardrobe and the type of bands you'd like to wear before picking which Apple Watch and case to get.
How to Buy A Refurbished Apple Watch
If you'd like to save some money on an Apple Watch, and don't mind getting one second-hand, there are plenty of ways to buy a model that's open-box or refurbished. For reference: Open-box items have been returned by customers; refurbished items have been sent back and serviced by the original company or a store.
Major retailers like Amazon and Best Buy allow you to see whether open box or refurbished versions of the item you're looking for are currently available.
When shopping on Amazon, you'll see a box that says "Save with Used" below the "Add to Cart" and "Buy Now" buttons on the Apple Watch's product page. For the best experience, select an open-box or refurbished model that's sold and shipped from Amazon, as the company will honor its generous return policy, and be as honest as possible about the Apple Watch's condition.
When shopping at Best Buy you'll see a section called "Open-Box" on the right-hand side of the product page. Alternatively, you can scroll down to the bottom of the Apple Watch's page, and click on the tab that says "Buying Options." Best Buy only offers open-box and refurbished items sold by the store itself, not third-party sellers.
On Amazon, you'll see a box that says "Save with Used" below the "Add to Cart" and "Buy Now" buttons on the Apple Watch's product page. For the best experience, select an open box or refurbished model that's sold and shipped from Amazon, as the company will honor its generous return policy, and be as honest as possible about the Apple Watch's condition.
Apple also has a dedicated refurbished section on its website. The Apple Watch you buy from them is guaranteed to come in excellent condition, and comes with a one-year warranty. Items in Apple's refurbished section are comparably priced to non-new items from larger retailers, and you know you're getting your hardware directly from the source.
Another benefit to getting an open-box or refurbished Apple Watch is the opportunity to get models that aren't available new anymore, like the Apple Watch Series 6. These smartwatches still have plenty of life in them, but aren't sold as new. If you're buying a second-hand Apple Watch, we recommend consulting Apple's official comparison page to see whether it has the features you're most interested in before taking the plunge.
Q: Can I use the Apple Watch with an Android Phone?
No. An iPhone is required to set up an Apple Watch. You cannot use an iPad or Mac to set up an Apple Watch, either.
Q: Can I connect the Apple Watch to a Computer?
Yes. You can charge your Apple Watch by plugging it into your computer's USB port, but it will not fast charge. You cannot transfer data between your computer and Apple Watch this way.
Q: How do I responsibly dispose of my old Apple Watch?
If you're replacing an old Apple Watch, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste.
Q: How do I Update the Apple Watch's Software?
Your Apple Watch will send you a notification when it detects a new version of WatchOS is available. The update will begin automatically the next time your Apple Watch's battery is over 50 percent, and on a charger. You can manually initiate a WatchOS software update via the Watch app on your iPhone.
Q: Will my Apple Watch work without my iPhone?
Yes. The Apple Watch can work independently of an iPhone after it's been set up. If it has a WiFi or cellular data connection, you'll receive notifications on your wrist regardless of your iPhone's location. You'll also be able to access Apple Pay on your Apple Watch when it's away from your iPhone.
Final Thoughts on the Apple Watch
It took several years for Apple to come up with a practical vision for the Apple Watch, but it's finally settled on pitching the smartwatch as a health and fitness accessory. By adding new sensors and additional health-focused features, the company has challenged companies like Fitbit to up their game.
The Apple Watch's ability to receive your notifications at the same time as your iPhone makes it easy to determine whether the information is urgent or ignorable, which can be good for your mental health. The Apple Watch isn't a magic device that's guaranteed to get you into better shape, but it may help you make and maintain healthier habits, which can build up over time.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.