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If you have an iPhone and want the best companion wearable, the Apple Watch is a no-brainer. It delivers a premium smartwatch experience, is one of the best fitness trackers you can buy, and offers unique health monitoring tools that can positively impact your wellness.
Our pick as the best Apple Watch is the Apple Watch Series 9; it features a fast processor chip, enhanced screen brightness, and a handy new single-handed gesture that improves its accessibility. For advanced athletes, we recommend the Ultra 2; it offers up to 36 hours of battey life and unique tracking features for hikers and cyclists.
While each Apple Watch has plenty in common — like Siri and the latest Apple Watch operating system — differences in price, sensors, and features will ultimately determine the best Apple Watch for you.
Top picks for the best Apple Watch
Best overall: Apple Watch Series 9 – See at Amazon
Apple’s latest flagship smartwatch offers a large always-on display and a unique new Double Tag Gesture along with a speedy processor and the latest sensors.
Best overall for less: Apple Watch Series 8 – See at Amazon
Apple dropped the Series 8 from its lineup upon the release of the Series 9, but if you can find it on sale for under $300, it’s worth considering. Though the Series 9 debuted a few new updates, the Series 8 offers a near-similar experience.
Best for athletes and adventurers: Apple Watch Ultra 2 – See at Amazon
The Ultra 2 is Apple’s biggest and most powerful smartwatch, featuring a durable design, nearly double the battery life of the Series 9, and a variety of advanced activity tools designed for outdoor athletes.
Best budget: Apple Watch SE (2022) – See at Amazon
The second-gen Apple Watch SE is a quality entry-level pick that runs on the same processor as the previous generation Ultra and Series 8. While it lacks an always-on display and some newer health features, it’s ideal for first-time or casual Apple Watch users.
The Apple Watch Series 9 is our picka s the best wearable in Apple’s lineup not because it’s a huge upgrade over its predecessor, the Series 8, but because it delivers one of the finest smartwatch experiences there is. No other wearable offers the same premium combination of smartwatch functionality, fitness and health tracking capability, and overall value as the Series 9.
Although the watch carries over much of what was already native to the Series 8, it did still introduce a few new features. These include a fast new processor chip, on-device Siri access, SmartStack functionality, and a brighter display. Other additions include updated hiking and cycling feedback, more mental health tools, and a new ultra-wideband chip that greatly improves location accuracy.
While those upgrades are useful, my favorite new feature is the Double Tap Gesture which allows you to interact with the watch by double-tapping your thumb and index finger. Doing this controls an app’s primary button, so you can answer or hang up a phone call, start or stop a timer, or snap a photo while in the camera.
The brighter screen is also a nice new touch, as this allows for better visibility in high-lighting conditions. The screen can also dim to one nit, which is especially useful while in a movie theater.
Another new feature I found highly useful was the new Smart Stack display, which is essentially a customizable group of widgets accessible on the watch’s home screen. These can include a glance at the weather, whatever calendar events you might have for the day, or even a snippet of the news.
The Series 9 is available in the same sizing options as the Series 8, which means it’s still compatible with all the best Apple Watch Series 9 bands, including the best designer Apple Watch bands and the best Apple Watch bands for working out.
The sum of these parts makes the Series 9 a powerful smartwatch. The new Double Tap Gesture, brighter screen, Smart Stack display, and improved health and fitness tracking tools make it noticeably more capable than the Series 8 — and give it the title of being the best Apple Watch you can buy.
Read our full review of the Apple Watch Series 9.
Although Apple discontinued the Series 8 in favor of the Series 9, it’s still the same do-it-all wearable that nearly stands toe-to-toe with the new flagship. Slim bezels, check. Smooth performance, check. Always on display, check. All of Apple’s latest health sensors, impressive battery life, and safety features like Crash Detection? Check, check, and check.
Better yet, the Series 8 is now the best discounted Apple Watch, costing roughly $319 for the 41mm model and $379 for the 45mm model, which puts it between the SE and Ultra models in terms of price and capabilities.
A display with an always-on option may sound minor but it’s a quality-of-life feature that makes a big difference. It means you can glance at your watch to tell the time or check a notification without making a wrist gesture to wake the screen. It’s handy whether you don’t want to appear rude by checking your watch, or simply don’t want to deal with inconsistent gesture recognition, which sometimes happens with the Apple Watch SE.
It also features Crash Detection, which is designed to automatically contact emergency services in the event of a severe car crash. Otherwise, the Series 8 houses most of Apple’s latest sensors. The Series 8 is even compatible with a variety of the best Apple Watch bands, like rubber sport bands, metal bands, and designer options from Hermes or Coach (and make sure you clean your bands often, too).
Generally, there’s a lot to love about the Apple Watch’s latest operating system, too, watchOS 10, which is also compatible with the Series 8. The watch supports fast charging, which makes a meaningful difference if you need a quick top-off before you set off. All told, there’s not a ton of difference between the Apple Watch Series 9 vs. the Series 8, so if you’re able to find the Series 8 at a solid discount, it’s worth every penny.
Read our full review of the Apple Watch Series 8.
The second-generation Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn’t represent a drastic improvement over its predecessor but it did usher in a few new features designed specifically for the outdoor user. These include the brightest screen of any Apple Watch which allows for improved visibility in bright light conditions, an upgraded altitude range, and new water sports features for scuba diving and freediving.
The Ultra 2 also shares some of the new features debuting on the Series 9 such as the new Double Tap Gesture, the new S9 processor chip, and on-device Siri access. The Double Tap Gesture, specifically, is a great new feature that improves the wearable’s accessibility. With this feature active, users can simply double-tap their thumb and index finger to interact with the watch, be it to start or stop an alarm or pick up or end a phone call, among others.
Much of the rest of the Ultra 2 is rolled over from the original model, including its overall design which again features a corrosion-resistant titanium casing and a 49mm screen. Though it features a raised lip around the display to reduce the risk of cracks and scratches, we do recommend picking up one of the best Apple Watch screen protectors to further protect the watch.
Battery life is again a major highlight of the Ultra 2 as it’s capable of lasting upwards of three days on a single charge, which is roughly double what we’ve gotten out of the Series 9. The exact amount of battery life depends on how often the GPS is used, and whether the Always-On display is on, but the difference in the frequency of charging the Ultra 2 compared to the Series 9 is apparent (be sure to calibrate your Apple Watch, as well).
Arguably the Ultra line’s best feature, the unique Action Button, returns and functions the same on the Ultra 2 as it did on the previous model. It still is capable of starting and stopping workouts or being programmed to sync with a variety of shortcuts.
The sum of these parts may not be enough to sway the casual user into spending $800 on the watch, but it remains a highly valuable investment for avid outdoor enthusiasts and serious athletes.
And if you already own an Ultra, or picked up the new Ultra 2, do take a look at our guide on the best Apple Watch Ultra 2 bands.
The Apple Watch SE is surprisingly affordable for such a feature-packed smartwatch and is, by far, the best Apple Watch for folks on a budget. It’s just as capable as the Series 8 and Ultra for tracking fitness, sleep, checking notifications, taking calls, and making sure you’re OK with health and safety features like Crash Detection, Fall Detection, heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and more.
It compromises slightly on design with thicker borders around the display but we never found that it looked dated during testing. It’s available in both 40mm and 44mm options.
If you’re considering the Apple Watch SE, you’re most likely looking at the Series 8, too. The most significant difference between the Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch Series 8 is whether you’re willing to pay more for a bigger display with an always-on option, plus electrocardiogram and skin-temperature sensors. Those looking for Apple’s latest and greatest in health sensors should upgrade to the Series 8.
If those tools don’t interest you, the SE is the best budget Apple Watch that’s an ideal and affordable option.
For first-time buyers, the Apple Watch SE will make you wonder how you ever lived without one. It’s incredibly convenient to get notifications, send texts, make calls, and customize the Apple Watch face with all the widgets and information you find useful — and it does all this without you needing to pull out your phone.
If anything, opting for the SE lets you get a better idea of the Apple Watch’s baseline features starting at $249. From there, you can figure out if features like always-on display and the latest health sensors are worth the upgrade. If not, then the SE is the best Apple Watch to buy.
Read our full review of the Apple Watch SE 2022.
Even though it’s possible to find refurbished versions of the Apple Watch Series 3 for around $100, we wouldn’t recommend it, namely because the Series 3 is discontinued and no longer supports the latest versions of WatchOS. It should go without saying that we don’t recommend the Series 1 or 2 either.
The Series 4 still has some life in terms of support and performance, but it’ll likely lose support soon — perhaps as early as September 2023 when Apple announces new Apple Watch models.
If you can find Series 5 or 6 for between $150 and $200 refurbished, they both include an always-on display, which is a major advantage over the Series 4, and even the current SE. Plus, they’ll have more life in terms of support and performance than the Series 4.
You can even find the first generation Apple Watch SE for $200 new from Walmart. Even if you’re spending $100 more than you would on a refurbished Series 3, it poses significantly better value with its newer processor and sleeker display.
There are many reasons to buy one of the best Apple Watches, and understanding them can help you hone in on what to look for. Apple Watches are excellent for fitness and health tracking, as well as streamlining routine tasks and giving you access to your phone while it’s in your pocket.
For health and fitness tracking, you’ll want to review which model offers what sensors. All the best Apple Watch models include a heart rate monitor, as well as the latest gyroscope and high-g accelerometer that power Apple’s Crash Detection feature.
The Series 8 and Ultra have expanded capabilities, including temperature sensors for ovulation tracking. Ultimately, you may decide that features like these are the deciding factor, and want to look into the best fitness trackers instead.
For day-to-day tasks, you’ll more or less get the same experience thanks to each watch supporting the latest WatchOS software. But if you want an always-on display, which we think could make or break a decision, you should consider the Series 8 as the best Apple Watch for you. Likewise, if you want the biggest screen and the best battery life, there’s the Ultra.
After that, it’s deciding whether you want the smaller or larger models of a specific Apple Watch series. It’s mostly down to personal preference and your comfort levels, and it makes no difference to battery life. Larger screens do make it easier to read and control with on-screen items, but smaller models are still large enough to offer a good experience.
We can assess the best Apple Watch in a relatively short amount of time thanks to our extensive personal experience with the wearable, as well as reviewing them professionally through the generations.
The best way to test Apple Watches is to wear and use them daily with an iPhone as if they were our own for at least a week, often longer. We focus on ease of use, performance, usefulness, features and sensors, battery life, and how their price relates to the overall experience.
During testing, we assess all of these aspects during various activities, like a workout, running errands, lounging, sleeping, and traveling (when possible). We actively test notifications, calls, messages, settings and options, and customization, and we note where an Apple Watch excels or where it lacks.
We don’t perform tests that could damage our review unit, or ourselves (Crash Detection). At the same time, we don’t take special care of our Apple Watch review units at all, and we subject them to typical wear and tear from normal usage.
We also look at how the new models compare to older models and lay out the benefits of upgrading from various older models. Looking at the specific model changes and upgrades year-over-year helps us narrow down which is the best Apple Watch.
One of the Apple Watch’s best features is its ability to use a variety of different watch straps and band types. This allows you to swap the band to something best suited to a specific activity or event, such as a sports band for working out or a metal band for wearing to work.
The bands are easy to swap out, too. With a simple press of two buttons on the underside of the Apple Watch, the current strap slides out, allowing a different band to slot in.
For style inspiration, check out our guides to the best Apple Watch bands:
- The best Apple Watch bands
- The best Apple Watch Series 9 bands
- The best metal Apple Watch bands
- The best leather Apple Watch bands
- The best designer Apple Watch bands
- The best Apple Watch Ultra bands
- The best Apple Watch Ultra 2 bands
- The best Apple Watch bands for working out
Be sure to pick up one of the best Apple Watch screen protectors, too.
What is the difference between GPS and GPS + Cellular models?
An Apple Watch GPS-only model lets you carry out tasks like receiving text messages, answering phone calls, and receiving notifications when it’s connected and close to your iPhone via Bluetooth or WiFi. GPS-only models are cheaper than cellular models.
A GPS + Cellular Apple Watch offers increased connectivity with the addition of built-in cellular. That means you can receive text messages, answer calls, and stream music — even if you don’t have your iPhone with you. You just need to add the Apple Watch to your current carrier plan. Most carriers charge $10 a month for an Apple Watch cellular plan.
Does the Apple Watch use data?
Only the GPS + Cellular Apple Watch models with a separate data plan use data from your carrier if you don’t have your iPhone nearby. Otherwise, Apple Watches are simply extensions of your iPhone and don’t use any more data than you would on your iPhone if it’s nearby.
Do Apple Watches work with Android?
The short answer is no. An Apple Watch will not pair seamlessly with an Android phone. Even if you get a GPS + Cellular model that doesn’t rely on an iPhone connection, an iPhone is required for setup. You also need an iPhone to download apps onto it.
While the Apple Watch is one of the best smartwatches, Android users should instead consider purchasing one of the best Android smartwatches to use something that’s 100% compatible with their phone.
Is the Apple Watch waterproof?
No Apple Watch is “waterproof” but they are water resistant, which means they can sustain splashes and submersion down to a certain depth. The SE and Series 9 can go down as far as 50 meters, or around 164 feet. The Ultra 2 supports depths of 100 meters, or 328 feet, as well as 40 meters (131 feet) for recreational dives.
What is the best Apple Watch for kids?
If you want a way for your kid to stay connected without giving them a smartphone, an Apple Watch could be your answer. For kids, the best Apple Watch we recommend is the 40mm SE GPS + Cellular model. You can use Family Setup, which allows you to choose what apps and services your kids can access, and who they can call or send messages to.
Is the Series 8 outdated with the release of the Series 9?
No, not at all. Although Apple doesn’t sell the Series 8 anymore, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer supported. This is especially true considering the fact the Series 8 is compatible with the new operating system, WatchOS 10, that debuted alongside the Series 9 and Ultra 2. This means that many of the new software features that debuted on the new models will also be available on the Series 8 once it upgrades to WatchOS 10.
How often should I upgrade my Apple Watch?
This depends on a few different factors. First, is there a new feature native to one of the later Apple Watch models that you’d like to make use of? For intstance, the new Double Tap Gesture that released on the Series 9 and Ultra 2 is only able to be used on those models.
You may also consider upgrading if your watch isn’t compatible with the latest operating system. Regarding the new WatchOS 10, any Apple Watch that is a Series 4 or newer is compatible.
Another reason you may want to get a new Apple Watch is if you’d like to upgrade from the Series line to the Ultra line. In this scenario, even users of the Series 7 may consider upgrading to the Ultra in order to take advantage of its unique features like its longer battery life, the useful Action Button, and the bigger design.