Best Apple Watch: get this recommended iPhone smartwatch
There's one overall best Apple Watch recommendation, but last year's model is also a great pick at a better price
It’s been a few months since the mid-September Apple Watch 8 release date, and the Apple Watch Series 8 price is being discounted more and more often, making this mid-cycle period a great time to buy. Despite increasing competition from the smartwatches Samsung and Google have made, the Apple Watch is still the best smartwatch for anyone in the Apple ecosystem.
➡️ Making the Apple Watch comparison
🤔 Identify your need: are cellular and fancy sensors important?
🔋 Decide where battery life lies in your priority list
📏 Consider the size of the watch (as a general rule, smaller = cheaper)
✨ Case materials: do you care about scratch resistance and a glossy finish?
Apple Watch GPS vs. Cellular
📱 Cellular can be used to make calls without your phone nearby
However, Apple Watch with cellular can drain your battery faster
📡 Apple Watch GPS connection still tracks exercise without your phone
💰 Apple Watch LTE connection costs $100 more, requires a monthly fee
☎️ You can make phone calls w/Apple Watch GPS – if your phone is nearby
1. Apple Watch Series 8 (Aluminum, GPS)
Best Apple Watch overall
✅ It’s the cheapest watch with the most features
✅ Supports fast charging
❌ The starting price of $399 still doesn’t go down easy
Price: $399+ | Size: 41mm & 45mm | Processor: Apple S8 chip | Connectivity: GPS, Cellular (optional), Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, Ultra Wideband | Materials: aluminum or stainless steel | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Silver, Product Red (aluminum), Graphite, Silver, Gold (stainless steel) | Display: Always-on Retina OLED | Brightness: 1,000 nits | Storage: 32GB | Dimensions: 41 x 35 x 10.7 mm (41mm), 45 x 38 x 10.7 mm (45mm) | Weight (41mm): 31.9g (GPS), 32.2g (Cellular) | Weight (45mm): 38.8 (GPS), 39.1g (Cellular) | Weight (Stainless Steel): 42.3g (41mm), 51.5g (45mm) | Sensors: altimeter, blood oxygen, ECG, 3rd gen optical heart sensor, temperature sensors, accelerometer, ambient light, microphone
The GPS-only Apple Watch Series 8 in aluminum is the workhorse of Apple’s premium smartwatch line, and it’s the best Apple Watch overall. The company has packed in all the advanced sensors as more expensive variants – the same blood oxygen sensor, advanced heart rate sensor, car crash detection, ECG sensor, and even the temperature sensor, makes it one of the best smartwatches for women or anyone with a menstrual cycle.
It’s also the best fitness watch if you aren’t concerned with battery life, tracking metrics like heart rate, pace, your route and more, with auto-pauses for running and cycling so you don’t need to stay on top of it to get the most accurate representation of your workout.
It’s not all upside for the aluminum case, though – the metal is more easily scratched, as is the Ion-X-strengthened glass, than the harder materials of the stainless steel variant (but sapphire glass is more prone to shattering). Still, you get far more color options with aluminum, and if you just want the features, it’s challenging to advocate for fancier materials, especially if you upgrade regularly.
2. Apple Watch SE (2nd Generation, GPS)
Best budget Apple Watch
✅ Significantly cheaper than the Series 8
✅ Still has important fitness features
❌ Smaller screen
Price: $249+ | Size: 40mm & 44mm | Processor: Apple S8 chip | Connectivity: GPS, Cellular (optional), Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.3 | Materials: aluminum | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Silver | Display: Retina OLED | Brightness: 1,000 nits | Storage: 32GB | Dimensions: 40 x 34 x 10.7 mm (40mm), 44 x 38 x 10.7 mm (44mm) | Weight (40mm): 26.4g (GPS), 27.8g (Cellular) | Weight (44mm): 32.9g (GPS), 33g (Cellular) | Sensors: altimeter, 2nd gen optical heart sensor, accelerometer, ambient light, microphone
While the last round of Apple Watch SE was a bit of a head-scratcher thanks to a higher $279 price tag many of us didn’t expect and continued availability of the $199 Apple Watch Series 3. Apple righted the ship a little this year, finally killing off its oldest wearable and making the 2022 Apple Watch SE the best budget pick at $249. That’s $30 cheaper than the company was asking for the previous gen model.
You lose a lot of bells and whistles picking the SE over a Series 8, but Apple made the right choices, here. The smaller retina display is still big enough, and it’s still a great workout companion. You won’t get the always-on display or car crash detection, and there are no sensors giving you blood oxygen levels, ECG readings or tracking your temperature, but not everyone benefits from, or cares about, those features more than the money saved by not having them.
3. Apple Watch Ultra
Best fitness watch
✅ Up to 60 hours of battery
✅ Most accurate GPS tracking of all the Apple Watches
❌ It ain’t cheap
Price: $799+ | Size: 49mm | Processor: Apple S8 chip | Battery Life: Up to 36 hours | Connectivity: GPS, Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, Ultra Wideband | Materials: titanium | Colors: Natural | Display: Always-on Retina OLED | Brightness: 2,000 nits | Storage: 32GB | Dimensions: 49 x 44 x 14.4 mm | Weight: 61.3g | Sensors: altimeter, blood oxygen, ECG, 3rd gen optical heart sensor, gyroscope, water temperature, depth gauge, accelerometer, ambient light, 3-microphone array
The Apple Watch Series 8 is a fantastic fitness watch. But when it comes to hardcore, long-term wilderness hikes or endurance races, the Apple Watch vs Garmin has been at a disadvantage, thanks to poor battery life and less accurate GPS.
The Apple Watch Ultra aims to change that. At $799, it’s pricey for an Apple Watch, but when compared to similar, heavier GPS smartwatches like the $699 Garmin Fenix 7 or the $899 Garmin Epix 2 – both popular purpose-built, rugged outdoor watches – it makes sense.
What makes the Apple Watch Ultra the best fitness watch is its similar functionality to those watches while also offering greater ease of use and connectivity within the Apple ecosystem, as well as a cellular connection by default (with a monthly fee to activate, of course). Unlike other watches from the company however, it has dual-band GPS, giving it far better location accuracy, and up to 36 hours of battery life – or up to 60 in low power mode. It even has a bespoke app called Oceanic Plus, built by Huish Outdoors, that helps divers with safety guidance.
Features like this help make the Apple Watch Ultra a contender for best dive watch under $1,000, the best hiking watch, even the best cycling watch, as the accurate GPS could go a long way to supplant pricey, cumbersome bike computers.
4. Apple Watch SE (GPS + cellular)
Best Apple Watch for kids
✅ It needn’t be tethered to a phone
❌ The cellular experience of the Apple Watch leaves something to be desired
Price: $299+ | Size: 40mm & 44mm | Processor: Apple S8 chip | Battery Life: Up to 18 hours | Connectivity: GPS, Cellular (optional), Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.3 | Materials: aluminum | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Silver | Display: Retina OLED | Brightness: 1,000 nits | Storage: 32GB | Dimensions: 40 x 34 x 10.7 mm (40mm), 44 x 38 x 10.7 mm (44mm) | Weight (40mm): 26.4g (GPS), 27.8g (Cellular) | Weight (44mm): 32.9g (GPS), 33g (Cellular) | Sensors: altimeter, 2nd gen optical heart sensor, accelerometer, ambient light, microphone
If you have a kid you’d like to keep in touch with, but don’t really want to give them a phone, the best smartwatch for kids is the Apple Watch SE with cellular. Not only is it more affordable than the cheapest iPhone, it’s also less of a distraction than a pocket computer with access to the whole internet, countless games and social media apps.
In 2020, Apple introduced Family Setup, a feature allowing a person to set up an Apple Watch without a tethered iPhone. You’ll be able to set limits on who can be contacted and a new feature called Schooltime allows you to limit how the watch can be used during class, to limit distractions.
The Apple Watch, though, is still not the best cellular experience. It can be slow to receive a phone call, leading to missed calls when the watch only briefly rings, if at all. It’s a worthwhile trade-off, but it can be
5. Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + cellular)
Best low-key upgrade pick
✅ Almost identical to the Series 8
✅ Available at a significant discount
❌ You don’t know what happened before you bought it
Price at launch: $499+ | Size: 41mm & 45mm | Processor: Apple S8 chip | Battery Life: Up to 18 hours | Connectivity: GPS, Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, Ultra Wideband | Materials: aluminum or stainless steel | Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Silver, Product Red (aluminum), Graphite, Silver, Gold (stainless steel) | Display: Always-on Retina OLED | Brightness: 1,000 nits | Storage: 32GB | Dimensions: 41 x 35 x 10.7 mm (41mm), 45 x 38 x 10.7 mm (45mm) | Weight (41mm): 31.9g (GPS), 32.2g (Cellular) | Weight (45mm): 38.8 (GPS), 39.1g (Cellular) | Weight (Stainless Steel): 42.3g (41mm), 51.5g (45mm) | Sensors: altimeter, blood oxygen, ECG, 3rd gen optical heart sensor, accelerometer, ambient light, microphone
If you’re looking to stretch your dollar out, the best low-key upgrade pick is the Apple Watch Series 7 cellular version. It launched at $529 for the 45mm version, but you can still find a new Series 7 with cellular for as little as $429, or even less if you don’t mind a refurbished model. This won’t be the case for much longer though, as retailers sell through the last of their stock.
The Series 8 offers only the slightest upgrades over last year’s model, notably car crash detection, temperature sensor and an additional low power mode setting that reduces the frequency of GPS and heart rate readings for longer life during extra long workouts (think marathons and up). Both Watches can see serious battery life improvements with the standard low-power mode though, lasting up to 36 hours on a charge.
Apple says the S8 chip that drives the Series 8 is 20% faster than the previous generation chip, but when you look at the fine print on its website, a footnote says this is based on comparisons between a pre-production Series 7 watch and a 1st generation Watch SE, which has the S5 chip from the Apple Watch Series 5 – a confusing note that seems to imply the CPU is unchanged this time around, as it was from the S6 to the S7.
Why you should trust my Apple Watch recommendations
I’ve owned some version of the Apple Watch since a busted Series 0 I bought used in 2017, and I’m now on my fourth watch (a refurbished Apple Watch Series 7 with cellular, if you must ask). I’ve gone on many deep dives of the differences between the watches, using that knowledge to inform my own purchase decisions and those of others. I use the watch to track my sleep and exercise, control smart home devices, message and call, and so much more. It’s one of the most useful devices I own, and I want to help you get the best watch for your situation.
Let me help you pick an Apple Watch
If you have specific questions, send a message to The Shortcut Twitter account and I’ll help you find the best Apple Watch for your needs. Everyone’s situation is unique and different, and I only have so much space here to cover specific use cases, so if you want to know something more, just ask.
Published: December 1, 2022
Updated: February 6, 2023