When the Apple Watch first became available in 2015, the decision on which model to get was pretty simple — either a 38mm or a 40mm screen. Seven years later, that buying decision is a bit more complicated, especially with three models of the Apple Watch currently in the lineup.
So yes, you have an iPhone, and if you want the best smartwatch for it, you should get an Apple Watch. Then you have to factor in price and the most important features to you. The Apple Watch Series 3, SE, and Series 7 all run the latest version of watchOS, can track activity and most workouts, and let you take phone calls from your wrist and respond to messages, but there are some things that only certain watches can do. Namely, last long enough for sleep tracking and health metrics like taking an ECG.
Our Testing Models
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch SE
- Apple Watch Series 7
Like we do with all products, we’ve spent months — in some cases years — rocking all of the Apple Watches currently in the lineup. We tested how the screens perform outdoors, worked up a sweat on an indoor cycle, acted like super spies taking calls in public, and used the smartwatches day in and day out. We used them as you would and pushed them to the limits.
And after wrapping up our testing, we’re now laying out our top picks for an Apple Watch. All to help you find the best Apple Watch for your needs.
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If you’re after an Apple Watch with a display that is never off, can take an ECG (electrocardiogram) or track Blood Oxygen levels, supports fast charging, and offers the largest display, then the Series 7 is your best bet. It’s Apple’s flagship watch and our favorite in testing across any smartwatch … regardless of the OS it is running.
Design and Display
The Series 7 still keeps the same classic square design of the Apple Watch with softer, more rounded edges. The screen is stretched to the edges, clocking in at 41mm or 45mm, and slightly pushing over the boundaries.
The Retina Always-On display makes it easy to see the time, view details in a photo, and get the most vivid immersion on the screen. It’s an excellent display, and since it’s larger, you can also take advantage of an on-screen QWERTY keyboard, which we promise is very handy for everyday use. You can quickly swipe out a response. The watchOS 8 is a bit customized here with apps that feature larger buttons and show more on the screen with the extra real estate to fill up. Something as simple as calculating a tip in the calculator app is much nicer here than on a smaller watch. Apple’s also increased the overall possible brightness, making it easier to see details in direct sunlight.
Like all other Apple Watches, the Series 7 uses identical mechanisms and dimensions for watch bands. So if you’re upgrading from a previous Apple Watch, your bands will work just fine. The Series 7 upgrades durability with dust resistance, a stronger crystal over the display to reduce cracking occurrences, and it is still swim proof with a WR50 rating. You can also pick from several colors: green, blue, Starlight, Midnight, and (PRODUCT) RED.
The most significant advantage here is that even when your wrist is down on your side (aka your arm not raised), you can see your watch face, clearly tell the time, and even view widgets on your screen. Then when you lift your wrist, it will fully illuminate. But this always-on trait makes this Apple Watch the most like an actual watch. In comparison to the Series 6, you can view more on the Series 7 even when looking at it from extreme angles.
The Apple Watch Series 7, like the SE and Series 3, can track core activity metrics like steps taken, active exercise minutes, total distance moved, and flights climbed. Via the Activity app, you can work to close your rings every day and track a workout easily. The Fitness apps let you track basics like an indoor or outdoor run, stretches to circles, yoga, and even track dance workouts. It can also detect when you’re working out and suggest you start recording one.
And as the flagship Apple Watch, the Series 7 has the most advanced sensor stack, including a third-generation heart rate sensor. This allows you to track your heart rate, take an electrocardiogram from your wrist, track blood oxygen levels, and alert if an irregular heart rhythm is detected. It’s important to note that an Apple Watch, like other smartwatches, is not a medical device, and you should always consult your doctor.
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While all Apple Watches can technically do sleep tracking, the Series 7 is the best fit. You can expect all-day battery life, but the Series 7 steps things up with the ability to fast charge. You can get close to 80% in just 40 minutes, and a quick 15-minute charge yields about 50% power. You can quickly recharge before bed to track your sleep or recharge in the morning once you wake up. The updated charging cable is included with the Apple Watch Series 7 and you’ll need to pair it with a wall brick that’s at least 20 watts.
The Series 7 offers plenty of speed from a custom S7 SiP and it is most noticeable if you’re coming from an Apple Watch Series 4 or older. Applications open much faster (in less than second in most cases) and it’s a heir bit quicker than the Apple Watch SE. We also have no concerns about the watchOS 7 not receiving future software updates.
Who It’s Best For
So the Apple Watch Series 7 is our top pick for an Apple Watch — it’s the most feature-filled, offers the largest display, supports fast charging, and has the most health features. If you’re brand new to Apple Watch and want the best, it’s the correct choice. And if you’re coming from a previous Apple Watch, like a Series 4 or Series 5, we’d opt for the Series 7.
- Apple Watch Series 7, 41mm GPS ($329, originally $399; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch Series 7, 45mm GPS ($359, originally $429; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch Series 7, 41mm GPS + Cellular ($429, originally $499; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch Series 7, 45mm GPS + Cellular ($459, originally $529; amazon.com)
If you’re brand new to Apple Watch, want to spend a little less, or are cool without an always-on display, the Apple Watch SE is your best bet. It does everything you’d expect from an Apple Watch — track activity, handle communication tasks, a modern design — in a cheaper package that is still a performer.
Design and Display
With the Apple Watch SE, you get either a 40mm or 42mm display that doesn’t stretch as close to the edges. It’s still a Retina display that’s easy to view and lets you complete tasks, but the biggest difference is that it’s not always on. So when your wrist is down or you’re not actively using the Apple Watch, the SE will shut the display off. It’s easy to turn back on with a tap or raise of your wrist, but if you’re coming from an Apple Watch that features an always-on display, it’s a hard adjustment to go back to one without it.
You still get access to a myriad of watch faces, even ones where you can set a photo or a digital clock with a number of widgets that you can customize around it. And the Apple Watch SE still supports all bands available and comes in a rounded square design. It’s light on your wrist and really quite comfortable. You can get the Apple Watch SE in gold, silver or space gray as well. And for charging, you’ll use the standard Apple Watch charging cable and can expect about 16 hours (or all day) battery life.
The Apple Watch SE is fully capable of tracking workouts — whether they be a fiesta dance party, a marathon, a quick yoga session or a morning mediation — and also monitoring your health. The SE can alert if you fall and track your heart-rate through second-generation heart rate sensors. You won’t find Blood Oxygen or ECG here though.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind, the Apple Watch SE offers very similar performance to the Series 7 from a custom Apple-made S5 SiP 64-bit dual core processor. watchOS 8 runs really well here: applications open quickly, you can swiftly respond back to messages, and complications (widgets on the homescreen) update quickly.
Who It’s Best For
If you’re brand new to Apple Watch and want the most value for your money, we’d consider the Apple Watch SE. It gives you everything you’d expect in a modern design that supports all watch bands for a starting price of $279. It’s equally a great choice for kids, since you can use the Family Setup function.
- Apple Watch SE, 40mm GPS ($249, originally $279; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch SE, 44mm GPS ($279, originally $309; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch SE, 40mm GPS + Cellular ($299, originally $329; amazon.com)
- Apple Watch SE, 44mm GPS + Cellular ($329, originally $359; amazon.com)
At one point, the Series 3 would have been our budget or value pick, but it’s showing its age now more than ever. Applications can take a bit longer to run, the battery runs out faster, and not all features are supported on it. Still though, if you’re alright with that along with a shorter runway for future software updates, the Series 3 delivers a basic Apple Watch experience. We would push you to consider an Apple Watch SE for $70 more over the $199 MSRP for the Series 3.
- Apple Watch Series 3, 38mm GPS ($169, originally $199; walmart.com)
- Apple Watch Series 3, 42mm GPS ($199, originally $309; walmart.com)
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you get more faces for the Apple Watch?
Unlike Android smartwatches running wearOS, there isn’t a store front for watch faces on the Apple Watch. Rather, Apple curates a collection of watch faces that you can set on the Apple Watch itself (hold down for a few seconds on your current watch face and swipe) or within the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. In the companion app, you can tap Watch Faces on the bottom to view a gallery of all the currently available watch faces.
From time to time, Apple releases new watch faces that will appear as available on your Apple Watch — just make sure your watch is running the newest software. For instance at the end of May 2022, Apple released the “Pride Threads Watch Face.”
Is the Apple Watch Series 3 still worth it?
As we noted above, the Apple Watch Series 3 is best for someone who wants to spend the least and is alright with a basic Apple Watch experience. It likely won’t be supported by future software updates for much longer and does show its age with slower load times for more intense tasks.
What bands are compatible with the Apple Watch?
One of the best things about the Apple Watch is that a band for an original 38mm Apple Watch will fit the 40mm SE and the 41mm Series 7. Same for the original 40mm Apple Watch band fitting a 42mm SE and a 45mm Series 7.
Apple sells a number of official Apple Watch bands like the Sport Loop, Solo Loop, Braided Solo Loop, Sport Band, Leather, and Stainless Steel options. You can also find a bevy of other bands that work just fine from Nomad and Casetify, while also many options on Etsy, Amazon, and from small businesses.
Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.