The Apple Watch is the undisputed champion of the smartwatch world and the clear choice for iPhone users (unless you need multi-day battery life). But that leaves open the question of which Apple Watch is best for you?
The Apple Watch 7 has the largest display ever on the Apple Watch, which makes for a better overall experience, especially for those with larger hands. However, discounts on Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch 3 may tempt you to sacrifice some features to save some money. Finally, the Apple Watch SE gives you yet another affordable Apple Watch option without giving up too many features.
Our Apple Watch buying guide shows you all the differences and similarities between these four models and helps you find which Apple Watch is best for your needs and budget.
Which Apple Watch is the Best: Specifications
Apple currently has three Apple Watch models available for purchase on its site: Apple Watch 3, Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch 7. For this buying guide, I’ll include the Apple Watch 6, which is still available from many other retailers.
Here’s an overview of the basic specs of the four Apple Watch models we cover.
|Apple Watch 312.9-inch||Apple Watch SE||Apple Watch 6||Apple Watch 7|
|Screen (square inches)||0.87, 1.15||1.18, 1.51||1.18, 1.51||1.4, 1.77|
|Case size (mm)||38, 42||40, 44||40, 44||41, 45|
|Processor||Apple S3||Apple S5||Apple S6||Apple S7|
|Storage||8 GB (16 GB with LTE model)||32GB||32GB||32GB|
|Battery life (claimed)||Until 6 pm||Until 6 pm||Until 6 pm||Until 6 pm|
|Mate||1.52 x 1.31 x 0.45 in||1.57 x 1.34 x 0.42 in||1.57 x 1.34 x 0.42 in||1.61 x 1.38 x 0.42 in|
|Weight||0.94 ounces||1.08 ounces||1.08 ounces||1.13 ounces|
|colors||Silver or Space Gray||Silver, space gray or gold||Silver, Space Grey, Gold, Black, Blue or Red||Silver, Space Black, Gold, Midnight, Starlight, Blue, Green, Graphite, Red, Titanium|
*Apple Watch 6 is no longer officially available from Apple, so while the retail price will technically remain $399, buyers should expect to get it for less.
I’ll go into the differences for each Apple Watch, but first let’s take a look at what all four of these models have in common. Somewhat surprisingly, battery life claims have remained the same over the years with all four Apple Watch models running “up to 18 hours,” according to Apple. Each floats a bit above and below that mark, but it’s roughly accurate, so battery life alone won’t be a deciding factor.
The basic fitness features are also identical for these models, with GPS allowing multiple sports tracking regardless of activity. All four models are also “swim-proof,” as Apple puts it, so you don’t have to worry about getting your Apple Watch wet or doing lengths in the pool.
While the Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch 7 introduce some more advanced health monitoring, all four models have heart rate sensors that can potentially identify irregular heartbeats, a feature some said saved their lives.
Finally, while a number of software features are exclusive to the newer Apple Watch models, all four will still work with the latest watchOS 8 operating system. Just as we’ve seen on the iPhone, Apple is the undisputed leader in the smartwatch world when it comes to software support for its devices.
At $279, the Apple Watch SE is the best Apple Watch for most people. Using the same processor as the Apple Watch 5, it offers a significant performance boost over the Apple Watch 3, along with the larger screen size and form factor introduced with the Apple Watch 4.
Apple sticks to the same claims of “up to 18 hours of battery life” for all four Apple Watches we compare, but the truth is they are slightly different. Despite the lack of an always-on screen like the Apple Watch 6 and 7, the Apple Watch SE usually falls short of those watches, while lasting longer than the Apple Watch 3.
From a health tracking perspective, you’re losing the EKG monitor introduced with the Apple Watch 6, so if your heart health is a concern for you, it’s worth considering. Fitness tracking is virtually identical to the more expensive models and supports the latest watchOS 8, meaning you won’t miss out on any other important new features.
While $279 is expensive compared to most fitness trackers, it’s a solid entry-level for a full-fledged smartwatch like the Apple Watch and a much better buy than the Apple Watch 3, both from a hardware and software support standpoint.
Best for: Anyone who wants to get into the Apple Watch ecosystem but can’t afford or don’t want to spend the money for one of the recent flagship Apple Watches. The Apple Watch SE still outperforms the vast majority of smartwatches on the market and given Apple’s track record, you can rest assured that it will continue to be supported for years to come.
The Apple Watch 7 is the pinnacle of Apple Watch hardware today, and while it didn’t get the massive rumored redesign, it does get a very meaningful upgrade from Apple Watch 6 that might be enough to win you over. That’s the new bigger screen.
While the form factor remains nearly identical, measuring just 0.04 inches in length and width, the bezels were almost completely eliminated, allowing the display size of the two models to be increased by 0.22 and 0.26 inches. That may sound insignificant, but it’s an aesthetic and usability improvement that should impact just about everything you do with Apple Watch. It even enabled some features that remain exclusive to Apple Watch 7, such as the full QWERTY keyboard.
The only other upgrade worth mentioning is the increased charging speeds with the new USB-C magnetic charger. It reduces the full charge time to about an hour, about 33% faster than Apple Watch 6 according to Apple. For a device that requires daily charging for most users, that’s a very useful update.
Best for: Upgrading Apple Watch owners who know they’ve bought into the system and will take full advantage of the new features of the Apple Watch 7 or new buyers who don’t care about the budget and just want the best. The Apple Watch 7 isn’t a transformational update from the previous generation, but the new screen feels like the best version of this Apple Watch design, so it’s not a purchase you’ll regret.
See our Apple Watch 7 review
The most affordable Apple Watch the company still sells is the Apple Watch 3, and while the $199 price tag is tempting, I highly recommend avoiding this model. At $80 more, the Apple Watch SE is a much better value.
The Apple Watch 3 was released in 2017 and Apple has done an admirable job of supporting the hardware. However, the 3 is struggling to keep up at the moment and maybe with the latest update with watchOS 8. The 8 GB internal memory in the GPS model (the only model officially on sale in 2022) is a primary concern because it makes updates difficult.
While the battery life, fitness tracking, and basic app support are all fine, the Apple Watch 3’s smaller form factor and display compared to the other three all make for a less friendly user experience. The Apple Watch 3 remains a competent smartwatch today, there’s no reason to pick it up in 2022 with the Apple Watch SE available for $80 more (and often less on sale).
Best for: If you find an aggressive discount ($149 or less) on the Apple Watch 3 and aren’t sure if a smartwatch is something you’ll be using, then it’s definitely worth a try. However, if your budget allows, the Apple Watch SE gives you a much more modern Apple Watch that will be supported for much longer, making it the better value.
The Apple Watch 6 will continue to be an excellent smartwatch in 2022, but only buy it if it is heavily discounted. If you can save $75 to $100 over the Apple Watch 7, it’s a compelling option for those who don’t need the very latest and greatest.
Apple Watch 6 represents a solid upgrade from the Apple Watch SE. It gives you an always-on screen that’s also significantly brighter than the Apple Watch SE and the new ECG monitor and SpO2 sensors. How much you appreciate the latter two depends on whether you lean into the Apple Watch for health monitoring or as a general fitness and notification triage device. But the improvements to the screen are something that every user will appreciate.
I’ll get into the primary upgrades you get with the Apple Watch 7 in the next section, so read on if you’re on the fence. But overall, the experience with Apple Watch 6 is largely the same and if you can find the right deal, it’s still a great buy.
Best for: Apple Watch buyers who want all the latest health and fitness features without spending a lot of money. If you can find the Apple Watch 6 for at least 20-25% below the price of the comparable Apple Watch 7 then it’s a solid value and worth considering if budget is an issue or you’re just not affected by the Apple Watch 7’s updates.