After a rocky start the Apple Watch has become the default smart watch for millions of people. By focusing on two elements: Health & Fitness tracking and managing notifications on your phone, the Apple Watch has carved out a nice niche for itself.
There are great alternatives if you don’t have an iPhone, but the Apple Watch’s integration into Apple’s ecosystem gives it the edge over its competition. You can send and receive iMessages, place or take calls, and even stream music directly to your AirPods using the Watch.
Those technical features are complemented by health tracking hardware that continues to get more sophisticated. You can keep track of your heart rate and sleep automatically, and get notified if the Apple Watch senses something irregular. Newer models let you take an EKG, or check your blood oxygen level without having a standalone piece of hardware. Apple has made sure to say that the Apple Watch is not a medical device, but a “wellness” tool that can track some data you can show to your doctor if something seems wrong.
If you’re interested in getting a smart watch and have an iPhone, the Apple Watch is the best choice. There are many models, and we’ve broken down your options so you can find the best one for you.
What Are The Best Apple Watches?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right Apple Watch for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Screen Size: Older Apple Watches models are available in 38/42mm case sizes, while newer ones are available in 40/44 sizes.
Battery Life: You should expect to get roughly 10 to 18 hours of use from an Apple Watch before it needs to be recharged. You should expect to charge it every day.
Always On Screen: Newer Apple Watches have an always-on display, so you can glance down to check the time without moving your wrist. Older models shut the screen off to conserve battery, and require you to tilt your wrist upward to turn it on.
Wi-Fi Vs. Cellular: Every Apple Watch is available in two configurations: Wi-Fi, which relies on your phone’s cellular connection to receive notifications when you’re not at home, and Cellular, which connects to your wireless carrier’s satellites directly. Cellular Apple Watches are more expensive, and require you to pay a monthly fee for connectivity.
Health Features: All Apple Watches track basic health metrics: steps taken, calories burned, heart rate, and sleep, but newer models have additional sensors for taking EKGs or your blood oxygen level.
Notifications: Every Apple Watch allows you to receive notifications from your phone on your wrist. You can control which notifications get sent to your Apple Watch to avoid being bombarded throughout the day, and running down the battery.
1. BEST OVERALL: Apple Watch Series 6
I’ve been testing the Apple Watch Series 6 for a few weeks, and it’s the one I recommend for most people. It’s available in two sizes: 40mm and 44mm, and Apple says it gets up to 18 hours per charge. In my experience the Series 6’s battery can last up to 24 hours if you enable its “Do Not Disturb” setting, and don’t use its exercise tracking features. This watch has an “Always On” display that’s brighter than the one Apple introduced with the Apple Watch Series 5. I’ve had no problems checking the screen in broad daylight, or well-lit rooms indoors. If you’re coming from an older Apple Watch (especially Series 3 or earlier) or an analog watch, this feature alone makes the Series 6 worth recommending.
On the health side Apple introduced a Blood Oxygen Sensor, which can measure how effectively oxygen is being pumped from your heart and lungs into the rest of your body through its bloodstream. It does this by shining LEDs onto the top of your wrist, and simultaneously using sensors that can measure the oxygen level beneath your skin. A low reading can be an indication that you have a respiratory illness, but Apple says you should only use the Apple Watch as a wellness device, not a health tool.
You can check your blood oxygen level whenever you want using an app on the Watch, but it’ll take random automatic readings throughout the day or night. All of the Apple Watch’s medical data is stored in the Health app available on iOS (iPhone and iPad), so you can check for trends, or show your doctor during your next visit.
While this new sensor is impressive, it’s just the latest improvement Apple has made to its smart watch. The Series 6 also features the EKG reader and fall detection sensors Apple introduced a couple of years ago, and the heart rate sensor available since the original model was released. The Apple Watch Series 6 can give you a pretty impressive set of health data, which you can use to take proactive measures if something looks off.
You’re probably not going to upgrade your Apple Watch very often, so getting the newest, most powerful one available will future proof you for several years. The Apple Watch Series 6 is a fast, well-rounded smart watch, and the one you should seriously consider if you’re interested in more comprehensive health tracking.
2. ENTRY LEVEL: Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch Series 3 was originally introduced in 2017, and it’s a good budget-friendly pick if you’re not sure whether or not a smart watch is for you. You can choose between a 38 or 42mm screen, which makes it a good choice if you have smaller wrists, and Apple says you can get up to 18 hours of use per charge.
The Series 3 can receive all of the notifications from your phone, and allows you to respond to calls or texts from your wrist. You can also initiate text conversations or make phone calls using Siri. Health tracking is the only place where the Apple Watch Series 3 lags behind newer models. It can’t record and EKG, read your blood oxygen level, or detect when you’ve taken a fall. If you’re relying on your Apple Watch for wellness tracking, the Series 3 isn’t the best choice, though it does cover the basics, including sleep and heart rate tracking just fine.
If you’re curious about smart watches, and want one to reduce the number of times you check your phone each day, the Apple Watch Series 3 is still a great option.
3. BEST FOR KIDS: Apple Watch SE
The Apple Watch SE was announced alongside the Series 6, and carrying along many of the great features from that upgraded model. It’s available in 40mm and 44mm sizes, and can get up to 18 hours of use per charge. It has the same tech health and wellness features as the Series 6 except for the blood oxygen sensor and always-on display. These cuts are notable, but the SE holds up remarkably well compared to previous generation Apple Watches. The fact that it has the same processor means this watch should still feel responsive and fast several years down the line.
Apple’s big push with the Apple Watch SE is a feature called Family Setup, which allows you to pair multiple watches to a single iPhone. Previously, each watch would need to be connected to its own iPhone. Through Family Sharing (only available if you get a cellular-edition Apple Watch SE), you can have some control over your child’s Apple Watch.
You’ll be able to monitor their location, choose when they can send and receive texts or calls, and make their watch accessible through a specific set of contacts. With location tracking, you can receive a notification when your child has arrived at a destination, so you can know when they made it to school, or back to your home. All of these features apply if you use Family Sharing to set up an Apple Watch SE for an older relative.
The idea with Family Sharing is letting the person feel (and act!) autonomously, while still getting to check on them if or when necessary. Naturally, the Apple Watch SE is still a good option if you’re interested in getting a smart watch for yourself. It’s a budget-friendly version of the Apple Watch Series 6 that retains all but the highest-end features.