Which Apple Watch Is Best Right Now?
We on the WIRED Gear team (and millions of people around the world) agree: If you have an iPhone, the Apple Watch is the best wearable to go with it. But which version should you buy? Apple launched the Series 8, a new SE, and a rugged Ultra sports watch in 2022. The company has stopped selling last year's Series 7 but you can still find them at online retailers (sometimes for a significant discount), along with older models. All of these watches look pretty similar and share a rotating stable of features. Here, we break down which one is best for you, and whether older models are worth the price.
Be sure to check out our other buying guides, like the Best iPad, Best Smartwatch, and Best iPhone.
Updated April 2023: We added our review for the Apple Watch Ultra and updated prices.
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If you have any doubt as to whether you should get an Apple Watch at all, the SE is Apple's entry-level option. It doesn't have the flashiest standout features, like the ability to check your blood oxygen, check your electrocardiogram (ECG), or measure whether you're ovulating via the temperature sensors. The smaller display is noticeable after a year of testing the larger-screen Series 7, and if you have AirTags, it doesn't have the ultrawideband chip for precise tracking.
But unless you have a specific use case in mind--say, you are trying to get pregnant--you probably don't need those things. The SE is compatible with WatchOS 9, which is where many of the latest and most exciting fitness features show up (as well as the battery-extending Low Power Mode). It has the latest S8 chip that shows up in the Series 8 as well as newer features like Crash Detection to call your emergency contact and emergency responders if you've been in a car accident and are unresponsive for 10 seconds. It also has the newly redesigned Compass app, fall detection, support for international roaming, and works with Family Setup. I like how small it is compared to many other watches, coming in a teeny 40-mm case size, with a nylon back to make it even lighter. If all you want is a basic smartwatch, the SE will serve you--or your nana, or recent college graduate--perfectly well.
Most people hold on to their Apple Watch for a while, which makes buying the latest one a safe bet. The latest Series 8 (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is the best watch for most Apple users, especially people who menstruate or want to track their fertility. The wrist-based temperature sensing feature tracked my skin temperature dropping steadily as I recovered from Covid-19. I haven't had the opportunity to test Crash Detection (and I hope I never will), but that may offer you and your loved ones a little peace of mind.
That said, as usual, if you already own an Apple Watch--especially last year's Series 7 (8/10, WIRED Recommends)--you don't need to upgrade. As I noted with the SE, most of the exciting new features show up in WatchOS 9 and not in the hardware itself. The Series 8 does have all the health features that have been accumulating over the years in the Apple Watches, like blood oxygen level measurements, high and low heart rate notifications, ECGs, and other safety features. If you need any or all of those health features, the new Low Power mode is much more necessary and useful than on the SE. Three new stainless steel finishes also don't hurt.
Apple's new Apple Watch Ultra (8/10, WIRED Recommends) debuted to much fanfare last year. This rugged sports watch is not quite the Garmin killer, but if you enjoy outdoor sports, it's the best Apple Watch for you. The 49-mm case is made from impact-resistant titanium, with a flat sapphire crystal display, and has a host of specialized navigation features, like a new hybrid digital-analog compass app that lets you set waypoints at markers of interest, or backtrack if you get lost while wandering off the trail to pee. Apple also launched features designed to turn the watch into a specialized dive computer late last year.
Certain features seem aimed specifically at weekend warriors, like a precision dual-frequency GPS system that is designed to work well in crowded cities, as well as three built-in microphones with special wind-reduction algorithms so you can take work calls from particularly inconvenient locations. These go hand-in-hand with the Ultra's 2.5-day battery life, which is exceptional for an Apple Watch but still not long enough for my relatively tame weekend backpacking trips. If you own an iPhone and have been switching to a Casio on the weekends, this is the Apple Watch for you.
Apple has dropped last year's Series 7 from the lineup, along with the Series 5 and 6. Last year, I noted that the Series 7 was one of the best sports watches on the market, with better water and dust resistance and updated algorithms, a bigger screen, and a full-size keyboard for texting. When I hold the Series 7 next to the Series 8, the difference in the display size and brightness is negligible. If you can find it on sale for around $300, it's worth buying.
WatchOS 9 works with Series 4 watches and later, so if someone wants to give you one or you can find it significantly marked down, those are also worth considering. As Apple has added its health features one by one to each watch, you should double-check to make sure it has the ones you want. For example, the Series 5 doesn't have SpO2 monitoring, and SpO2 monitoring doesn't work on the Series 6 if the user is under 18 or doesn't have a paired iPhone.
It's been years since we've seen retailers carry the Series 1 or Series 2. You may see them on resale sites, but they are not worth the price. Family Setup works only on Series 4 and above, so you can't pick these up as cheaper options for your old or young family members. The Series 1 isn't waterproof, neither watch has any cellular capability, and neither is compatible with the latest WatchOS version. After many years of recommending the Series 3, we are now giving it the boot as well, as it's no longer compatible with WatchOS 9.
In the past five years, I've never damaged a watch's face or case, and the latest Apple Watches are more durable than ever. However, given that Apple's service pricing is notoriously exorbitant--repairing a watch costs almost as much as buying a new one!--you should consider getting a case and screen protector.
Bigger and more expensive isn't always better. If the case is big and doesn't fit well, it will rattle annoyingly every time you get a notification. I like the Spigen Thin Fit Case ($14) and a screen protector set from Amazon ($10); extras are nice if you mess up the first application. My favorite strap is Nike's woven nylon Sport Loop ($49). Since the battery life still sucks, I would also pick up a power bank ($50) with a built-in Apple Watch charger so you're not caught out with a dead watch. For more suggestions, check out our other guides, like the Best Apple Watch Accessories and the Best Portable Chargers.
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