Which Apple Watch should you buy? The range of models, materials, colours and straps was baffling enough even before the new Apple Watch 3 was unveiled, which has made things even more complicated. Here, we help you choose between Apple Watch Series 1,2, and 3, and which models within those will be best for you.

The Apple Watch made a big splash when it launched in 2015, and was one of the hottest Christmas presents that year. It later saw a major software update with watchOS 2, and will soon be running watchOS 4. There have also been plenty of new straps, and some new colour options along the way too.

For those without an Apple Watch or those ready to buy a new one, the big new arrival came in September of 2017, which is when Apple released the Apple Watch Series 3 range, including the first cellular model - find out more in our Series 3 preview.

But which model of Apple Watch is right for you, your needs and your budget? Which edition, size, case material, colour and strap should you go for? Which is the best value-for-money choice? With dozens of combinations available, the choice can be overwhelming.

In our Apple Watch buying guide, we explain all the options and help you decide a) which Apple Watch you want, b) which Apple Watch will suit you, c) which Apple Watch you can afford, and d) where to buy your Apple Watch from.

Where can I buy an Apple Watch?

You can now pick up the Watch Series 1 from an Apple Store (or order one online), where you can also buy the very expensive Apple Watch Edition, with pre-orders for the Series 3 launching on 15 September, with watches in stores from 22 September. Prices range from £249 to figures well over £1,000. Note that Apple is no longer selling the Gold models of Apple Watch Edition, which were available for up to £13,000 when the original Apple Watch series was launched.

You can also buy the Apple Watch from third-party retailers, including John Lewis, Currys, and Very, where you may still be able to find the Series 2 models for a while yet even though Apple itself has stopped selling them.

For more information on picking up the latest model, check out our dedicated guide to where to buy the Apple Watch 3.

The latest models

Apple now sells the Apple Watch Series 1, Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch Nike+, Apple Watch Hermès and Apple Watch Edition (the latter three are all part of Series 3, too).

With five different watches to choose from, or six if you include the Series 2 that is still on sale at some third-party retailers, it is really tricky to know where to start.

Do I need cellular?

If you want to buy a Series 3 model, the first big choice is between the regular GPS watch and the more expensive cellular model, which uses an electronic SIM card to be able to make phone calls and get online independently of your iPhone. The cellular model also comes with a red accent on the crown to differentiate it, and costs £70 more - plus you'll have additional costs for data usage, and an additional £5 per month surcharge on EE, currently the only UK network to offer the cellular Apple Watch.

Whether you opt for the regular or cellular (GPS or GPS + cellular to use Apple's terms) mostly depends on your likely usage. If you're always likely to have both your iPhone and Watch on you at the same time, you really won't see any benefit from the cellular connectivity, so it won't be worth the cost.

However, if you like the idea of being able to leave your phone at home and still take calls and check emails - say when you're exercising - then you could benefit from the new version's improved independence.

The final factor is that red crown. It's only included on the cellular models, so if you're not a fan of the design tweak you might want to steer clear.

Special editions

The Apple Watch Nike+, Apple Watch Hermès and the Apple Watch Edition all have the same internals and specifications as the Apple Watch Series 3, but have distinct aesthetic appearances. And you can choose between aluminium and stainless steel for the case of the Apple Watch Series 3.

The Apple Watch Nike+, which is made from aluminium, is aimed at those who love running and are looking for a sport-orientated smartwatch. We see the Nike+ as an Apple Watch Sport replacement.

The Apple Watch Hermès and the Apple Watch Edition are both aesthetically different to the standard Series 3 watch, too. The Hermès is made with stainless steel, with a unique strap and a Hermès stamp on the back, while the Apple Watch Edition is made with white ceramic, giving it a unique design. Both of these watches start at more than £1,000, and are only available for the cellular model.

Apple Watch Series 1 vs Apple Watch Series 3

If you're not looking for the latest model, there's the Apple Watch Series 1, which is a rebadged version of the original Apple Watch that has a new upgraded processor.

The Apple Watch Series 3 features built-in GPS, optional cellular internet, a faster processor, a faster wireless chip, IP67 water and dust resistance, a 50 percent brighter screen, and a barometric altimeter - as you can see, there are plenty of improvements compared to the Series 1.

Both the Series 1 and Series 3 come with a dual-core processor. It's important to note, though, that the Series 1 comes with a S1P dual-core (not to be confused with the single-core S1), while the Series 3 houses an S3 dual-core processor, which should deliver substantially faster performance.

Looking at the materials used, the stainless steel version of the Series 3 has the sturdier sapphire glass screen, while the Series 1 is protected with Ion-X glass. It should be noted that the aluminium models of the Series 3 use the same Series 1 glass material.

Price-wise, the Series 1 starts at £249, while the Series 3 starts at £329 for the regular model and £399 for cellular. Prices increase when you start changing size, straps and materials, though it's worth noting that it's only available in Silver or Space Grey aluminium.

There is only the Sport Band available for Series 1 models, but if you want a different strap you can purchase it separately, but that will of course cost you a few more pennies - all the same straps are compatible regardless of your watch model.

Given the price difference of just £80 between the Series 1 and the base Series 3, it's hard not to recommend the later model. It's not only faster, but has several features the older model is lacking, is available in more colours, and will enjoy Apple software support for longer - it's a better bet unless you really can't stretch your budget beyond £249.

Should I upgrade from the original Apple Watch?

If you've already got an Apple Watch, it's worth considering whether it's really necessary to upgrade to Apple Watch Series 1 or Series 3.

Bear in mind too that recently it was reported that Apple has extended the usual 1 year warranty of first-gen Apple Watches to three years following reports of swelling and expanding batteries. If you think yours is affected, it might be worth checking your warranty before upgrading. 

The answer is yes if you are super-excited about the idea of built-in GPS, cellular connection, water resistance and a brighter screen, all of which are most useful for sporty types. If those things sound appealing but nothing special, it's then worth considering whether the speedier dual-core processor is really worth the extra investment.

The dual-core S1P processor is up to 50 percent faster than the single-core processor found in the original Apple Watch, while Apple claims the S3 processor is another 70 percent faster again. This will make a difference when considering the speed at which apps are launched. The chips also feature a better GPU, making images look better and render faster.

So it all depends on how sluggish you feel your current Apple Watch is. We think it's worth popping into an Apple Store if you can to test the speed of the Series 1 and Series 3 to see if the difference is noticeable enough to you personally.

If you haven't already done so, we'd recommend updating your Apple Watch to watchOS 3 - and watchOS 4 when it comes out on 19 September - before you consider upgrading too, as it brings a healthy boost to the user interface and the speed of the watch and its apps.

Should you buy the 38mm or 42mm size?

The Apple Watch comes in two sizes of case: 38mm or 42mm. The general interpretation is that these are designed to suit an average woman and an average man's hand/wrist dimensions respectively, but you needn't feel bound by that: there are no other changes to the design of the watch other than size - no explicitly masculine/feminine decorative elements etc. (Also, a bloke can wear a woman's watch if he wants to. Don't let anyone tell you different!)

The 38mm/42mm measurements represent the (approximate) height of the watch face, in millimetres. That's a bit weird, because when categorising sizes of smart devices we usually refer to the size of the screen, measured diagonally from corner to corner, in inches. (The iPhone 5s is a '4-inch smartphone', for instance.) But Apple seems to have decided to do things differently this time.

The Series 3 models are also ever so slightly thicker to accommodate the new tech - but probably not enough to notice. The full and exact dimensions of the various sizes of Apple Watch are:

'38mm Series 3': 38.6mm x 33.3mm x 11.4mm
'42mm Series 3': 42.5mm x 36.4mm x 11.4mm
'38mm Series 1': 38.6mm x 33.3mm x 10.5mm
'42mm Series 1': 42.5mm x 36.4mm x 10.5mm

Weight obviously varies according to the material.

Apple Watch buying guide: Which size should you get?

The size of a wearable is a crucial, critical factor, and because of this, we would recommend that you postpone the buying decision until you can be sure which size is right for you. That might mean buying in store rather than ordering online; if you can get to an Apple Store or a reasonably well-appointed reseller then they will have watches in stock that you can try on before buying.

Finally, bear in mind that the available configurations of material/colour/strap are slightly different for the 38mm and 42mm sizes - so your choice in this category will slightly reduce your options in others. We strongly recommend that you prioritise size above other considerations, however. Don't be like the shoe shopper who goes one size too big because they're 90 percent off - the pain isn't worth it!

Which colour do you want?

The material used determines what colour you can find the Apple Watch in. In aluminium you'll find it in white, space grey, gold or rose gold. In stainless steel and black stainless steel. The ceramic version naturally represents its white material and is only available in that colour.

The colour per material, doesn't affect the price, so pick whichever version you like best. You will however notice a difference in price between the 38- and 42mm versions.

Pick a strap

Your choice of strap does affect the price - fairly drastically, in the case of the regular Apple Watch, Apple Watch Edition, and Apple Watch Hermes.

The straps are:

  • Sport Band
  • Sport Loop
  • Nike Sport Band
  • Woven Nylon
  • Classic Buckle 
  • Modern Buckle
  • Leather Loop
  • Milanese Loop
  • Link Bracelet
  • Hermes Single Tour Strap
  • Hermes Double Tour Strap
  • Hermes Cuff Strap

Apple Watch buying guide: straps

Each of these is available in multiple colour options, which vary according to the model of Apple Watch you've selected.

(There are some nice third-party straps out there too. We've collected our favourite first- and third-party Apple Watch straps in a separate feature on the best Apple Watch straps.)

Prices

Let's look at the full set of prices, when watch version, size and strap are taken into account:

Apple Watch Series 1 prices

Case Strap 38mm 42mm
Silver Aluminium White Sport Band £249 £279
Black Aluminium Space Grey Sport Band £249 £279

View Apple Watch Series 1 buying options on Apple Store.

Apple Watch Series 3 prices

Case Strap 38mm, GPS 42mm, GPS 38mm, cellular 42mm, cellular
Silver Aluminium Fog Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Gold Aluminium Pink Sand Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Grey Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Black Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Silver Aluminium Seashell Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Gold Aluminium Pink Sand Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Dark Olive Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Stainless Steel Soft White Sport Band n/a n/a £599 £649
Space Black Stainless Steel Black Sport Band n/a n/a £599 £649
Stainless Steel Milanese Loop n/a n/a £699 £749
Space Black Stainless Steel Space Black Milanese Loop n/a n/a £749 £799
Silver Aluminium Pure Platinum/Black Nike Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Anthracite/Black Nike Sport Band £329 £359 £399 £429
Silver Aluminium Bright Crimson/Black Nike Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Space Grey Aluminium Black/Pure Platinum Nike Sport Loop n/a n/a £399 £429
Stainless Steel Hermès Noir Gala Leather Rallye n/a n/a n/a £1,299
Stainless Steel Hermès Marine Gala Éperon d'Or n/a n/a £1,199 £1,249
Stainless Steel Hermès Indigo Swift Double Tour n/a n/a £1,299 n/a
Stainless Steel Hermès Fauve Barenia Double Tour n/a n/a £1,299 n/a
Stainless Steel Hermès Indigo Swift n/a n/a n/a £1,199
Stainless Steel Hermès Fauve Barenia n/a n/a £1,149 £1,199
Stainless Steel Hermès Ébène Barenia Deployment Buckle n/a n/a n/a £1,399
Stainless Steel Hermès Fauve Barenia Deployment Buckle n/a n/a n/a £1,399
White Ceramic Soft White/Pebble Sport Band n/a n/a £1,299 £1,349
Grey Ceramic Grey/Black Sport Band n/a n/a £1,299 £1,349

View Apple Watch Series 3 buying options on Apple Store.

Docks, stands and chargers

The Apple Watch comes with a small, basic charger, but you may wish to buy an additional dock that allows you to charge overnight while also displaying the time. For our picks, see our roundup of the best Apple Watch stands and charging docks.

Which watch face should I use?

That's up to you, but it's a settings option, not a buying one. You don't need to specify a watch face when you buy. You can change the face whenever you like, so experiment and see which one you like best.

There are a variety of watch faces which are further customisable, in terms of colours and so on. To find out more, visit our how to change the watch face on Apple Watch tutorial.

Apple Watch buying guide: watch faces