Which Apple Watch should you buy? Is the top-of-the-range Series 6 worth its premium price tag, or should you save money and buy the new lower-priced Apple Watch SE? Is it still worth buying the Apple Watch Series 3? Or is a good deal on a discontinued Apple Watch model worth looking out for?
Even if you know which Apple Watch model you want deciding on the size, case material, colour and strap is a minefield - with dozens of combinations available. The choice can be overwhelming, and that's before you even consider the vast range of pricing that may take your purchase well outside of your budget if you aren't careful.
In our Apple Watch buying guide, updated with the new Apple Watches that arrived in autumn 2020, we explain all the options, and help you decide which model is right for you and where to get the best price.
The Apple Watch range
Apple currently sells three different types of Apple Watch: the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series 6.
Back to the current range though. Right now you can buy the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch SE or the Apple Watch Series 6. Some Apple Watch features are shared by all three watches, other features aren't available on the Apple Watch 3, and some features are only available on the Apple Watch Series 6. We will go into more detail about the different features below.
The case of the Series 3 and the SE is available in aluminium only, while the Apple Watch Series 6 comes in aluminium, stainless steel, and titanium.
In addition to the case material each watch offers numerous colour finishes. The aluminium verison of the Series 6 is available in silver, space grey, gold, blue, and red. The stainless steel version comes in silver, graphite and gold. The titanium model is available in titanium and space black.
For the SE there is only the option of silver, space grey and gold. The Series 3 offers only silver and space grey.
There are also multiple straps available for each watch, each of which drives up the price further. There are also Nike's sporty straps and fashion straps from Hermes to consider.
There are two screen sizes for each model. The Series 6 and the SE come with 44mm or 40mm cases, while the Series 3 has the option of 42mm or 38mm because the bezels are much larger.
In the case of the Series 6 and the SE you can also choose whether you want to pay extra for cellular connectivity, or if you're happy with GPS only. There is no cellular version of the Series 3 now (unless you buy second hand).
Where can you buy an Apple Watch?
You can pick up the Apple Watch SE, Series 6 and Series 3 direct from Apple. Prices start at £199/$199 and top out at £1,449/$1,499 for the luxury models (e.g. Apple Watch Hermès, Silver Stainless Steel Case with Single Tour Deployment Buckle).
You can also buy the Apple Watches from third-party retailers, such as John Lewis, Currys, Argos and Very. These sellers may still offer models which Apple itself has stopped selling, such as the Series 5, although stock is likely to be limited.
In the case of the majority of Apple products there is a really simple pricing structure. You select a standard product, and then have the opportunity to add optional extras and upgrade components.
When it comes to the Apple Watch it is not as simple. There are so many options. In fact we would say that there are too many options. Because of this it can actually be really difficult to get a reasonable idea of what an Apple Watch might cost you. Sure you can get an Apple Watch 3 for £199, but what if you wanted the Apple Watch 6 with a nice leather strap? How much would that cost you.
You can go to Apple's site and create your own Watch combination in Apple's widget, but to make it easier for you to see at a glance what the various Apple Watches cost, take a look at the charts below.
Prices for the Apple Watch Series 3
The Series 3 is available in aluminium in a silver or space grey finish with a white of black strap.
The Watch SE is available in aluminium in a silver, space grey or gold finish with the Solo Loop, Sport Loop, Braided Solo Loop, Sport Band, Modern Buckle, Leather Link, Leather Loop, Milanese Loop, and Link Bracelet.
The Watch 6 is available in aluminium with a silver, space grey, gold, blue or red finish. It's also available in Stainless Steel in a silver, gold or space black finish. And it's available in titanium in a titanium or space black finish.
The following straps are available: Solo Loop, Sport Loop, Braided Solo Loop, Sport Band, Modern Buckle, Leather Link, Leather Loop, Milanese Loop, and Link Bracelet.
Like we said, with all these combinations to choose from, it's tricky to know where to start.
Which Apple Watch?
The first big decision is whether you want to pay substantially more for the new Series 6 model, if the new Apple Watch SE will meet your needs, or if you want to save money and settle for the old Series 3.
Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 3?
There's no denying that £199/$199 is an appealing price tag, but our advice would be to go for the SE if you can possibly afford it, as you'll get the accumulated benefits of three years' worth of upgrades. The Series 3 is also less future-proofed, and will stop getting watchOS software updates sooner.
The SE offers a number of features missing from the Series 3 and starts at £269/$279. For your extra £70 you get a newer design - the Series 3 is a similar size to the SE, but the screen is smaller (42mm or 38mm compared to 44mm or 40mm) this is because the 3 has bigger bezels.
The Series 3 also lacks Fall Detection, doesn't have a compass, has an altimeter (but it isn't always on as with the other Watches), and the speaker and mic aren't as advanced as that in the SE.
If you were thinking that at £199/$199 the Series 3 might be a good choice for your offspring, bear in mind that it doesn't support Family Setup, which is a feature that might appeal if you were thinking of setting one up for a child to use.
Also note that because the Series 3 no longer comes with a Cellular option you won't be able to use it to make calls or to get data when you don't have your iPhone handy. Series 3 also features a W2 wireless chip rather than the W3 in the SE and 6.
Should you buy the Apple Watch SE?
Having discredited the Apple Watch Series 3, what about the SE? Starting at £269/$279 it's not much more than the Series 3, but if you spend a little more you could get a even better Watch: the Apple Watch Series 6, which starts at £379/$399.
As we've explained above, the Apple Watch SE offers a number of features that the Watch 3 doesn't, but what features are lacking from the SE that you could get in the Series 6?
Both the SE and the 6 offer the same 44mm or 40mm case size, and both are slimmer than the Series 3. As we mentioned already, Series 6 and the SE support Family Setup, which could be useful if you have kids, and both have an always-on altimeter.
The Series 6 features an Always-On display, which the SE lacks. This means that you will be able to see the time on the watch face at all times - rather than only when you raise your wrist.
The Series 6 also offers a way to measure blood oxygen and take an ECG, two features that could be life saving. That's not to say that the SE lacks other life saving features: like the Series 6 (and the 3 for that matter) the SE can alert you to an irregular heart rhythm and give you notifications of a high or low heart rate.
Essentially the SE lacks an always-on display and it can't measure blood oxygen or take an ECG. If these aren't features that matter to you the SE would be a good choice.
Should you buy the Apple Watch 6?
Of course if you can spend even more than the Series 6. As we've explained, the Series 6 has a lot in common with the SE, but there are some important differences.
The Series 6 trumps the SE with a S6 chip. The SE has the same S5 chip as the now discontinued Series 5 had. The Series 6 also has a U1 chip for ultra wideband, the SE and 3 lack this chip.
The Series 6 has an always-on display. You still wake it up with a tap or by raising your wrist, but even when 'asleep' it shows a dimmed, simplified and less frequently refreshed version of your watch face.
The key features of the Series 6 are the means to calculate measure blood oxygen and take an ECG. Taking an ECG was a feature in the predecessor, the Watch 5, but it's absent from the SE.
The other thing that the SE and Series 3 lack is the wealth of choice when it comes to materials - you can choose from multiple materials and colours for the clock itself. Of course with all the choice there is the potential to spend a lot of money on your Watch - for example, if you fancy the titanium watch with a link bracelet it will cost you up to £1,099/$1,149. But some people will be happy to spend that - and more - on a watch. There really is something for everyone.
The next big choice is between a standard 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. As well as the higher initial price, you'll have additional running costs for data usage and network fees.
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 - when you're exercising, for example - then you could benefit from cellular.
The Apple Watch Nike+, which is made from aluminium, is aimed at those who love running and are looking for a sport-oriented smartwatch.
The Hermès is made with stainless steel, with fancy straps and an Hermès stamp on the back. The various versions look lovely but start at more than £1,000. Note that these are only available with cellular.
Upgrading from older models
We've compared the Series 3, SE and 6, but if you've still got a Series 0 (ie the original model), 1 or 2 any of the new releases will feel like a truly dramatic improvement.
Our experience suggests that at this point the original Apple Watch is basically obsolete: all the copies we own have slowed down drastically. To give an idea of the differences in speed between the older generations, we tried turning them off and seeing how long they take to power on again:
Starting from the very first model, here are the highlights of what each model added to the formula:
'Series 0' (2015): Officially just called Apple Watch, or 'first gen'. The original: where it all began.
Series 1 (2016): Essentially a rebadged version of the original. But it added a faster processor.
Series 2 (2016): A beloved upgrade. Increased battery life and screen brightness, and added GPS and better waterproofing. And a still faster processor.
Series 3 (2017): One big new (optional) feature: cellular connectivity. And an even faster processor.
Series 4 (2018): Bigger screen, thinner body, more sophisticated heart sensors and fall detection. And the fastest processor yet.
Series 5 (2019): Always-on display, compass, extra onboard storage. New S5 processor appears to offer the same performance as 2018's S4, although power-management improvements help with battery life
SE (2020): Always-on altimeter, Family Setup
Series 6 (2020): Always-on altimeter, Family Setup, Blood oxygen sensor, faster processor, U1 chip
As you'll appreciate, moving up more than one step at once means you get multiple sets of advantages.
Going from Series 2 to Series 6, for instance, means you'll be getting the option of cellular for the first time as well as the new design and ECG feature, and the always-on display and compass. Upgrading from Series 1 to the SE adds GPS and a better screen.
You might be able to find a good deal on an older Series 5 watch below:
Apple Watch 5
Should you buy the large or small Apple Watch?
The Series 3 comes in two sizes of case: 38mm or 42mm. The Series 6 and the SE are available in 40mm or 44mm.
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 man can wear a 'woman's watch' if he wants to. Don't let anyone tell you different!)
The measurements represent the (approximate) height of the watch face, in millimetres. That's a bit odd, 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 11 is a '6.1in smartphone', for instance.) But Apple seems to have decided to do things differently for this product category.
Weight varies according to the material, size and whether or not cellular is included.
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 depending on the size - 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 Apple Watch?
The material used determines what colour you can find the Apple Watch in.
Apple Watch 3
Aluminium: silver, Space Grey
Apple Watch SE
Aluminium: silver, Space Grey, gold
Apple Watch Series 6
Aluminium: silver, gold, Space Grey, blue, red
Stainless steel: plain, gold, Graphite
Titanium: plain, Space Black
The colour, unlike the material, doesn't affect the price, so pick whichever version you like best, and which compliments the strap you select.
Which Apple Watch Strap?
As you will have seen from our pricing guide above, there are a lot of different straps to choose from. Here's what each strap costs if you purchase it separately.
Solo Loop, £49/$49
Sport Band, £49/$49
Sport Loop, £49/$49
Braided Solo Loop, £99/$99
Leather Link, £99/$99
Milanese Loop, £99/$99
Modern Buckle, £149/$149
Leather Loop, £99/$99
Link Bracelet, £349/$349
Each of those options comes in multiple colours and finishes. The possibilities are endless.
That's not even including the Apple Watch Hermès and Nike options.
Nike Sports Band, £49/$49
Nike Sports Loop, £49/$49
Hermès Leather Leather Attelage Double Tour £489/$489
Hermès Leather Leather Attelage Single Tour £339/$339
You can style up your Apple Watch the way you like it on Apple's website here.
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 chargers.