Editor’s note: Due to a patent dispute with medical device maker Masimo, new Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 units sold in the US no longer have the blood oxygen feature. Older models are unaffected. You can tell if you have a unit with the blood oxygen feature disabled if the part number ends in LW/A.
It used to be easy to pick an Apple Watch. All you had to do was choose whether you wanted the larger model or the smaller one. Then Apple added optional cellular connectivity. Then, a more affordable Watch SE (now in its second generation) and, in 2022, the rugged Apple Watch Ultra (also now in its second generation). Suddenly, there are lots of options.
Because the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 are here, perfectly good older versions of the Apple Watch will get discounted as retailers try to empty their inventory. You may also see more refurbished versions of these older models pop up. If you’re interested in more premium materials, like stainless steel, this is a great way to get a fancier version of last year’s watch. You won’t be missing out on too much, either. The Series 7, 8, and 9 have been iterative updates in terms of hardware — and the bulk of new features come from software updates.
Buying refurbished is one way that you may be able to upgrade from an older model without giving up blood oxygen. Due to a patent battle with Masimo, new Series 9 and Ultra 2 models sold in the US after January 18th, 2024, no longer have this feature. This is not a big deal for most people, but if that feature is important to you, older watches and Series 9 and Ultra 2 units sold by Apple before January 18th still have it for the time being. It’s murkier for third-party retailers, as they’re selling whatever inventory they currently have.
So much choice can lead to analysis paralysis. But don’t worry. I’ve tested every single version of the Apple Watch you can buy right now — in addition to basically every other fitness watch and smartwatch on the market— and can steer you in the right direction.
Should you get an Apple Watch?
The Apple Watch is the best overall smartwatch for iPhone users. Many smartwatches are better than the Apple Watch for hardcore athletes, even with the Ultra models in the mix. But other watches fall short when it comes to productivity, safety features, controlling your smart home, and interacting with other Apple devices and services. And the Apple Watch has the most robust third-party app ecosystem of any smartwatch on the market.
By their nature, wearables are incredibly personal devices — and you won’t get the benefits of an Apple Watch if you don’t wear it regularly. The last thing you want is to spend hundreds of dollars on a thing that ends up collecting dust in a drawer. The best way to avoid this is to stack the deck in your favor and prioritize comfort. Before you try to start mulling over which Apple Watch model you should get, take a second to figure out which size and strap material will best fit your wrist.
The SE and Series watches come in two sizes each. The SE comes in 40mm and 44mm, while the Series 7, 8, and 9 are 41mm and 45mm. The larger models are better for readability, while the smaller ones are more comfortable for those with petite wrists. Both the SE and the Series watches have aluminum cases, but the Series has a stainless steel option, too. Most people will be fine with aluminum, but if you’re clumsy or very active, you’ll benefit from the extra durability of stainless steel. You might also just like the look of stainless steel better — and that’s valid since watches are a personal piece of tech. Just be prepared to pay a few hundred bucks more for that.
As for straps, we recommend the nylon sport loop, as it’s the most breathable option, has the easiest clasp, and is less irritating than the silicone options, which is great for sensitive skin. If you want more fashionable options, we recommend checking out Amazon or Etsy for a wider variety of styles and more affordable pricing.
You’ll want to check third parties for leather accessories, too. With the Series 9, Apple announced it will no longer make leather accessories in a bid to achieve carbon neutrality. Apple does have a suede-like FineWoven alternative, but it’s expensive, and in my experience, the material is extremely polarizing. Most Verge staffers agree it works better on the watch than on the phone case, but save yourself some grief and feel it out for yourself at an Apple Store before buying.
The Ultra and Ultra 2 both come in one size — 49mm — and with titanium cases. They come with their own special straps, too: the trail loop, alpine loop, and ocean loop. As their names suggest, they’re geared toward runners, hikers, and divers, but you can pick whichever one suits your fancy. We recommend the trail loop, as it’s the lightest and most versatile of the three. All the Ultra straps work with any 44mm or 45mm Series watch, and the Ultra is compatible with any 44mm or 45mm Apple Watch strap.
And while the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch you can get as an iPhone user, you can also always check out our fitness tracker buying guide.
Apple Watch Series, SE, or Ultra?
The Apple Watch Series 9 features a brand-new S9 processor that enables offline Siri use, brighter displays, and the double tap gesture. It also has the second-gen ultra wideband chip for Precision Finding if you have an iPhone 15.
The main hardware update in the Series 9 and Ultra 2 compared to last year’s models is that they’re powered by the S9 processor. This enables offline Siri use, brighter screens, and the new double-tap feature. They also have Apple’s second-gen ultrawide band chip for precision finding — but keep in mind you’ll also need an iPhone 15 model for that feature.
We recommend the Apple Watch SE for younger people and first-time smartwatch buyers. If you’re upgrading from an earlier Apple Watch, you want an always-on display, or you want more advanced health tracking, you should consider the Series 9. And if you want the biggest and brightest screen, the best durability and battery life, and even more advanced fitness features, we recommend the Ultra 2.
The Series 9 is Apple’s flagship smartwatch. Compared to earlier models, it’s going to get you the fastest processor, quick charging, a larger display, and all the latest sensors. Prices start at $399 for the 41mm version and $429 for the 45mm. Adding LTE connectivity will add $100 to the price, plus whatever your carrier charges for the service.
The second-gen SE has a nylon composite back, which helps shave $30 off the original’s price. You can get a cellular version, and it supports many of the same advanced features as the Series 7, like fall detection, emergency calling, Fitness Plus, Apple Pay, and Family Setup. The biggest difference is that it lacks an always-on display, the EKG sensor, the temperature sensors, and the SpO2 sensor. The display is also slightly smaller on both sizes of the SE. It starts at $249 for the 40mm and $279 for the 44mm. Adding LTE will tack on an extra $50 in addition to your carrier’s fees.
The latest SE borrows a few features from the Series 8, including the same chipset and Crash Detection feature, but it’s an otherwise subtle upgrade from the last-gen SE.
To be perfectly honest, if you’re young and healthy, you’re not really missing out on EKG or SpO2. This is especially true since the SE’s heart rate sensor is still capable of providing abnormal heart rate alerts. Right now, Apple’s SpO2 features are limited to spot checks. There’s not much you can do with that information, and unlike the EKGs, this is only cleared for general wellness purposes. It will not be able to replace a fingertip pulse oximeter, and you should never use it in this way.
The main purpose of the EKG sensor is to enable atrial fibrillation detection — and if your doctor’s given you a clean bill of health, you will likely only use this feature once or twice. According to the American Heart Association, the biggest risk factors for AFib are advanced age, underlying heart conditions, high blood pressure, family history, and sleep apnea, among other lifestyle choices. If this doesn’t apply to you, the SE is still going to give you an excellent health tracking experience and all the same smart features. Young, first-time buyers may as well save the extra $150 — so long as the lack of an always-on display isn’t a deal-breaker.
There are some situations where opting for the Series 9 is the better choice, however, like if you want an always-on display or need to have the latest and greatest. The larger and brighter display also provides much better readability for anyone with bad eyesight. It’s also the better choice if you have a heart condition or are at a higher risk of developing AFib.
The last-gen Apple Watch Ultra remains one of Apple’s more rugged models. It has a thicker, bigger build than the Series 8 and Series 9, precise GPS tracking, and sensors that can measure metrics for diving. It only comes in one size and configuration, and it supports both GPS and LTE.
The rugged Apple Watch Ultra 2 comes in one size: 49mm. It offers the brightest display of any wearable in Apple’s lineup, along with better battery life and improved performance. It sports Apple’s new S9 SiP, too, allowing you to take advantage of Apple’s new double tap feature.
The Ultra 2 now sits atop the lineup as Apple’s premium smartwatch. It’s visually distinct from both the Series and SE — and at 49mm, it’s the biggest of them all. Not only that, it has increased durability, water resistance, and a raised lip to protect the flat display. It also has an additional water temperature and depth sensor for divers, three microphones, and two speakers, which enable the Siren. It’s also got the Action button, which can be programmed for various activities, pause workouts, and trigger the Siren. At $799, this is the most expensive Apple Watch, but every model comes equipped with LTE capability. If you have an Ultra and are wondering if you should upgrade to the Ultra 2, the answer is no. It’s too soon, and there’s not enough of a difference. We recommend the Ultra 2 for new buyers only. The Ultra is still a fine watch, and while inventory lasts, this is a good opportunity to find it on sale. It’s still worth getting if it’s at least $100 less than the Ultra 2.
If battery life is your highest priority, getting either Ultra is the best choice. In testing, we got up to 60 hours without Low Power Mode enabled. However, if you use about one hour of GPS tracking a day or take calls, you’re more likely to get around two days. It’s also the better choice if you frequently hike, dive, or run trails. While marketed as a hardcore watch for explorers, in our opinion, it’s more of an aspirational watch for weekend warriors and intermediate athletes — or anyone who wants to be at that level.
You’re not going to beat either Ultra on battery life, but you can stretch out the battery life on the Series 4 or later with watchOS 9’s new Low Power Mode. You can even sleep track with Low Power Mode on, though it’ll turn off background health sensors.
If you have smaller wrists, you may want to opt for the Series 9 as it has fast charging and is more comfortable to wear long-term. Faster charging comes in clutch when you’re about to head to bed and you’ve only got 15 percent battery. Also, if you’re the type that values futureproofing, the Series 9’s hardware will be able to support newer features for a longer period of time thanks to its newer processor. This is why folks who love their watch and are looking to upgrade from a Series 4 or older should also pick the Series 9. If you’re already in the habit of wearing the watch daily, you’ll get more mileage out of it as the SE is more of a gateway device, and the Ultra is overkill for the average joe.
The best Apple Watch if you’re on a budget
The latest SE borrows a few features from the Series 8, including the same chipset and Crash Detection feature, but it’s an otherwise subtle upgrade from the last-gen SE.
The new Watch SE is the way to go for people who want to futureproof their hardware without breaking the bank (so long as you’re okay forgoing a larger display). You’re getting the same processor as the Series 8 and original Ultra, plus Crash Detection. You’ll be able to hold onto it for longer, and it’ll get you a better trade-in value if next year you decide you want to upgrade to a Series model.
While the new SE is an excellent watch, it’s not always the right choice. It’s meant to be a gateway watch, so it’s best suited to folks who are completely new to the Apple Watch and want to spend as little as possible. If you’re looking to upgrade from an older watch but don’t want to pony up for the Series 9, there’s another option: buying a used or refurbished Apple Watch.
Buying secondhand devices is also better for the environment and a more affordable way to get more expensive materials. Materials like sapphire glass, stainless steel, or titanium can add hundreds to the price of a new watch. It’s also a good way to save money if you’re just not excited by the Series 9’s features but want more than what the new SE offers.
It’ll take some patience to find the best price and the model you want. After all, you’re limited by what’s available. However, there are several sites that offer older models. Sometimes you can also find deals and sales as well. If you’re worried about getting scammed, look for deals recommended by sources you trust (cough, cough, Verge Deals). Apple also sells its own refurbished models, which come with a full Apple warranty and are generally in a “like new” condition, though the selection can be limited, and you likely won’t pay less than a new SE. Sites like Back Market will also let you sort by condition and obtain a 12-month warranty.
If you’re considering a used or refurbished model, we recommend the Series 7 or Series 8 because they’ll get you a larger screen for readability. We also recommend that you use $250 as a benchmark since that’s the price of a new base model Watch SE. With that said, if you’re getting premium materials, such as a stainless steel model, going a little higher is fine. Do not get a refurbished Series 3 or older. Although you can find them for $100 (sometimes less!), they can’t run the latest software and even struggle to update the latest software they do support.
The best Apple Watch for kids
The new SE for 2022 borrows a few features from the Series 8, including the same chipset and Crash Detection feature, but it’s an otherwise subtle upgrade from the last-gen SE.
If you want your child to have an Apple Watch, we recommend picking a cellular Apple Watch SE or, if you can find one, a refurbished Series 4, 5, or 6 with cellular. All of these watches come in smaller sizes than the Series 7, 8, or 9, which will likely better fit their wrist. Also, the lower price will give you better peace of mind if you have a rambunctious kid.
Since you’re buying for children, you’ll likely want to use Family Setup, as it will give you greater parental controls. (You can read our review of the feature here.) However, there are technical specifications that you’ll need to match in order to use it. You’ll need a cellular version of the device, and it must at least support watchOS 7. Again, do not get a Series 3, even if you find it floating around for less than $100. Although it supports watchOS 8, Apple’s support page states that you need a Series 4 or later or an Apple Watch SE for Family Setup.
If you opt for the Family Setup route, not every feature will be available. While you can get Apple Pay and certain health features, you will not get the following: health data sharing, respiratory rate, irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKG, Cycle Tracking, Sleep, Blood Oxygen, Podcasts, Remote, News, Home, and Shortcuts.
The best Apple Watch for older relatives
The Apple Watch Series 8 introduced Crash Detection, temperature sensors that enable menstrual cycle tracking, and is capable of running watchOS 10. The Series 9 is out now, but you aren’t missing out on much by going with this heavily discounted previous-generation model.
This can be a tricky one, but we recommend a cellular Series 7 or 8.
For starters, the larger screen is much easier on the eyes. You can also increase the text size to be larger than on the SE or older Apple Watches. The always-on display aids accessibility, especially if arm mobility is a consideration. You’ll also get the full suite of health features, including irregular heartbeat alerts, walking steadiness, EKGs, fall detection, and emergency calling. If you’re buying for a relative with dexterity issues, you may want to consider the Series 9 for its double-tap feature.
You can use the Ultra, but you should keep its size and weight in mind. Depending on your loved one’s wrist size and health, it may not make sense. The 45mm Series 7 or 8 isn’t that much smaller, but it is much lighter.
If your older relative has an iPhone and you’re hoping to use this for health reasons, we also don’t recommend Family Setup. That’s because you cannot use features like irregular heart rhythm notifications, EKG, and health data sharing. If your relative doesn’t have an iPhone, however, Family Setup is a fine option. You’ll still get high and low heart rate notifications, walking steadiness, and fall detection.
Update January 22nd, 11:47AM ET: Updated to add extra information about the Apple Watch ban and blood oxygen feature.