The best Apple Watch may not be the one you first think. While we've now seen the release of the Apple Watch Series 8, it's a pretty close call in terms of which one we ranked highest.
Of course, we've listed some of the best Apple Watches in this list, from the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch Series 6, to the Apple Watch SE. Some of the older versions such as the Apple Watch Series 3 have now been bumped off this list since newer versions provide greater features, but that doesn't mean they still don't have a lot to offer.
For the full rundown of the features that we rate most, check out the list below. And if an Apple Watch isn't quite what you're looking for, you can check out our guide to the best smartwatches for some great competitor brands.
Best Apple watch 2023
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The Apple Watch Series 7 remains the best smartwatch on the market and, coincidentally, also the best Apple Watch on the market. That's no surprise – it's like the Series 6, but gently improved, and other watches haven't surpassed it in the meantime.
As we say in our Apple Watch Series 7 review, it "uses its bigger screen to great effect, giving a genuine upgrade over older models or the Apple Watch SE." If you have a Series 6, there's no real impetus to upgrade, you'll be pleased to hear. We'd actually say that's probably true for Series 5 users too – though if you have the cash and are keen on having the pulse oxygen sensor and faster charging, we certainly wouldn't blame you.
However, the temptation to upgrade will be strong for anyone with Apple Watch 4 and earlier. You'd be stepping up to getting the Always-On screen as well as the pulse oxygen sensor, and improved sensors in lots of other ways too, including more accurate heart rate sensing and a much better compass for directions. Plus the faster charging.
The Apple Watch 7 may not be a revolution, but that's okay – it's the best smartwatch so far, building on what Apple's done before, and making it even more accessible and useful.
The Apple Watch Series 8 builds on this and further refines what makes the Apple Watch the best smartwatch. However, some new features, such as crash detection, medication logging, Afib history, etc., are either niche or don't add much to the everyday user experience. We thoroughly enjoyed using the Apple Watch Series 8 – the watch is as sleek as it's always been and more keenly priced than the Apple Watch Ultra (listed below).
What we appreciate the most are the improved health and fitness features. The Apple Watch Series 8 can be used for tracking sleep just as well as 'proper' sleep trackers, and the new-and-improved workout metrics and views bring the watch ever so close to being used for running training. It even has Track Running and Triathlon workout modes now!
Should you buy the Apple Watch Series 8? If you have the Series 7, the answer is a definitive no. If you have any other Apple Watch or any other wearable in general, we'd recommend at least entertaining the idea of investing in Apple's latest non-rugged wearable. It's a premium smartwatch experience like no other.
Read our full Apple Watch Series 8 review
The Apple Watch Ultra could also be considered the best Apple Watch, especially if you prioritise battery life and have very specific requirements for your smartwatch. The Ultra was announced alongside the Series 8 but introduced a new bold design and a wide range of features to rival Garmin and Polar.
It features a ruggedised titanium case with chunky hardware features that can be used when wearing gloves. The display is larger than the standard model at 49mm, it's also flat and protected by a lip on the case. Call quality is also better thanks to three built-in microphones, GPS is more accurate with the addition of new frequencies and an improved algorithm, and it's more water resistant than any previous Apple Watch models.
So, in many ways, this is the best Apple Watch out there, but you have to ask, do you need all of these extra features? We suspect most people won't, so that's why we think the Apple Watch Series 8 is better for most people.
The Apple Watch Series 6 takes everything that was great about the Series 5 – stylish looks, great fitness features, potentially life-saving health tools, slick notifications and apps – and manages to improve on it. If you already have the Apple Watch Series 5, however, you can feel free to skip this model and go straight for the Series 7.
So what do you get in the Apple Watch Series 6? For a start, four colorways: graphite stainless steel, (PRODUCT) RED aluminum, gold stainless steel, and the blue aluminum that we reviewed.
Then, in terms of features, you’ve got a blood oxygen monitoring option – otherwise known as SpO2 tech. This makes use of a new red light sensor that monitors the colour of the blood being reflected back, and thus the level of oxygen in it.
As we say in our Apple Watch Series 6 review, "many of its features can be found in cheaper competitors, but not the overall experience." The Series 6 also boasts Apple’s sixth-generation S6 chip, which unlocks a bunch of performance features. It's 20% faster than that in the Series 5 watch, bringing a 2.5x boost in always-on display brightness in daylight and an 18-hour battery, even with the demands of nightly SpO2 readings.
Lastly, there's also an always-on altimeter, which will keep tabs on the altitude at which you’re walking or running, or if you’re climbing some nasty stairs, for instance. It helps to work out your real activity level more accurately.
The Apple Watch SE is a truly excellent smartwatch, there's no doubt about it. Where Apple has cut back for the more budget price, you won't notice it significantly in general use. It feels like a full Apple Watch experience, with all the advantages that brings for iPhone users, like convenience, fitness tracking, and health and safety features. As ever, though, Android users need not apply.
If you're looking at your first Apple Watch, the SE gets a really strong recommendation from us. For those who can spend the extra over the cost of the Apple Watch Series 3, you'll be very glad you did – it's better in every way, from screen to design to sensors to being more future-proofed thanks to its faster processor. It's also important to note that these translate into better health features, including more accurate heart sensing (important for detecting irregularities) and fall detection, which the Series 3 doesn't have.
If you're looking at upgrading an older Watch, the SE makes a great replacement for anything from the Series 3 (if you bought it at launch, especially) or earlier. Though the core of the experience is the same, it will still feel like a worthy upgrade, thanks to all the things we mentioned above.
In our Apple Watch SE review, we say that "the Apple Watch SE is as slick as the higher-priced Watch Series 6, and delivers all the essential features and then some. But when it comes to more advanced health sensors, it's not as well equipped as competitors."
The Apple Watch Series 5 was another step of Apple's relentless pace at the head of the smartwatch pack. The model takes everything that made the Apple Watch Series 4 so good and sprinkles on a few extra features.
The stand-out new feature is an always-on screen, which means you don't have to raise your wrist for the screen to show something: it will still show your watch face or workout at all times, just dimmed.
And with a few other features to hand, plus new software, it's a small but notable upgrade over last year's watch. As we say in our Apple Watch Series 5 review, "Capable of accurately tracking a host of workouts with ease as well as providing some great lifestyle features, intuitively, with a premium edge, the Apple Watch Series 5 is an awesome bit of kit."
Though the Apple Watch Series 5 is now a few versions old, the improvements are incremental. So, if you can get find it at a discount we'd thoroughly recommend it.
The Nike edition of the Apple Watch Series 7 still has all the great features that come with the regular version but it comes with some exclusive Nike branding and watch faces. You also get the choice of Nike-branded sports bands and sports loops to complete the look.
The Nike Bounce watch face is new for this Series 7 Nike watch and can't be used on any other Apple Watch model. This makes it a little bit special, and it's actually pretty cool – the numbers wobble as you move your wrist or touch the screen. The Other Nike faces are great too if you plan to exercise regularly while wearing it.
The Nike Run Club app is automatically installed when you set up this watch, as it's an integral part of the process. It's a great tool for those that run regularly, particularly outdoors, and has some distinct advantages over the regular Apple Workout option.
As we say in our Apple Watch Nike Series 7 review, "if you want to use your watch to track your runs (and like Nike branding), there's no reason not to pick this model."
On the outside, the Apple Watch Series 4 is sexier than the Series 3, with 30% more screen and nicely curved edges that make for a more rounded appearance, which allows imagery and the watch’s touch surface to go right to the edge of the screen. This means, for example, the new ‘Infograph’ watch face can accommodate up to ‘eight complications’, so you can see more and do more at a glance, including clicking on a photo of a friend to give them a call, or checking out some fitness stats. And it’s thinner too.
Like all Apple Watches, the Series 4 has a Digital Crown, allowing users to scroll without obstructing the display, only the new one has haptic feedback to deliver a pleasing ‘precise, click-like feel as you scroll’. But there are bigger changes beneath the watch’s shiny exterior. The Series 4 is the most powerful Apple Watch yet thanks to the new S4 chip, which makes it twice as fast as its predecessor, while an inbuilt speaker is 50% louder, providing better audio quality for Siri and Walkie-Talkie functions. All these little changes, including a more efficient display, means the watch has up to 18-hours of battery life on a single charge, according to the company (although, we've found this is an underestimation).
As we say in our Apple Watch Series 4 review, it "brings some significant upgrades over the Series 3. For one, we have a slimmer casing, slightly bigger screen size and improved pixel count, offering much better screen visibility. While some things are missing, such as the no always-on display, however (this came for the first time in the Series 5) the Apple Watch 4 is still a relatively amazing smartwatch compared to what else is on the market right now."
How to choose the best Apple Watch for you
As we mentioned before, the latest, greatest, and therefore best Apple Watch is the Apple Watch Series 7. It's currently the most advanced Apple Watch you can buy, with a large screen and faster charging being added to the smartwatch package.
It replaced the Apple Watch Series 6 as the flagship model. If you're not too fussed about the larger screen and faster charging then we think it's well worth considering the Series 6, especially if you can find a discounted one. The Series 6 features a stunning design and a bright always-on display. It wasn't the biggest update over the Series 5, but the small things make a difference.
Apple also still sells the Series 3, and despite looking pretty similar, there are lots of differences between the Series 3 and Series 7 watches - not least the price, as the Apple Watch Series 3 can now be picked up for a very reasonable price, making it one of the very best cheap Apple Watch deals around.
Aesthetically, Series 7, Series 6 and 5 are considered to be better looking. They have larger screens and are thinner, with more metallic colour options, a louder speaker, a ceramic backplate that’s meant to boost reception and the new digital crown with haptic feedback, which is used to navigate the watch's features.
One other big difference is what's inside the watches. The Series 6 and 7 have an S6 64-bit dual-core processor and S7 processor respectively, they're massively faster than the S3 processor in the Series 3 Apple Watch. They also come with second-generation optical heart sensors, an electrical heart sensor and a blood oxygen monitor, allowing it to do a whole lot more health monitoring including ECG tests.
However, there are lots of similarities too, which are worth considering if you are not hell-bent on having the latest model and are looking for extra value for money.
Once you’ve chosen between the available models you’ll need to consider which size of Apple Watch you prefer (there are two choices) and whether you want it to have the ability to make calls via your phone network, as cellular connectivity comes at a price.
The standard GPS Apple Watches are cheaper (although not as cheap as the best cheap smartwatches), while the cellular equivalents are £100 more expensive in all cases. So just what do you get for the money? The ability to make phone calls from your watch, thanks to an electronic SIM card inside the GPS + Cellular models.
As well as the higher price of the watch itself, you'll incur extra running costs for data usage and network fees, so it’s worthwhile thinking about whether you really want this feature.
Personally, we don't think the Celluar model is necessary – it's not worth the extra cost. So, if you’re someone who has their phone with them all the time, you’ll probably want to plump for the cheaper GPS versions and save your pennies.
Last but not least, you’ll want your watch to look good, and there are a lot of decisions to make. The watch’s body comes in aluminium, which is the cheapest option, or stainless steel, with lots of colours and materials to choose from for straps. The most expensive options are made from titanium and there are even offerings from Nike and luxury fashion house Hermès. Read our guide to the best Apple Watch case material.
If you're looking for a smartwatch for a child, then you'll also want to check out our guide to the best smartwatch for kids, and, if you prefer things more traditional, but still like the convenience of a smartwatch, then you can also read our best hybrid smartwatch guide.
How we test the best Apple Watch
We spend a lot of time reviewing the latest Apple Watch models, and, as such, are perfectly placed to judge the best Apple Watch model to spend your money on.
During our initial review period, we test out the very latest features announced by Apple. This might be a new health monitoring tool, a new fitness tracking mode, or how useful a new watch face is. We test everything in-depth, so if it's a new fitness feature, for example, we'll get our fitness editor to review it thoroughly.
All of these new features also get tested alongside everything a smartwatch should be classically good at, such as how bright and clear the display is, how reliable the smartphone connection is, how long the battery lasts, and how easy it is to surface useful information.
Once the initial review period is complete we'll publish a full review, give the Apple Watch a star rating, and add an abridged review to this guide.
We'll then continue to use the Apple Watch for the rest of the year, usually until a new model is released. This allows us to test how the battery life performs over time, gives us a chance to test software updates, and should uncover any bugs that weren't present during our initial review phase.