Which Apple Watch is right for you? 

Which watch is worth wearing?

In years gone by, knowing which Apple Watch is right for you was a relatively uncomplicated process: you could either buy this year’s model or an older version. But now, with three different models that could all be described as current, it’s much harder than it used to be to figure out which one will best suit your needs. And that’s before considering one of the earlier generations of Apple Watch. 

So, with that in mind, here are the main things you should be considering when it comes to choosing your Apple Watch. If you don’t own an iPhone, then we’d recommend you read our guide to using an Apple Watch with an Android phone before going any further. Otherwise, here are the key differences between models… 

Apple Watch Ultra held in a man's hand, with sunshine glinting through threes in the backgroundCredit: Shutterstock/Hadrian

The current range

Which Apple Watch models are currently available?

There are three different versions of the Apple Watch that were all announced at the same time, in September 2022: the Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch Series 8, and the Apple Watch SE2.  Since then updated versions have been released including the Ultra 2 and Series 9.

We’ll get into the detail shortly, but one way to summarise the differences is to draw an analogy with a car manufacturer, releasing different models of the same vehicle: fundamentally, they all do the same thing, but the top-of-the-range version has some extra bells and whistles, the entry-level version is the most basic, and the mid-range sits somewhere between those two.

It’s then a matter of balancing features with price, to figure out which model will best suit your needs.

Featured product

Apple Watch Ultra

RRP: From £849

Apple Watch Ultra

Featured product

Apple Watch 8

RRP: From £419

Apple Watch 8

Featured product

Apple Watch SE

RRP: From £259

Apple Watch SE

Older models

How about older Apple Watches?

Now, while we are primarily focused here on the three current models in the Apple Watch line-up, it’s worth taking a moment to consider older versions of the watch. These might be available second-hand, or from certain third-party retailers. The question is, are they worth considering? 

A history of the Apple Watch 

‘Original’ Apple Watch April 2015
Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 September 2016
Apple Watch Series 3 September 2017
Apple Watch Series 4 September 2018
Apple Watch Series 5 September 2019
Apple Watch Series 6 and SE (1st generation) September 2020
Apple Watch Series 7 October 2021
Apple Watch Series 8, SE (2nd generation) and Apple Watch Ultra September 2022 
Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 September 2023

There are two main factors to think about. Firstly, buying an older model of Apple Watch will mean sacrificing certain new features. For example, if you bought an Apple Watch Series 6 instead of a Series 8, you won’t get a temperature sensor, crash detector, and the larger screen. So, you’ll need to decide which features you need, and which ones you don’t.  

For some, the features available in an older watch such as the Series 6 (such as blood oxygen sensor, fall detection, water resistance, and heart rate monitoring) are more than sufficient. If so, you can get an older model much more cheaply than a more recent one.

Software support matters

The second factor to bear in mind is how much additional software support you’ll get from Apple. Like most smart devices, an Apple Watch will regularly receive updates from Apple to fix software bugs, security issues, and to make sure the watch works correctly with your iPhone. That is, until Apple decides to stop offering support.  

Now, different generations of Apple Watch have received varying levels of software support, but as a rough guide, five years appears to be the maximum point at which most Apple Watches stop receiving support.  

At the time of writing, the latest version of WatchOS is compatible with Apple Watch Series 4 (released in 2018) and later. It’s possible that 2023 will be the final year of support for the Series 4, with support for Apple Watch Series 5 potentially ending in 2024. So we’d suggest that if you do want to look at an older model, don’t go further back than the Apple Watch Series 6. That means you’ll likely enjoy at least a couple more years of software support, allowing you to get the most out of your watch for as long as possible.  

Apple Watch features compared

What are the main differences?

If you’ve decided that you’d prefer to look at one of the newest models, there are some differences between the three in terms of features that may sway you one way or another. 

In simple terms, the Apple Watch Ultra is the ultra-premium model with all the features that are available – potentially more than many people will need or want. The Apple Watch Series 8, while still a premium device, sits in the middle of the range and offers fewer features than the Ultra but more features than the “budget” version, the Apple Watch SE2. 

In design terms, the three watches are all slightly different sizes. The Apple Watch Ultra comes in a large 49mm case, while the Series 8 is available in 41 or 45mm cases, and the SE is slightly smaller, in 40 or 44mm sizes. This may be a factor if you prefer something chunkier – or more delicate – on your wrist. For some, the Ultra may be too big and too heavy. For others, the 40mm case may be far too small. And remember, the size of the case also equates to a larger or smaller screen size. 

In terms of brightness, the Ultra goes up to 2,000 nits of brightness (the way brightness is measured). The Series 8 is an “Always-On Retina display” up to 1,000 nits. The SE has a retina display also offering up to 1,000 nits of brightness.  

What is a nit?

One nit is the amount of light that spread from a traditional wax candle over one square metre. 1,000 nits is the equivalent of the light from 1,000 candles in one square metre. The higher the number, the brighter the screen. This is particularly advantageous if you are going to be using your phone outdoors. 

For many, 1,000 nits is more than enough. Anything between 500 to 1,000 nits will generally be usable outdoors, while 2,000 nits will work well in particularly bright sunlight.  

Water resistance and more

Scuba diver wearing an Apple Watch Ultra underwaterCredit: Apple

All three have some water-resistance, but the Apple Watch Ultra can withstand swimming in deeper water such as during recreational scuba diving and high-speed water sports, which the other two are not designed for. You can read more in our Are Apple Watches waterproof? guide if you want to dive into the details. 

Additionally, the SE lacks the temperature sensing, blood oxygen and electrocardiogram (ECG) apps that the other two devices have. While these might not be features that everyone is looking for, if you do want the most in terms of health tracking, you’ll need to look at the Ultra, or the Series 8. 

The Apple Watch Ultra comes with a few other extras: the titanium case which protects the screen, the 86-decibel siren for attracting attention if you’re lost or hurt in the wilderness, and the enhanced GPS to make it even more precise than the other two devices. It also has an Action button, which can be customised to carry out a range of actions quickly, such as launching a workout, or adding a waypoint marker. 

Last, but by no means least, battery life is up to 18 hours on the Series 8 and SE2, whereas the Ultra offers up to 36 hours in normal conditions. This can be stretched to 60 hours using low-power mode, which reduces the frequency of functions such as GPS and heart rate readings and turns off alerts. 

To summarise: the SE2 is the most basic of the three but is still suitable for activity tracking and other everyday tasks. In addition, the Apple Watch 8 offers ECG, blood oxygen monitoring and an always-on display. The Apple Watch Ultra offers all of this, as well as the other features we outlined above. The Apple Watch Ultra is the most durable, with that titanium case and sapphire-glass screen. It also has the best battery life and can cope in the most extreme conditions of the three. But as we’re about to discover, this comes at a cost. 

Apple Watch prices

Premium quality and premium pricing

When it comes to buying an Apple Watch, for many people price will be a major factor in their decision. And the differences between the three devices are stark. 

The Apple Watch Ultra, which is only available as a GPS and cellular device, costs £849. The Apple Watch Series 8 will set you back from £529 for the GPS and cellular model, or from £419 for the GPS-only version. Finally, the SE starts from £319 for the GPS and cellular version, or £259 for the basic GPS-only variant. 

It’s obvious from these price differences that Apple is targeting different audiences with each device. So how do you decide which device is aimed at you?  

Which watch is right for you?

Here’s what we’d suggest

By now, hopefully you’ll have a much better idea of which watch will be most suitable for your needs. But if you’re still undecided, then here are our thoughts. 

Firstly, the Apple Watch Ultra is designed for durability and is suitable for activities such as scuba diving, other water sports, and being out in the great outdoors – where you also might need the siren. So, if you are an extreme sports enthusiast, or want the best of everything, this may be the one to go for. It is the most advanced of the three devices overall, with the best battery life and most features. But unless you’re going to be making use of these, then for many people, the price tag will be difficult to justify. 

The differences between the Series 8 and SE2 are a little smaller, and while you may easily decide whether or not the Ultra is suitable for you, it may be trickier to decide between the other two. 

The Apple Watch Series 8 may appeal if you want a slightly larger display (almost 20% larger, according to Apple) or a more premium feel. It is slightly more advanced in terms of health and fitness tracking, and many may feel it offers the best balance between price and functionality. 

The SE2, being the entry-level device, is best suited to people who are dipping their toe into the smartwatch pool for the first time. It’s cheaper, but still has many of the features you are likely to be looking for – unless, of course, you specifically want the ECG and blood oxygen monitoring, or the always-on display. They also use the same processor, so the difference in performance is small. 

Also consider

What are the alternatives?

Of course, you may have read all this and decided that an Apple Watch isn’t right for you after all. Luckily, there are several alternatives you can consider instead. Our expert fitness and technology team have a few suggestions you might want to investigate. Unlike an Apple Watch, all of these are compatible with both Apple and Android devices. 

Garmin Fenix 7 Solar

Garmin Fenix 7 Solar watch strapped to a bicycleCredit: Garmin

Broadly comparable to the Apple Watch Ultra, the Garmin Fenix 7 Solar is a rugged watch designed for a wide range of outdoor pursuits, including trail running, hiking, skiing, surfing and more.

Battery life is advertised at up to 18 days, plus an extra four days when using solar charging. It also offers a wide range of healthtracking features, including heart rate, a pulse/ox sensor to gauge your oxygen levels, sleep tracking, and even hydration and stress tracking. And if you’re in the great outdoors, you can still take your music with you, should you wish. Prices start from £689.99, making this watch slightly cheaper than the Apple Watch Ultra. 

Withings ScanWatch Horizon

Green Withings ScanWatch Horizon on someone's wristCredit: Withings

If you want a smartwatch that looks more like a traditional watch, then the Withings ScanWatch is a wonderful choice. Here, we’ve selected the Withings ScanWatch Horizon, a beautiful hybrid smartwatch inspired by traditional watches in design terms.

With a 30day battery life (which can be extended by another 20 days when using power reserve mode), this watch offers heart rate tracking, sleep monitoring, ECG, oxygenlevel monitoring, and other health features. It’s less well provisioned when it comes to other traditional smartwatch services such as music or other apps. But you’ll struggle to find a better-looking device. And priced at £499.95, the ScanWatch Horizon is broadly comparable in price to the Apple Watch Series 8.  

Fitbit Versa 4

The Fitbit Versa 4 being used for contactless paymentCredit: Fitbit

Finally, if you’re looking for something to compare to the Apple Watch SE, then a device such as the Fitbit Versa 4 is well worth investigating. Fitbit is known for its excellent health monitoring, and includes a wide range of metrics, including blood oxygen and heart rate tracking, a cardio fitness score, and the usual step, distance and calorie counting.

It also has other features you’d expect to see in a smartwatch, such as on-wrist calls, text and app notifications, and Google Wallet for contactless payments anywhere that accepts Google Pay. With an RRP of £199.99, it undercuts the Apple Watch SE2 in price terms. We have seen it on sale for £169.99, making it even more competitive.  

What to do once you’ve chosen your watch

Once you’ve picked your Apple

Whichever watch you decide upon, one of the biggest strengths of the Apple Watches is their health and fitness tracking features. And we’d wager that a lot of people reading this will be interested in exploring those features. Whether you’re new to fitness or an experienced exerciser, Apple Fitness+ has plenty to offer, and is well worth a look  

Steven Shaw

Written by Steven Shaw he/him

Updated:

Steven Shaw has been a freelance writer for a variety of outlets, most notably TechRadar. His degree in Medieval History prepared him less adequately for his career than you might expect, but the years spent working in technology focused retail were much more helpful.

Outside of work, Steven is passionate about health and fitness, and particularly enjoys high-intensity interval training, weight training, and increasingly, spending time recovering. Steven loves reading, films and a wide variety of sports. A particular highlight was watching Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar batting together in an exhibition match.

He wishes he could travel more. He can also tell you a lot about the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Carolingians. Most of his non-work time is spent with his young children, who are the living embodiment of high-intensity training.