Best Apple Watch 2020: Which of Apple’s wearables is best to buy right now?
We’ve sorted through Apple’s current lineup of Apple Watch wearables, compared each and collated a list covering all the features and benefits that each model offers.
Related: Apple Watch 5
How many versions of the Apple Watch are currently available?
The late 2018/early 2019 collection of Apple Watches spans four models in a variety of configurations. Three of these fall under the Apple Watch Series 4 umbrella, and as such sport the same hardware and run on the same watchOS 5 software (existing Apple Watch users with compatible devices would have received an update to watchOS 5 ahead of the Series 4’s launch). The only real differences between these models are the choice of finishes and, in some cases, exclusive watch faces and straps with which they’re paired.
1. Apple Watch Series 4
The latest Apple Watch is available in two sizes that are a little larger than any previous versions of the Apple Watch: as a 40mm and 44mm variant. There’s also the option of a GPS-only version or a GPS and cellular model, which adds $100/£100 to the base price tag. Both versions use Apple’s own S4 dual-core processor, boast displays that are 30% larger than those of their predecessors (as well as rounded corners) and new, thinner bodies.
Related: watchOS 5
The Series 4 supports Apple Pay via NFC for contactless transactions, while the integrated GPS allows for accurate speed and location tracking when working out. The addition of the LTE cellular radio allows users to leave their iPhones at home while still being able to receive calls, messages and notifications, and continue to interact with Siri.
Related: iPhone XS
Like the previous two generations of Apple Watch, the Series 4 also features swim-proofing, interchangeable straps and an optical heart rate sensor. This new generation sensor is surrounded by electrodes that form a closed circuit when you touch the new haptic digital crown on the side, granting the Series 4 ECG (electrocardiogram) functionality, with which it can evaluate the wearer’s heartbeat and detect certain forms of arrhythmia (specifically atrial fibrillation). Not only is this a first for a consumer-focused wearable such as this but this is the first smartwatch that’s received FDA approval for the functionality.
Although the Series 4 adopts larger case sizes compared to its predecessors it still supports any correctly sized Apple Watch-compatible strap (38mm straps work with the 40mm Series 4 and 42mm straps work with the 44mm Series 4). Only select strap combinations can be purchased alongside a standard Apple Watch Series 4.
The body of the standard Apple Watch Series 4 can be had in silver, Space Grey or (rose) gold aluminium; or polished silver, gold or Space Black stainless steel. As for first-party straps, the aluminium-bodied Series 3 can be bought in conjunction with any of Apple’s Sport Band or Sport Loop straps, while the stainless steel versions come with either an Apple Sport Band or metal Milanese Loop strap.
2. Apple Watch Nike+ Series 4
Like the standard Apple Watch Series 4, the Nike+ edition comes in both sizes, features the same internal hardware and functionality (with both a GPS-only and GPS and cellular option), and starts at the same price. The body of the Nike+ version is only available in silver or Space Grey aluminium and comes paired with a range of Nike Sport Band straps, which can be purchased separately.
Related: Best smartwatch
The Apple Watch Nike+ edition also features subtle Nike branding on the rear of the casing and comes pre-loaded with exclusive Nike watch faces that aren’t accessible on other variants of the Apple Watch.
3. Apple Watch Hermès Series 4 – Starting at $1249/£1249
Apple struck up a partnership with luxury fashion brand Hermès for the Apple Watch back in 2015, which has continued with subsequent generations of the company’s signature wearable.
Related: iPhone XR
While the Apple Watch Hermès Series 4 comes in both case sizes, it’s only available in the GPS and cellular option (although there’s no user obligation to use the latter feature). The Hermès only comes in a silver stainless steel finish and can be paired with a range of four exclusive leather bands in a myriad of colours, each of which affects the price.
4. Apple Watch Series 3 – Starting at $279/£279
In 2017 the Apple Watch Series 3 lineup was supported by a more affordable option in the Series 1 (which you can read about further down). Now that the Series 4 is on the scene, the Series 1 has been retired and a more focused range of Series 3 watches has taken its place.
You can still pick the Series 3 up in both GPS-only and GPS + cellular SKUs but finishes are limited to either a silver or black-bodied aluminium casing with a white or black Sport Band respectively.
5. Apple Watch Nike+ Series 3
Interestingly, Apple has also kept the Nike+ edition of the Series 3 on its books, meaning for the same prices as the standard Series 3 watches still available, you can enjoy those exclusive watch face and strap combinations mentioned earlier. The Nike+ version of the Series 3 can only be had with a black aluminium body.
Discontinued Apple Watch versions
There are, of course, other iterations of the Apple Watch no longer available to buy directly from Apple.
6. First-generation Apple Watch ‘Series 0’
The original Apple Watch that hit the market in April 2016 came in three distinct flavours: the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition. These three versions all shared in the same functionality but differed in material and strap combinations, as well as price. The Sport started at £299, while the Edition started at £8000.
When Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 2 later that same year, the company also replaced the original Apple Watch with the Apple Watch Series 1.
7. Apple Watch Series 2
The Apple Watch Series 2 arrived in September 2016 and introduced a new dual-core Apple S2 processor, water-resistance up to 50 meters, a display that was twice as bright as the first-generation Watch, and GPS tracking. When the Series 3 arrived a year later, Apple decommissioned the Series 2 altogether.
8. Apple Watch Series 1
For those who didn’t need the robust feature set of the Series 3, Apple also sold the Series 1. It supported all the same watch straps as the Series 3 since it more or less adhered to the same design and similar dimensions. Powered by the less powerful S1P processor (a variation of the Series 2’s S2 chipset without GPS), the Series 1 still offered Apple Pay via NFC support and activity tracking with the integrated optical heart-rate sensor. However, it missed out on a host of other features.
Swim tracking was off the cards due to a lack of water resistance, voice feedback from Siri wasn’t possible and, with no GPS or barometric altimeter onboard, route-tracking during workouts required your phone to be with you. There was also no cellular option either.
9. Apple Watch Hermés and Edition Series 3
With the arrival of the Series 4, Apple took the Series 1 out of the running altogether but also nixed two variants of the Series 3; that generation’s Hermés luxury lineup and the company’s own premium ceramic-bodied Series 3 Edition SKUs.
Which Apple Watch is best for me?
Most users will likely find the standard Apple Watch Series 4 to be a great fit. The range of finishes and strap combinations is plentiful, and if you’re looking for something a little different then the Nike+ version is also on-hand without upping the price.
If you want a taste of luxury then the Hermès variants bring something extra to the table – so long as you’re willing to pay for a watch that starts at around $1200/£1200.
Is it worth buying an Apple Watch ‘Series 0’, Series 2 or Series 1 in 2020? If you can even find an original Apple Watch at a decent price, we’d still be inclined to steer clear. Apple has officially confirmed that the original Apple Watch doesn’t support watchOS 5.
The Series 2 and Series 1 are far better equipped but likely to suffer at the hands of outdated software sooner than the Series 3, which still gets Apple’s full support – at least for now.
Apple Watch competitors
There’s every chance that, despite all your research, the Apple Watch still isn’t the wearable for you. Perhaps you don’t like the design or you want a watch that places a greater focus on fitness. If that’s the case, here are a handful of alternatives that are worth considering.
Mobvoi TicWatch Pro – Starting at $250/£220
Our favourite Wear OS smartwatch of 2018, the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro, squeezes almost every premium smartwatch feature you could wish for (save for cellular functionality) into an affordable but attractive package.
The composite straps mean you can sport a leather look and also work up a sweat without worry. It can also handle being submerged in fresh water, plus it supports the Google Assistant with voice feedback, GPS and contactless transactions via NFC using Google Pay.
Samsung Gear S3 – Starting at $349/£349
The Gear S3 is a stylish smartwatch that sports a circular interface primarily controlled by the watch’s rotating bezel. It’s wonderfully intuitive and the watch also supports GPS and swim-tracking out of the box. Speedy performance and contactless payments via Samsung Pay (*in supported regions) are appreciated too.
Nowadays, the Gear S3 can also be found for under $300/£300 if you shop around.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music – Starting at $450/£400
If you’re more focused on fitness then Garmin’s vast range of watches are worth a look. The Forerunner 645 Music is one of the company’s first wearables to support Garmin Pay but it also features space for around 500 songs, GPS and GLONASS location tracking. It offers tuned tracking for a wealth of activities, water-resistance up to 5ATM, and boasts up to seven days’ battery life.
Fitbit Ionic – Starting at $300/£280
The most capable and smartwatch-like Fitbit around has to be the Fitbit Ionic. It totes a touchscreen interface, persistent GPS tracking, the virtual Fitbit Coach, around four days’ battery life, Fitbit Pay support, continuous heart-rate tracking and sleep tracking, too.
You can also pick up the pricier Adidas Edition Ionic if you’re looking for an Apple Watch Nike+ competitor worth flaunting.