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Apple Watch Buyer’s Guide 2024: which of Apple’s three wearables should you buy?

Apple long ago made real the sci-fi future of a computer on your wrist. We help you choose the right one for the present

It took a while for Apple Watch to find its niche. Initially dismissed as a bling plaything for the wealthy, it eventually found purpose in the world of health and fitness, along with giving you access to key everyday information.

Today, Apple offers three models. All require an iPhone to function, although once set up they can be used broadly independently – particularly if you’ve a GPS model, which can remain connected to the internet when out of range of your iPhone.

There are many older Apple Watch models, but we don’t recommend buying second hand, because a new Apple Watch SE is an excellent budget buy. At most, go back a single generation (Apple Watch Series 8 or Apple Watch Ultra) if you find a bargain.

Also be mindful that, in January 2024, a patent battle forced Apple to disable the Series 9/Ultra 2 blood oxygen feature in the USA. This does not at this time affect Apple Watch in the rest of the world.

Tight for time? Skip to the end for a lightning-fast overview on what to buy and when to upgrade.

Apple Watch SE

From $249/£219 • 40mm/44mm case • S8 chip • 18hr battery / Last updated September 7, 2022

Best for: an affordable Apple Watch entry point or an Apple Watch for kids

Apple Watch SE

With Apple Watch SE, Apple pulls the same trick as with iPhone SE – powering older tech with a more modern chip. The result is an Apple Watch that’s hardly cutting-edge – its design debuted with 2018’s Series 4. But it has enough clout to not feel old.

It’s a good combination, because the Series 4 design still holds up. The main downside is there’s no always-on display, so you must raise your wrist (and sometimes even shake your arm a bit) to have it turn on. And when it does, you’ll notice bigger bezels than on a Series 9, which means less information on the screen despite very similar case sizes.

But the display is still bright and clear, and there are other positives too. The SE has most of the important features found on more expensive models, including Emergency SOS, fall and crash detection, and noise monitoring. For the money, it’s a good buy – especially if you’re kitting out a family with Apple Watches. In fact, the less distracting screen might even be a boon for kids.

Pros: Affordable; packed with quality features
Cons: No ECG app; relatively large bezels; older chip

Apple Watch Series 9

From $399/£399 • 41mm/45 mm case • S9 chip • 18hr battery / Last updated September 12, 2023

Best for: a mix of new Apple Watch tech for a reasonable outlay

Apple Watch Series 9

Outwardly, the Series 9 looks very similar to the SE. But a subtle case revision means within a very similar form factor – to the degree old straps remain compatible – you get a superior display. It’s brighter and bigger, the edge-to-edge design providing precious extra pixels for displaying content and complications.

Interaction with the Series 9 also has two major upgrades from the SE. The always-on display updates every second or so, letting you track timers and other information without first raising your wrist or tapping the screen. And a new double-tap gesture lets you perform actions one-handed, although we find we use this function rarely.

The upgraded S9 chip doesn’t blaze ahead of the SE’s S8, but adds a year to the device’s support and, more importantly, precision finding from a modern iPhone. The Series 9 also supports fast-charging – unnecessary for typical use (a daily charge is fine), but handy after extended exercise sessions.

As an upgrade, the Series 9 is unexciting. Honestly, if you’ve a Series 6 or newer that’s still working well, don’t bother. But as a first Apple Watch when you’re not on a tight budget, the Series 9 is an excellent introduction to the line.

Pros: Bigger, brighter always-on display in almost the same case size; S9 chip
Cons: Adds little over Series 8/7/6; you’ll use double-tap less than you think

Apple Watch Ultra 2

From $799/£799 • 49mm case • S9 chip • 36hr battery / Last updated September 12, 2023

Best for: the most demanding users – or those who want the biggest display

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The clue is in the name: Ultra. This Apple Watch is ‘extra’ in every sense. It’s bigger, with a single 49mm case option that’s bulky on smaller wrists – and, frankly, even some bigger ones. But that larger screen is great for simultaneously showing more workout metrics and real-time data.

Other features also point towards intended use-cases of sport and hiking. Precision GPS. The 3000 nits display working well even in bright sunlight. Suitability for recreational diving to 40m rather than just swimming. A siren you can hear from 600ft/180m away if injured in the wilderness. The rugged titanium case with screen-protecting edges.

But some elements point to what we might get in the Series 10 – at least we hope so. The customizable Action button is superb. Dual speakers are useful for anyone. And few would turn down double the battery life (36 hours or 72 in Low Power mode). However, given the expense and size, this Apple Watch is overkill for most people, so unless you really need its ‘ultra’ features, go for the Series 9.

Pros: Durable; big, beautiful display; superior battery life
Cons: Too big and bulky for some; overkill for many; expensive


Still undecided? Here’s a lightning-fast comparison for when to buy and upgrade:

  • Get the Apple Watch SE for a great entry point to Apple wearables that’s still packed with features.
  • Upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 9 for the always-on edge-to-edge display, an extra year of support, double tap, and more health features.
  • Only get the Apple Watch Ultra 2 if one or more of the following is true: you do a lot of extreme sports or hiking; you want a much bigger watch; you yearn for double the battery life; money’s no object.