The Apple Watch Is the Best Smartwatch Reviews by Wirecutter apple watch articles
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The Apple Watch Is the Best Smartwatch Reviews by Wirecutter apple watch articles
Nick Guy is a senior staff writer covering Apple and accessories at Wirecutter. He has been reviewing iPhones, iPads, and related tech since 2011—and stopped counting after he tested his 1,000th case. It’s impossible for him not to mentally catalog any case he sees. He once had the bright idea to build and burn down a room to test fireproof safes. We’ve always liked the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, the hardware dial on the side of the watch that you can use to scroll through lists, and it’s better on the Apple Watch SE than on the Series 3 or earlier models. The crown spins more smoothly, for one thing, but the bigger improvement is haptic feedback: When you’re scrolling through your watch, you feel a clicky sensation, as if you were actually turning the crown against a gear. It isn’t a reason to buy the Apple Watch SE, but it is something we think you’ll appreciate if you do. Apple Watch Studio allows you to make any combination of watch and strap, either online or in-store, instead of sticking with Apple’s preassembled combinations. This means that you don’t have to shell out extra for a steel watch if you want a metal band, for example, or that you can choose any color combination you like without having to purchase separate bands à la carte. If you already have a USB-C wall adapter or prefer to charge from a USB-C port such as those found on a computer, your only real option is Apple’s own Apple Watch Magnetic Fast Charger to USB-C Cable . We haven’t found any Apple-certified third-party options, so unless you want to gamble on a cable that might not work properly, you have to spend the money on one of these. The charger cable is available in a 1-meter length. It also promises to charge the Apple Watch Series 7 33% faster, a claim we’ll be testing this fall. In our tests, Siri on the Apple Watch was noticeably faster and more accurate on the SE than on the Series 3 and older Apple Watch models, whether we were sending text messages, creating reminders, launching apps, pulling up the latest sports scores, or getting directions. Compared with the Series 4 and 5, the SE was equally fast. On the other hand, although we like the “raise to Siri” feature when it works , in our testing it hasn’t activated reliably enough for us to rely on it. The Apple Watch Series 6’s new and unique feature is its blood oxygen sensor. Using LED lights and photodiodes, it measures the amount of light reflected back to calculate the color of your blood, and from that, the oxygen saturation; a level of 95% to 99% is generally considered good . You can actively trigger measurements with an app and can also have them run in the background. Whether you’re getting your first Apple Watch or upgrading from a version that’s a few years old, the Apple Watch SE is the model most people should choose. It has a great, large screen and is fast enough for apps, but it lacks some health-related features. Whether you’re getting your first Apple Watch or upgrading from a version that’s a few years old, the Apple Watch SE is the model most people should choose. It has a great, large screen and is fast enough for apps, but it lacks some health-related features. Inside and out, the Apple Watch SE is almost identical to the Series 6. It comes in the same 40 mm and 44mm sizes, and it’s almost as fast and responsive, but it lacks the always-on display of the Series 5 and 6. The new model’s screen is larger than the Series 3’s on both the small and large versions—40 mm and 44 mm , respectively, up from 38 mm and 42 mm for the Series 3—and the display area extends closer to the edges of the watch’s body. Despite the larger screens, the watch bodies aren’t much taller and wider than the bodies of previous models, and they’re actually 0.7 mm thinner. Such differences may not sound like a lot, but they’re appreciable on a device this small. The Apple Watch SE offers all-day battery life. Apple promises up to 18 hours of use on a charge—enough for the SE to get through each day when you charge it each night, or for it to track your sleep if you’re willing to charge it for a bit during the day. We’ve found that we can use the Apple Watch SE just as we have previous generations, with plenty of power remaining at the end of the day. In one test, the battery was at 24% after about 14.5 hours of wear, including an hour of activity tracking and audio streaming over LTE. If you prefer an always-on display, want to track your blood oxygen level or heart rhythm, or are willing to pay more for a steel or titanium casing, go with the Apple Watch Series 6. Choosing the Apple Watch SE over the Series 6 means giving up three main things: an always-on display, blood oxygen monitoring, and ECG capability. Most Wirecutter staffers who signed up for LTE on their Apple Watch—which costs an extra $10 a month on the major carriers and isn’t available on others—have since cancelled it. As for performance, the Apple Watch has never been a particularly fast device, but the S5 processor in the Apple Watch SE is snappy. It’s about twice as fast as the Series 3’s S3 processor. In our testing, the difference was noticeable, and if you currently own a Series 2 or older Apple Watch, you’ll see more dramatic improvements after you upgrade. Apps open with much less delay, you can scroll through lists without lag, and Siri shows the dictation of your voice almost instantly—and as long as you have a good wireless connection, Siri answers almost as quickly. Although the capabilities and performance of third-party apps have improved dramatically since the original Apple Watch debuted, the usefulness of these apps varies widely. You may find that the Apple Watch versions of your favorite iPhone apps do less than you expected. And even with the Series 6’s improved performance, they aren’t nearly as fast as the versions on your phone. Put simply, most people shouldn’t buy an Apple Watch specifically to run third-party apps. You should buy one for what it does on its own; useful watch apps are a bonus. Our thoughts on LTE in relation to the SE hold even more true for the Series 6. On this model, instead of costing a $50 premium, LTE costs $100 more on the aluminum versions . That’s a big investment for something we just haven’t found to be terribly useful, especially for people who carry their phone with them most of the time. This always-on mode also supports workouts, as you can see your heart rate, distance, and other statuses without having to tap the screen. Thankfully, Apple took privacy into account with the always-on feature: Notifications won’t show up on the screen unless you’re actively using it, and you can choose whether you want sensitive information, such as your calendar events, messages, or activity rings, to show on the ambient screen. Choosing the Apple Watch SE over the Series 6 means giving up three main things: an always-on display, blood oxygen monitoring, and ECG capability. We really like the Series 5 and 6’s always-on display . But you won’t miss it if you’re upgrading from an Apple Watch that doesn’t already have it, or if this is your first smartwatch. The same goes for the blood oxygen sensor, which is neat to have but not necessary . As for the ECG, that’s a more arguable point: An arrhythmia detection could potentially save your life, so the marketing goes, and isn’t that worth $120? But only a small percentage of people will ever see such a notification, and it’ll be actionable for even fewer people. If you have a history of heart issues, you might consider paying a bit more for the Series 6 . Charging a watch every night isn’t much of a hassle at home, where you’re likely charging your phone, too. But you do have to bring another cord when you travel. Still, considering the far more useful screen and capabilities of the Apple Watch compared with what you get from minimalist smartwatches—such as the Withings Move , with its 18-month battery—it’s understandable why the Apple Watch’s battery life can’t match the multiday longevity of those more-basic devices. We have some recommendations for great charging accessories , including three-in-one wireless charging stations for your Apple Watch, iPhone, and AirPods. The Apple Watch is an effective activity tracker, but if all you want is fitness tracking, you can find considerably less-expensive devices for recording your running, cycling, steps, and heart rate . If you want something dedicated to running, with physical buttons, more accurate heart-rate monitoring, and GPS tracking, you should upgrade to a GPS running watch and possibly a chest-mounted heart monitor; a more general-use smartwatch may not be for you. I’ve been reviewing Apple products since 2011, including here at Wirecutter since 2014. That group includes every version of the Apple Watch since its launch, plus iPhones, iPads, and more. Every Apple Watch comes with a charging cable, which is just a USB cable permanently attached to a magnetic wireless charging puck. Because most people need to charge their watch only once a day, it’s usually fine to leave the charger in one place, such as next to your bed. The Apple Watch SE offers the best combination of style, message handling, activity tracking, app selection, and battery life of any smartwatch for any platform. It comes in two body sizes—40 mm and 44 mm—that offer larger screens than on previous Apple Watches in similarly sized bodies. It’s noticeably faster at running apps than the still-available Apple Watch Series 3. The base model costs 30% less than the Apple Watch Series 6 , and you can choose a configuration with LTE connectivity for a $50 premium, half of what that feature costs on other Apple Watch models. The Apple Watch SE is missing some features from the more premium model, such as an always-on display, blood oxygen measurement, ECG, and different case materials, all of which are nice to have but not essential. The Series 6 charges a little faster than the Apple Watch SE. This is particularly helpful if you want to take advantage of sleep tracking, either through watchOS’s native app or in third-party software, and need to top off the battery throughout the day. Apple no longer includes an AC wall adapter in the box, so it doesn’t give you the full charging apparatus, but the USB-A cable can charge on any charger or even a computer with a USB-A port. Every Apple Watch SE has the same features, speeds, and specs. But you do have some options when it comes to the look: The case comes in gray, silver, or gold, and the Apple Watch Nike costs the same but comes with exclusive Nike-branded faces and sports-focused bands . If you want an extra charger for travel, or to replace one a dog chewed on, for example, we have two recommendations. If you have a USB-A wall adapter lying around, skip the pricey Apple charger and go with the Amazon Basics Apple Watch MFi Certified Portable Magnetic Charger . Few reputable brands besides Apple make Apple Watch charging cables, but we trust the Amazon Basics name, and this charger is also the least expensive model we found. Available in 3- and 6-foot lengths, it costs less than any of Apple’s chargers but charges just as fast . We’ve found that any decent cable will fully charge an Apple Watch within a few hours, or while you’re sleeping. If you prefer an always-on display, want to track your blood oxygen level or heart rhythm, or are willing to pay more for a steel or titanium casing, go with the Apple Watch Series 6. There’s almost no competition for Apple’s USB-C Apple Watch charger, so although it’s somewhat expensive, it’s the one to get if you need a replacement or an extra. For many people, the biggest upside to the Apple Watch Series 6 over our top pick is its always-on display. Instead of requiring you to tap the screen or raise your arm in an exaggerated manner to wake it, the Series 6’s screen stays on whenever you’re wearing the watch, thanks to hardware and software features that slow the screen refresh rate and dim portions of it when you’re not otherwise poking at it. In particular, instead of updating 60 times a second , as it does when you’re looking at it, most of the time the screen can update just once per second . This design allows you to glance down and see the time and your complications whenever you’d like, much as you would with a traditional watch. It’s a feature we had been asking for since the original Apple Watch debuted, and it’s well executed. Compared with the Series 5, where this feature was introduced, the Series 6 is a little brighter in its passive mode, so it’s easier to read in the sun. The Apple Watch SE has the same level of waterproofing as the Series 5: Apple says it’s water resistant to 50 meters. This means you can swim with it in a pool or open water without damaging the watch. We haven’t yet tested the Apple Watch SE for swim tracking, but we were impressed by how well the Series 5 tracked laps. We’ve tested the top Apple Watch charging cables, stands, docks, and power banks to recommend the best accessories available right now. The Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5 are discontinued, but you may still see them around as stores try to sell their leftover inventory. Both are still great options, depending on the price. We don’t recommend paying more than $250 for the Series 4—the main difference between that model and the Apple Watch SE is the ECG feature. We think the Series 5’s always-on display is worth paying a little more for, apple watch articles so if you can find it for about $300 or less, you should consider it. Most people don’t need a smartwatch. But smartwatches have become more useful over the years, to the point that they’re no longer just expensive toys for early adopters. A smartwatch isn’t a miniature smartphone—it can’t do some things quite as ably or even at all in some cases, and its usefulness varies greatly depending on which features you take advantage of. But if you’re going to buy a smartwatch to pair with your iPhone, it should be an Apple Watch. We’ve tried most of the other smartwatches that are iPhone-compatible, and we’ve found them to be too limited. Android watches have fewer apps, and their integrations aren’t as useful as those between the Apple Watch and iPhone. Smartwatches using Google’s Wear OS can work with an iPhone via an iOS app , allowing you to receive basic notifications for phone calls, alarms, text messages, and calendar reminders, as well as for other apps that you select on your iPhone; Google’s own apps allow for slightly richer notifications. You can also use Google Assistant on the watch. But in practice, using Wear OS with an iPhone is frustrating. In addition, Wear OS watches are stripped down to a small subset of apps when paired with an iPhone, and if you use Apple’s Reminders or Siri on your iPhone, using Google Now reminders or contextual search on your watch feels redundant. And because of their slower processors, Wear OS watches generally feel slower all around than modern Apple Watch models do. If you’re looking for something that reduces the amount of time you spend staring at your phone, provides quick access to useful information, and lets you handle some tasks you’d otherwise need to pull out your iPhone to do, an Apple Watch may be for you. With an Apple Watch, you can make sure you don’t miss urgent calls, pay for goods at some stores, show your boarding pass at the airport, toggle smart lights, get directions, ping the iPhone you left under a pillow, and even check the time. The Apple Watch Series 6 looks identical to the Apple Watch SE . But it has an always-on display that’s more convenient, plus a blood oxygen sensor that’s only for “wellness” since it’s not FDA approved to make stronger claims. This model also offers an ECG function for measuring your heart rhythm and notifying you of irregularities. The Series 6 is a little faster at launching and running apps, but unless you’re comparing it side by side with the Apple Watch SE, you aren’t likely to notice a difference. If you like the look or feel of a steel or titanium case, the Series 6 is your only option. We’d be hard-pressed to tell the Apple Watch SE apart from the more premium Apple Watch Series 6 just by looking at them. The Series 6 has the same dimensions, and the exterior is identical, other than color and material differences. But the Series 6 has a few key components that are nice to have and that you’re likely to notice, namely an always-on display, blood oxygen monitoring, ECG, and steel and titanium case options. On the other hand, the slightly faster processor and Wi-Fi, as well as an Ultra Wideband chip that doesn’t have any practical use, don’t justify the higher price. If you upgrade from an older model to the equivalent new Apple Watch, you’ll be able to continue using the bands you’ve purchased. Save If you have an iPhone and you want a smartwatch, there’s no reason to choose anything but an Apple Watch—and this year, most people should choose the Apple Watch SE . It’s the best way to keep up with notifications, track fitness, get directions, and use apps without having to constantly reach for your phone, and it offers almost all of the features of the much more expensive Apple Watch Series 6 . Senior staff writer Andrew Cunningham, who contributed to this guide, has been reviewing technology since 2011 and has been wearing some version of the Apple Watch since the original came out, in 2015. He also edits our PC, networking, Apple, and Android guides. In contrast, the Series 6’s electrocardiogram hardware is FDA cleared and can help detect a heart arrhythmia . Apple has been quick to tout examples of lives saved because of notifications of irregular heartbeats. Of course, there’s no guarantee that there will be anything to catch, or that it will catch anything.
Also new to the Apple Watch SE: an always-on altimeter. Part of the Compass app, it tells you your elevation in real time—plus or minus 20 feet. So although it can be neat to see where you are in relation to sea level while you’re hiking, for example, the result is not always completely accurate. Having worn an Apple Watch every day since 2015, I’ve rarely seen it run out of power or even enter the Power Reserve mode. It has usually had at least 30% battery left at the end of any given day. It was only on the days when I tracked long exercise sessions or kept Apple Maps open for navigation on extended car rides that my Apple Watch’s charge dropped into the Power Reserve range. If you still have a USB-A wall adapter, you can pick up this Amazon Basics charger. It’ll charge just as fast as Apple’s USB-C charger, but the magnetic end that sticks to your Apple Watch won’t fit in most stands. Apple is positioning these blood oxygen readings as a “wellness” feature, not a medical diagnostic; the sensor is not cleared or approved by the FDA. So it’s questionable what you can do with the information, or even how accurate it is. Apple is using anonymized, opt-in data to run a handful of health studies, and useful information may come from that. But at the individual level, be sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns you might have. All these wearables can get notifications, track runs, and monitor fitness level, but each type is best suited to only one task. All Apple Watch SE versions include 32 GB of storage for apps, music, and podcasts. That’s about 8,000 songs’ worth, which should be more than enough on your wrist. The Apple Watch Is the Best Smartwatch Reviews by Wirecutter apple watch articlesThe Apple Watch Is the Best Smartwatch Reviews by Wirecutter apple watch articles The larger display is the Apple Watch SE’s most obvious benefit over the Series 3. The smaller version of the SE has a bigger screen than the larger version of the Series 3. As a result, text is larger, apps can display more information, buttons are bigger and easier to tap, and the watch is more usable overall than older models. The corners of the display are also rounded now to match the shape of the screen itself, which just looks better. In addition, Apple uses the extra space to provide exclusive watch faces that can display a huge number of complications, app widgets on the screen . You might not always charge overnight, though, as watchOS 7, the software that runs the Apple Watch SE adds a sleep-tracking feature. If you wear the watch overnight for that purpose, you’ll have to top it off during the day. It’ll notify you if the battery is below 30% before bed. Whether you’re getting your first Apple Watch or upgrading from a version that’s a few years old, the Apple Watch SE is the model most people should choose. It has a great, large screen and is fast enough for apps, but it lacks some health-related features. Simpler watches and fitness gadgets can last a few days on a charge, but the Apple Watch can’t. An Apple Watch should easily survive a day of normal use on a charge. But if you’re doing anything demanding—using LTE, navigating with Maps for an extended period, or tracking a long workout—you may find your watch in Power Reserve mode before the evening. The Apple Watch SE can detect falls, and it can automatically call emergency services and your designated emergency contacts if you don’t move after a fall has been detected. If you’re considering an Apple Watch for a kid or for a family member without an iPhone, there’s a new feature called Family Setup . It’s limited to Series 4 and newer Apple Watch models , and they have to be the cellular versions—which means you need to spend at least $330 on that Apple Watch. For most people, Family Setup makes sense only with a hand-me-down. But if you do use it, you can limit apps and contacts, set a Schooltime mode for limited distractions, and check in on the wearer’s whereabouts. At this point, we don’t recommend the Apple Watch Series 3 , which was introduced in 2017 and is still available new from Apple. The smaller, squared-off display feels dated, and the Series 3 is notably slower at running apps than either the SE or the Series 6. An LTE version potentially could have been a good choice for kids with the Family Setup feature, but Apple supports only the Series 4 and beyond for Family Setup, and the company discontinued the cellular model of the Series 3 in 2020. Apple’s clever band-attachment design is the most frustration-free of any smartwatch we’ve tested; swapping bands is an easy and quick task. Apple offers a slew of band options , and you can find hundreds of bands for any budget from third-party vendors . Thankfully, Apple designed the Apple Watch SE so that bands for the previous-generation 38 mm models fit the 40 mm watch, and 42 mm bands fit the 44 mm watch—if you upgrade from an older model to the equivalent new Apple Watch, you’ll be able to continue using the bands you’ve purchased. After 25 hours of research and testing over two years, we’ve found six Apple Watch bands and one band adapter we like across a variety of styles and prices. Whereas the Apple Watch SE is available only in an aluminum body with three different colors, the Series 6 offers many more—and more expensive—options. The aluminum Series 6 is available in the same gray, silver, and gold, plus a very nice blue version and Product Red version. For a $300 premium, you can choose a stainless steel case in graphite, silver, or gold. And for another $100 more than that, you can have titanium or black titanium. None of these variations function any differently; it’s just aesthetics . After logging roughly 500 miles wearing 18 watches, we’ve concluded that the Coros Pace 2 and Garmin Forerunner 245 will best suit most runners. Apple advertises the S6 processor in the Series 6 as being 20% faster than the S5 processor in the Apple Watch SE. In reality, the S5 is plenty fast enough, and you likely wouldn’t even notice the difference between the two unless you were explicitly looking for it. This may change down the line as watchOS software becomes more demanding, but we don’t think the processor speed is a reason to spend the extra money. Neither is the addition of 5 GHz Wi-Fi or Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip, which doesn’t have any practical applications yet. Few other iOS-compatible smartwatches are available. Some wrist-worn fitness trackers can relay notifications from your iPhone in a limited manner, but you should consider these devices strictly if you want a good fitness tracker and nothing else, and if you’re willing to give up all of the other things the Apple Watch can do. Similarly, a dedicated GPS running watch bests the Apple Watch at tracking runs but isn’t a true smartwatch. If you’re confused about which type of wearable is best for you, check out our comparison of smartwatches, fitness trackers, and running watches . The biggest difference between Amazon’s charger and those from Apple is the size of the charging puck: While it works just the same, the Amazon charger’s puck is thicker and has a larger diameter. These differences really matter only if you plan on using the cable with a stand, since most stands are specifically designed to work with the size and shape of Apple’s puck. Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 7 , which will be shipping later this fall. While details are oddly scarce, Apple promises a 20% larger screen in 41 mm and 45 mm configurations, although exactly how big the body is compared to the Series 6 remains to be seen. Apple promises greater crack resistance, in addition to new dust resistance. We’re waiting on more details from Apple, but in the meantime, we recommend against buying the Apple Watch Series 6 if you can wait, since it’s starting at the same $400 as the Series 7 will go for when it’s released. If you prefer an always-on display, want to track your blood oxygen level or heart rhythm, or are willing to pay more for a steel or titanium casing, go with the Apple Watch Series 6. © 2021 Wirecutter, Inc., A New York Times Company Of all the smartwatches we’ve tested—for both iPhone and Android—the Apple Watch SE represents the best overall package. It does all the Apple Watch–y things most people probably want just as well as any other Apple Watch, including fitness tracking, messaging, and apps. The SE’s screen sizes are just as large as on the most expensive model you can buy, and it’s plenty fast at every task. But you do make minor sacrifices with the SE: You give up the always-on display, blood oxygen monitoring, and ECG of the Series 6. If any of those features are important to you, spend a bit more on our upgrade pick . The Apple Watch SE is a great first smartwatch, and it’s a solid upgrade if you have an Apple Watch Series 3 or older. If you own a Series 4 or 5, though, hold on to it; the Apple Watch SE is actually a small downgrade from those versions. Wirecutter is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more No one absolutely needs a smartwatch, but it can help you wrangle your smartphone notifications, track your workouts, watch article 15 download