Apple Watches compared: Which model do you buy in 2021?

The most successful watch in the world is: a smartwatch! Apple has achieved this feat over the past few years by becoming the largest watch manufacturer in the world, leaving the Swiss watch industry in the dust. According to Strategy Analytics, Apple has already sold around 50 percent more watches in 2019 than all Swiss watch manufacturers combined (30.7 versus 21.1 million units).

The phenomenal success of the Apple Watch certainly has a lot to do with the fact that the iPhone and watch work so perfectly together, so much so you can now pay, open doors, measure your pulse and oxygen, and do so many other things through your smartwatch that you sometimes feel like you’re wearing the future on your wrist. However, the main reason for a smartwatch is, and remains for many people, the topic surrounding “health”.

Those who decide to buy an Apple Watch are spoilt for choice in this day and age! Apple alone sells four different models at the moment, with prices ranging from around $399 to $1,499.

Table of contents:

Current Apple Watch lineup

The latest models in Apple’s Watch lineup are the Watch Series 6 and the Watch SE. They were unveiled in October 2020 along with the iPhone 12 series. In addition, Apple still maintains the Watch Series 3 from 2017 in their portfolio as a cheaper option for those who are on a budget.

On the open market, you can also find the other models, such as the Series 4 or 5.

The latest: Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 5

Apple Watch Series 6 Bild Apple
The Apple Watch Series 6 for the very first time measures your oxygen saturation level in your blood / © Apple

The Apple Watch Series 6 has everything that Apple wanted to squeeze into a wrist-ready package: An always-on Retina display, GPS, ECG, SpO2, fall detection, LTE, and other features. However, packing in so much high-tech parts also comes with a price: the Apple Watch Series 6 costs at least $399 from the manufacturer itself, with LTE model starting at $499. If you want to settle for something more upmarket in looks, i.e. the steel or even titanium version, you will have to be prepared to pay a whole lot more.

If you want to enjoy plenty of features but are limited by your budget, you can always settle for its predecessor. The Apple Watch Series 5 does come up short in certain departments, but it is still worth considering: It makes do without the U1 chip with UWB, and there is no SpO2 sensor as well. In addition, the Apple Watch Series 6’s always-on display is vastly improved over the Watch Series 5.

However, if you want an Apple Watch with a ceramic case, then the Series 5 would be the best pick. When it comes to the Watch Series 6, Apple only offers aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium material options.

Comparison: Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 5

apple watch series 6 apple watch series 5

Apple Watch Series 6

Buy Apple Watch Series 6

Buy Apple Watch Series 5

Buy Apple Watch Series 5

40 mm / 44 mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Apple S6, W3 and U1 chipset
Pulse sensor, ECG, SpO2
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
32 GB memory

Technical data:
40 mm / 44 mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Apple S6 and W3 chipset
Pulse sensor, ECG
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
32 GB memory
All about the Apple Watch Series 6 All about the Apple Watch Series 5

The entry-level candidates: Apple Watch SE and Series 3

hero apple event apple watch se
The Apple Watch SE: Lacks a few important features but is much cheaper / © Apple

Since 2020, there is an affordable entry-level model for the masses known as the Apple Watch SE. This smartwatch offers almost everything that the larger models also offer, with a few important exceptions. The main drawback for most would most probably be the lack of an always-on display. Those who are muttering to themselves right now while reading this, “Who needs something like that?”, you might want to take note that folks who lead an active lifestyle and want to briefly check their pulse or lap time on the go should probably think carefully before picking this model up, or consider an additional investment for an always-on display.

Personally, I could live without the missing ECG or the blood oxygen measurement sensor. But how often have I cursed while running or during a workout session, the moments when I wanted to check just how long I still have to hold the weights before the next rep. The only remedy? To touch the screen, which is neither easy nor looks particularly elegant during an exercise.

But if you can live without it, then the Apple Watch SE is a very clear buy recommendation. Not only does it have the Apple Watch’s current design and a large OLED display, but it also has important features such as a compass or fall detection.

These are both features that the Apple Watch Series 3, for example, lacks as well as the current design of the Apple Watch. The display here is even noticeably smaller: instead of 40 millimeters in the small and 44 millimeters in the large variant, the Watch Series 3 measures just 38 mm and 42 mm, respectively. In addition, its display juts out just a bit higher and the image looks less sharp.

However, the Apple Watch Series 3 is waterproof and already has integrated GPS for route tracking and a barometer on board. It’s also currently the cheapest variant you can pick up for your hard-earned money. Hence, if you can live with its limitations, you won’t do badly with this model, either.

Comparison: Apple Watch Series 3 and SE

apple watch series 3 apple watch series se

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch SE

Buy Apple Watch SE

38mm / 42mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
Apple S3 and W2 chips
Pulse sensor
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
8 GB memory

40 mm / 44 mm
Retina LTPO OLED display
Choice of GPS or GPS + LTE
Apple S5 and W3 chips
Pulse sensor
Bluetooth 5.0, WLAN
32 GB memory
All about the Apple Watch Series 3 All about the Apple Watch Series SE

Special editions: Nike & Hermès

apple watch se series 6 hermes nike
Hermès on the left and Nike on the right / © Apple, Collage: NextPit

We often look into faces marked with a quizzical look when it comes to these two special models from Nike and the high street brand, Hermès. Are they models that, in addition to their special appearance, perhaps offer more or even fewer features compared to the other Apple Watches?

We can reassure you at this point: No, both special edition models have the same range of functions as the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, respectively. Rather, these are special edition models with special wristbands or loops, as well as uniquely created watch faces for the discerning consumer. Or as Apple would say: Watch Faces.

Both special models can only be purchased through Apple itself or the Hermès and Nike online stores.

Apple Watch Studio

Since 2019, Apple has been offering the so-called Apple Watch Studio both on its stores and online on its website. There, customers have the opportunity to mix-and-match every available Apple Watch case with all kinds of different straps. This way, you can create virtually any number of combinations based on your creative streak, allowing buyers to piece together their very own personalized Apple Watch. Perfect idea for a gift, eh?

Next Apple Watch: Series 7

Expected to roll out in September 2021, Apple will bring its latest model, the Apple Watch Series 7. Of course, there is currently no reliable information about the new Apple Watch. However, the rumor mill is already in overdrive right now.

We expect the next generation Apple Watch to be available in a slightly modified design . There is talk of a much flatter smartwatch, which is somewhat reminiscent of the iPhone and iPad design. It is also said to be available in green for the very first time. In addition, Apple is apparently planning watches in red, black, silver and blue shades.

The Apple Watch Series 7 will also receive a faster processor with the S7 chip, and it will also be smaller in size. This is said to provide more space for a larger battery, which bodes well for longer battery life.

It remains unclear, however, whether there will be new health functions, such as blood sugar or alcohol measurement, that will make it into the Watch Series 7. It is widely rumored that the market is not quite ready for such functions, and neither do these sensors (if they exist) meet the quality standards that have been set by Apple.

Meanwhile, it is considered to be a certainty that there will be new and improved tracking when it comes to workouts as well as also coaching for a better walking experience.

There is no word yet on how much the new Apple Watch Series 7 will cost.

watchOS 8

Apple announced watchOS 8 during its WWDC21 developer conference in early June 2021. The company then released a developer beta version of the new operating system for the Apple Watch in the same month itself. Apple is making the new watchOS 8 version available as a free update for the following Apple Watch models:

The new software release will also receive a number of improvements such as:

  • improved Wallet access features
  • new workout activities
  • tracks your breathing rate while sleeping
  • a new Mindfulness app
  • new ways to communicate including doodling, editing dictated messages, or adding emojis to a message

We have compiled all the information about watchOS 8 for you in the linked article.

Apple Watch: Model overview over the years

Year Models Highlights / Innovations
2021 Apple Watch Series 7
  • No official details known yet.
2020 Apple Watch Series 6
  • New Always-On Display.
  • SpO2 Sensor.
Apple Watch SE
  • Downsized model without always-on display, ECG and SpO2.
  • SoC from the Watch Series 5.
2019 Apple Watch Series 5
  • Always-On Display.
  • Compass.
2018 Apple Watch Series 4
  • Larger displays: 44 mm and 40 mm.
  • ECG function.
2017 Apple Watch Series 3
  • Comes with optional LTE (via eSIM) and can also make calls without an iPhone.
  • Altimeter.
2016 Apple Watch Series 2
  • Apple S2 marks first time dual-core SoC in an Apple Watch.
  • Ceramic instead of gold for ‘Watch Edition’.
  • IP68 certification.
  • GPS sensor.
Apple Watch Series 1
  • Slightly improved SoC (780 MHz instead of 520 MHz).
2015 Apple Watch
  • First ever smartwatch from Apple!
  • Two different sizes: 38 mm and 42 mm.
  • Gold Apple Watch Edition with a $10,000 starting price.

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