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The best Apple Watch in 2020

best Apple Watch
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

What is the best Apple Watch? The answer to that question depends on what you’re looking for out of a smartwatch. Do you want a device for fitness tracking? An extension of your iPhone? Or something that can save your life in certain emergencies? 

The Apple Watch can do all of those things, but some models do it better than others. Despite the limited visible differences between Apple’s annual refreshes, each Apple Watch generation has distinct perks that makes it one of the best smartwatches every year.

Editor's note: Apple has introduced two new smartwatches, the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, and is discontinuing the Apple Watch Series 5. We plan to update this guide once we've had a chance to test the two newest models. In the meantime, be sure to check out our Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE comparison. 

Apple has made seven versions of its smartwatch, but only three are sold by Apple right now: the Apple Watch Series 6, the Apple Watch SE and 2017’s Apple Watch Series 3. You can find the Apple Watch Series 5 as retailers clear out stock, as well as the Apple Watch Series 4 refurbished, too.

Pre-owned models of the Apple Watch Series 2 and original Apple Watch may circulate online as people look to upgrade as well. But neither generation is supported by the latest watchOS software updates, so they’re fairly limited compared to newer versions. 

See all of the best Apple Watch models below.

What is the best Apple Watch right now?

The best Apple Watch is the latest Apple Watch — the Series 5. Introduced last fall, the Apple Watch Series 5 remains the gold standard of smartwatches. Not only does it benefit from Apple’s activity tracking sensors, FDA-approved ECG monitor and dedicated App Store, but it’s the first Apple Watch to offer an always-on display, too.

Though the Series 5 is not a major step up from the Series 4, we found being able to see the time without having to raise our wrist improved the overall experience of wearing an Apple Watch. The added compass and reliable 18-hour battery life also contribute to the Series 5 being the best Apple Watch you can buy. 

We have yet to test it, but the new premier Apple Watch is the Apple Watch Series 6, which has an Spo2 monitor, which you can use to measure the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. It's not FDA approved, but it can be an indicator of something more serious. In addition, the Apple Watch 6 has a brighter display, new case colors, and a faster processor.

That said, the Apple Watch Series 5 will benefit from a number of software upgrades soon thanks to watchOS 7. Like the Series 6, the Series 5 will get sleep tracking, a new fitness app, added workout presets and a timely hand-washing tool. You can even try out these features early on an Apple Watch Series 3 or later with the watchOS 7 beta program.

The best Apple Watch today

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Apple Watch Series 5

The best Apple Watch overall

Display: 40mm, 44mm | Heart Rate: Yes | GPS: Yes | LTE: Optional | Battery Life: 18 hours | Swim-Proof: Yes | Music Storage: 32 GB

Always-on display
Useful compass
WatchOS 6 on-board
Still just 18-hour battery life

The Apple Watch Series 5 is the best Apple Watch on the market right now, and not just because it’s the newest model. The Series 5 has a huge, always-on display, which lets you tell the time with a glance at your wrist. It uses an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust to the conditions around you.

Aside from an always-on display and 18-hour battery life, the Apple Watch Series 5 benefits from a built-in compass and all of the advanced health features we loved about the Series 4. This includes fall detection and a built-in electrical heart rate sensor for taking on-the-go electrocardiograms. You can get the Apple Watch 5 with LTE, too, so you can leave your phone at home and still be able to communicate with friends or family wherever you get a cell signal. 

Read our full Apple Watch Series 5 review.

(Image credit: Future)

2. Apple Watch Series 3

The best Apple Watch on a budget

Display: 38mm, 42mm | Heart Rate: Yes | GPS: Yes | LTE: Optional | Battery Life: 18 hours | Swim-Proof: Yes | Music Storage: 8 GB (16GB for LTE)

Excellent fitness-tracking features
Apple Music streaming with LTE
No always-on display or ECG monitor

If you want a brand new Apple Watch for under $200, the 38mm Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS is the best Apple Watch for you. Not only is it still sold by Apple, but the company has continued to modernize it with annual software updates. And yes, it will be eligible for the latest watchOS 7 update in the fall.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is one of the best cheap smartwatches and best fitness trackers around. It delivers many of the same fitness-tracking and heart-health features that we love about the Series 4 and 5, making it a great choice if you’re in the market for a versatile workout companion. Though it doesn’t have an ECG sensor, the Series 3 can passively monitor your heart rate and send you a notification if it detects an irregular heart rhythm.

Read our full Apple Watch Series 3 review.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

3. Apple Watch Series 4

The best Apple Watch you can buy refurbished

Display: 40mm, 44mm | Heart Rate: Yes | GPS: Yes | LTE: Optional | Battery Life (Rated): 18 hours | Swim-Proof: Yes | Music Storage: 16 GB

Big, beautiful display
Advanced health sensors
ECG sensor
Not sold new

Apple discontinued the Apple Watch Series 4 when it released the Series 5, but if you can find it refurbished, it’s the best Apple Watch you can buy. As long as it’s still in top-notch condition, you could end up paying less for a model with an 18-hour battery and near-bezel-less display.

The Series 4 changed the pace of the smartwatch game by promising a wearable that could, in some cases, save your life. The FDA-approved ECG app is capable of taking electrocardiograms on the go, and an atrial fibrillation feature alerts you when you experience five irregular heart rhythms. It wasn’t until the Series 4 that the Apple Watch started down its path towards becoming an indispensable health tool, which makes this iteration worth getting if you can score it at a discount.

Read our full Apple Watch Series 4 review.

How to choose the best Apple Watch for you

Choosing the best Apple Watch for you doesn’t need to be a hard decision. In most cases, it will come down to the newest Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Apple Watch 3. We’d recommend getting the Series 5 if you want to have a smartwatch that will be supported by updates for years to come, although the Series 3’s low price could make it a better option if you’re looking for a capable fitness tracker that integrates with your iPhone.

No matter which you choose, you’ll benefit from the upcoming watchOS 7 software update, meaning the two watches will have several features in common. 

Check out our Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 4 and Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Series 4 face-offs to see if a refurbished version of the discontinued model makes the most sense for you. 

And, if you’re still questioning which Apple Watch is best, or whether the Apple Watch is the best smartwatch for you, take a look at our smartwatch buying guide. It includes our Apple Watch 3 vs. Fitbit Charge 4 and the Apple Watch Series 3 vs. Fitbit Versa 2 face-offs, which may help you determine whether a fitness tracker from Fitbit better suits your needs.

Should you get an Apple Watch with LTE?

Select models of the Apple Watch Series 3, Series 4 and Series 5 support LTE, or cellular, service. LTE-capable models come at a $100 premium, but it’s important to know that the cost of liberating your Apple Watch from your iPhone won’t end there. You’ll need to pay a monthly fee to your cellular provider to support your watch’s phone-free features.

(Image credit: Toms Guide)

We still bring our iPhones everywhere, so we haven’t felt like LTE is a must for Apple Watch users yet. That said, as the Apple Watch becomes more autonomous, there could be more scenarios in which leaving your phone behind makes sense. There’s a safety benefit to having LTE, too — if your phone dies or gets lost, your Apple Watch is able to keep you in touch.