Skip to main content

The best Apple Watch in 2021: Apple Watch 6 vs. SE vs. 3

best Apple Watch: Apple Watch 6 vs. SE vs. 3
(Image credit: Future)

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 the best smartwatch every year. The best Apple Watch always gets better.

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 might be able to find the Apple Watch Series 5 as retailers finish clearing 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 6. Not only does the Apple Watch 6 benefit from Apple’s activity tracking sensors, FDA-approved ECG monitor, an always-on display and dedicated App Store, but it’s the first Apple Watch with a blood oxygen reader. It can also be charged in just 90 minutes.

You won't get most of these features on the Apple Watch SE, but the mid-range option is still a good Apple Watch Series 5 replacement and the best Apple Watch for first-time users. It starts at $279, and offers the cheapest entry point to an Apple Watch with LTE, $329. Plus it benefits from all the best Apple Watch apps and watchOS 7's sleep tracking tools and new watch faces. 

As does the Apple Watch Series 3, which, over three years later, is still available. The Series 3 is starting to age out, but it can do a lot for its $199 price tag. It has GPS, fitness tracking and is swim-proof, so it's still the best Apple Watch for the price. Apple has discontinued the Apple Watch 3 with LTE option, though.

The best Apple Watch today

(Image credit: Future)

1. Apple Watch Series 6

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

Brighter always-on display
Fast charging
WatchOS 7 on-board
Still just 18-hour battery life

The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best Apple Watch right now. It adds to everything we appreciated about the Series 5, like the always-on display to the library of health features, with an even brighter screen and added blood oxygen (SpO2) reader. Plus the Apple Watch comes in color for the first time — the exclusive blue and Product Red finishes are awesome options.

While we would’ve liked to see the Apple Watch improve its 18-hour battery life, the Series 6 does benefit from faster charging. You can completely juice it up in just 90 minutes, which comes in handy for wearing, instead of charging, it overnight. Yes, the Apple Watch 6 has sleep tracking, too, thanks to watchOS 7. The latest software also adds new watch faces, mobility metrics and an automatic hand-washing timer.

Read our full Apple Watch 6 review.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Apple Watch SE

The best Apple Watch for first-timers

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

Huge app library
Large screen
No always-on display, ECG

The Apple Watch SE is a hybrid of the Apple Watch Series 5 (which has since been discontinued) and the Apple Watch Series 3. The $279 smartwatch doesn't have all the Series 6's features, but still stands out for its speedy chip and safety features. It also offers an LTE option, making it a good choice for those interested in trying out Family Setup.

When choosing between the Apple Watch 6 and the Apple Watch SE, your ultimate decision will be if you want to spend an extra $120 for a brighter display with an always-on option, an ECG monitor, and an SpO2. If those tools aren't deal-breakers for you, the SE is the best Apple Watch option for you.

Read our full Apple Watch SE review.

(Image credit: Future)

3. Apple Watch Series 3

The best Apple Watch on a budget

Display: 38mm, 42mm | Heart Rate: Yes | GPS: Yes | LTE: No | 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 the best 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's supported by the latest watchOS 7 software.

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 5 and 6, 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.

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 6 vs. Apple Watch SE. We’d recommend getting the Series 6 if you have the $399 to spend for its always-on display and advanced health sensors. The Apple Watch SE might be a better option for first-time users, though.

If you're torn between the Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3 or Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch 3, it will come down to whether you want to have a smartwatch that will be supported by updates for years to come. Although the Series 3’s low price is attractive if you’re looking for a capable fitness tracker that integrates with your iPhone.

No matter which you choose, you’ll benefit from the watchOS 7 software update, meaning all three 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 SE and Apple Watch 6 support LTE service. LTE-capable models come at a $50 or $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.