Should you buy the Apple Watch 8? How Apple Watch 7 and older models compare

Apple Watch Series 8 shown on wrist
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Apple Watch Series 8 is Apple’s latest smartwatch created to keep you connected, in shape and even safe, depending on the circumstance. But if you currently own an Apple Watch Series 7 or earlier, should you upgrade to Apple's latest watch? 

Choosing the best Apple Watch for you changes every year. With each new generation, the Apple Watch welcomes incremental upgrades, whether it's an added health sensor, communication feature or design alternation. The Apple Watch Series 8 includes a skin temperature sensor and crash detection feature, for example.

Unlike the iPhone, there’s little incentive to swap out your Apple Watch each time a refreshed model comes out. But after a few trips around the sun with your older Apple Watch, you might be thinking about exchanging it for the newest flagship.

Here’s how the Apple Watch Series 8 compares to the Apple Watch 7, Apple Watch SE, Apple Watch 6, Apple Watch 5, Apple Watch 4 and Apple Watch 3, and if we think it makes sense for you to upgrade to the next-generation smartwatch, which starts at $399 (AU$629).

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 7

In our comprehensive Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 7 guide, we determined those with the 2021 Apple Watch don’t need to upgrade to the latest model. That said, if you’re keen on owning the latest wearable tech, don’t let us stop you. Here’s what’s different between the two models.

The Apple Watch 8 continues the Apple Watch 7 design, but sports an S8 chip and a new skin temperature sensor. The sensor is used to detect overnight wrist temperature changes that might inform cycle or sleep tracking. 

Also new for Series 8 is crash detection, which leverages improved motion sensors to be able to call emergency services quickly in a suspected car accident. This feature is also included in the new Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch SE (2022)

But that’s about it in terms of hardware updates. Apple Watch low power mode comes via watchOS 9, available to Series 7 users now. Here's how to update your Apple Watch to the new watchOS if you haven't done so already.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 6

If you have an Apple Watch Series 6, your smartwatch is probably two years old. At that rate, we suspect it's still in good condition, and has many of the latest features available thanks to the arrival of watchOS 9. The two key specs it doesn't have are the larger display and skin temperature sensor. 

As long as you don't see a need for either, stick with your Series 6 for another year. Or don't, it's up to you. We will note you'd probably fetch a good sum if you know how to trade in your Apple Watch.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch SE 2020

If you own an original Apple Watch SE — not the newer Apple Watch SE (2022) — you’ve only had the smartwatch for two years or less, because Apple still sold it until recently. 

As explained in our Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE face-off, there are quite a few differences between the two models in terms of features, and many of them extend to how the SE compares to the Series 8. The Apple Watch SE doesn’t have the Apple Watch blood oxygen app, It also can't record ECGs, which are used to detect signs of atrial fibrillation. It doesn’t get an always-on display mode, either.

Perhaps if you acquired the Apple Watch SE as a sort-of starter smartwatch, and are ready for a big display improvement and more advanced health tools, you might find it worthwhile to get the Apple Watch Series 8. It's not a must, though, especially since the Apple Watch 8 is also a step-up in price from the SE.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 5

The Apple Watch 5 was the first Apple Watch with an always-on display. It also introduced noise alerts while continuing the ECG and Cellular capabilities of previous models. If your Apple Watch 5 is about three years old, you might be considering an upgrade to the Series 8.

With the Series 8, you’ll get a brighter, bigger display, skin temperature sensing, SpO2 monitoring, as well as Apple’s U1 ultra wideband chip for better connectivity within the company’s product ecosystem. That said, the Apple Watch 5 is also eligible for the watchOS 9 software update, with a redesigned compass app, the Medications app, better sleep tracking, all the best Apple Watch apps and more.

You could upgrade to the Apple Watch 8 from the Apple Watch 5, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Your current smartwatch will receive watchOS software refreshes for at least a few more years, if we had to guess. 

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 4

The Apple Watch 4 users should have at least one more year of software updates to look forward to as well. But the Series 4 is now four years old, so it might be worth updating. That's because this older model doesn't have an always-on display, which is one of our favorite Apple Watch features in terms of convenience. 

Another reason you would consider upgrading is if you're running short on storage. The Series 4 only holds 16GB, while the Series 8 holds 32GB. Of course, you'll also get other upgrades from the Series 5, Series 6 and Series 7 like SpO2 monitoring, noise alerts and a compass.

If you're hoping to get trade-in value for your current Apple Watch toward a new one, this is probably the last year the Series 4 will be worth a good sum. Consider handing over your Apple Watch 4 to ease the price of the Apple Watch 8, as long as it's in working condition.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 3

The Apple Watch Series 3 isn't one of the watchOS 9 supported devices, with the smartwatch and its processor being now five years old. If you still have one, it could be time to upgrade.

You'll see significant differences between the Apple Watch 3 and Apple Watch 8. For starters, you'll get ECG and SpO2 readings, as well as fall detection and a compass. 

The Apple Watch 8 display is 50% larger than Series 3 display, too. That alone should allow for an all-new experience. You can fetch some money back for your Series 3 with the best Apple Watch deals for trade in through Apple or Best Buy, if it's working and undamaged. 

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.