Apple launched three new Apple Watches in 2022: the Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch SE (2022).
With the arrival of these three Apple Watches, Apple has discontinued the Apple Watch 7, the Apple Watch 3, and the older Apple Watch SE model that launched in 2020, however you may still be able to buy those older Apple Watch models from resellers and from Apple’s Refurbished Store.
In this guide we will help you decide which Apple Watch is best for you. We’ll compare the features, spec and price as well as offering advice on choosing cases, colors and straps so you can be confident you are choosing the right Apple Watch.
Here’s what you need to know before buying an Apple Watch.
What does an Apple Watch do?
Practically every Apple Watch ever made has offered the same set of basic functions. Apple Watch can be used in conjunction with an iPhone (or separately if the user has a cellular contract) to:
Make or take phone calls
Read and send text messages
Read and send emails
Listen to music or podcasts
Receive notifications relating to iPhone and Apple Watch apps
Use apps, such as Maps for navigation, a calculator or a compass
Track fitness, including steps and calories burned
Tell the time – especially if your watch has an always-on display (they don’t all offer that)
There’s another choice to be made. Do you need an Apple Watch with cellular connectivity or not? We examine GPS versus cellular in a separate article, read: Should I buy a cellular Apple Watch.
If you choose a cellular version of the Apple Watch you’ll be able to leave your iPhone at home and use your Watch for making calls, receiving texts, and streaming music. Apple Watch can also support Family Setup if you are looking for a Watch for someone who doesn’t have an iPhone.
Apple Watch comparison
Right now Apple sells three different Apple Watches, although there are different combinations of case and wrist band that can make it seem like a bit of a minefield.
Generally each Apple Watch offers a few more features than the one that came before it, however that’s not always true. Below we will run though the features available on each Apple Watch so you can see what you are getting for your money. Before we begin a quick over view of the Watches Apple sells:
Apple Watch Ultra
This is the ultimate Apple Watch, but is it the watch for you? Apple says it’s designed for athletes and adventures, so if that isn’t you maybe it would be overkill, or maybe you need the new features that the other Watches don’t offer, such as the better GPS and the larger screen.
The Apple Watch Series 8 is the successor to the Apple Watch Series 7. It offers a couple of new features compared to the previous generation including a new ability to track temperature, which is linked to a woman’s monthly cycle and could detect ovulation. Car crash detection is the other headline feature for this generation. However, car crash detection is also available for the Apple Watch SE, and the temperature monitoring is also available on the Ultra, so those aren’t really reasons to choose this watch over what else is on offer right now.
The new Apple Watch SE for 2022 beats its 2020 sibling with a number of new features and component improvements. Like the Series 8, it has Crash Detection and the improvements to the Compass app. The heart sensor in the SE (old and new) is second-generation while the Series 8 (and 7) have the third-generation heart sensor. The SE also lacks the temperature sensor for cycle monitoring.
That’s an overview, but in a little more detail here’s how the features of each Apple Watch compare.
The Apple Watch Ultra is the biggest Apple Watch Apple has ever sold. It has a 49mm case with a larger screen that is capable of displaying six lines of text, so you can see more information at a glance than you can on the other Apple Watches. The 49mm case allows for a 410 by 502 pixels screen.
The next largest screen comes with the 45mm Apple Watch Series 8. This screen size was introduced on the Series 7. The 45mm Watch face is 396 by 484 pixels.
Prior to the Series 7, the Series 6 had a 44mm case that had been introduced with the Apple Watch Series 4. It is this case that features on the Apple Watch SE. The 44mm screen means there are 368 by 448 pixels on the display.
Not everyone wants a big watch though. If you have slim wrists you might prefer a smaller case, in which case Apple offers a smaller variant of each watch (aside from the Ultra).
There is a 41mm case option available for the Series 8 with 352 by 430 pixel screen. The Apple Watch SE offers a 40mm case with 324 by 394 pixels screen. The difference between the screen size in the 45mm model and the 44mm model, and the 41mm model and the 40mm model is a lot larger than the 1mm difference would suggest because Apple extended the size on the display on those Apple Watches.
There may be three variants of the Apple Watch in 2022, but there are a number of combinations that mean that there are mode design differences than you might expect.
As we explained above, there are five sizes to choose from: 49mm, 45mm, 44mm, 41mm and 40mm.
In addition to the sizes, Apple uses three materials for the cases: aluminium for the Watch SE; aluminium or Stainless Steel for the Series 8; and titanium for the Ultra. For each case there is a choice of colors:
Aluminium comes in midnight, starlight, and silver.
Stainless Steel is available in graphite, silver, and gold.
Titanium is just the one color.
As well as a choice of case color, you also have a vast choice of straps or bands to go with the Apple Watch, some are only compatibles with certain Watch sizes (see: Do new Apple Watch straps fit all models? Some add a considerable expense to the cost of the Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Ultra has a choice of three straps designed to be rugged and suitable for extreme sports enthusiasts, these new straps can be used with the larger Apple Watches as well. Take a look at all the watch straps on offer on Apple’s site.
Various elements of the Apple Watch Ultra design help it withstand altitudes, high temperatures, low temperatures, immersion, freeze/thaw, shock, and vibration. So if you want a watch that can be warn at a depth of 40 meters (it’s certified for scuba diving) and is water resistant to 100 metres the Ultra will be the one for you.
To aid durability the Ultra’s case is made from titanium, which is a much stronger material than the aluminium and Stainless Steel of the Apple Watch 8 as well as being corrosion resistant. However, the Apple Watch Series 7, and other Series Watches before it also offered a titanium case, so if you want a more rugged case the last generation Apple Watch might suffice (if you can get your hands on one). The case of the 2022 Apple Watch SE (and the generations before it) is aluminium.
Also making the Ultra a little better able to withstand knocks is a sapphire front crystal display, around which raised edges of the case provide protection. The Apple Watch Series 8 also features strong sapphire glass on the Stainless Steel models. There’s Ion-X screen glass on the aluminium models.
All three watches are “Swimproof”, according to Apple, but they are not equal in this respect. The Apple Watch 8 and SE both have a water resistance rating of 50 meters and Apple suggests that they can be used for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean. The Apple Watch Ultra has a water resistance rating of 100 meters and includes a Depth gauge and water temperature sensor. With these feature isn’t no surprise that Apple states that the Ultra can be used for recreational scuba diving, however Apple adds that “Apple Watch Ultra should not be used for diving below 40 meters” and also points out that “water resistance can diminish over time”.
The Ultra offers the same IP6X dust resistance as the Series 8. The SE does’t offer this certification.
When Apple describes the Apple Watch as being, for example, 44mm, that’s the case size, not the display size. The display area is as follows:
Apple Watch Ultra: 49mm, 1164 sq mm display area
Apple Watch Series 8: 45mm, 1143 sq mm display area
Apple Watch SE, 44mm, 977 sq mm display area
Apple Watch Series 8: 41mm, 904 sq mm display area
Apple Watch SE, 40mm, 759 sq mm display area
Both the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch Series 8 offer an Always-On display, a feature that was also shared by the Apple Watch Series 5 and later. The Apple Watch SE doesn’t offer an Always-On display.
The Ultra display offers up to 2,000 nits brightness. This beats the Series 8 and SE which both offer 1,000 nits brightness. This should make the Ultra easier to read in particularly bright light, for example when skiing.
Health and Safety features
Cycle Tracking: Just like the Series 8, the Ultra offers temperature sensing for Cycle Tracking, which is a new feature introduced with these 2022 Watches that should help women trying to get pregnant identify when they have ovulated.
Blood Oxygen: You’ll also find the Blood Oxygen app (which arrived with the Series 6) in these two Watches. Measuring blood oxygen can alert the wearer to any reduction of oxygen in their blood stream and can help with management of conditions like asthma.
ECG: The Apple Watch 8 and Ultra offer the ECG app (introduced with the Series 4). The 2022 SE can’t perform an ECG (electrocardiogram), but it can notify you of high and low heart rate and irregular heart rhythm, as can the other Watches.
Crash Detection: All the 2022 Apple Watches can detect a car crash. This new feature for the 2022 Watches means that if you are in a severe car crash while wearing one of the three 2022 Apple Watches the Watch will detect the impact and dial emergency services if you are unresponsive (you’ll get a 10- second warning).
Fall Detection: Another safety features that is shared by all the new Apple Watches is Fall Detection (the feature arrived with the Apple Watch Series 4). If the watch identifies that you have fallen it will sound an alarm and display an alert so you can confirm if you are ok. If you aren’t ok the watch can call the emergency services. If you don’t have a cellular plan for your Apple Watch you will need your connected iPhone to be nearby for the call to be placed.
Siren: Another new for 2022 safety feature is unique to the Ultra. That model can play a 86-decibel siren that is audible up to 600 feet (182 meters), handy if you get lost on a mountain.
Compass & Backtrack: Speaking of mountaineering, the new redesigned Compass app with and Backtrack feature should help you avoid getting lost – but that’s another feature shared by the other 2022 Watches. The Apple Watch Ultra could be better at this job though because it features a new dual-frequency GPS that should make it better at positioning you because it won’t be affected by tall trees and buildings. If you are frustrated that your Watch can’t pinpoint your exact location when you are trying to use it for directions amid tall buildings this is a feature for you.
Sleep Tracking: The Apple Watches can also track your sleep and wake you up. In watchOS 8 the Apple Watch could track your breathing rate, notifying you of possible health issues. The assessment of sleep stages will get better in watchOS 9, with the Apple Watch detecting when you are in REM, Core, or Deep sleep.
Chip: The 2022 Apple Watches all offer Apple’s S8 system-on-chip. The Apple Watch Series 7 featured the S7, but the S8 isn’t thought to be a lot different.
GPS: Both the Apple Watch Series 8 and SE have L1 GPS, while the Apple Watch Ultra offers Precision dual-frequency (L1 and L5) GPS. L1 GPS is the standard GPS, but it can be blocked by tall buildings and other obstacles. L5 GPS is more advanced and should cope better with buildings blocking the satellite signal.
U1: The Apple Watch SE is the only Apple Watch that doesn’t include the U1 chip. The U1 can be used to precisely locate the Apple Watch if you mislay it and can also communicate with other U1-equipped Apple devices and things like digital car keys and AirTags.
Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi connectivity is better in the Series 8 and Ultra: the SE offers only 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n, while the Apple Watch 8 and Ultra both add 5GHz Wi-Fi to that.
The Apple Watch ultra offers 36 hour battery life, which is much more than the other Watches’ 18 hours. Like the Series 8 the Ultra offers Fast charge, which should speed up charging via USB-C.
That 36 hour figure for the Ultra could improve though: Apple is promising that this will extend to 60 hours following a software update later in the year.
That’s battery life measured in typical use, but athletes and other users might not be quite so typical. Apple says that there’ll be enough battery power to get users through a triathlon (that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon of 26.2 miles). The problem for other Apple Watch users is that the battery would probably run down if you were tracking such extensive exercise.
Apple Watch price comparison
There re three Apple Watches on sale from Apple right now, but Apple won’t be the only place where you can buy an Apple Watch and you can still buy older models that Apple doesn’t sell.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
Older Apple Watches
These Apple Watches were still being sold by Apple prior to September 2022. They have now been discontinued but you will possibly be able to buy a refurbished model from Apple’s Refurbished Store, or from one of the resellers below.
Apple Watch Series 7
Before Apple discontinued its the Apple Watch 7 started at $399/£369 for the 41mm version without cellular, while the 45mm variant starts at $429/£399. Cellular models cost more.
Price comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwide
Apple Watch Series 3
This model that first launched in 2017 was still sold by Apple until September 2022. The Apple Watch 3 was the cheapest at $199/£179 for the 38mm version and $229/£199 for the 42mm version. Neither included cellular. If there are any available you will see prices below.
Which Apple Watch to buy
As you can see from the above, it’s not a simple case of being able to say a particular Apple Watch is the winner. The Apple Watch Ultra clearly has the best features, but it’s big, perhaps too big, and it has a big price attached to it.
The Apple Watch 8 offers some new features compared to the Apple Watch 7, but none are really worth getting excited about: protection if you are in a car crash and the ability to tell when you have ovulated are useful, and some might say ‘life or death’, but they aren’t something that the majority of people will be thinking they need. Nor is the chip inside much better than the previous generation, but the people looking to buy a new Apple Watch probably won’t be replacing the 7, so that probably doesn’t really matter.
The Apple Watch SE is now Apple’s cheapest Apple Watch, starting at $249/£259, which will be a big point in its favour, but it’s not the cheapest Apple Watch ever sold. Prior to the September event Apple sold the Apple Watch Series 3 for just $199/£179 for the 38mm version. The 2022 SE is cheaper than the 2020 generation though, which started at $279/£269. Along with a lower price the SE now offers a few new features – including the Car Crash detection.
For the majority the decision is going to be between the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch SE second-generation. Here it’s the health related features that will probably stand out as the main differentiator. So if the ability to check blood oxygen, take an ECG, and the temperature monitoring, are important to you then it has to be the Series 8. If those aren’t something that you think you need then the SE will be quite sufficient.
And if you are off up a mountain, diving in the ocean, or heading out for a marathon, then the Ultra will be the way to go.