A guide to the Apple Watch generations

Apple Watch generations - three Apple Watches side by side
(Image credit: Apple/Future owns)

As the years have passed since the original Apple Watch launched, more generations have been added to the line-up. And while the golden Apple Watch Edition is no longer with us, you now have the regular Apple Watch, the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Ultra to choose from. But which should you pick?

That’s what our guide is for. We’ve sifted through all the latest Apple Watch model list – and looked at a few older versions as well – to show you just what you get for your money. As we've reviewed a fair few of the Watches, we are best placed to share our wisdom and help you decide which of the Apple Watch generations you should choose.  

And if you can’t decide which iPhone to buy, we’ve got an iPhone model list to help you out. Similarly, our iPad generations list should put you right if you’re not sure which of Apple’s tablets is right for you.

The Apple Watch generations available now

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Apple Watch Series 9

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 9 (2023)

All the latest Apple Watch features

Specifications

Launch price: From $399
Sizes: 41mm or 45mm
Display: Always-On Retina LTPO OLED display, up to 2,000 nits of brightness
Chip: Apple S9, Apple W3 Wireless chip, Second-generation Ultra Wideband chip
Battery life: Up to 18 hours fast charging or up to 36 hours in Low Power Mode

Reasons to buy

+
Double tap gesture
+
Faster processor
+
Brighter display

Reasons to avoid

-
Small upgrades over the 8

The Apple Watch Series 9 has some rather nice upgraded features over the Series 8. There's nothing terribly groundbreaking but it does have a 30% faster chip, and a 4-core neural engine that's twice as quick. The display is brighter – twice as bright, in fact, with 2,000 nits rather than the previous 1,000. 

There's also Double Tap gesture (so you can tap your index finger and thumb to complete certain tasks), Precision Finding for your iPhone, extra dimming functionality and HomePod integration. But most every other feature is the same as the Series 8, including Crash Detection, heart rate monitoring etc.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Ultra 2 (2023)

Some small updates on the original

Specifications

Launch price: From $799
Sizes: 49mm
Display: Always-On Retina LTPO OLED display, up to 3,000 nits of brightness
Chip: Apple S9, Apple W3 Wireless chip, Second-generation Ultra Wideband chip
Battery life: Up to 36 hours or up to 72 hours in Low Power Mode

Reasons to buy

+
New double-tap
+
Twice as bright
+
New fitness features

Reasons to avoid

-
No flashy updates

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the most advanced Apple Watch on the market, perfect for those who want the ruggedt build and adventure-supporting features. The standout new features are that the new chip and processor makes it up to 50% faster, and Siri is available on the Watch itself. There's also the new double tap gesture (as found on the Series 9), which allows you to tap your finger and thumb together as a sort of button. 

What was on the Ultra already was a host of brilliant features for adventurers, like a water temperature sensor, a depth gauge and depth app, a compass, an ambient light sensor – and all the health features found on the basic app.

The Ultra 2 is certainly worth it for adventurers who don't yet have an Apple Watch, but is probably not a flashy enough update on the original Ultra to upgrade if you already have the first one (especially since there will likely be some standout offers on the original Ultra).

Apple Watch Series 8 worn by a man outside

(Image credit: Future)
Still a brilliant Apple Watch

Specifications

Launch price: £419
Sizes: 45mm or 41mm
Display: Always-On Retina display with up to 1,000 nits of brightness
Chip: Apple S8, Apple W3 wireless chip, Apple U1 Ultra Wideband chip
Battery life: Up to 18 hours with fast charging, or up to 36 hours in Low Power Mode

Reasons to buy

+
A superb device all-round
+
Adds crash detection and cycle tracking

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a huge upgrade from the Series 7
-
Price increase over Series 7

The Series 8 is last year's Apple Watch, and it encapsulates the excellent experience the Watch has come to epitomise. It has an always-on display that stretches close to the edges of the screen, the latest Apple S8 chip, and a range of attractive colours and straps. To be honest, it doesn't do much less than the Series 9 – and with some excellent prices available right now we do reccommend this model if price is a key consideration. 

The Series 8 was a small upgrade over the Series 7, with crash detection, temperature sensing and ovulation cycle tracking being the main new features. If you’re new to the Apple Watch then it’s a great purchase – Apple makes the best smartwatches on the market, after all.

Apple Watch Ultra on a table

(Image credit: Euan Semple)
The ultimate Apple Watch

Specifications

Launch price: £849
Sizes: 49mm
Display: Always-On Retina display with up to 2,000 nits of brightness
Chip: Apple S8, Apple W3 wireless chip, Apple U1 Ultra Wideband chip
Battery life: Up to 36 hours with fast charging, or up to 60 hours in Low Power Mode

Reasons to buy

+
Perfect for outdoor activities
+
Stronger, brighter and longer-lasting

Reasons to avoid

-
Very expensive
-
Bulky

The Apple Watch Ultra was the most high-end device in the Watch line-up until this year's Ultra 2 release, and it was Apple’s attempt to go all-out for explorers and extreme sports enthusiasts. But it also offers plenty for people who just want an Apple Watch that does it all.

It has a large and bright display, a super-tough chassis, 36 hours of battery life, and an Action button with a range of uses. For rugged adventurers, there’s more accurate GPS, a location alert siren, and double the water resistance (down to 100m). It’s expensive, but much less so now the Ultra 2 is out – it’s the Apple Watch to buy if you don’t want any compromises on performance but don't want to spend top dollar.

Apple Watch SE (2022) being worn by a man

(Image credit: Future)
The perfect Apple Watch introduction

Specifications

Launch price: £259
Sizes: 44mm or 40mm
Display: Retina display with up to 1,000 nits of brightness
Chip: Apple S8, Apple W3 wireless chip
Battery life: Up to 18 hours

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable
+
Many similarities with the Series 8

Reasons to avoid

-
No always-on display
-
Lacks fast charging

The Apple Watch SE (2nd generation) is a great way to get an Apple Watch without breaking the bank. It contains many of the features found in the Apple Watch Series 8, including an S8 chip, the same 50m water resistance, and the new crash detection and cycle tracking features.

It misses out on a few things, such as the always-on display and fast charging, but in return it can be picked up for $249. If you’re not bothered by what it lacks, it’s the perfect way into the Apple Watch ecosystem without having to cut back on much.

Three models of the Apple Watch Series 7 next to each other.

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 7 (2021)

Great value and still very modern

Specifications

Launch price: £369
Sizes: 45mm or 41mm
Display: Always-On Retina display with up to 1,000 nits of brightness
Chip: Apple S7, Apple W3 wireless chip, Apple U1 Ultra Wideband chip
Battery life: Up to 18 hours with fast charging

Reasons to buy

+
Still packed with quality
+
More affordable than the Series 8

Reasons to avoid

-
Missing a few features
-
Not everywhere sells it

The Apple Watch Series 7 has been superseded by a couple of Series now, and the deals on it aren't much better than those on the 8 now that the 9 has been released. Before this we would have said that the Series 7 was still worth your time but the most recent developments don't leave much room for it.

However, it was the first Apple Watch to adopt the larger, more expansive display, and it also introduced fast charging and a much more crack-resistant metal chassis, helping it last longer than ever. So if you find a good deal on a renewed model, or a surprising price on a new one, it could be worth it.

Older Apple Watch models

  • Apple Watch Series 6 (2020)
  • Apple Watch SE (1st generation) (2020)
  • Apple Watch Series 5 (2019)

How many generations of Apple Watch are there?

Right now, Apple only sells one generation of Apple Watch on its website: the Series 9 and Ultra 2, which are new for 2023, and the SE 2, which is from 2022. However, there are far more models than that if you start looking back.

The first Apple Watch launched in 2015, and since then there have been new models every year up to the present. That means an original Apple Watch, a (confusingly named) Apple Watch Series 1 distinct from the original Watch, then Series 2, Series 3, and so on up to the Series 8. The Apple Watch SE, meanwhile, is in its second generation.

There has only been one Apple Watch Ultra generation so far. There also used to be a special high-end model called the Apple Watch Edition, which launched in 2015. However, it was discontinued in 2022, and the last new model was released in 2019.

What’s the difference between Apple Watch 8 and SE?

Apple differentiates the Apple Watch SE as a lower-cost alternative to the Apple Watch Series 8. It lacks some features but costs £160 less, making it an excellent option if you’re not fussed about what it lacks.

So, what does it go without? Compared to the Series 8, the SE lacks the always-on display, IP6X dust resistance, blood oxygen and ECG measurements, temperature sensing, more detailed ovulation tracking (although it does track cycles), and fast battery charging. Its display options are 44mm and 40mm versus the Series 8’s 41mm and 45mm, and it only offers an aluminium finish, with no stainless steel option.

What is the difference between Apple Watch SE and 7?

Interestingly, the Apple Watch SE (2nd generation) has a few advantages over the Series 7. For example, it offers cycle tracking, crash detection and Compass Backtrack, which the Series 7 does not.

However, the Series 7 pulls ahead in other ways. Like the Series 8, it has features such as fast charging and an always-on display that you won’t get with the SE. You’ll need to think carefully about which features you need the most when deciding between these two models.

Should I buy a refurbished Apple Watch?

Buying a refurbished Apple Watch can be a great way to save money, but there are some things you need to be aware of.

You’ll need to check the reputation of the company doing the refurbishment. The renewal process should mean you get an Apple Watch that looks and feels brand new, otherwise you’re just getting a used device and not a refurbished one. Check reviews and find out what the company says it does to renew the Apple Watch, then make sure it’s what you want.

Apple offers refurbished Watches on its website, and here the quality is second to none. The company uses genuine new parts and includes fresh cables and packaging. Its prices can be a little higher than third-party repair companies, although that’s not always the case. And you end up with a Watch that feels just like a new product, but without the hefty price tag.

Want to delve deeper into Apple's tech? See our iPad generations list.

Alex Blake

Alex Blake is a freelance tech journalist who writes for Creative Bloq, TechRadar, Digital Trends, and others. Before going freelance he was commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine, focusing on the world of Apple products. His interests include web design, typography, and video games.