Top Apple Watches to Consider in 2024

Like, well, clockwork, Apple has released a new generation of its flagship smartwatch every September since the Series 2 came out in 2016. If tradition holds, we’ll see the new Apple Watch Series 10 (Series X?) in early fall of this year, probably alongside the next Apple Watch Ultra and possibly a new Apple Watch SE. In the meantime, rumors suggest the company will announce watchOS 11 during its WWDC 2024 keynote, which may give a couple of new tricks to existing Apple wearables. For now, the three models in the lineup are the Apple Watch Series 9, which is best for most, the Apple Watch Ultra, which should appeal to outdoor adventurers, and the Apple Watch SE, the budget-friendly model that’s surprisingly capable. Here’s our buying guide to help to pick the best Apple Watch for you.

Both the Series 9 and Ultra 2 were updated last September with Apple’s latest smartwatch silicon, the S9 SiP (system-in-package). In addition to on-device processing of Siri requests, the chip supports a new Double Tap gesture that lets you answer calls or stop an alarm by tapping your thumb and forefinger together twice. It also enables faster machine learning performance for interpreting sensor data, recognizing speech and performing other “thinking” tasks. The Apple Watch SE still relies on the S8 SiP, which was also used in the Series 8 and the original Ultra.

Both the Series 9 and Ultra 2 can take an ECG and have temperature sensors to help track ovulation. All three models have a compass and altimeter, and both support fall-detection and crash-detection as a safety feature. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has an onboard SOS siren, as well as dive features like a depth gauge. The two higher-end models include sensors to measure blood oxygen, though a recent patent dispute has forced Apple to disable that health feature on new models sold in the US.

All three models support near field communication (NFC), the chip that enables Apple Pay. Once you set it up using the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, you can pay for stuff at any store that accepts Apple Pay, even if you don’t have your phone with you.

The latest Apple Watches, the Series 9 and the Ultra 2, have always-on displays, but you’ll have to lift your wrist to tell time or read notifications on the SE. The SE can reach a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits, the Series 9 can get as bright as 2,000 and the Ultra 2 hits 3,000 nits. Both the higher-end screens can dim to a single nit, making them less distracting in the dark. As for case sizes, the SE is available in 40 or 44mm and the Series 9 comes in 41 or 45mm. The Ultra 2 just comes in one case size measuring 49mm. You also get the opportunity to pick the size and style for watch bands. The SE and Series 9 come in small/medium or medium/large and the Ultra 2 gives you the choice of small, medium or large.

Battery life

Since it’s the largest wearable, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 sports the biggest battery and can last for a claimed 36 hours on a charge. That number jumps up to 72 hours if you turn on low power mode. Both the Apple Watch 9 and the SE can go for 18 hours before they need a visit to the charger, and longer when using battery saver mode.

A person wears the Apple Watch that's displaying the Activity App and the fitness rings.A person wears the Apple Watch that's displaying the Activity App and the fitness rings.

Photo by Amy Skorheim / Engadget

Believe it or not, all three Apple Watches have similar fitness tracker chops. The Activity app uses three “rings” to keep tabs on how much you’re moving in a day: The Move ring tracks your active calories; the Exercise ring monitors the minutes you’ve spent walking, running, doing yoga and so on; and the Stand ring tells you how many hours in a day you’ve stood up and moved around for at least one minute.

Different internal sensors detect those activities, for example the accelerometer senses when you’re moving versus sitting still, and the optical heart rate sensor judges how hard you’re working out and how many calories you’ve burned. You can set your goals for each ring and you’ll earn badges and animations when you hit them.

The Workout app lets you start and track an exercise session. The sensors can even auto-detect when you’re working out, tapping your wrist to suggest you track the activity. Apple Watches will integrate with Apple’s Fitness+ subscription, displaying real time heart rate and calorie burn data on your iPhone, iPad or even Apple TV 4K as you take a class. Fitness+ also includes audio-guided walks and runs with just your watch and Bluetooth earbuds. All three models support the Activity and Workout apps for free. The Fitness+ app also works with all Apple Watches, but costs $10 per month.

You can get the weather, start a workout, identify a song and dictate a text just by asking Siri. All Apple Watch models support the Raise to Speak feature that bypasses the need to say “Hey Siri” and will instead listen for your request when you lift your wrist near your mouth.

Both the Series 9 and the Ultra 2 utilize onboard processing of Siri requests. That means executing simple requests like starting workouts and timers are quicker, as they won’t need to access external networks. However, requests like sending texts or getting weather forecasts still need to communicate with Wi-Fi or cellular, so you’ll need to have your phone nearby if you have a GPS-only model.

There’s a $550 difference between the cheapest and most expensive Apple Watch. For $250, you can get the 40mm Apple Watch SE with GPS-only connectivity. The Apple Watch Series 9 starts at $399 for the 40mm model, and if you go for the larger case size for either, you’ll pay $30 more. Adding cellular connectivity adds $50 for the SE and $100 for the Series 9. The latter also comes with the option of a stainless steel case, plus cellular and GPS, and starts at $699. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has just one price: $799 for a titanium 49mm case with both GPS and cellular power.

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