The aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS is Apple's best smartwatch: It's not only a great fitness tracker and portable communicator, but continues battery life improvements, a crazy-fast processor, and offers built-in GPS and an altimeter.

Best overall

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS

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If you're considering a smartwatch for your iPhone or want to upgrade from a previous Apple Watch, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only model has most of the Cellular model's smarts without its entry price.

Bottom line: Whether you're looking to pick up your very first Apple Watch or considering an upgrade, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 is our best pick for you.

One more thing: The aluminum Apple Watch comes in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm.

One other thing: If you want to match your aluminum watch with otherwise-steel-lugged watch bands, you can pick up custom lugs from Amazon.

Why the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS is the best

Speedy, swimproof, and stylish.

The Apple Watch is not only a best-selling smartwatch — it's one of the best-selling watches in the world, and for good reason: It's a fantastic timepiece and one of the the smallest, most convenient, and speediest watches out there. It may have lesser battery life than a Fitbit or lack an always-on display, but what the Apple Watch does, it does better than anyone else.

The 2017-2018 watch lineup consists of three major models: Series 1, Series 3 with GPS, and Series 3 with GPS and Cellular. You could choose any of these options and be well-suited in your smartwatch purpose, but I think the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS is the best watch for most people buying their first smartwatch, as well as those upgrading from an older Apple Watch.

Why pick the GPS-only Series 3 instead of its GPS + Cellular model as the best Apple Watch for you? Simple: Pricing. At $329, it's your cheapest entry point into the Apple Watch ecosystem without losing out on most of its major features. The two Series 3 models have minor differences under the hood — cellular being the biggest — but they're essentially the same watch. They have comparable battery life, the super-speedy S3 processor, GPS + altimeter sensors for hiking and running, and they both run watchOS 4. The aging Series 1, in contrast, has a more-than-functional processor in the S1P chip, but it lacks GPS, a bigger battery, and brighter screen; it's a great buy for the budget-conscious, but it's not the best.

The GPS-only Series 3 does lack cellular networking, more storage space (8GB vs 16GB), a slightly nicer rear casing (a composite vs ceramic back), and band options (you're limited to a single color of Sport band). But in testing both models on my wrists for over a week, I found little practical difference between the two. Battery life was nigh-identical when working out or wandering about without an iPhone, and I managed to have both last me about a day and a half while using workout features and several graphic-intensive watch apps (like the Camera app). No, the GPS-only Series 3 won't let you place a call to your parents while on a run, but if cellular capability isn't something that appeals to you (or it's not currently available in your country), it's currently the best option for getting the most out of your Apple Watch.

There are design limitations if you choose to go GPS-only: You won't be able to pair the purchase with a new Sport Loop (though you can pick one up for an extra $49), nor will you be able to upgrade your casing — the steel, ceramic, and Hermes collections are only available when buying a GPS + Cellular Series 3.

But most people considering a new Apple Watch this fall won't need fancy casings or cellular service: They'll want a solid smartwatch that performs well and doesn't let them down, and the Series 3 does this in spades.

You essentially get the latest and greatest model without having to pay a Cellular premium, allowing the GPS-only Series 3 Apple Watch to provide the best experience today without a huge dent in your pocketbook. It should also last you at least as long — if not longer — than users going on 3 years with their Series 0 Apple Watch, in part due to an excellent battery upgrade. During our tests, we confirmed that the 38mm aluminum GPS-only Apple Watch Series 3 far outlasted its Series 0 cousin, going a full day (and then some) after logging multiple workouts and GPS-dependent walks. (Series 2 vs Series 3 is about the same.)

If you're trying to decide between the 38mm and 42mm, the bigger version features a bigger screen and larger battery, but it also comes at a $30 price increase and larger footprint on your wrist. After an informal Twitter survey in 2016 asking followers their favorite aspects of each size, 38mm owners reported liking it for its "subtle," "light" frame; it fits nicely on smaller-wristed folks — women and men alike — and "doesn't feel bulky under dress shirts" or jackets. 42mm owners who prefer the larger size praised it for its "extra battery life," "larger tap targets" and "legibility," and more "proportional" size for those with larger wrists.

Series 3 still won't last you a full day of exercise and sleep-tracking, but it's edging ever closer — and unless you're dead-set on holding out for Series 4 in 2018, you'll find that the Series 3 Apple Watch has plenty of great features in the meantime to occupy your day-to-day life.

If you want cellular

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular

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If you live in a country that supports cellular networking on the Apple Watch, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model has all the features of its fellow Series 3 watch and more.

Bottom line: If you have the extra cash and want cellular, Apple Music on your watch, more storage space, an upgrade in rear casing durability, and greater band options, check out the aluminum Series 3 GPS + Cellular model.

Why the Series 3 GPS + Cellular model is also great

Data without an iPhone.

Cellular data is a great addition to the Apple Watch, letting you leave your iPhone behind when going on a run, visiting the grocery store, working outside, swimming, and more. It's also the only Apple Watch that will get Apple Music and Radio streaming when that feature arrives later in the fall.

I've now been using the GPS + Cellular Series 3 Apple Watch for several weeks, and it's every bit as functional and long-lasting as its GPS-only Series 3 cousin while offering the extra benefits of cellular connectivity. It's the watch I picked for my personal use, largely because cellular makes sense for my lifestyle.

It may not make sense for yours, and that's why I recommended the GPS-only model as the best Apple Watch for most people. But if you plan on making the occasional phone call or wandering about your neighborhood sans iPhone, the GPS + Cellular model can offer peace of mind and desk freedom in a way its other Apple Watch siblings cannot.

The Cellular model also opens up your casing and band options, allowing you to pair your watch with Apple's new (and superior) exercise band, the Sport Loop, as well as upgrade your design from aluminum to the sapphire-screened steel or ceramic watches.

There are a few things you should know if you plan on considering the cellular model:

  • It's only available in very few countries at present, and not all carriers.
  • You'll have to pay $5-$15/month for the privilege of using it on your network.
  • You won't be able to roam internationally due to band limitations (but if your watch supports the bands, you can buy a local SIM for your iPhone and set up your Apple Watch internationally that way).
  • It still requires an iPhone to pair and set up cellular — it's not yet a completely standalone device.

But if these conditions are acceptable to you, as they were to me, you'll love the features and functionality you get from the Series 3 GPS + Cellular.

Best on a budget

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 1

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If you're looking for a first step into the Apple Watch ecosystem or you want to spend as little as possible on upgrading, the Series 1 is a great option.

Bottom line: Though it doesn't have the speed, battery improvements, or fitness sensors of the Series 3, the Series 1 is the cheapest entry point yet for Apple Watch.

One more thing: If you're thinking about saving money by going with the Series 1, make sure you consider future band purchases: If you plan on later buying the Sport Loop band that a Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch ships with, that $150 savings between watch models can quickly turn into $100.

Why you should pick up the Series 1 on a budget

The cheapest Apple Watch yet.

The Series 1 Apple Watch is the company's new-and-improved entry-level version of the original Apple Watch: It has the same external aluminum hardware, colors, and internal components as the Series 0, with one notable exception: The smartwatch's System-in-Package has been upgraded from the S1 to S1P. This newer system includes the same upgraded processor and GPU found in 2016's Series 2 Apple Watch, though it lacks a GPS antenna (hence why the S1P is its own unique chip aside from the 2016 S2).

On speed alone, it's a great option for first-time Apple Watch buyers who want to dip their toes into the smartwatch ecosystem, but that S1P chip also provides greatly optimized battery life in comparison to the Series 0. It's not quite as good as 2016's retired Series 2 option or 2017's Series 3 (owing to the their bigger batteries) but it's close — and those two features together make it a no-brainer purchase for the budget-conscious over trying to pick up a used Series 0 watch.

The Series 1 is limited in ways the Series 3 is not. It's slim on color choice, offering only silver or space gray aluminum, and only white or black Sport bands. And as I mentioned above, the battery life isn't as good as the Series 3; that alone is enough for me to recommend the latest model to any who can afford it or those considering upgrades. It also lacks the stronger ceramic back of the Series 3 Apple Watch GPS + Cellular, and strangely, isn't packaged with an adapter — only the charging cable. And perhaps biggest of all: Without GPS or an altimeter, you'll be missing out on a lot of outdoor fitness features.

But if you're looking for a first step into the Apple Watch ecosystem, the Series 1 is the cheapest option yet.

The watches we didn't pick

Nike+, Hermes, and Edition

All three of Apple's specialty lines sport the Series 3 GPS + Cellular internals, but they all offer something a bit different than the standard aluminum casing.

Bottom line: If you want exclusive watch faces, care about nicer casings, or love the look of ceramic, consider Apple's Nike, Hermes, or Ceramic lines.

Why you should pick up the Nike+, Hermes, or Edition watches

Special watch faces, expensive casings, or one-of-a-kind bands.

The Nike+ Apple Watch offers anodized aluminum cases paired with custom perforated Sport bands and Sport Loops, but is otherwise identical to the standard Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only or GPS + Cellular. Unique features include Siri integration for the Nike+ app and several special Nike+ watch faces, optimized for the Nike+ experience. In other words, if you're deeply into the Nike+ ecosystem, this is the Apple Watch for you.

The Apple Watch Hermès line also boasts custom watch faces and exclusive-to-the-series bands as its perks. The hook here isn't athletics — it's premium fashion. And Apple Watch Hermès looks great; if you're willing to pay for that premium, it might be the right watch to buy.

Apple Watch Edition is all about that ceramic watch look: The Ceramic Apple Watch doesn't come with any special watch faces or unique bands — the white edition comes with a simple white Sport band, while the gray edition comes with a gray/black Sport band — so what you're paying a premium for here is the material and the cachet that comes with it.

Best overall

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS

See at Apple

If you're considering a smartwatch for your iPhone or want to upgrade from a previous Apple Watch, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only model has most of the Cellular model's smarts without its entry price.

Bottom line: Whether you're looking to pick up your very first Apple Watch or considering an upgrade, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 is our best pick for you.

Conclusion

For most people, first time buyers and upgraders alike, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS is the best smartwatch out there for Apple's smartphones. It has great battery life for both 38mm and 42mm models, a speedy processor, intelligent GPS tracking and altimeter measurement, and an excellent value.