The aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is Apple's best smartwatch: It's not only a great fitness tracker and portable communicator, but improved battery life, a faster processor, and GPS may appeal to upgraders.

Update: Apple Watch NikeLab, a special edition variant of Apple Watch Nike+, is currently available directly from Nike. Space gray with a bone and black band, it's otherwise identical to the standard Apple Watch Nike+.

Best overall

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 2

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If you're considering a smartwatch for your iPhone or want to upgrade from your "Series 0" original-generation Apple Watch, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is the best version of Apple's smartwatch you can buy. It offers a great smartwatch experience with watchOS 3, stand-alone GPS tracking for outdoor workouts, "swimproof" water resistance for all but the most grueling underwater activities, a much brighter OLED display, 5GB of storage space for on-the-go music, and better-than-ever integration with the iPhone. It's available in silver, gold, or rose gold finishes, and an array of sport or woven nylon bands.

Bottom line: Whether you're looking to pick up your very first Apple Watch or considering an upgrade, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 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 steel-lugged watch bands, you can pick up custom lugs from Amazon.

Why the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is the best

Speedy, swimproof, and stylish.

The Apple Watch has only been around for 18 months, but it's already spawned several lines and styles — so much so that it can be a little tricky to find the one that's right for you and your lifestyle. There are the casing styles: aluminum, steel, and ceramic; the custom band and watch face stylings in Hermès and Nike; the feature differences between Series 1 and 2; bundled band options; and, of course, watch sizing. You could choose any of these options and be well-suited, but I think the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is the best watch for most people buying their first smartwatch, as well as those upgrading from a Series 0 Apple Watch.

On the Series 2 side, the aluminum version is the least expensive entry point of the three models, but you're not losing many features by opting to spend $180 less. You won't get the $549/599 Apple Watch's superior sapphire screen or steel casing, but the Ion-X glass on the aluminum model should be enough protection for most people. (And, if you're really worried about the durability of your screen, you always spend $49 for AppleCare+, instead.) It also offers the most variety in color styling: The aluminum Series 2 comes in silver, space grey, gold, or rose gold, and you can swap out your band lugs if you'd prefer to use a band traditionally attached to a stainless steel Apple Watch.

Though Apple's entry-level Series 1 aluminum watch includes the Series 2's processor improvements at $100 less, it's not our top pick primarily because it lacks the Series 2's larger battery, though first-time buyers and upgraders may also miss out on the lack of GPS, swim-proofing, a slightly louder speaker, and a larger array of starting band and casing combinations (Series 1 is limited to the aluminum 38mm and 42mm casings and Sport Band).

As the latest and greatest model, the Series 2 Apple Watch provides the best experience today without a huge dent in their pocketbook, and it should last at least as long — if not longer — than the Series 0's current 18+ month lifespan. It's also a great investment for current Series 0 Apple Watch owners who want a very noticeable bump in battery life and processor speed, or those who wanted built-in GPS on their smartwatch. During our review, we found the 38mm aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 far outlasting its Series 0 cousin, going a full day (and then some) after logging multiple workouts and GPS-dependent walks.

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 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 2 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 3 in 2017 or 2018, you'll find that the Series 2 Apple Watch has plenty of great features in the meantime to occupy your day-to-day life.

Best on a budget

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 1

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The Series 1 Apple Watch is the company's new-and-improved entry-level version of the original "Series 0" 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 the Series 2 Apple Watch, though it lacks the GPS (hence why the S1P is its own unique chip aside from the 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 Series 2 (owing to the latter's bigger battery) 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 2 is not. For one, it's only offered in the aluminum finishes — silver, gold, rose gold, and space grey — and only with one combination of Sport band. And as I mentioned above, the battery life isn't quite as good as the Series 2; 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 2 Apple Watch, and strangely, isn't packaged with an adapter — only the charging cable.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a first step into the Apple Watch ecosystem or you want to spend as little as possible on upgrading until Series 3 arrives, the Series 1 is a great option.

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 a Woven Nylon model that a Series 2 watch ships with, that $100 savings between watch models can quickly turn into $50.

For fashion and durability

Stainless Steel Apple Watch Series 2

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The stainless steel Apple Watch Series 2 is a more expensive entry along the spectrum of Apple Watch options, but it can be a worthy one if you want a watch with a slightly more classic look, or plan to upgrade to some of Apple's more expensive leather band options. As an extra perk, the stainless steel Apple Watch also comes with a sapphire screen, which provides extra resistance to cracks and scratches. It's the best option for those who plan to keep their Apple Watch for a few years, or those who like the look of stainless steel on a watch.

Bottom line: If you have the extra cash and want a upgrade in screen durability, greater band options, and a more long-term look, consider the Stainless Steel Apple Watch Series 2.

One more thing: Like the Jet Black iPhone 7, the Stainless Steel model is subject to micro-abrasions as you wear it out and about. Like most jewelry, however, you can easily buff out most scratches.

The watches we didn't pick

Nike, Hermes, and Edition

The Nike+ Apple Watch offers anodized aluminum cases paired with perforated Sport bands but is otherwise identical to the standard Apple Watch Series 2. Unique features include Siri integration for the Nike+ app and two special Nike+ watch faces, one analog, one digital, 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 special bands as its perks. The hook heare isn't atheletics, though, it's premium fashion. And Apple Watch Hermès looks great, if you're willing to pay for that premium.

Apple Watch Edition has moved away from 18K yellow and rose gold and towards white ceramics. The Ceramic Apple Watch doesn't come with any special watch faces or unique bands — it comes with a simple white Sport strap — so what you're paying a premium for here is the material and the cachet that comes with it.

Conclusion

For most people, first time buyers and upgraders alike, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 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 an excellent value.

Best overall

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 2

See at Apple

If you're considering a smartwatch for your iPhone or want to upgrade from your "Series 0" original-generation Apple Watch, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is the best version of Apple's smartwatch you can buy. It offers a great smartwatch experience with watchOS 3, stand-alone GPS tracking for outdoor workouts, "swimproof" water resistance for all but the most grueling underwater activities, a great-looking OLED display, 5GB of storage space for on-the-go music, and better-than-ever integration with the iPhone. It's available in silver, gold, or rose gold finishes, and an array of sport or woven nylon bands.

Bottom line: Whether you're looking to pick up your very first Apple Watch or considering an upgrade, the aluminum Apple Watch Series 2 is our best pick for you.