Aluminum vs. stainless steel Apple Watch: Which should you buy?

While the Apple Watch SE 2 only comes with aluminum options, the Apple Watch Series 8 versions offer a stainless steel option. Picking the right material for your watch is just as important as getting the correct color and band combination. 

While the choice won't affect the functionality or features, there are certain advantages in weight, durability, and style to consider with each. Here's what you need to know. 

Aluminum vs. stainless steel Apple Watch: Let's compare

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Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7 comparing two bands. (Image credit: Apple)

From a features perspective, Apple Watch Series 8 in either aluminum or stainless steel is identical. Either version, for example, can track your heart rate, including fitness tracking, and alert you to incoming messages. They also include available storage for onboard music and podcasts, and you can use the same third-party apps on all models. However, a few things to consider when choosing aluminum versus stainless steel are weight, material durability, and more. Below is a list of essential details.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch aluminumApple Watch stainless steel
Starting prices$399 (Series 8) $249 (SE 2)$599 (Series 8) $1,249 (Series 8 Hermés)
Color choicesVariousVarious
WeightFrom 26.4 gramsFrom 42.3 grams
Display materialIon-X strengthened glassSapphire crystal
Wi-Fi only versionsYesNo
Onboard storage size32GB32GB

As you can see, the differences between the aluminum and stainless steel Apple Watch Series 8 mostly come down to the materials used. Whether you're talking about the casing or display, the stainless steel model offers better materials. The aluminum Apple Watch is a softer material, and the anodization could scratch or chip, as could its Ion-X-strengthened glass. On the other hand, the stainless steel Apple Watch is much harder. Still, stainless steel does have a drawback: scratches are more noticeable than the aluminum version. These so-called microabrasions can appear on polished stainless steel soon after you start wearing one, especially on the silver version.

Aluminum vs. stainless steel Apple Watch: Cellular and color options

Apple Watch Series7 Lifestyle 01 Apple

Apple Watch Series 7. (Image credit: Apple)

There's also the issue of cellular abilities. All Apple Watches with stainless steel include GPS and cellular capabilities. The latter increases the watch's price and, when the feature is activated, requires a monthly data plan. If you don't care about cellular, you pay for it anyway, which is a waste. By contrast, with the aluminum models, Apple gives you a choice between GPS-only and GPS+cellular.

The Apple Watch Series 8 aluminum model comes in Midnight, Starlight, silver, and (PRODUCT)RED, while the Apple Watch SE aluminum is available in Midnight, Starlight, and silver. The stainless steel versions are offered in silver and Space Black.

Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel Apple Watch: Which should you buy?

Apple Watch 8 Cycle tracking

Apple Watch Series 8. (Image credit: Apple)

You should get the aluminum Apple Watch if you are:

  • Into physical fitness, and you want the lightest Apple Watch you can get.
  • Going to be rough enough with it — or likely to lose it — and want the most affordable replacement option possible.
  • Not sure about Apple Watch and want to try it out at the lowest cost of entry.
  • Simply love the way the bead-blasted aluminum looks.
  • Want a variety of color options, including blue and (PRODUCT)RED.

You should get the stainless steel Apple Watch if you:

  • Love watches and want something with some heft.
  • Want something classic on the outside but ultra-modern within.
  • Need a watch made out of strong materials like stainless steel and sapphire crystal.
  • Prefer the "classic jewelry" look.

So which is better when choosing between the aluminum versus stainless steel Apple Watch? We think the aluminum model is best for most folks. If you're overly worried about possible damage, get an AppleCare+ subscription for peace of mind. Besides, Nike+ only comes in aluminum, which is something to also consider. If you plan on keeping your watch for more than two years, the stainless steel model might be best.

No matter which Apple Watch model you buy, be sure to check out our picks for the best Apple Watch bands to go with it!

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.