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

Apple has always offered users a choice of Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel Apple Watch models. Besides the choice in size and the band you pair it with, the choice between the two finishes is a really important one that will define the style of your watch for as long as you own it. 

Naturally, given that there is a sizeable price difference and various advantages to both, making the choice is usually quite straightforward, but you should make sure you have all of the information before you make your purchase. Here are all the differences (and similarities) between the Aluminum and Stainless Steel Apple Watch models. 

Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel Apple Watch: At a glance

A rose gold aluminum watch alongside an aluminum one.

Apple Watch Series 9 in Stainless Steel and Aluminum. (Image credit: Apple)

From a functionality perspective, there is no difference between th Aluminum and Stainless Steel Apple Watch Series 9 models. Both offer exercise tracking, heart rate monitoring, the new S9 SiP, on-device Siri, the Double Tap gesture, and more.  They also both include available storage for onboard music and podcasts, and you can use the same third-party apps on all models. However, there are design differences when it comes to the weight, finish, and display glass used for each model.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch AluminumApple Watch stainless steel
Starting prices$399 (Series 9) $249 (SE 2)$699 (Series 9)
Color choicesVariousVarious
WeightFrom 31.9 gramsFrom 42.3 grams
Display materialIon-X strengthened glassSapphire Crystal
Wi-Fi only versionsYesNo
Onboard storage size64GB64GB
Carbon NeutralWith certain bandsNo

As you can see there is a significant weight difference between the two models, and the difference in glass is also key. The Stainless Steel Model will be much less prone to cracks and scratches compared to the Aluminum. 

On the other hand, the Stainless Steel Apple Watch has a much tougher chassis However, 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.

One final difference to note, paired with certain new Sport Loop bands, the Apple Aluminum Apple Watch Series 9 is carbon neutral, giving you some extra peace of mind about the impact of your purchase. 

Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel Apple Watch: Cellular, GPS, and color options

Apple Watch Series 9 Review

Apple Watch Series 7. (Image credit: Future)

The only functional difference between the Aluminum and Stainless Steel Apple Watch models is cellular vs GPS. The Stainless Steel model is only available in the Cellular Option. This lets you use your Apple Watch over a mobile network to make calls, send texts, navigate, and more. 

If you go for the Aluminum option, you can choose the GPS-only model, which is cheaper and doesn't come with this feature. The wrinkle here is that not only is the Stainless Steel version more expensive, to begin with, but you'll likely need to pay an added monthly cost for a data plan to use this feature. 

The Apple Watch Series 9 comes in five Aluminum finishes, Pink, Midnight, Starlight, Silver, and (PRODUCT)RED. The Stainless Steel version is available in Gold, Silver, and Graphite. If you want an even cheaper Aluminum Apple Watch, there's the Apple Watch SE, which comes in Midnight, Starlight, and Silver. 

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

Apple Watch Series 9 review

Apple Watch Series 8. (Image credit: Future)

You should buy the Aluminum Apple Watch if you:

  • Are into physical fitness, and you want the lightest Apple Watch you can get
  • Need a watch you can afford to break or lose
  • Aren't sure about the 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 pink and (PRODUCT)RED
  • Care about Carbon Neutral products

You should buy the Stainless Steel Apple Watch if you:

  • Want a more weighty premium Watch
  • Want a more durable glass display
  • Want a more premium look and feel
  • Aren't constrained by a budget
  • Don't want or need a Carbon Neutral model

The Aluminum Apple Watch is a more mainstream and affordable option for most people. It offers a lighter product with more customization options including a larger range of colors, and can be configured in either GPS or Cellular options. The Stainless Steel model is more premium and more durable, but it's much more expensive and the finish isn't immune to abrasions and scratches. 

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!

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design.

Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9