Should you buy the small 38mm or large 42mm Apple Watch? Here's how to choose!

Apple provides two sizing options for the Apple Watch: 38mm and 42mm. Whether you're getting aluminum, steel, or ceramic, Series 1 or Series 3, Nike+ or Hermès — all Apple Watch models come in those two sizes. Some might find picking their size easy to do, whether that's based on wrist size, gender, style, or some other factor.

If you're struggling with picking the size that's right for you, however, here are some things to consider!

Height vs. width

Unlike traditional watches, which measure case size horizontally, Apple measures the Apple Watch vertically. The smaller of the two watch sizes has a height of 38mm (specifically, 38.6mm); the larger, 42mm. When it comes to width, the smaller Apple Watch is 33.3mm wide; the larger, 35.9mm.

These differences might not sound like very much — 3-4mm here or there — but 4mm out of 40mm is one tenth of the Apple Watch's dimensions.

The rounded rectangular shape of the Apple Watch makes it hard to compare directly with your average round watch, but in the traditional watch world, neither of the Apple Watches would be considered overly wide or high. Big watches are typically closer to 45mm.

Even if you think you want to go small, you can still consider both sizes — neither is enormous — though those with smaller wrists may find the 38mm fits more comfortably on the wrist.

Display size

The watch's different case sizes also translate to different display sizes. Both are Retina-quality, which means the pixels are invisible to the naked eye at normal viewing distance. The bigger Apple Watch simply has more of those pixels:

  • The 38mm Apple Watch has a display size of 340x272 pixels
  • The 42mm Apple Watch has a display size of 390x312 pixels

watchOS will fill whatever size display you choose, and for many people, it won't make any difference; that said, if you want more pixels, which translates into bigger text and images, it's worth considering.

Depth perception

Unlike the Watch's two height options and two display densities, there's no difference when it comes to the thickness (or thinness) of the two sizes.

That's because, unlike traditional mechanical or digital watches, the Apple Watch case has to hold a Retina display, the system-in-a-package (chipset), battery, and sensors. If you're trying to figure out which Apple Watch will best fit under the tight cuffs of your shirt, they're both about the same.

Hers and his

Because there are two sizes, and because some of Apple's bands are unique to one size or another, some have tried to simplify the size discussion down to "hers" and "his."

People come in all shapes and sizes, though, and so do tastes. Some women will want the bigger Apple Watch, and some men, the smaller. Some people with small wrists will want the bigger watch, and vice versa.

All this to say — get the size you prefer. Try both on, and see which one better fits your wrist, style, and personality. That's why Apple has sizes, after all, and why both sizes come with identical features.

Band bias

Since Apple only offers some bands in some sizes, if you have your heart set on a certain band, you may have to be willing to go with the size that matches it. That said, you can get 3rd-party knockoffs for everything in every size and then some, so it only really matters if you want the real thing.

38mm-specific bands:

  • Modern Buckle
  • Hermès Double Tour

42mm-specific bands

  • Leather Loop
  • Hermès Single Tour (certain colors)
  • Single Tour Rallye
  • Hermès Single Tour Deployment Buckle

Price points

The 38mm Apple Watch is slightly less expensive than the 42mm Apple Watch. As such, if you want to save some money, you can do so by going for the smaller size.

38mm Apple Watch

  • Apple Watch Series 1: $249
  • Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only: $329
  • Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular: Starts at $399

42mm Apple Watch

  • Apple Watch Series 1: $279
  • Apple Watch Series 3 GPS-only: $359
  • Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular: Starts at $429

Battery life

The 42mm Apple Watch has a slightly bigger battery than the 38mm watch due to more room in the casing, and the Series 3 has a slightly bigger battery (same as the Series 2) than the Series 1.

If battery life is important to you — for example, you want to get in multiple workouts a day or you want to go a couple days without charging — you'll not only want to go with Series 3, but with the 42mm.

Who should get the 38mm Apple Watch?

If you have a small wrist and want the Apple Watch to look comfortable on it, if you have a large wrist and want the Apple Watch to look small, or if you just like smaller watches in general, you should get the 38mm Apple Watch.

See at Apple


Who should get the 42mm Apple Watch?

If you have a small wrist and want the Apple Watch to look big, if you have a large wrist and you want the Apple Watch to look as big as possible, if you have vision requirements that benefit from bigger graphics, you want a longer-lasting battery, or if you like bigger watches in general, you should get the 42mm Apple Watch.

See at Apple


Update September 2017: Updated for Apple Watch Series 3.