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Why I'm going with the 38mm Apple Watch

Apple's smartwatch is a beautiful piece of hardware, whether you're looking at it in aluminum, steel, or gold. It has some depth to it, like most first-generation products are wont to do, but it carries it off with class — looking more like an original iPhone than a boxy prototype.

And best of all, it's one of few smartwatches to come in different sizes. As someone who had the Moto 360 overflowing atop her wrist, I appreciate that the design team behind the Apple Watch recognizes a key point about watch fittings: They need to be just as comfortable as — if not more than — they are functional.

Fitting like a glove

I desperately wanted a Pebble Watch when its Kickstarter first launched a few years back. I loved the idea of instant notifications and third-party app integration. But I had a problem: The watch simply wouldn't fit me.

My wrists are approximately 147mm around; 51mm across. The original Pebble is 50.8mm. I'd suspected my wrists would be too tiny for the first-generation watch during the Kickstarter and thus, didn't order one. When I finally tried on a friend's Pebble years later, I was right: The Pebble's edges hung off either side of my wrist like a 1980s communicator.

No, it's not a terrible look if you're going for science-fiction cadet or hacker mastermind, but completely impractical for day-to-day wear.

The Moto 360 (and many of the other Android Wear watches) are in a similar boat: The semi-circular smartwatch is 46mm in diameter. Smaller than the Pebble, yes, but its round face makes it look positively gargantuan. I had it on for just five minutes before feeling like one of those cartoon characters shackled to a giant sundial.

That's not to say that the Pebble or the Moto aren't good watches, or that they haven't delighted thousands of other people. But for me — and, I suspect, the many other small-wristed folks in the world — they fell far short.

Here's the thing: As much as I love bleeding-edge technology, I also like being comfortable. I may have ogled the 17-inch PowerBook back in the day, but the weight and dimensions of such a monstrocity weren't worth its power and screen size.

I feel the same way about wearables: If I'm going to keep a device routinely attached on my wrist, it needs to feel and look comfortable as well as functional. If I feel like I'm wearing a fancy weighted handcuff, they blew it.

42mm — almost perfect

Apple surprised me on two fronts when they announced their sizing. Not only were there two sizes — small wrist-owners rejoice at last! — but the largest size was a mere 42mm, smaller than most touchscreen smartwatches on the market.

Now, I'd assumed automatically that I'd go for the 38mm, given my wrist diameter, but then I inadvertently wound up wearing two different 42mm Edition watches during the try-on area at the March Apple event. And it wasn't terrible.

I'd expected to feel the same sort of overweighted sag and have it look clunky on my wrist, but the 42mm's rounded rectangular corners and band definition only made it look a little bulkier than its 38mm cousin. It was nice enough that I even considered it as a pre-order option when weighing my choices.

At the end of the day, I picked the 38mm because not only does it work just as well as the 42mm, but it looks like a watch — not a smartwatch — when sitting on my wrist. If I'm going to wear something every day, it needs to feel natural no matter what else I'm wearing with it: dress, workout clothes, business clothes, loungewear, you name it.

The 42mm, on my wrist, looks a lot less clunky than any other piece of smartwatch tech I've tried — but it still feels more like a piece of technology than a trusted accessory. The 38mm, for me, strikes the perfect balance.

- Buyers guide: 38mm vs. 42mm — Which Apple Watch size should you get?

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

66 Comments
  • I'm also going 38mm. It seems the perfect fit, and not look like a pipboy on my wrist Sent from the iMore App
  • 38mm is just too small for my wrist. 42mm is perfect. Someday, apparently in June, I'll actually get my Apple Watch, lol.
  • I can't wait
  • I have yet to try on the watch, but I was leaning more toward the 38mm myself. I'm a guy who has smaller wrists, and I have been wearing a watch pretty regularly. I don't like the bulk of large watches, and I also like simple watches. A swiss railway watch would be a good example. After I try it on, I'll make a more educated guess, however, I think that the 38mm would be the best if I chose now.
  • I pre-ordered a 38mm for my wife, 42mm for me. One more week... ...or possibly as late as May 8th, as we were surprised to see even after ordering right after 3am Eastern, last Friday.
  • Judging fom the photo, either you have a tiny physique (which I doubt given you play roller derby, for crying out loud) or the watch is too large (tall) even at 38mm. Us guys wearing tight cuffs for work will have a tremendously hard time fitting the watches. Imagine at 42mm! However, I see Tim Cook wearing it and now JJ Abrams, and the tallness (thickness if you wish) seems suitable. I don't get it.
  • It's the angle of the photograph. It fits easily under shirts and jackets, even mine.
  • Is the milanese loop photo (black sleeve) you? The photo with a blue leather strap makes the watch look thinner.
  • Both are me, yep. The Milanese is actually on backwards (people don't know how to fit lefties!), which might explain the perceived gap. It fits much better in person.
  • Regardless about the photo angle, the milanese loop photo seems quite tense on the top part of the watch, as if the strap doesn't manage to hug the wrist, lots of empty space between the strap and the wrist. Unlike the leather strap, which hugs the wrist much better.
  • Thanks, for this post, Serenity. I debated with myself on whether to get the 38mm or 42mm because of my tiny wrists and didn't have the ability to try them on. I'm glad to see pics and to breathe a sigh of relief that I went with the 38mm.
  • I went with the 42mm. I was surprised to see how small that one was since the pictures make it seem bigger. I must have wide wrists. My wife also seemed to like the 42mm as well. With her wanting the same then we can share bands. YEAH!!!!!
  • Hub and I both got the 42mm as well. I personally love big watches even though my wrists are really tiny! And YEAH! The extra band for each of us is a plus! :-)
  • I'll add to the discussion a subject I know I have company in; 40+ year old eyes. I have 190mm wrists, so 42mm seems obvious. But at 46, no matter how fit I've kept myself, the eyes dictate my needs with Watch sizing. It's all about the text.
  • My eyes aren't that great either, but the display on the Apple watch is really good.
  • I'm near sighted and one of the first things I did when I was at the store was go to the settings app and see if you can adjust the text. I think you can increase the size or make it bolder.
  • Yup, the Watch has the same Larger Text accessibility setting as the Phone. It's aces for folks who might need slightly larger font sizes to see.
  • Text on an apple watch screen being the only dictator of in choosing whether to go 38 or 42mm is nonsense. Remember this is just (if not more) as much about fashion & user(s) perception in public than it is about technology. Sent from the iMore App
  • I pre-ordered a 38mm at 8.02am (UK time) and booked a try-on appointment for a few hours later so I could see if I made the right decision. In short – I think I have. I have small wrists for a guy (160mm circumference) and for the last ~10 years I've settled on wearing watches from the Swatch "Skin" range, because most other watches look enormous. These are <4mm thick, and 34mm wide. The thought of a 42mm watch that is also chunky in the z-direction wasn't really doing it for me. At the try-on though, I was *amazed* at a) how reasonably sized the 42mm is and b) how slender the 38mm is. All the official photos seem to imply that the watches are *massive*! If they only made the 42mm, I would still buy it, but with minor reservations about the size. However, the 38mm looked great: I'm glad I went with that and won't have to change my order (which is just as well given that I'm already waiting 6 weeks ;) Another impression I had was that the "bulge" on the bottom (which houses the LEDs/sensors) was considerably less noticeable than pictures had led me to believe.
  • I thought the exactly the same thing right do to the sensors. Funny. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yeah, this is parallels my experience exactly. The 42mm is better than any other smartwatch I've ever worn. The 38mm is as good as some of the nice watches I've worn.
  • Did you see the Macalope the other day? Quoted a review that said the Apple Watch was the best smart watch ever, but gave it 6 out of 10. Given several other (inferior, by their own admission) watches 8 out of 10. Macalope's comment was, grading on a curve once again.
  • I'm getting so excited. . . . Come on, Friday.!
  • Just remeber resolution on the 42mm is higher then the 38mm, Apple Store thought no not true. Was shocked he didn't know that. Easy to search up that difference, so went with 42 even though I'm pretty skinny
  • There are more pixels width-wise on the 42mm than the 38mm, but we don't yet know how many active dots per inch the devices have, other than that they're both listed as "Retina". So they may well have the same pixel density even if the screen is slightly different.
  • 38mm here also, although I have 165mm wrists, so it will look even more "watchlike" which is exactly what I want. My biggest problem with it is only the abuse that a lot of people in the comments sections of tech sites give to the 38mm watch and it's wearers. The suggestion, sometimes made maliciously, sometimes not, that the 38mm is a "girls watch" is just so many kinds of insulting and wrong whether the wearer is actually female or male. Judging by average wrists sizes absolutely huge numbers of men should actually be wearing the 38mm watch.
  • Yeah, it seems to be the rule (or at least the fashion) that /men's watch = massive/. And therefore /not massive = women's watch/. I wear a small-ish watch, and have had people comment (derogatorily) that it must be a girl's watch. I even had someone insist that my watch was so slight that it must be "fake"! I guess they thought that all watches had to be thick in order to function, or something?! Anyway, I'm very much of the opinion that watch size should be more a function of wrist size and taste, as opposed to a delineator of gender. Kudos to Apple for making watches in multiple sizes (the larger of which is still surprisingly sane). Now we just need people to stop being silly :)
  • Word
  • And technically a man can wear a dress but the last time I checked they were still in the Ladies section. Get a grip on reality. Sent from the iMore App
  • those commenters have never worn a watch before nor have any aesthetic sense ........... average mens wrists are 170mm-190mm and average womens are 145-165mm so it can be generalized that the smaller one is more popular with women......but watches fit differently on every wrist and thats why apple has try on sessions........go try it and get what fits you best ....... on my my 170mm wrist the 42 fits better and the 32 does look toyish......so i got the steel 42 with a white band
  • I think Apple is been a pretty good job here coming up with two options, and after that, different bands create different appearances as well.
  • I actually thought differently with 170 mm wrists. The 38mm is understated and less of a tech looking wrist accessory. It looks like it's a watch. My feelings are that it will prove superior in day to day comfort, versatility (long sleeves), and aesthetic. I guess only time will tell, but the male/female narrative seems to be peer pressuring a lot of men into an impulsive decision...this coming from someone with a 6+.
  • 302 PPI: 42mm Apple Watch
    290 PPI: 38mm Apple Watch
  • Which means exactly noting on a device you an easily move back and forth from your face because it's on your wrist. If it were a difference on 100PPI you MIGHT be able to tell, with that small a difference other factors (like comfort) are far more important.
  • I'm waiting a few generations. This watch looks way too much like the first iPhone: big and bulky. In a few years it should be much thinner and just about right.
  • I'm a male but have always been pretty thin, especially my wrists - on me I think the 42mm is just a bit too large, so I also ordered the 38mm. I tried out the paper Watch prototypes to figure that out before pre-orders opened... I personally think in that picture the 42mm looks too large for your wrist also, even if you thought it felt OK. It's not like you need a large screen anyway, since the point of watch apps is to have a very small amount of information on screen - I'd way rather keep it discrete than have a blaring large screen light up on my wrist.
  • I have tiny wrists myself. At my try on, they didn't have a black sports 38mm that I ordered so I tried on the 42. It wasn't terrible, just bulky, like you said. In the long term I think it would bother me. Hate to give up the screen real estate but better fit is priority.
  • Agreed :)
  • I picked the 38mm too!
  • Leave it to apple to sell people something they don't use on a regular basis. Raise your hand on how many people here wears a watch regularly. Plus I checked out the price. Holy cow!
  • You're reading this why again?
  • Raises Hand. And my watch, that just tells the time, cost more than the equivalent SS Apple Watch.
  • I haven't tried it but I've always been leaning towards the smaller Watch due to my smaller wrist. The only concern is the battery life although my guess is the difference is insignificant enough or else Apple wouldn't have made the 38mm version. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't think there's any need to justify what suits you; have a big watch, or a small one, frankly wear what you like; there's going to be people wearing crass combinations of watch and strap from your perspective, but often they're the most interesting combinations. I would never buy something to suit other people's tastes.
  • I also think the apple watch is part of a new paradigm; it isn't actually a watch, and being discreet might not suit your purposes in the long run, at the expense of legibility. It will be interesting to see where this product leads (they might get bigger screens in the future, albeit thinner!)
    BTW Really liked Rene's mum's article on why she wanted one.
    Also well done to those genii who downvoted me because I suggested it doesn't matter if you pick the size that makes you happy.
  • I didn't reorder, couldn't get downtown to try one on, might do it next week, but no way I was going to order one without trying it on first I'm retired Army, and most soldiers have a thing about humongous watches, your G-Shock's or Suuntos or Fenix, or the fake Rolex you can get for $20 down rangey. Funny thing is, you see all of these overengineered diving watches on folks who never get more than knee-deep in a swamp , whilst in the diving community, everybody wears a $30 Timex, and they laugh to themselves, "big clock, small ______." Anyway, my current daily wear watch is a Suunto, which looks like I'm wearing a manhole cover or a Texas belt buckle on my wrist. Funny thing is, square watches just look different than round watches, and when I printed out the templates, the 42 mm just didn't look right For the 1G, i'm assuming I'm going to get a Sport, and there seems to be something counterintuitive about getting the larger version of the lighter weight watch. It's like getting skinny jeans in size it's like getting skinny jeans in size 46 waist, we're buying a big Mac with a Diet Coke
  • That's an excellent analogy! The 38mm felt right. But I think I just wanted more screen!! But at the cost of it looking slightly odd.. I dunno..
  • LOL
  • Hi. I have small wrists and I am female. I love watches too :) I have ordered both. 38mm Sport white and 42 space grey sport. I initially really liked the feel and fit when I tried on the 38mm but as someone said, that means giving up screen real estate. However, when I tried on the 42mm I think the longer band was on so it did look big but it might not be if the band was shorter. I had a Pebble Steel and that seemed too heavy, long (in screen/face height) and chunky. In the shop I felt a bit intimidated as it was so busy so don't feel I really explored the larger size. Also I think you need to wear something as personal as a watch for a while to understand how it will feel for a whole day. Any thoughts??
  • I have tiny wrists too and ordered the 42mm. I don't really wear watches as much as I did before getting an iPhone, so having one on my wrist will be an adjustment regardless of size. I just prefer big watches and all of mine have been rather non-traditional anyway . :-)
  • Good for you :) I went back to try t on (42mm) and compared to my new 38mm and for me the 38mm just felt better. Let me know when you get your 42mm what it's like for you.
  • I just hope the 42's BSB s/m band will fit. My wrist is closer to 135 than 140 so the 38 band would probably be a better fit so hopefully a hole can be added to mine if necessary. Our ship date is 5/13-27 so we're counting down the days! :-)
  • I got the 38 steel with black sports band, but intend to add on a soft pink modern buckle when the bands become available separately. My wrist is 160.
  • Hi. Did you try in both 38mm and 42mm?
  • I tried on both, and the 42 was okay, but the 38 was better. I really liked the modern buckle so that helped me decide since it is not available for the 42.
  • Yep, I agree. I went back again to try the 42mm and it was just a bit too cumbersome.
  • Have to agree with Serenity. The 38mm reminded me much more of a traditional watch than the 42mm, which is what I'm going for. Sent from the iMore App
  • I have slim wrists, but even the 42mm is just too small - I was hoping pictures are misleading, until I tried it on - very disappointed. Sent from the iMore App
  • going to try the 42mm again just to be totally sure, the 38mm did feel fine didn't feel as clunky as my Microsoft Band but I can't order till August so better be really sure
  • Serenity one question about the Apple Watch 38mm I pre ordered the watch but is that one smaller than the 42mm? Because I have small wrists which I think is going to be awesome! I can't wait to see the watch when I get it! Thanks Sent from the iMore App
  • I've gone in for 2 try-on sessions, and was glad I did. I'm a guy with small wrists, and I've always worn watches with small faces (slim Swatches). I was leaning toward the 42, but after my second try-on session, the 38 just felt closer to what feels comfortable - small, subdued watch faces. As Serenity and other mentioned, it feels more like a watch, and as someone else said, this won't be a device I interact with for long periods at a time; it's meant for quick interactions. With the demo running on my wrist, I could very easily read info and get what I needed. And I'm thinking I'm going to go with the Sport. It's a 1st gen, and I'll likely be upgrading in a year or two, so no need to invest too much now. Plus, I imagine it will be easier to sell a used Sport for $200 than a used Watch for $400. One added bonus: buying a 38mm Sport will be $349. Add in Apple Care for $49 and that's $400. I could then buy another band for $149, all of which will be the same price as the Watch at $549. One last thought - anyone considering buying a watch who has access to an Apple Store, I would definitely go try before you buy. You will be surprised by all the reactions you'll have to the different options. Plus, seeing these guys in real life will seal the deal - they are fabulous pieces of design and technology.
  • I'm a man with wrist round 155mm, but I will still choose 42mm sport version. I think a sport watch shouldn't look too small. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm a man with wrist round of 155mm, but I will still purchase the 42mm space gray sport version. I think if you want to buy a sport version, it's no problem that the watch looks a bit big. Sent from the iMore App
  • Cause you're a woman! Kidding... ;) I'm dead in the middle of the two, but went larger for some extra screen and resell.
  • Thank you for your overview Serenity. I ended up canceling my watch order and getting the 38mm. I think I am going to be much happier, and will have some more cash to spend on bands!
  • Hi all, in he end I stuck with the 38mm. I got mine on launch day! Yay!And I tried the 42mm again in the Apple store in the UK and even the sales advisor said the 38mm looked better on my wrist. Less cumbersome. I agreed. He was well jel that I had my watch already :)