Which Apple Watch model should you get: Aluminum or steel?

Each year, we put the new Apple Watches through the paces to determine which ones are the best for most folks. We’ve been doing this each year since the first Apple Watch was released so we know what to look for and why.

Apple Watch Series 4 Aluminum

The People’s Apple Watch

from $399 at Apple


  • Price
  • Choice of with or without cellular
  • Same features for much less
  • Lighter
  • Nike+ version


  • Durability vs. stainless steel
  • Ion-X strengthened glass not as good as sapphire crystal

The Apple Watch Series 4 aluminum version is the one to beat this season. It offers the same great features as the stainless steel version for much less.

Apple Watch Series 4 Stainless Steel

Elegance at a price

from $699 at Apple


  • Stainless steel stronger than aluminum
  • Sapphire Crystal display


  • All models have cellular
  • Pricey
  • Scratches more easily
  • No Nike+ version
  • Weighs more

Durable yes, but this Apple Watch will scratch more easily than the cheaper version. There’s no denying the greatness of the sapphire crystal display, however.

Like previous versions, the Apple Series 4 is available in aluminum and stainless steel. The latter Apple Watch version includes better materials including a sapphire crystal display. Still, that might not matter for many would-be buyers who are used to Cupertino releasing new models each year.

Let’s compare

From a features perspective, both Apple Watch Series 4 versions are identical. Both, for example, can track your heart rate and include a built-in ECG. Each features the same available storage for onboard music and podcasts. You can use the same third-party apps and faces on both models.

Series 4 Aluminum Series 4 Stainless Steel
Lowest Price $399 $699
Highest Price $529 $1,499
Color choices 3 3
Weight 30.1g (40mm), 36.7g (44mm) 39.8g (40mm), 47.9g (44mm)
Display material Ion-X strengthened glass sapphire crystal
Charging puck plastic stainless steel topped
Wi-Fi only versions Yes No
Onboard storage size 16GB 16GB

As you can see, the differences between both models mostly come down to the materials used. Whether you’re talking about the casing, display, or charging puck, 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. The stainless steel Apple Watch is much, much harder, especially the black model with diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating. Still, stainless steel does have a drawback — it can scratch more quickly than the aluminum version. These so-called microabrasions show up on glossy stainless steel often, especially on the silver version.

There’s also the issue of cellular abilities. All Apple Watches with stainless steel include GPS and cellular capabilities. The latter increases the price of the watch 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. With the aluminum models, by contrast, Apple gives you a choice between GPS only and GPS plus cellular.

If you’re…

  • 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 loving the way the bead-blasted aluminum gold option looks

You should get the aluminum Apple Watch.

If you…

  • love watches and want something heavy but not too heavy
  • want something classic on the outside but ultra-modern within
  • need a watch made out of strong materials like stainless steel and sapphire crystal

The stainless steel is for you.

The bottom line: 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.

Apple Watch Series 4 Aluminum

Great product, better price

from $399 at Apple

Stylish and practical

Experience all the great features of the Apple Watch Series 4 for less. Choose from silver, space gray or gold aluminum.

Apple Watch Series 4 Stainless Steel

Beautiful but pricey

Stylish choice

from $699 at Apple

If you’re really worried about breaking your Apple Watch, this is the one to get. Still, watch out for those inevitable scatches!