Now is a good time to buy the Apple Watch. A new version with GPS called Series 2 came out in September, and the original model was updated with a speed boost and a new name: Series 1. Both models fix issues that made the original Apple Watch fine for early adopters but harder to recommend to the masses. There’s also an ecosystem of Apple Watch accessories that we’ve tested and can recommend. Read on for my hand-picked Apple Watch gift guide choices including some out-of-the-box suggestions.
First, a quick primer on Apple Watch models in case you’re considering one as a gift for yourself or someone else.
- First-generation: Not recommended if buying new due to performance issues (discontinued)
- Series 1: Recommended for many customers, same speed as Series 2 (reg. $269-$299)
- Series 2: Recommended for fitness use, features GPS and brighter display plus more case choices (reg. $369-$1499)
Deciding between Series 1 and Series 2 can be confusing; this is what I wrote in my Series 2 review:
Personally, I think these questions are necessary when deciding between Series 1 and Series 2:
- Do you want stainless steel with wider band compatibility or ceramic instead of aluminum?
- Do you want to map runs or outdoor cycles without bringing your iPhone?
- Do you want to get credit for swimming workouts?
- Do you care about display visibility in very bright sunlight?
If you answer yes to any of those questions, then buy Series 2. If not but you’re still in the market for an Apple Watch, strongly consider Series 1. I do not recommend the first generation Apple Watch if you want to have the best experience unless you’re on a tight budget.
For the best Apple Watch deals, stay tuned to 9to5Toys. Now for our recommendations:
Best Apple Watch Docks
You don’t need a dock to charge Apple Watch but they’re certainly nice to have. Nomad Stand for Apple Watch is my top pick. Stand works with all Apple Watch models including both open- and closed-style bands.
It’s a solid dock with a minimal, modern look. You have to supply your own Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Cable like the one that comes in the box and Stand doesn’t support Nightstand mode, but it’s an attractive dock worthy of presenting any Apple Watch.
If you want to go the official route, Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock is your only option. I personally use this dock but it’s not my top recommendation because of its price: $79.
Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Dock is a soft padded disk with a firm weighted bottom. An integrated charging connector in the center pops up for closed-style bands and lays flat for open-style bands.
Magnetic Charging Dock does support Nightstand mode and doesn’t require supplying your own charging cable.
It actually relies on an included Lightning cable (2 meters) for power. This cable can be useful when traveling if you need a spare iPhone charger although you can’t charge both your iPhone and Apple Watch overnight when sharing.
This dock’s $79 price makes it difficult to recommend given its basic function but it’s a nice-to-have accessory if you like its look.
If you like the disk shape of Apple’s official dock, Bluelounge Kosta is a $15 charging coaster that has a similar footprint. Like Nomad Stand, you supply your own charging cable like the one that comes with your Apple Watch.
The charging end can stand upright or lay flat to support both open- and closed-style bands, although it’s not fixed in place so it can be difficult to keep positioned. Bluelounge Kosta is available in dark gray for $14.95 on Amazon; check out our hands-on review here.
Finally, Belkin has a few dock options with integrated charging connectors like Apple’s solution. Pictured is Belkin Valet Charge Dock for Apple Watch + iPhone in rose gold. It’s a pricey Apple Store exclusive at $129.95 but includes everything you need to power both your iPhone and Apple Watch.
Best Third-Party Apple Watch Bands
Nomad is back with my favorite third-party Apple Watch band: Leather Strap for Apple Watch. Priced at $59.95, Leather Strap comes in brown or gray for silver or black hardware.
The leather is sourced from Chicago’s Horween Leather Company and the hardware comes in two styles: modern or traditional. See our hands-on review here.
- Sport band alternative: Belkin Sport Band ($39)
- Nylon band alternative: Incase Nylon Nato Band ($39)
Best Active Lifestyle Accessories
Apple Watch features an integrated heart rate monitor that stays active when logging workouts, but it can be a battery drain during lengthy exercises. Polar H7 Bluetooth Heart Rate Sensor & Fitness Tracker (~$50) wirelessly pairs with Apple Watch and provides heart rate data without taxing the Apple Watch battery.
I don’t use it for casual workouts, but it’s beneficial during days when I know I’ll be logging a lot of activity. A side benefit is capturing constant heart rate data throughout the day even when you’re not logging workouts; Apple Watch only measures about every ten minutes when not logging workouts to preserve battery.
Speaking of battery life, Kanex has one of the only all-in-one solutions for keeping your Apple Watch charged during a weekend off the grid. Kanex GoPower Watch features an integrated charging connector that can recharge your Apple Watch over several nights. It’s pricier than other options at $74-$99 but makes for a nice gift or splurge purchase. See our hands-on review here.
If you’re using Apple Watch as a fitness tracker with the goal of getting in shape, a connected scale can be super convenient. I manually logged my weight in Apple’s Health app for months before upgrading to a Withings Wi-Fi Scale that automatically logs weight and BMI with Apple’s HealthKit feature. Prices start around $129 and vary depending on additional measurement features.
For me, Apple Watch has kickstarted a lifestyle change that involves a lot less junk food and a lot more physical activity. I purchased a Schwinn road bike earlier this year just to try using Apple Watch’s Workout app to measure outdoor cycling; now it’s a regular part of my physical activity. One thing leads to another then you realize you need a bottle mount to stay hydrated during longer rides and an iPhone mount for music and podcast playback.
After starting to get serious about regularly running with Apple Watch Series 2, this week I decided to my running shoes need an upgrade and I’m in the market for running gloves to help get me through the winter — preferably something touch screen compatible for controlling Apple Watch.
Before cycling and running, my fitness story with Apple Watch started with a NordicTrack elliptical that I use for at least 30 minutes a day when I can’t get out and run or bike. I also keep a gym membership (Black Card at Planet Fitness) primarily for exercise equipment access when traveling.
I also rely on a few third-party apps on my Apple Watch that may be worth recommending or checking out: MyFitnessPal which I use to log my meals on iPhone and glance at goal progress from the app dock, Nike+ Run Club where I log my runs, and Fantastical ($2.99 currently during sale) which provides a streamlined calendar and customizable watch face complication.
Have your own Apple Watch gift ideas or favorites? Join the conversation in the comments and stay tuned for future 9to5Mac gift guides over the next few weeks.
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