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Apple Watch 38mm vs 42mm (2021): Which Size Should You Get?

If you’re having a difficult time choosing what size to get your Apple Watch in, you’re not alone. With only two sizes to choose from and just a 4mm difference between them, it should be an easy decision — but in reality, they’re different enough to warrant a deeper consideration. We’ve listed a few factors below to help you decide whether the Apple Watch Series 3 38mm or the 42mm Apple Watch 3 is best for you.

Apple Watch 38mm vs 42mm Comparison Chart

ModelApple Watch Series 3 38mmApple Watch Series 3 42mm
 Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS, 38mm)Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS, 42mm)
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Height38.66mm42.0mm
Width33.3mm35.9mm
Resolution272 x 340 pixels312 x 390 pixels
Total Display Area563 sq mm740 sq mm
Sport Band Size (S/M)130-180mm140-185mm
Sport Band Size (M/L)150-200mm160-210mm
Weight (Aluminum, GPS only)26.7g32.3g
Weight (Aluminum, GPS + Cellular)28.7g34.9g
Weight (White Ceramic)40.1g46.4g
Weight (Stainless Steel)42.4g52.8g
Battery Life18 hoursUp to 20-25% longer

Wrist Size

If you have an extremely small or large wrist, your choice might have been made for you already.

Apple Watch 38mm vs 42mm Wrist Size
Choose the watch size and band size that best fits your wrist.

Everyone has different wrist sizes. People might tell you that if you’re a man you should get the larger size, or the smaller one if you’re a woman, but that’s too simplistic and stereotypical. You should choose whichever one fits you better, no matter your gender. A big factor here is the actual circumference of your wrist.

Consider that the bands for the 42mm Apple Watch are much longer than those for the 38mm. Those with wider wrists might not be able to securely strap on the 38mm, while those with thinner arms might find the 42mm to be unwieldy. Here’s a handy Watch Sizing Guide from Apple to help you find out which size and strap style will fit you.

Of course, you should personally try on both sizes with different bands to see how comfortable they are on your wrist. More often than not, one of them will likely feel and look better than the other.

Screen Size

The bigger screen size will always be easier to view and use.

Apple Watch 38mm vs 42mm Screen Size
The 42mm is a bit easier to read on and control by touch.

For the same reason that the standard screen sizes of phones keep getting bigger and bigger, larger touchscreens are just easier to operate. Those with thicker fingers are likely to appreciate a bigger screen, since it’s more difficult to be precise on smaller touchscreens.

Many Apple Watch apps were also designed for the 42mm version, and you’ll notice the resizing in the form of clipped and hyphenated words so that the text can fit in the 38mm. However, keep in mind that you won’t be interacting with your smartwatch as much as your phone. It’s mostly a secondary gadget for fitness information and app notifications.

Overall, the smaller screen of the 38mm doesn’t really hamper how well you can see the interface and read text, and you’ll also likely prefer to scroll using the rotating crown anyway.

Device Weight

The Apple Watch 38mm is lighter and easier on your wrist.

Apple Watch 38mm vs 42mm Device Weight
Different case sizes and types have different weights.

The weight of the Apple Watch might not be a factor for those who are already used to wearing a watch. Otherwise, it might take some time for you to get accustomed with the additional pull on your wrist. In this case, size does matter as the 42mm is noticeably heavier, especially with the stainless steel finish.

If you’re getting an Apple Watch for casual wear, the 38mm version with an aluminum finish will prove lighter on your wrist. This is a bigger consideration for wearables compared to smartphones, since you’re likely to wear your smartwatch all day. It’s also why Apple decided to provide different sizes and finishes in the first place.

Battery Life

The Apple Watch 42mm has a slightly bigger battery and will last a bit longer.

Apple Watch 38mm vs 42mm Battery Life
The bigger battery of the 42mm can last longer.

The 42mm version comes with a battery that’s roughly 20 to 25% bigger than the 38mm version. But what does that mean in terms of practical usage?

Extensive testing showed that the bigger battery does last 20 to 25% longer than the smaller one. This is even more important if you’re planning to use the cellular capabilities of the LTE-enabled Apple Watch all day. If you want to be able to leave your iPhone at home and just have a wearable on while running or working out, a bigger battery will give you more peace of mind, especially if your workouts are 2 to 3 hours long. However, if you’ll still have your phone with you during that time, the smaller 38mm will still be fine and last through the day with no problems.

Verdict

Choose the size that fits and feels better on your wrist.

The Apple Watch Series 3 38mm and the Apple Watch Series 3 42mm are different enough from each other that you should take the time to consider which one matches your preferences better. More often that not, you’ll find that the size of your wrist is the biggest factor, since one watch size will look better and feel more comfortable than the other. However, if you’re going to rely heavily on this wearable to track your fitness and health, a larger battery is going to be important.

We highly recommend going to an Apple store in person and trying both sizes on for comparison, so you can experience how each one feels on your wrist. If you can’t, remember what you’re buying an Apple Watch for and don’t let common conventions dictate your choice.

FAQs

📌 Is there a big difference between 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch?

Yes, the 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 models are different enough for closer consideration. The 38mm version has a smaller 1.5-inch display and 272 x 340 resolution than the 1.7-inch display and 312 x 390 resolution of the 42mm model. You’ll find the 42mm Apple Watch easier to read on as a result. Moreover, it has around 20% more battery life than the smaller 38mm Apple Watch. On the other hand, the 38mm model will feel noticeably lighter on your wrist.

📌 Is the 38mm Apple Watch too small for men?

No, it all depends on your wrist size and personal preferences. Some men might have smaller than average wrist sizes and will find the Apple Watch 38mm versions to be the perfect size.

📌 Is a 42mm Apple Watch too big for women?

No, the Apple Watch isn’t intended to offer distinct sizes for men and women. The 38mm and 42mm Apple Watch models are designed to present the most ideal size options depending on personal preferences and wrist circumferences. In short, you can wear the Apple Watch 42mm if you like it better or it fits you better.

📌 Is it worth getting an Apple Watch 3?

With the price drops it has received, the Apple Watch Series 3 is still a relevant smartwatch choice. In fact, it’s certain to be one of the best GPS smartwatches you can get for its price, even in 2020. Its impressive variety and number of fitness and health tracking features, along with its stylish look, make it well worth its current price tag.

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Derick Bondoc

Managing Editor at Compare Before Buying. Writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, gaming and snacks.