How to choose between stainless steel vs aluminum Apple Watches

Posted:
in Apple Watch
There are several different colors, finishes, and sizes of the Apple Watch Series 4. There may be outward differences to the different metals, but what else separates the stainless steel vs aluminum models? AppleInsider spells them out to help you decide.






In total, there are 18 models of Apple Watch -- gold, silver, and space grey/black models in 40mm and 44mm sizes either in cellular or GPS + Wi-Fi configurations. Other than the size, the finish and color option is one of the major choices that must be made when choosing which model to buy.


Stainless steel

Stainless steel is the more costly option, as well as the more flashy. All three colors have a pristine, glossy finish that is easy to catch the eye. These models weigh considerably more than the aluminum, easily appealing to those that like the fit and finish of traditional timepieces.




With the glossy finish comes a downside -- microabrasions. These tiny scratches show up on glossy stainless steel frequently and are most perceptible on the silver option. After using the silver for a year, many little scratches will be noticed all over the case. Apple uses a diamond-like coating on the Space Black version, making it the toughest of all three. After a year, we've noticed no microabrasions.

Fingerprints also show easily on the stainless steel but can easily be buffed out for a pristine shine. The good news is that both these microabrasions and fingerprints are largely unnoticeable when worn on the wrist.

Aside from the metal, stainless steel also utilizes sapphire crystal to cover the display which is extremely resistant to scratches.




Bundled with each Apple Watch is a magnetic charging puck. Opting for the stainless steel model affords you a stainless steel covered charging puck. It has a glossy finish, a slightly heavier weight, and is slightly thinner than the common plastic version.

Lastly, the stainless steel Apple Watch Series 4 is only available in cellular, as denoted by a subtle red ring around the Digital Crown.

In short, when choosing stainless steel, you get a heavier, durable Apple Watch with a more premium charging cable, more resistant glass, and stunning glossy finishes.

Aluminum

Aluminum Apple Watches are the far and away lighter than the steel. Those who frequently run may prefer the more lightweight load on their wrist.

Instead of sapphire crystal, Apple uses Ion-X strengthened glass on the front of the display, which while lighter, is more susceptible to scratches.




Lastly, Apple includes a thicker, plastic magnetic charging puck.

In summary, aluminum gives you a lightweight watch with matte finishes that don't show small scratches but are less durable to big marks. A basic charger is included, and the display is covered in glass rather than sapphire. There are most configurations in the aluminum, with Wi-Fi + GPS and cellular versions available.

Why to buy the aluminum Apple Watch


  • I love wearing Apple Watch while working out or playing sports and want it as light as possible!

  • I prefer the matte finishes

  • I want the most cost-friendly option

  • I don't want cellular

Why to buy the stainless steel Apple Watch


  • I want a model most like a traditional timepiece

  • I love the glossy finishes

  • I want the most expensive model available!

  • I'm looking for the most durable Apple Watch

  • I prefer a heavy watch

Where to buy

Apple authorized resellers B&H Photo and Abt.com are currently accepting orders for the Apple Watch Series 4 in both stainless steel and aluminum. Abt.com will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, while B&H will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside New York and New Jersey*. For a complete list of deals and product availability, please visit our Apple Watch Price Guide.
«1

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 25
    “I love wearing Apple Watch while working out or playing sports”

    Depends on the sport. The glass screen on my aluminum model looks like utter hell after scraping against the walls while bouldering. Swipes with fingers coated in micro-abrasive chalk can't be helping either. I'll definitely spring for the sapphire next time.
    bonobobStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 25
    IS
    THAT
    A
    SERIOUS
    HEADLINE
    .....
    REALLY!?
    bonobobSpamSandwichneilm
  • Reply 3 of 25
    mazda 3smazda 3s Posts: 1,531member
    Stainless steel has sapphire glass -- decision made. The glass on my Series 0 Sport looked like garbage after a few months and I even managed to chip it with a slight bump up against an exterior wall. I'm currently on a Series 2 stainless steel and this thing is virtually indestructible. I can't find ANY signs of wear or abuse on the screen. No scratches, abrasions, chips, marks -- nothing. 

    I took a quick glance at my wife's Series 1 Sport last while it was on the charger and hers is littered with tiny scratches all over the watch face, and she's only had it since April. I really wish that Apple would make Sapphire standard across the board -- really sucks that I have to put up $700 just to get stainless steel, and I don't even want the LTE. I'll probably just buying it second-hand like I did my current Series 2. Let some other poor sap take the depreciation hit.
    netmageStrangeDaysrepressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 25
    I think I'm gonna give my 42 mm Series 2 Black Stainless model to my Son for his birthday and order up another Black Stainless watch for myself... looking to forward to the Health improvements such as the EKG and Fall detection as I continue my trips around the Sun!
    repressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 25
    This is a very helpful guide. I am doing research about the difference between the 2 models, now I don’t need to. 

    Thanks AI
    caladanian
  • Reply 6 of 25
    One advantage of the silver stainless steel is that you can re-polish it to get rid of the micro-abrasions and you could electro plated with gold or other metal (if you're interested on that). You can't really do that with any of the color versions. I just upgraded from my S0 to S4 SS and i'm loving it.
    repressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 25
    Notwithstanding the fact that the aluminum Watch is beautiful and has the same functionality as the SS, you get what you pay for. It's not likely that you get something worth $700 if you paid $400. I've had the SS of the S0, and I am massively impressed by how flawless the exterior still looks!

    The SS (black) of the S4 was an easy decision for me.
    netmagerepressthiswatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 25
    anomeanome Posts: 1,113member

    I went with Black Stainless Steel for the Series 3 last year because the Grey just didn't look as good. The Sapphire screen also was a factor, but by no means was it anything about having to own the more expensive model. I suppose there are people who think that way, but I thought that was what the Editions were for. (Although there were other advantages to the Ceramic. Less so with the Gold.)

    Of course, if I'd gone with Aluminium, I'd be more likely to have bought a Series 4 this year, but the Steel cost enough that I feel i need to get a couple of years out of it at least.

    netmagewatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 25
    @ "Apple authorized resellers B&H Photo and <snip> are currently accepting orders for the Apple Watch...."

    And just how is B&H doing that since they are closed for the Jewish Succo Holiday? You Apple Insider folks really screwed over your readers when you pushed B&H Friday morning when orders opened up knowing that B&H was closing Friday afternoon and wouldn't even process orders until 3 October. 

    "Any orders placed after 6:30pm ET Fri Sep 21 will be processed when we reopen on Wed Oct 3."

    Way to take care of your readers, Apple Insider! At least let 'em know what they'll give up to save the sales tax. 
  • Reply 10 of 25
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,685member
    mazda 3s said:
    Stainless steel has sapphire glass -- decision made. The glass on my Series 0 Sport looked like garbage after a few months and I even managed to chip it with a slight bump up against an exterior wall. I'm currently on a Series 2 stainless steel and this thing is virtually indestructible. I can't find ANY signs of wear or abuse on the screen. No scratches, abrasions, chips, marks -- nothing. 

    I took a quick glance at my wife's Series 1 Sport last while it was on the charger and hers is littered with tiny scratches all over the watch face, and she's only had it since April. I really wish that Apple would make Sapphire standard across the board -- really sucks that I have to put up $700 just to get stainless steel, and I don't even want the LTE. I'll probably just buying it second-hand like I did my current Series 2. Let some other poor sap take the depreciation hit.
    My thoughts exactly. Don’t need LTE at all but stainless and sapphire crystal are must-haves. I guess Apple figured this out too because that’s how they set the hook to entice me to buy more Apple Watch than I really need. Dammit.
    mazda 3snetmage
  • Reply 11 of 25
    I had a series 2 for two years, it was the aluminum space grey version.  After 2 years the watch looks brand new.  I never babied it, but never had an incident where I thought the watch had a chance of being damaged.  The Ion-X glass is very strong.  Since I didn't feel the need to spend the extra $ on the sapphire glass, I opted for an aluminum series 4 this time around.  So far loving everything about this watch!
    albegarcwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 25
    rattlhed said:
    I had a series 2 for two years, it was the aluminum space grey version.  After 2 years the watch looks brand new.  I never babied it, but never had an incident where I thought the watch had a chance of being damaged.  The Ion-X glass is very strong.  Since I didn't feel the need to spend the extra $ on the sapphire glass, I opted for an aluminum series 4 this time around.  So far loving everything about this watch!
    Not any scratches whatsoever on the display? The Ion-X Glass is similar to iPhone glass AFAIK, so it isn’t invincible. I baby the hell out of my iPhone X and have a case on it, but I still have a few hairline scratches on the display after nearly a year of use. 
  • Reply 13 of 25
    What about brightness and overall visual quality between sapphire and glass?  Is one brighter and therefore more visible outdoors in bright sunlight?
  • Reply 14 of 25
    Eric_WVGG said:
    “I love wearing Apple Watch while working out or playing sports”

    Depends on the sport. 
    And the person playing the sport, as well.


    pacific said:
    IS
    THAT
    A
    SERIOUS
    HEADLINE
    .....
    REALLY!?
    Why not. A lot of people ask me, and many others I'm sure, what Watch they should get. Otherwise why even make more than one Watch and more than one band? Any Watch and band they want, as long as it's black.


    felix01 said:
    Way to take care of your readers, Apple Insider! At least let 'em know what they'll give up to save the sales tax. 
    Like that makes any difference at this date. And any reader would know what they 'give up' to same a fair bit of change even before placing an order.


    I've got aluminum Watches and a SS Watch. The SS can easily pickup small, hairline scratches on the case, though the sapphire crystal is highly resistant. They can be polished out, but not nearly as easy as getting them. The sapphire crystal is in perfect shape.

    The aluminum case is very resistant to scratching, far more so than the SS, but if it does, get scratched, there's really nothing you can do, except maybe hide it with a case. One of my aluminums that gets a lot of wear, has an Ion-X crystal in perfect shape. That is, even under 5x magnification, I don't see any scratches on it, or the case for that matter.

    A potential trade off is an impact that might 'only' scratch or gouge an Ion-X crystal, might crack or shatter a sapphire version.
  • Reply 15 of 25
    I have a gold SS Series 4 and an Aluminum Series 4 and have been going back and forth for days to decide which one I’ll keep. I use the Watch to run and work out so I love the lighter weight of the Aluminum but damn is the gold nice. And aluminum version seems significantly thinner than the Stainless Steel which is nice. 
    albegarcwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 25
    macgui said:

    pacific said:
    IS
    THAT
    A
    SERIOUS
    HEADLINE
    .....
    REALLY!?
    Why not. A lot of people ask me, and many others I'm sure, what Watch they should get. Otherwise why even make more than one Watch and more than one band? Any Watch and band they want, as long as it's black.

    Exactly @macgui. There is nothing wrong with the headline IMO.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 25
    felix01 said:
    @ "Apple authorized resellers B&H Photo and <snip> are currently accepting orders for the Apple Watch...."

    And just how is B&H doing that since they are closed for the Jewish Succo Holiday? You Apple Insider folks really screwed over your readers when you pushed B&H Friday morning when orders opened up knowing that B&H was closing Friday afternoon and wouldn't even process orders until 3 October. 

    "Any orders placed after 6:30pm ET Fri Sep 21 will be processed when we reopen on Wed Oct 3."

    Way to take care of your readers, Apple Insider! At least let 'em know what they'll give up to save the sales tax. 
    Succo Holiday?
  • Reply 18 of 25
    I'm now on my fourth Apple Watch (a Series 4).  Each has been Space Grey Aluminum.  Not one has scratches on the case or glass.  Admittedly I take very good care, but do not baby them.  And since i get a new series each year, (1) I'm not so concerned about any blemishes that may appear and (2) I can't justify the extra couple hundred dollar premium for the SS.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 25
    sirozha said:
    felix01 said:
    @ "Apple authorized resellers B&H Photo and <snip> are currently accepting orders for the Apple Watch...."

    And just how is B&H doing that since they are closed for the Jewish Succo Holiday? You Apple Insider folks really screwed over your readers when you pushed B&H Friday morning when orders opened up knowing that B&H was closing Friday afternoon and wouldn't even process orders until 3 October. 

    "Any orders placed after 6:30pm ET Fri Sep 21 will be processed when we reopen on Wed Oct 3."

    Way to take care of your readers, Apple Insider! At least let 'em know what they'll give up to save the sales tax. 
    Succo Holiday?
    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Succo+holiday   B)

  • Reply 20 of 25
    This was a great review.  I have a different take on stainless.  I have owned stainless watches over the years that cost several times what the Apple watch costs.  The scratches for me were intolerable and they appear no matter how careful one is.  A billion ‘micro scratches’ is no longer a micro effect.  I notice makers like Cartier, Dunhill and Rolex (all of which I own or have owned) incorporated some matte with the bright finish so the scratches appear less objectionable.  I have owned every Apple watch since the onset, sometimes 2 at the same time, once they updated the software.  I chose aluminum but I have a thin screen protector install by this great guy who can apply it so well you cannot tell it’s on.  It has saved me more than once.  I believe it cost me $20 and $15 each when I take him 2 at the same time.  My wish is that Apple would make the watch with a tungsten case....gorgeous color and next to impossible to scratch.
    watto_cobra
Sign In or Register to comment.