Apple Watch ultimate guide: Get the most from your smartwatch

Everything you need to know about the Apple Watch in one place

If you're the owner of an Apple Watch – or wondering what exactly Apple's so-called iWatch actually does – you have one of the best smartwatches in the world at your disposal.

But there's a steep learning curve – and getting the most from your Apple Watch and its bevy of fitness, workout and time-saving features is key.

That's what this ultimate guide to the Apple Watch sets out to achieve. We've covered everything from the basic questions, to really ramping you up as a power user – covering top tips, essential apps and stylish ways to make your smartwatch even better.

What does the Apple Watch do?

How to use the Apple watch

It's one of the common questions among people looking to buy the Apple Watch for the first time – what does it actually do?

Well, a lot more than just offering you the chance to read text messages and answer calls on your wrist, rather than your phone, which is the main feature everybody knows.

  • Get messages and notifications on the wrist
  • Fitness tracking
  • Workout tracking
  • Heart rate monitoring
  • ECG monitoring (on Watch Series 4 only)
  • GPS tracking of workouts (on GPS versions)
  • Make calls and receive messages away from your phone (LTE versions with data plan)
  • Turn-by-turn navigation
  • Siri commands – alarms, timers, reminders
  • Display tickets and boarding passes
  • Tell the time

Which Apple Watch is best for you?

Apple Watch ultimate guide: Get the most from your smartwatch

Apple has simplified its line-up – although you can find all generations of its smartwatch available for a variety of price tags. If you're choosing an Apple Watch then make sure you're buying the right size and also ladies: check out our guide to buying the Apple Watch, with important info on size, styles and more.

Apple Watch Series 4

The Apple Watch Series 4 is the latest version and comes in two new size options - 40mm and 44mm. There are LTE/GPS and GPS options and there's special edition versions in the shape of the Apple Watch Nike+ and the Apple Watch Hermès.

From $399,

Apple Watch Series 3

The Apple Watch Series 3 comes in two flavours using the older 28mm and 42mm casings, again with plain old GPS or a GPS/LTE version. If you're looking for the smallest Apple Watch, this is the place to go. It's swim-proof and now represents the most cost effective way to buy an Apple Watch (officially). The downsides are that it features the old shape, the screen's not as good, and the fancy new ECG features are missing.

$279, | Amazon

Apple Watch Series 1 (officially discontinued)

The Apple Watch Series 1 is the budget version, and comes without GPS or LTE – making it the choice for users that aren't too bothered with accurate outdoor sports tracking. It's no longer sold by Apple, but can still be picked up from other retailers for something of a steal – and it's still treated to the latest watchOS 5 software so you're not being left behind in terms of functionality.

$199 | Amazon

Apple Watch Series 2 (officially discontinued)

You can still also pick up bargain Apple Watch Series 2 smartwatches. Like the Series 1 though, these are no longer officially sold by Apple. There's plenty on Amazon, however, and you still get GPS tracking for a low price.

$229 | Amazon

How to set up your Apple Watch

how to set up apple watch

When you take your Apple Watch out of the box, it's the same as everyone else's. What makes your smartwatch personal is the style and the apps, which mean your Apple Watch will be unique to your needs. 1. Add your Apple ID
2. Create a passcode
3. Install your apps
4. Calibrate your activity settings
5. Manage your notifications
6. Back up your settings Check out our guide on how to set up your Apple Watch.

How to use the Apple Watch

How to use Apple Watch

The Apple Watch has an undeniably steep learning curve, and the first 24 hours can be a little frustrating for the uninitiated. Navigating menus and finding the information you're looking for can take some getting used to – using the digital crown, for example, and new features such as the Instant Launch dock, adding and using complications, changing watch faces and using Apple Pay. Check out our guide on how to use the Apple Watch, including all the new features and interface tweaks from watchOS 5.

The best Apple Watch apps

apple watch guides

If there's one major differentiator between the Apple Watch and the competition, it's the breadth of apps. Just like the iPhone, Apple has left the killer features of the Apple Watch up to its army of developers. If you've only got five minutes, our favourites are…

  • Strava
  • ESPN
  • CARROT Fit
  • Streaks
  • PCalc
  • Just Press Record
  • Citymapper

If you're looking for more ways trick out your smartwatch, check out our guide to the best Apple Watch apps – also check out some of our other round-ups.

Also check out these Apple Watch apps guides

Best Apple Watch running apps

Best Apple Watch sleep tracking apps

Best Apple Watch golf apps

Best Apple Watch cycling apps

Apple Watch Activity and Workout app

Apple Watch features and what does it do

One of the key features of the Apple Watch is as a fitness tracker and sports watch. The beauty of a smartwatch is adding this kind of functionality into one single device – and while it's taken some time, the Apple Watch (with watchOS 5) is a hugely powerful device.

Apple Watch: Fitness and activity explained

The Apple Watch is a very good fitness tracker and can also track workouts – and if you have a Series 4 with GPS, it can replace your standard fitness watch.

The activity app keeps tabs on movement, calories burned and standing time, and you're encouraged to 'close the rings' in order to make your daily goals. There's also a Breathe app, which encourages mindfulness, and taking time out of your day.

All stats are viewable on the watch, are tracked within the Activity app on your iPhone, and populate the Apple Health app, too.

Apple Watch: Workout app

apple watch features what does it do

The Workout app is a different beast, and enables you to track a bunch of different activities, from running and cycling to indoor workouts (which essentially just keep tabs on your heart rate, calories and time spent).

The Workout app now features:

  • Indoor Walk
  • Outdoor Walk
  • Indoor Run
  • Outdoor Run
  • Elliptical
  • Rower
  • Pool Swim
  • Open Water Swim
  • Yoga (watchOS 5)
  • Hiking (watchOS 5)

Outdoor workouts are tracked with GPS, while the rest feature duration, heart rate, calories burned and a lap feature. These are stored in the Activity app on your iPhone to view back after, with all of the maps and stats you'd expect.

The Workout app was treated to another overhaul in watchO5 – with automatic run detection added along with running specific additions such as Pace Alerts and cadence tracking – which unlike many sports watches is actually displayed live on the watch face.

You can read our full explainer on the Apple Watch fitness tracking and workout modes in our complete guide.

Heart rate tracking explained

apple watch features what does it do

Heart rate tracking has been part of the Apple Watch since the original, but it's only since watchOS 4 that it's turned into a powerful tool. And the Apple Watch is able to make use of your heart rate in the following way:

  • Tracking resting heart rate
  • Taking live heart rate readings
  • Tracking heart rate during workouts and using it to offer more accurate calorie burn
  • Alert user to irregular of elevated heart rate (watch OS 5)
  • ECG readings (Apple Watch Series 4 only)

Heart rate activity is now tracked throughout the day, and you're able to keep tabs on resting heart rate, which is a big indicator of improving fitness, and also tiredness and stress as well.

What's more, the heart rate monitor can keep tabs on your ticker and alert you to elevated bpm, which could be dangerous.

Check out our full Apple Watch heart rate monitor guide for more. And now the company has added an ECG monitor to the Apple Watch Series 4, which is capable of taking medical grade readings of your heartbeat – checking for irregular activity and offering the ability to take a PDF to your doctor.

ECG monitoring

Apple Watch ultimate guide: Get the most from your smartwatch

One of the biggest additions to the Apple Watch Series 4 was the ECG monitor – which has landed in the US via the 5.1.2 watchOS update. It will track the rhythm of your heart, looking for signs of Afib – a condition that's a leading cause of strokes in the US.

Check out our guide on how to use the Apple Watch Series 4 ECG feature.

Apple Watch tips and tricks

How to improve battery life

The main criticism of the Apple Watch is that it won't last a week, but you can easily get a couple of days, which could mean leaving the charger at home. Follow our guide to increasing the Apple Watch battery life.

How to use Apple Watch maps to navigate

While Google Maps has been cut from the platform, Apple Maps is a good experience on Apple Watch - with turn-by-turn directions and local points of interest.

How to use Alexa on Apple Watch

Yes, you can use Alexa with the Apple Watch as a separate voice assistant. Follow ur guide to finding out how.

How to clear notifications

The Apple Watch is all about notifications, but the whole point is not letting yourself get overwhelmed. Here's how to trim them down.

How to set alarm or timer

The Apple Watch is, after all, a watch – so timekeeping is pretty high on the agenda. Setting timers and alarms is easy – especially if you use Siri.

How to update

Keeping your Apple Watch up to date means you'll get the latest features – such as the ECG app which launched as an over-the-air update in December 2018.

Best Apple Watch faces

While Apple hasn't opened up the Apple Watch to the ravages of the third party watch face market, the number of options has soared with every new iteration.

Mickey Mouse

apple watch features what does it do

Tap on Mickey, he'll tell you the time. Don't be afraid to swap in the Toy Story gang if you prefer some Pixar.

Infograph (Apple Watch Series 4)

apple watch features what does it do

For the data obsessed, the Infograph supports eight complications, including the new corner placements – using the redesigned Series 4 to show extra information.


apple watch features what does it do

With six complication spots, the three icons at the bottom can be changed to common contacts, to enable you to make calls straight from the Watch. It will also take calendar appointments and display your next engagement in the middle. A firm favourite.

Check out our full guide to getting the best Apple Watch faces and improving them with slick complications.

Apple Watch bands

iGK Sport Band

apple watch features what does it do

Silicon bands are perfect for those who like to get sweaty or swim with their Apple Watch – so it's handy being able to pick these up for less than $10 a pop. There are a bunch of colours available, and buying a few means you can leave one in your gym bag so you'll never have to suffer wearing a Milanese loop on the treadmill. Just make sure you clean and dry this one regularly to avoid any wrist rashes.

$8 | Amazon

INTENY Sport Band

apple watch features what does it do

A shameless copy of Apple's own nylon offering, it's a pretty good imitation at a fraction of the cost. The strap attaches via velcro, and has a two year warranty if you're not happy with the quality. A highly impressive Amazon review score indicates that few people have cashed in on their warranty.

$8.99 | Amazon


Best Apple Watch bands: Third-party straps to style your watch for less

Another gamut of well-priced silicon bands for workouts, this AdMaster bunch apes the design of the Nike+ Apple Watch bunch. They come with a bunch of men- and women-friendly designed and unisex options - two-toned and mightily attractive.

$9.99 | Amazon

Various: Apple Watch Milanese

apple watch features what does it do

Apple really brought the Milanese loop back into vogue with the original Apple Watch, but at $150 for the official strap, it's pretty eye-watering. Luckily, there are plenty of re-sellers hawking Milanese mesh bands for pennies, showing how much you can save with a little shopping around. We've picked out a couple here.

$9.99 | Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK)

Apple Watch and Siri

Forget Amazon Alexa – when you have an Apple Watch Siri is on your wrist wherever you go. OK, sure Siri needs a lot of work, but use our tips, and you can take advantage of everything it has to offer.

Use the Digital Crown

The simplest way to wake Siri is to hold down the Digital Crown - once you do so for a couple of seconds, the listening indicator will pop up and you can release.

Raise your wrist

If you've downloaded watchOS 5, you can simply raise your wrist to your mouth – and the listening indicator should appear. Ensure it's enabled in Settings > General > Siri > Raise To Speak.

Apple Watch Siri example commands

"Hey Siri, what time is it in San Francisco?"

"Hey Siri, start a 25-minute running workout for me"

"Hey Siri, turn down the volume by 20%"

"Hey Siri, what's the weather in London?"

"Hey Siri, what's my day looking like?"

How to listen to music on your Apple Watch

Apple Music enables users to stream and listen to a library of nearly 30 million songs, and now it's available directly on Apple Watch. If you've got an LTE-enabled Apple Watch Series 3 or Series 4, you'll be able to stream music to your heart's content.

You'll just need a pair of Bluetooth headphones. If you're not rocking the cellular Apple Watch, you can also sync over albums and playlists and control music on your iPhone. To get the full details on how to do that, check out our guide to adding music to your Apple Watch.

Apple Watch FAQs

Answering your questions on the Apple Watch

Is the Apple Watch waterproof?

Yes. The Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 4 is waterproof up to 50 metres, meaning it can survive a dip in the pool and you don't have to take it off in the shower. Just remember to eke the water out once you're done by swiping down, tapping the water icon and twisting the Digital Crown.

Is the Apple Watch compatible with my smartphone?

The minimum requirements for an iPhone user are that you have an iPhone 5 or later running at least iOS 8.2. Android phones are not compatible with any Apple Watch.

Will the Apple Watch connect to wireless headphones?

Yes. Simply head into the settings section of the Watch, before selecting Bluetooth and the device which you are looking to pair. We've found some issues with the Watch pairing to headphones when a set is already known to our iPhone, but this has varied depending on which headphones we've been using.

Will Apple Watch track my sleep?

No. Likely due to the Watch's limited battery life, Apple is yet to prioritise sleep tracking natively. However, there are a host of third party Apple Watch sleep tracking apps available on the App Store.

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  • Alvisaus·

    Is there something you can do to help you find it of its lost? It's somewhere in my house but I can't find it.

    • s.charara·

      hi Alvisaus, a Find my Watch feature has been rumoured but hasn't been launched yet by Apple. Sorry!

  • Flightleader·

    I just purchased the Stainless Steel model 1/21/2016.

    I was looking everywhere for battery charging instructions and None were available !

    Nowhere does it mention the position the watch should be charged in...FACE DOWN OR on its SIDE ! Since the watch turns on when face is in the up position, I reason it will do the same when the Face is in the Down position. Therefore , it reasons that the watch should be on its SIDE for charging .

      Also , Charging Time.....2.5 hours OR ALL NIGHT ?    Which is it without overcharging the battery ?

  • Shawna·

    I have the series 1 watch and on my activity the "stand ". Blue color never shows anything. I don't know if I have it turned off or if I need to set it? Can you please help with any info .?

  • BarbWest·

    how do I delete recent calls that show up on my watch, but made from my iPhone