It seems like forever that advertisers have highlighted products made out of stainless steel. Whether it’s a frying pan or toaster, consumers like their steel to be stainless.
That selling point includes Apple Watches, which come with either an aluminum case or a stainless steel case. With the release of Apple Watch Series 5, Apple has discontinued the Series 4 and only offers the aluminum case on its official site.
For the most part, the watches function precisely the same, so what are the benefits of an aluminum Apple Watch versus a stainless steel Apple Watch? We use the Series 5 to compare Apple Watches and help you deice which material is the better value.
Apple Watch Aluminum vs Stainless Steel: Comparison Chart
Difference between Apple Watch Aluminum and Stainless Steel
The stainless steel Apple Watch only comes with the GPS plus Cellular feature, which means that it costs you more upfront as well as adding a monthly fee — around $10 — from your cellular provider.
You can still get the GPS plus Cellular watch with the aluminum model, but you’ll always have the option of saving some money and getting the GPS only version in aluminum.
From the standpoint of features, the watches are identical. Both sync with your iPhone, have optical heart sensors, track calories, and steps taken. You can get all your notifications, text, and make calls with both.
The material, weight, and durability are the main differences between aluminum and stainless steel.
Design & Colors
The design of the aluminum and steel models is identical. Both models have the option of a 40mm and 44mm display size, with the same dimensions.
No matter which of the new Apple Watches you go with, you’re going to have choices in color of the case as well as the style and color of the bands.
The Aluminum watch comes in three different colors, including space gray, silver, and gold. You can get those watches with either a sports band or loop with nine different color options on the bands, including Pine Green, Lemon Creme, and Clementine.
Sports loops on the aluminum models come in a variety of colors as well, including Alaskan Blue, Pomegranate, Pride, and many others.
Stainless Steel offers gold, space black colored cases with options of sport loop, and a Milanese loop.
While the display dimensions are the same for both the aluminum and steel models, there is a difference in the material used to make the glass.
The stainless steel watch’s display glass is sapphire crystal, which is stronger and more durable than the softer Ion-X glass that adorns the aluminum versions.
Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum, which gives the steel model an advantage. However, the aluminum is lighter and, while not as strong, is more resistant to scratches and scuffs.
It won’t hurt the functionality of the watch, but you’re going to notice scratches on the stainless steel watch more than you would on an aluminum. If you get one of the darker colored devices, those scratches are going to show up more prominently.
Both versions offer the same water resistance capability, safe to use in up to 50 meters under water.
As you would expect, the stainless steel model is heavier. The 40mm version weighs in at 39.8 grams while the 44mm display weighs 47.8 grams. That’s noticeably heavier than the 30.1 and 36.7-gram weights of the aluminum options.
The more substantial watch is not going to break your toe if you drop it, but that extra weight might make a difference for runners, or swimmers, or any athlete looking to reduce the amount of extra weight and drag that you’re wearing.
Is that a deal-breaker? Probably not, but something to consider as you decide on which device you want to strap on your wrist.
Both versions of the new Apple Watch allow you to customize colors and bands based on your style preferences.
Runners can get a Nike + watch in the aluminum version and has features aimed at tracking your run in a more detailed manner than the standard apple health or workout apps. The Nike + options start at $399 and come in the same colors as the standard aluminum watches.
If you like high style, new and unique watch faces, always-on display, and a sleek all-black color combination, then the Hermes stainless steel Watch 5 is right up your alley. This is a high-end smartwatch, with all the same features as the standard versions, but with a sharper look and band options such as the double tour, which wraps around your wrist twice for extra comfort.
Here is where you’ll find the most significant distinction between the two watch designs.
The aluminum watch offers you a choice of the standard GPS version or a cellular option. The GPS allows you to connect and sync with your iPhone via Bluetooth and Wifi. The GPS plus Cellular allows your watch to become a stand-alone watch and allows you to ditch the phone.
GPS plus Cellular is the only option available on the stainless steel Apple Watch, which also means it costs more to purchase as well as cost you a monthly fee.
Value for Money
The aluminum is the better value be as it will cost you a fraction of the price for a watch that is virtually the same. Stainless steel is a bit more durable yes, but the aluminum watches are built to last as well.
You’ll be able to access the same features, track your fitness goals, steps, calories, get text messages, notifications, and stream music. All for anywhere from $100 to $200 less money.
The aluminum 40mm GPS only versions are $399 for the 40mm display size and $499 if you add cellular. With the 44mm display, GPS starts at $429, and it jumps to $529 when for the Cellular.
Prices for the stainless steel models start at $699 if you get the sport band, $749 for the Milanese loop, and $799 for the sport loop.
If you like the durability of the stainless steel watch but don’t want to pay the high price of the new Apple Series 5, you can still find some Series 3 in stainless steel. Apple has discontinued them, but they can be found on Amazon.
For the athlete who wants a watch tailored more towards fitness tracking but still has some of the bells and whistles of a smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa 2 may be an alternative. It’s cheaper, aluminum, and available on Amazon.
Stainless steel is undoubtedly a tougher and more durable material than aluminum, but those benefits don’t match the price difference in the two different Apple Watches.
For runners, the aluminum watch is lighter, cheaper, and gets you all the same features that the steel model offers. You can even get the Nike + version and maximize your runs. If you want cellular connectivity, you can still get that in aluminum for less money.
If you’re not a runner and don’t mind the extra weight, the stainless steel watch is more durable, has a tougher glass on its display, and gives you more options in the types of bands that you might want.
Andy is a long-time writer covering sports, tech, and the local arts scene in Seattle, Washington. He is an avid hockey fan, weight lifter, and fitness tracker fanatic. His work has appeared on ESPN Seattle, Sportsnet in Canada and most recently NHL.com.