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The complete guide to pre-ordering the Apple Watch

Want to be one of the first wearing the Apple Watch? Here's what you need to know.

With the launch of Apple Watch in full swing, you probably noticed that this Apple product launch is very different from that of the iPhone or iPad. For starters, the only way to order a Watch is through the online Apple Store. There's also the added step of trying the Watch on in stores, if you want.

If you'd like to try on an Apple Watch before buying it, this guide will tell you how. And if you decide to forgo the try-on and immediately order it online, skip down to "Your Watch options" to make sure you choose the model and size that's right for you.

How to make an appointment

Don't expect to waltz into your local Apple store to try on the Apple Watch. Apple is encouraging people to make appointments, which are scheduled in 15-minute increments (but Apple's not going to kick you out if you need more time). They also will allow try-ons on a first-come-first-served basis, but if you didn't make an appointment ahead of time, you might find yourself waiting for quite a while if there is no open time slot when you arrive.

Those interested in the Apple Watch Edition (the incredibly expensive 18-karat gold model) will need to specify that when they make their appointment, since those fittings will happen in a separate area and not all stores will carry the $10,000-to-$17,000 watch.

Even with an appointment to try watches on, you won't be able to walk out with one that day. All watches will be purchased by ordering them, not by selecting one from the store shelf. So if you're in an Apple store, an employee will help you try it on, then guide you through the online ordering process. You'll then need to have it shipped to you, or you can make arrangements to pick it up in-store when it's ready.

What this means is if you wait too long to try the Apple Watch on in stores, you'll likely end up with a delayed delivery date. Those who order the Watch as soon as possible will get it on time (or at least sooner).

Our advice? If you want to be one of the first people wearing an Apple Watch, sort out all of the details before online pre-orders begin. And that's what this guide is for -- to help you figure out everything you need to know for that very moment. You also can check out the Apple Watch app that's now on iPhones to see what the different models and sizes look like and what different features are. If you would rather try it on before you buy it, make an appointment on April 10 for a fitting.

Is your phone compatible?

Good news! You don't need the newest, flashiest iPhone to use the Apple Watch. All Watch models are compatible with the iPhone 5, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

As a nice surprise, those who own the iPhone 5, 5C or 5S will be able to use Apple Pay through their Apple Watch, even though their phone doesn't support the feature.

Your Watch options

Most people thought that when Apple unveiled a watch there would be one flagship model. Apple surprised us with a slew of options, ranging from an entry-level sport model to a super-expensive all-gold version.

Here's the deal: more expensive doesn't necessarily mean "better." The price tiers exclusively reflect the material used to build the watch -- the inner parts and features are exactly the same.

Price (38mm; 42mm) Body Display Back Design
Apple Watch Sport $349; $399 Aluminum-alloy Ion X-strengthened glass Composite Lightweight materials make it an ideal exercise companion.
Apple Watch $549; $599 Stainless steel Sapphire crystal Ceramic Stainless steel and resilient display give it a more expensive feel.
Apple Watch Edition $10,000 and up 18-karat gold Sapphire crystal Ceramic High-end build designed for luxury.

Figure out your Watch size

The most frustrating part about pre-ordering an Apple Watch without trying it on first is sizing. For most models and alternative strap options, you'll need to figure out two things: the size of the face and the length of the band.

Face sizing

For some, the face size will be obvious. My small wrists would be weighed down (and look ridiculous) with the 42mm version, for example. Someone with a large wrist might know right away they need the bigger size.

But the best way to decide is to print and cut out a paper version of the watch faces and compare them on your wrist. Here's a guide to doing just that.

Band sizing

For the Apple Watch Sport, you'll need to do nothing more than choose the face size, since your Watch will come with two bands (S/M and M/L).

However, the second-tier Apple Watch comes with a variety of band styles, some of which have various size options (like Small, Medium and Large). Once you know which band you want, head on over to this page, determine the size options, and use the below guide to pinpoint the length you need.

Because determining your watch size is a tricky business, I'm including two ways to do it. My advice is to follow both methods so that you're absolutely sure.

Josh Miller/CNET

Method 1: Measure and extend

This one is easy. Grab some flexible measuring tape -- the kind that tailors use. Wrap it around your wrist, tightly, so that you're measuring the exact circumference of your wrist. Note the measurement.

If you don't have that kind of measuring tape, wrap a piece of string around your wrist, snip it (or use a marker to indicate the length), and get the length of the string with a ruler or measuring tape.

Now, add the specified length (below) to determine your size, and compare to Apple's guide, which is in millimeters.

  • For a snug fit* add ½ inch (12mm)
  • For a comfortable fit on most people, add ¾ to 1 inch (18-25mm)
  • For a loose fit add 1 ¼ inch (32mm)

*If you plan to exercise with your Watch, I recommend against a snug fit. Exercising in general causes minor swelling that will make a snug watch very uncomfortable to wear during workouts.

Josh Miller/CNET

Method 2: The duct tape bracelet

To be absolutely sure your measurements are correct, make a prototype bracelet with duct tape. It won't track your steps or read your heart rate, but it'll help you feel completely confident about the size you choose.

It's simple: cut a long piece of duct tape and fold it in half lengthwise to overlap to two adhesive sides. Then, measure out the desired band length, and cut your stand-in Watch to size.

A few more things to know

  • All bands are interchangeable. Apple sells some of its Watch bands separately, so whether you want to switch up the look or get a looser fit, you can always get a different band.
  • Lefties are covered. The Apple Watch screen rotates, so it'll function no matter which wrist you strap it to.
  • You can already buy accessories. Even though the Watch hasn't yet landed in stores, third-party accessories are already available for purchase. Here are a few to get you started.
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Editors' note: This story was updated on April 3 with new details on making appointments for trying on and ordering the watch.