Should You Buy an Apple Watch SE?
The Apple Watch SE is one of Apple's latest smartwatches, offering the S5 chip, an optical heart rate sensor, an always-on altimeter, and fall detection, at a price of $279. Announced in September of 2020, the Apple Watch SE one of the newest Apple Watches in Apple's lineup. Since there has not been an Apple Watch SE before, it is difficult to ascertain how far through its product cycle it may be.
Apple's line of iPhone SE models waited several years for a second-generation model, which may suggest that the company prefers to update "SE" products less frequently than flagship devices. It should be noted that the Apple Watch Series 6, which arrived alongside the Apple Watch SE last year, is approaching the end of its product cycle and is expected to be replaced with a new model this fall.
Given that there have not yet been any signs of a new SE model or rumors around what upgrades might be on the way for a second-generation refresh, now may still be a good time to buy an Apple Watch SE.
While the Apple Watch SE is a solid all-round Apple Watch option for those who want a good mix of functionality and affordability, users who are interested in expanded health features, such as blood oxygen monitoring and ECG, an always-on display, or more premium finishes, should consider the Apple Watch Series 6, which starts from $399.
On the other hand, if price is your main concern and you don't need advanced health functions, the Apple Watch Series 3 may be more appropriate than the $279 Apple Watch SE as it offers many of the Apple Watch's core features for just $199. There are some tradeoffs with the Apple Watch Series 3 however since it is a much older model, such as a smaller display, an older chipset, and the lack of a compass, fall detection, or noise monitoring.
Apple Watch Series SE
Alongside the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple in September 2020 introduced a new lower-cost Apple Watch SE for those who are looking for a more affordable, fitness-focused Apple Watch option that has all of the essential Apple Watch functionality at a lower price point.
The Apple Watch SE is almost identical to the Series 6, but it does not have ECG or blood oxygen functionality, as those health features require hardware components that Apple did not include in the Apple Watch SE in order to keep costs down.
When it comes to design and features, the Apple Watch SE is something of a mix between the Series 4, Series 5, and Series 6 models. The Apple Watch SE is available in 40 and 44mm size options, and it has the same thinner, smaller case introduced in the Series 4.
All Apple Watch SE models are aluminum and this model can't be purchased with a stainless steel or titanium casing. Casing colors include silver, gold, and space gray, with the new blue and (PRODUCT)RED aluminum options being limited to the Apple Watch Series 6, but there are Nike models with Nike bands.
The Apple Watch SE has a Retina LTPO OLED display with 1000 nits brightness, but it does not have the same Always-On functionality that is available with the Apple Watch Series 6.
There's a black ceramic and sapphire crystal backing with built-in sensors, a Haptic Digital Crown for navigating through the operating system, and Ion-X glass protects the display. It has the same speaker and microphone as the Series 6, which are optimized for phone calls, Siri, and Walkie-Talkie.
The Apple Watch SE is water resistant to 50 meters and supports Apple Pay with skin authentication much like prior models, and though it lacks ECG and blood oxygen monitoring, it has the same optical heart rate sensor, gyroscope, and accelerometer so it can monitor steps taken, calories burned, stairs climbed, and check heart rate, plus it can track sleep, look out for falls with fall detection, make emergency calls with SOS, check orientation with the compass, and watch out for overly loud sounds with sound detection features.
Apple sells both LTE + GPS and GPS only Apple Watch SE models, so there is an option to use the new low-cost Apple Watch with cellular plans. Since it supports LTE, it can be used with Family Setup, the Apple Watch feature that Apple introduced alongside the new Apple Watch models.
Family Setup allows multiple Apple Watches to be paired and managed by a single iPhone, so a family member without an iPhone can use an Apple Watch. Apple envisions this feature being used for children and elderly adults who need assistance.
Instead of the S6 System-in-Package that powers the Series 6, the Apple Watch SE is equipped with the same S5 System-in-Package used for the Series 5. It's not as fast as the S6 chip, but it's two times faster than the chip in the Series 3, which was the previous low-cost model. The Apple Watch SE and Series 6 offer the same 18-hour battery life, but the Apple Watch Series 6 can charge to full in 1.5 hours instead of 2.5 hours.
Bluetooth 5.0 is supported and there's a W3 wireless chip, but the Apple Watch SE does not have the U1 Ultra Wideband added to the Series 6. It only supports 2.4GHz WiFi while the Series 6 supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi networks.
The Apple Watch SE is priced at $279 for the 40mm model and $309 for the 44mm model.
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How to Buy
Apple is selling the Apple Watch SE in the online Apple Store and in its retail store locations. Third-party sellers also have the watch available, sometimes at discounted prices, and Apple also offers refurbished models at a reduced cost. Pricing starts at $279, and only lower-cost aluminum models are available.
Early first impressions of the Apple Watch SE praised the affordable price and feature set that's similar to the higher-end Apple Watch Series 6. Reviewers believe the Apple Watch SE is a good value for the money for those who do not need the ECG and blood oxygen monitoring features.
Healthy people who do not have a heart condition and are not at an at-risk age for conditions like atrial fibrillation may not need the advanced health tracking.
"You're not giving up as much as you might think" with the Apple Watch SE, wrote Gizmodo's Victoria Song.
Though the Series 6 has a faster S6 chip, the S5 was described as better than fast enough, and battery life was more than adequate. All in all, the Apple Watch SE was seen as "surprisingly similar" to the Apple Watch Series 6, and it's a solid choice for those looking for a deal. Check out our review roundup for more review details.
Design and Display
The Apple Watch Series SE casing looks identical to the Apple Watch Series 6, featuring slim-bezeled displays in 40 and 44mm size options to fit a variety of different wrists.
It measures in at 10.4mm thick and it continues to feature the same square-shaped design that Apple has used since the Apple Watch launched in 2015. With no design changes to the case, the Apple Watch SE works with all previous-generation Apple Watch band options.
Apple's 40mm models measure in at 40mm high and 34mm wide, while the 44mm models are 44mm high and 38mm wide. The 40mm models weigh in at 30.5 grams and the 44mm models weigh in at 36.5 grams.
All Apple Watch SE models are made from 100 percent recycled 7000 series aluminum, which is lightweight, inexpensive, and designed for an active lifestyle. The Apple Watch SE models are available in silver, space gray, or gold aluminum.
The Apple Watch SE features a black ceramic and crystal back that houses an optical heart rate sensor to enable the heart rate detection features.
A Digital Crown on the side of the Apple Watch is available for navigation purposes, and there's a Side Button that's used to bring up frequently used apps, access emergency services, confirm Apple Pay purchases, and more.
The Digital Crown is equipped with haptic feedback that offers a precise, mechanical feel when scrolling through lists and controlling various aspects of the Apple Watch. The Digital Crown looks different depending on the Apple Watch model you purchase. LTE models have a red ring around the Digital Crown so you know that they have LTE functionality, while GPS-only models lack the red ring.
The Apple Watch Series SE offers many of the same display specifications as the Series 6 with the exception of Always-On functionality. It features 1000 nits brightness and Ion-X glass to protect it from scratches.
The 40mm Apple Watch Series 6 features a resolution of 324 x 394 pixels, while the larger 44mm Apple Watch Series has a resolution of 368 x 448. This translates to a 759 mm² display area for the 40mm Apple Watch and a 977 mm² display area for the 44mm Apple Watch.
Apple Watch SE models are rated for immersion in water as deep as 50 meters thanks to seals and adhesives. The speaker, which needs air to produce sound, is the only point of ingress and has been designed to expel water from itself using sound vibrations after exposure to moisture.
Because it is rated for 50m immersion, the Apple Watch can be used when swimming in the ocean or in a pool. It is only suited to shallow water activities, though, and can't be used for scuba diving, waterskiing, showering, or other activities that involve high-velocity water or deep submersion.
Apple's Apple Watch warranty does not cover water damage, so it is best to use caution when exposing the watch to water.
There's a dual-core S5 System-in-Package (SiP) in the Apple Watch SE, which is the same chip that Apple used in the Apple Watch Series 5. Apple says that the S5 is two times faster than the Apple Watch Series 3, which is Apple's other low-cost Apple Watch option.
The Apple Watch SE offers many of the same health features as the Apple Watch Series 6, but it is notably lacking a blood oxygen sensor and the capability to take an ECG reading.
There is a second-generation optical heart rate sensor that calculates metrics like calorie burn, activity level, heart rate, and more.
The Apple Watch can detect a low heart rate, a high heart rate, and an abnormal heart rate, monitoring for health problems like atrial fibrillation and sending notifications when anomalies are detected.
A built-in accelerometer and gyroscope enable other important health-related features such as fall detection, and the LTE models support international SOS capabilities so you can call emergency services no matter where you are.
With watchOS 7, the Apple Watch SE can be worn at night to monitor your sleep, with Apple providing data on how long you sleep each night. The feature also offers up useful tools for getting a better night's sleep, with details available in our Sleep Tracking guide.
Sleep tracking is available on older Apple Watch models as well, as it is enabled through software rather than hardware, but the SE brings better battery efficiency and faster charging so you can charge your Apple Watch quicker in the morning after a night's sleep.
The Apple Watch SE offers all-day battery life of up to 18 hours. Apple bases "all-day" battery life on 90 time checks, 90 notifications, 45 minutes of app use, and a 60-minute workout with music playback via Bluetooth. For LTE models, Apple assumes four hours of LTE connection and 14 hours of connection to an iPhone.
In some situations the Apple Watch drains faster, such as when using the device as a phone or when doing a workout. Here are Apple's battery life estimates for each activity:
Audio playback from storage - Up to 10 hours
Streaming audio over LTE - Up to 7 hours
Family Setup Battery Life - Up to 14 hours
LTE talk time - Up to 1.5 hours
Indoor workout - Up to 10 hours
Outdoor workout (GPS) - Up to 6 hours
Outdoor workout (GPS + LTE) - Up to 5 hours
Apple says it takes 1.5 hours to charge the Apple Watch from 0 percent to 80 percent, and 2.5 hours to charge it all the way to full from 0 percent.
Apple Watch SE models are equipped with the same Apple-designed W3 chip that is available in the Series 6. There are two Apple Watch SE configurationsL GPS and GPS + Cellular. The GPS + Cellular SE models have an LTE connection while the GPS only models do not.
LTE connectivity has been available since the Apple Watch Series 3, and with an LTE connection, the Apple Watch is untethered from the iPhone and does not require an iPhone or known WiFi network for an internet connection.
The Apple Watch is not entirely independent from the iPhone, though, because LTE connectivity through a carrier requires an Apple Watch and an iPhone 6s or later to share a cellular plan with the same carrier. The Apple Watch also does not have the battery capacity to be used full time without an iPhone nearby.
Apple Watch LTE models are available in many countries around the world, with a full list on Apple's website.
LTE connectivity enables an international Emergency SOS feature that was first released with the Series 5. With Emergency SOS, the Apple Watch can make international calls to emergency services regardless of where the device was originally purchased or if there's an active cellular plan.
That means if you're traveling to another country and are injured or in a situation where you need help, you can activate the SOS feature on the Apple Watch by holding down the Side button to automatically get in touch with that country's emergency services.
International emergency calling works with the Apple Watch's fall detection feature, so if that's enabled, it automatically places an emergency call if the watch senses the user has taken a hard fall and remains motionless afterward.
WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS
Apple Watch SE supports 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. Bluetooth 5.0 offers longer range, faster speeds, larger broadcast message capacity, and better interoperability with other wireless technologies.
GPS has been included in the Apple Watch since the Series 2, and all Series 5 models, LTE and non-LTE, feature a GPS chip that allows the Apple Watch to determine its position without needing to be near an iPhone.
With GPS, the Apple Watch is able to keep tabs on speed, distance, and route when you're walking, running, hiking, or biking, providing more insight into your fitness activities. GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and QZSS systems are supported for positioning technology across multiple countries.
Unlocking Face ID iPhones With Apple Watch
The iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4 updates introduced an "Unlock with Apple Watch" feature that's designed to allow an iPhone with Face ID to use an unlocked and authenticated Apple Watch as a secondary authentication measure when a mask is worn.
Face ID is not able to work when a person is wearing a mask, so the Apple Watch authentication method prevents iPhone users from having to constantly enter a passcode when wearing a mask. It's similar to the Apple Watch unlocking feature on the Mac and can be enabled in the Settings app under Face ID & Passcode.
An unlocked Apple Watch paired with Face ID can unlock the iPhone when a mask is worn, but it's only for mask usage. The Apple Watch cannot be used to authenticate Apple Pay or App Store purchases, nor can it be used to unlock apps that require a Face ID scan. In these situations, the mask needs to be removed or a passcode/password needs to be used instead.
When the Apple Watch unlocks the iPhone, you'll feel a haptic tap on the wrist and will receive a notification on the watch, much like how it works when using the watch to unlock a Mac. Unlock with Apple Watch debuted with the iOS 14.5 and watchOS 7.4 updates.
The Apple Watch SE includes an optical heart rate sensor, a next-generation accelerometer, a gyroscope, an ambient light sensor, and a barometric altimeter to track flights of stairs climbed, elevation gains when climbing, and more. Note that the altimeter can be inaccurate in some weather conditions.
Apple Watch SE models are equipped with a built-in compass feature and a Compass app that allows users to see their heading, incline, latitude, longitude, and current elevation.
Compass functionality is baked into the Maps app to let users see which way they're facing when getting directions, and there are three new Compass complications for Apple Watch faces.
All Apple Watch SE models, GPS and LTE, feature 32GB of storage space for music and apps, up from 16GB in previous models.
Apple Watch SE models run an operating system called watchOS, and come with watchOS 7 installed.
The watchOS 7 update includes several new watch faces, such as a GMT watch face that shows multiple time zones, Count Up for tracking elapsed time, Chronograph Pro with a tachymeter, Typograph for displaying numerals in custom styles, Artist with art by Jeff McFetridge, Memoji for putting a Memoji on Apple Watch, and Stripes in customizable patterns.
A Sleep app lets you track your sleep by wearing your watch at night, providing sleep analysis in a simple, easy-to-interpret format. The watch uses the accelerometer to detect subtle movements associated with breathing, so it knows when you're sleeping or awake.
A Wind Down feature helps you establish a healthy bedtime routine, while Sleep Mode automatically turns off your screen and enables Do Not Disturb. When you wake up, the Apple Watch plays soft sounds or uses a haptic alarm, and it offers up a weather report and battery information so you can get your day started.
watchOS 7 brings a Family Setup option that lets iPhone owners manage and set up Apple Watches for children or older family members who don't own iPhones. Parents control contacts and downloaded apps, there's a Schooltime mode to limit Apple Watch features when necessary, and location tracking with Find My is available.
With Family Setup, kids can call and text their parents, talk to Siri, stream music, download apps, use the new Memoji app to create Memoji, and use Apple Pay with funds provided by parents. Family Sharing also includes Activity tracking options that provide Move minutes instead of active calories burned, and activity tracking has been optimized for children.
There's a handwashing detection feature that's useful because we're all washing our hands more often than usual. It lets the Apple Watch listen for sounds of water and then starts a 20-second timer to remind you to wash your hands for the appropriate amount of time.
The Activity app has been renamed Fitness and there's a refined interface, and later this year, the Fitness app works with the new Fitness+ service that lets Apple Watch owners access guided workouts on Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad. The new Fitness app also allows users to customize Activity goals, including Stand hours and Exercise minutes, and the Apple Watch is able to measure low-range VO2 max, stair ascent speed, stair descent speed, and six-minute walk estimate, all of which can be found in the Health app.
Apple launched a new Apple Fitness+ workout service that's designed for the Apple Watch, and it works alongside an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV with home workouts available in the Fitness app on those devices. With Apple Fitness+, watch metrics are shown on the screen as you work out, and there are a wide range of workouts. We have more info on Apple Fitness+ in our Fitness+ guide.
The Maps app features cycling directions in line with the new cycling feature on the iPhone, and Siri now provides spoken translations. Apple also introduced a new Siri Shortcuts app for the Apple Watch so you can access all your Shortcuts right on your wrist.
watchOS 7 does more to protect hearing health with a weekly listening notification and an option to automatically reduce loud sounds when you're wearing headphones. A max volume setting also helps to prevent hearing damage.
Apple Watch Series 6
Apple is selling the Apple Watch SE alongside the higher-end flagship Apple Watch Series 6. The Apple Watch Series 6 is more expensive, starting at $399 instead of $279, and it has health features that are missing in the Apple Watch SE.
The Series 6 can take ECG readings using the Digital Crown and the sensors at the bottom of the Apple Watch and it can measure the level of oxygen in the blood. Both of these features can be useful in medical emergencies as they can detect heart issues like atrial fibrillation along with other potential problems that need immediate medical attention.
Compared to the SE, the Series 6 also has an Always-On display, stainless steel and titanium casing options, blue and (PRODUCT)RED aluminum options, a faster S6 System-in-Package, faster charging, and 5GHz WiFi support.
We have some comparisons between the different Apple Watch models below that are worth checking out if you're planning a purchase and need help deciding between the Apple Watch SE, the Apple Watch Series 6, and the Apple Watch Series 3.
- Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Apple Watch SE Buyer's Guide
- Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 6 Buyer’s Guide
- Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch Series 3 Buyer's Guide
For more detail on the Apple Watch Series 6 as well as a deeper look at the different band options that Apple offers for Apple Watch, make sure to check out our Apple Watch Series 6 roundup, which has additional details on Apple Watch features.
What's Next for the Apple Watch Series SE
Apple is working on a new version of the Apple Watch SE that's set to debut in 2022, according to Bloomberg. Little else is known about the updated watch at this time, but it will continue to be a more affordable device sold alongside Apple's flagship models.