Should You Buy the Apple Watch SE?
Refreshed in September 2022, the Apple Watch SE is Apple's most affordable Apple Watch option. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of the Apple Watch Series 8 or the Apple Watch Ultra, as it lacks temperature sensing, ECG functionality, and blood oxygen monitoring, but it otherwise provides all key Apple Watch functionality.
Apple has not historically refreshed the Apple Watch SE on an annual basis, and we are not expecting a new model until 2024. With that in mind, now is still a good time to buy the Apple Watch SE if you're looking for watch that offers a good balance between functionality and price.
Apple Watch SE Features
Alongside the Apple Watch Series 8, Apple in September 2022 introduced a new version of the 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 second-generation Apple Watch SE is almost identical to the Series 6, and it does not feature the new design that was introduced with the Series 7. It also lacks some health sensors, and it does not include ECG, blood oxygen, or temperature sensing 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 previous-generation SE and the Series 8 models. The Apple Watch SE is available in 40mm and 44mm size options, and it has the same design as the Apple Watch Series 4, 5, and 6 models. It has the same S8 SiP dual-core processor that's in the Apple Watch Series 8, which has not been updated since the Series 6. Still, it offers performance improvements over the original Apple Watch SE, which had an S5 chip.
All Apple Watch SE models are aluminum and this model can't be purchased with a stainless steel or titanium casing. Casing colors include Midnight, Starlight, and Silver, but Apple did add a new matching back case made from a nylon composite material so the Apple Watch SE is even lighter than before. The Apple Watch SE is compatible with all Apple Watch 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 8.
The Apple Watch SE includes 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 prior-generation SE, 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 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. Family Setup allows multiple Apple Watches to be paired with 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.
The Apple Watch SE and Series 8 offer the same 18-hour battery life, but the Apple Watch Series 8 can charge much faster with just eight minutes of charging providing up to eight hours of sleep tracking time. The Apple Watch SE can take advantage of the new Low Power Mode to extend battery life even further at the cost of disabling certain features.
A new Crash Detection feature, which is also in the Series 8, uses an updated gyroscope and accelerometer along with an advanced sensor-fusion algorithm to detect severe car crashes and alert emergency services. When a crash occurs, the Apple Watch checks in with the user and if no response is received within a 10-second countdown, emergency responders are contacted.
The Apple Watch SE is priced starting at $249 for the 40mm model and $279 for the 44mm model, so it is more affordable than the prior-generation model. The Apple Watch SE is being sold alongside the more expensive Apple Watch Series 8 and the high-end Apple Watch Ultra.
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How to Buy
The Apple Watch SE is available from the online Apple Store, Apple retail locations, and third-party retailers. The 40mm model is priced starting at $249, and the 44mm model is priced starting at $279. Apple also offers refurbished versions of the Apple Watch SE that can be purchased at a discount.
Initial reviews of the second-generation Apple Watch SE were positive, but noted the very incremental upgrades compared to the previous generation. The improvements include the S8 chip, car crash detection, and international roaming.
Given that the S8 chip features the same CPU as the S7 and S6 chips, the Series 8 does not have any notable performance improvements compared to the Series 7 or Series 6, but the new Apple Watch SE is up to 20% faster than the original. Engadget's Cherlynn Low confirmed that the second-generation Apple Watch SE performs equally to the Series 8 given both models have the same chip:
Otherwise, this year's Watch SE actually packs the same system-in-a-package (SiP) processor as the $400 Series 8, as well as a high-g accelerometer that makes crash detection possible. In my time with it, the SE has, unsurprisingly, been just as responsive as the Series 8, starting workouts and completing heart rate scans in the same amount of time.
MobileSyrup's Patrick O'Rourke said that given the Apple Watch lacks major competition, Apple can get away with incremental year-over-year updates to the device:
Apple is in an interesting position with its Apple Watch. In the iOS space, there's really no viable competition, especially when it comes to the Apple Watch's app ecosystem, and even on Android, the closest is Samsung's Galaxy Watch 5 and Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. This leaves the tech giant with very little reason to really push the wearable forward with each new release.
Design and Display
The second-generation Apple Watch SE is identical in overall design to the original Apple Watch SE, featuring slim-bezeled displays in 40mm and 44mm size options to fit a variety of different wrists. The first-generation SE was modeled after the Apple Watch Series 6, so the Apple Watch SE does not feature the design changes introduced with the Series 7.
The Apple Watch SE measures in at 10.7mm 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 26.4 grams and the 44mm models weigh in at 32.9 grams. The Apple Watch SE is the lightest Apple Watch that Apple sells.
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 is available in Starlight, Silver, and Midnight colors.
The second-generation Apple Watch SE includes a redesigned back case made from a nylon composite material rather than ceramic, so it is lighter weight than the prior-generation model. The backing includes 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 SE offers many of the same display specifications as the Series 8 with the exception of Always-On functionality. It features 1000 nits brightness and Ion-X glass to protect it from scratches. The Apple Watch SE's display area is 20 percent smaller than the Apple Watch Series 8 because of differences in design.
The 40mm Apple Watch SE 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 sq mm display area for the 40mm Apple Watch and a 977 sq mm 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 SE 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 S8 System-in-Package (SiP) in the new Apple Watch SE, which is the same chip that Apple used in the Apple Watch Series 8. The S8 chip is up to 20 percent faster than the S5 chip that was in the prior-generation Apple Watch SE.
The Apple Watch SE offers many of the same health features as the Apple Watch Series 8, but it lacks a blood oxygen sensor, temperature sensing, and the capability to take an ECG reading.
There is an 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 a new Crash Detection feature, and the LTE models support international SOS capabilities so you can call emergency services no matter where you are.
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.
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.
With a new Low Power Mode introduced in watchOS 9, the Apple Watch SE battery can last for up to 36 hours. Low Power Mode turns off heart rate notifications, background heart rate measurements, WiFi and cellular connections when the iPhone is not nearby, and other features to save power.
It takes approximately 1.5 hours to charge the Apple Watch SE from 0 percent to 80 percent, and 2.5 hours to charge it all the way to full from 0 percent. The Apple Watch SE does not support fast charging like the Apple Watch Series 8.
Apple Watch SE models are equipped with the same Apple-designed W3 chip that is available in the Series 8. There are two Apple Watch SE configurations: 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.
Updated motion sensors and an advanced sensor-fusion algorithm allow the Apple Watch SE to detect a severe car crash and alert emergency services. After a crash is detected, the Apple Watch checks in with the user and then dial emergency services after a 10-second period with no response. It also alerts emergency contacts.
This functionality is also available in the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra.
WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS
Apple Watch SE supports 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.3. It does not support 5GHz WiFi, which is supported on the Series 8.
GPS has been included in the Apple Watch since the Series 2, and all Apple Watch SE models, LTE and non-LTE, feature an L1 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.
The Apple Watch SE includes a second-generation optical heart rate sensor (the Apple Watch 8 models use a third-generation sensor), an updated high-g accelerometer, a gyroscope, an ambient light sensor, and an always-on 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.
Apple redesigned the Compass app in watchOS 9, and it now supports dropping waypoints and a backtrack feature that can retrace your route should you become lost.
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 feature 32GB of storage space, the same storage space that's in the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra.
The Apple Watch SE runs watchOS 9, the latest version of the Apple Watch operating system. watchOS 9 introduced new watch faces, enhancements to the Workout app and many types of workouts, a feature for tracking medications, updates to notifications, an AFib History option for those who have irregular heart rhythms, and more. Full details on watchOS 9 can be found in our watchOS 9 roundup.
Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra
The Apple Watch Series 8 features the updated casing design introduced with the Series 7, ECG functionality, blood oxygen monitoring, and temperature sensing. The Apple Watch Ultra is aimed at adventurers and explorers with a larger 49mm case size, longer battery life, a more rugged build, and all of the Series 8 features.
What's Next for the Apple Watch SE
Apple plans to release a third-generation Apple Watch SE with a larger display in 2024, according to research analyst David Hsieh. The device is expected to have the same screen size as the Apple Watch Series 8, so it could be available in 41mm and 45mm case sizes, up from the current 40mm and 44mm options available for the Apple Watch SE 2. No Apple Watch SE is expected in 2023, as according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, the device is on a two year upgrade cycle, so we could see it in September 2024.
For more on what's coming with the Apple Watch SE, make sure to check out our Apple Watch SE 3 guide.
Apple Watch SE Changelog
- October 24 - Added a new Apple Watch SE 3 guide and updated Buyer's Guide information.
- July 31 - Added confirmation that no new Apple Watch SE is coming in 2023.
- May 8 - Added information about refurbished Apple Watch SE models.