Apple Watch SE review: The smarter choice for your wallet

(Pocket-lint) - Apple launched two Apple Watch models in 2020, splitting the range into a what many could see as a "pro" offering - now in the form of the Apple Watch Series 7[1] - and a more price-friendly offering in the new Apple Watch SE. The SE loses some of the more advanced and premium features in favour of delivering a much more wallet-friendly price. But has Apple cut too many corners to appeal, or has the smartwatch maker got the balance just right?

Watch SE: What features are missing?

  • Same design as the older S6
  • Lacks always-on display
  • No blood oxygen or ECG sensor

The big question you're probably asking yourself is whether you should go for the SE over the Watch S7?

The aluminium models, when seen side-by-side, look very similar. Both are available in 40mm and 44mm size variants to suit your wrist size, sport similar screens (although the Series 7 is able to use more of that surface area thanks to its new display), and have multiple strap options to suit your style.

Pocket-lint Apple Watch SE review: The Apple Watch most people will buy photo 10

More importantly they also both run WatchOS 8, so the software experience is the same, with the only differences based on the tech that is built-in. The Watch SE doesn't have an always-on display and has bigger bezels, doesn't come with the ECG (electrocardiogram) functionality, nor the newer blood oxygen sensor.

It also sports a slower processor (not that you'll notice) and doesn't sport the Apple U1 chip - which will eventually be used for opening car doors and finding your other Apple devices.

Watch SE: Design

  • Finishes: Gold, Silver, Space Grey
  • Always-on altimeter & compass
  • Bigger screen than Watch S3
  • 5 hour charge time
  • All-day battery life

The Watch SE delivers a much more wallet-friendly price than the top-end S7, the same processor as the Series 5 from 2019[2], plus a heart-rate sensor, compass, always-on altimeter, waterproof design, louder speaker than the Apple Watch 3[3], GPS and Cellular support.

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In short: if you were to pitch the SE against previous Apple Watch models it would probably sit somewhere between the now-discontinued Series 4[4] and Series 5[5] models. Sleek and stylish, the SE comes in three colours - Gold, Silver, and Space Grey - with numerous options on which swappable band you can buy. There's a new "loop" option that stretches to fit, with nine different sizes so you can order the right size for your wrist.

Everything is controlled via a combination of using the touchscreen, the digital crown, and side button. The combination of the three gives you access to everything you need. Charging is wireless via a puck in the box (remember you'll need to supply your own power charger though, as that's not included) and the Apple Watch SE can charge from zero to full within two-and-a-half hours (that's an hour and a half slower than the S7, but still pretty fast).

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The Watch SE is also waterproof, making it great for swimming, or those moments you jump in the shower and forget to take it off.

Chances are you won't have experienced the Apple Watch always on-display - if you've already got an Apple Watch Series 5 this watch isn't aimed at you - and so not having it really won't be an issue. It's a nice to have, and if you do want it then look to the S6 or S7 models instead.

What sensors does the Watch SE have?

  • Always-on altimeter and compass
  • Heart rate sensor

On the sensor front, you don't get some of the snazzy sensors found in the S7 model, but for most people that shouldn't be an issue. In the two years we've had the ECG feature[6] on our Apple Watch (both Series 4 and Series 5 models) we've really only used it for showing off, and while it's a valuable piece of kit for the right people, if you're healthy then we don't think it is a deal-breaker.

Likewise, we suspect it will be the same for the new blood oxygen sensor, as introduced in the Series 6 model. It's a potentially great new addition for Apple Watch, but probably something the vast majority of people won't need or be worried about measuring. Do you know what it means to have a 98 per cent score and how you could improve that?

Yeah, we don't either.

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What you do get in terms of sensors is the heart-rate monitor - which is fantastic for measuring fitness in a meaningful way - a compass, and an always-on altimeter.

Best Apple Watch apps 2021: 43 apps to download that actually do something By Britta O'Boyle . 11 October 2021

If you're planning on using the Watch SE to keep fit and track your exercise - which, let's face it, is probably why you're thinking about getting one - then that heart-rate monitor will do the trick. The compass not so much, but at least the altimeter will let you know the evaluation on that epic hike or run when GPS isn't being reliable.

Verdict

Despite being three years old the Apple Watch Series 3 is still hugely popular, mainly down to its asking price. But the Watch SE will see that change, as it's a massive upgrade to that model.

And "SE" doesn't stand for "super expensive" - quite the opposite, this is a sensibly priced entry point. The Watch SE pulls together many of the best bits from Apple's now-discontinued Watch Series 4 and Series 5, helping to split the range into a much more distinctive entry-level and pro-spec approach. Sure, compared to the Series 7 model there are a number of differences in the SE, but the more we've been using this more affordable watch the more we've come to see that such differences aren't going to be deal-breakers for most casual users.

The Apple Watch SE is the perfect middle ground for those users who aren't fussed about multiple health sensors or the added expense of luxe materials such as stainless steel or titanium.   So if you want an Apple Watch because you're interested in fitness, or like the idea of unlocking your Mac without typing a password, or paying for things with Apple Pay when you go to the shops, then the Watch SE is an ideal wearable for the majority.

Also consider

Apple Alternative photo 2

Apple Watch S7

squirrel_widget_6126415 Want those additional sensors - for bloody oxygen, ECG - and the always-on display?

If you've got the extra cash then a more top-spec model is the one you're looking for. Writing by Stuart Miles. Editing by Max Freeman-Mills.

Originally published on 21 September 2020.

References

  1. ^ Apple Watch Series 7 (www.pocket-lint.com)
  2. ^ Series 5 from 2019 (www.pocket-lint.com)
  3. ^ Apple Watch 3 (www.pocket-lint.com)
  4. ^ Series 4 (www.pocket-lint.com)
  5. ^ Series 5 (www.pocket-lint.com)
  6. ^ ECG feature (www.pocket-lint.com)