Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch SE: What’s the difference?

Should you pay more for Apple Watch Series 7, or will the cheaper Apple Watch SE give you what you need? We break down all the differences

Apple Watch Series 7 vs Apple Watch SE
(Image credit: Apple)

If you're shopping for a new Apple Watch, the biggest question will be Apple Watch Series 7 vs Apple Watch SE – so this guide will help you work out all the differences, so you can see which is the better buy for you.

The Apple Watch Series 7 replaces the Apple Watch Series 6, and this will be the higher-end model, while the Apple Watch SE remains as the cheaper option. While the new model has a bigger, brighter display, a tougher case and faster charging than its predecessor, you might well be wondering if all that is really worth the extra cost over the SE.

So let's break down everything you need to know, so you can see whether the extra health features of the Apple Watch Series 7 are what you want, or whether the Apple Watch SE's mix of features and price nails it for you.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch SE: Price

The Apple Watch SE is priced from $279/£269/AU$429, while the new Watch Series 7 costs $399£369/AU$599. In the case of the Apple Watch Series 7, that's the same as the Apple Watch 6 that it replaces. 

In both cases, that's for the smaller screen size, with an aluminium body. Apple hasn't yet confirmed the prices of all the different models, but in both cases increasing the screen size means a small price hike, and stepping up to stainless steel cases or titanium cases means a much steeper price increase.

Which strap you choose will also affect the price, though the Watch SE tends to come with much more affordable strap options, while the Watch 7 will offer cheap or expensive options.

Apple Watch Series 7

The Apple Watch Series 7 has special watch faces to take advantage of its larger screen.

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch SE: Design

The Watch SE has the same case design and display size as the Watch Series 6, which means a larger bezel around the display than the new Watch Series 7, but it’s still a very attractive timepiece. It is available in case size options of 40mm and 44mm, making it fractionally smaller than the Series 7, which is 41mm and 45mm.

The Watch SE lacks the rounder, softer edges of the 7, but has the same Digital Crown and side button, plus there's a rear-mounted heart rate sensor. It is also water resistant to 50 metres, but misses out on the 7’s new, tougher glass crystal and improved resistance to dust.

When it comes to design, the biggest difference here between the 7 and the SE is the larger display and smaller screen borders.

Colour options are more limited for the SE, which is offered in only silver, space grey and gold. The Series 7 is available in the five new aluminium colours of midnight, starlight, green, blue and red – then there's the Graphite, Silver and Gold stainless steel finishes, and two titanium finishes.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch SE: Hardware

Both the 7 and the SE can be bought with just Wi-Fi, or with Wi-Fi and a 4G cellular connection. They also both come with GPS for accurate locational data, plus a compass and always-on altimeter. 

Despite small changes to the case dimensions, both watches fit all existing Apple Watch straps.

Another key difference is the display, which is larger on the Watch 7, and has an always-on function that permanently displays the time. For comparison, the Watch SE’s display is switched on with a tap, a press of a button, or when the wearer turns their wrist to check the time. When you lower your wrist, the screen turns off. But on the 7, the screen just dims.

The level of detail in the screens is the same, so you don't get a huge leap forward with the Apple Watch 7 over the SE, other than the temptation of the always-on screen (which is hard to resist, no question).

A key difference between the Watch SE and the Watch 7 is the SE’s lack of ECG and blood oxygen sensors. The cheaper watch cannot perform an electrocardiogram on its wearer, and nor can it track their blood oxygen levels.

For some buyers these will be key features that warrant spending extra to buy the Series 7, while others will be happy with the SE’s heart-rate monitor and simpler health tech. The SE still gives notifications when it detects an abnormally high or low heart rate, or think it's spotted an irregular heart rhythm – it's just you then can't use an ECG to more accurately check for an irregular rhythm.

Both watches are rated for 18 hours of use, but the Apple Watch 7 should charge 33% faster, including going from 0-80% in 45 minutes.

Apple Watch SE

The Apple Watch SE runs watchOS 8, and is just as capable as the Watch 7 when it comes to software.

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch SE: Software

Both watches run watchOS 8, which takes everything the watch is known for – including easy notifications mirrored from your iPhone, plus apps you can use independently – and adds some extra new features on top.

These include better cycling tracking, better sleep monitoring, and some other key health features.

Both the SE and 7 have fall detection, so they can automatically call the emergency services if you take a hard fall and don't respond to a notification asking if you're okay, and both tap into Apple’s comprehensive health and exercise tracking applications, including the Fitness+ subscription service.

The 7’s larger screen affords it a couple of unique features, including a full QWERTY keyboard offered by Apple on the Watch for the first time, and slightly larger buttons across the watchOS interface.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch SE: Conclusion

The saving of the Apple Watch SE will be significant for many buyers, especially when the look and feel of the SE and Series 7 is so similar. Yes, the new Watch has a larger, brighter display that stays on all day – but unless these, and the extra health sensors, really matter to you, the Watch SE looks like quite the bargain.

The Watch Series 7 is likely to be the best Apple Watch overall, because if you can have all the extra features, why wouldn't you? It's a fitness powerhouse, a great digital companion, and gorgeous object.

But the Watch SE should absolutely be a contender. It may be cheaper, but it offers almost all of the usability. For a lot of people, it's the ideal pick.

Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3, where he covers topics ranging from classic cars and men's lifestyle, to smart home technology, phones, electric cars, autonomy, Swiss watches, and much more besides. He is an experienced journalist, writing news, features, interviews and product reviews. If that didn't make him busy enough, he is also the co-host of the AutoChat podcast.