Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: should you spend or save?

Which of the latest Apple Watches do you need? The high-end Apple Watch Series 8 or entry-level Apple Watch SE 2?

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2
(Image credit: T3 / Apple)

The Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE 2 have just been announced, forming replacements to the previous versions, but which is best for your situation? 

With both models aimed at different markets and budgets, one of them is likely to be the best smartwatch for your needs, but it can be tough to know where to begin.

That's why we're here to put both watches in a battle against each other. Easily some of the best Apple Watches, in no time, you'll know which is the right choice for you.

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: price and availability

Both the Apple Watch 8 and Apple Watch SE 2 are launching on September 16. 

The Apple Watch 8 starts at $399/£419/AU$679 for GPS and $499/£529/AU$789 for cellular. Alternatively, the Apple Watch SE 2 is much cheaper at $249/£259/AU$399 for the GPS model and $299/£299/AU$479 for the cellular model. 

The price varies depending on the watch strap and case configuration you opt for, but these are standard baseline figures. 

Winner: The Apple Watch SE 2 is easily the cheapest of the two here and the most appealing on price alone.

Apple Watch SE 2022

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: design

The Apple Watch SE 2 and Apple Watch 8 share fairly similar designs. They both have a rectangular screen and have the same layout of buttons -- the Digital Crown and the power/app button on the right-hand side.

The sizing is slightly different, though. The Apple Watch 8 has a choice of 41mm or 45mm model, while the Apple Watch SE 2 has either 40mm or 44mm screens. That means the Apple Watch 8 has either a 1.57-inch or 1.73-inch screen with a resolution of either 352 x 430 or 396 x 484. In contrast, the Apple Watch SE 2 has a 40mm or 44mm screen with a 324 x 394 resolution for the 40mm model or 368 x 448 for the 44mm version. Besides having a lower resolution, it also doesn't have always-on capabilities, although at least both devices have an OLED panel. The Apple Watch 8 is more robust too, thanks to the improved glass used for its display.

As you'd expect from any Apple Watch, both watches have many watch straps to choose from, so at least you can make it look your own. There are three case colors to choose from for the Apple Watch SE 2 -- Starlight, Midnight, and Silver -- while the Apple Watch 8 has those as well as Gold.

Winner: The Apple Watch 8 has a sharper screen with better resolution and an always-on display, but other than that, both are pretty similar.

Apple Watch Series 8

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: features and performance

At first glance, both Apple Watch SE 2 and Apple Watch 8 are very similar in terms of performance. They both offer an S8 SiP processor and will run WatchOS 9 once it launches. 

Because of that, you get a very similar experience. There are standard fitness and workout tracking tools, plenty of notification support, and Apple's Activity Rings system always motivates you throughout the day. 

Thanks to the Apple Watch SE 2 using the same chipset as the Apple Watch 8, they both benefit from WatchOS 9's new low-power battery mode. That means both achieve an 'all-day' life of 18 hours, increasing to 36 hours if you cut back on some features. 

While the Apple Watch SE 2 lacks a few valuable sensors (more on that in a moment), it does include automatic car crash detection which is a feature heavily promoted for the Apple Watch 8 too. Both watches can automatically connect you to emergency services and notify your emergency contacts if you're in a severe car accident.

Winner: Tie. In terms of core features, there's very little to divide the two.

Apple Watch SE 2022

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: sensors

Sensor numbers are where the Apple Watch 8 beats the Apple Watch SE 2. Sure, both will detect if you're in a car crash, but the Apple Watch 8 offers more useful daily tools. 

The Apple Watch SE 2 can send a notification if it detects high or low heart rate and an irregular rhythm. However, the Apple Watch 8 also has an ECG function whenever you need to check for yourself. 

It also has a blood oxygen sensor which can be helpful for specific scenarios, and its newest feature is a temperature sensor. The sensor is aimed at people who ovulate. It uses two sensors, one on the back crystal near your skin and the other under the display. Combined, it means a high accuracy rate with the watch able to sample wrist temperature every five seconds overnight and detect differences as subtle as 0.1 centigrade.

Winner: Not everyone will need the temperature sensor, but all the other additions make the Apple Watch 8 the easy winner here.

Apple Watch Series 8

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: interface and user experience

Your time using either the Apple Watch SE 2 or the Apple Watch 8 will feel pretty identical. 

While under the hood, there are some differences, both watches have the same WatchOS experience, and both require you to use an iPhone with them. 

Winner: Tie. There's not much difference in how you use either watch. You just have more screen space with the Apple Watch 8.

Apple Watch Series 8

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 8 vs Apple Watch SE 2: verdict

The Apple Watch 8 is the better watch here. It has an always-on display and more sensors for tracking your health. These are relatively substantial improvements, assuming money is no object. 

If you're okay with having to flick your wrist to turn your watch face back on and you aren't too concerned about your blood oxygen levels, the Apple Watch SE 2 will still keep an eye on anything alarming that could be going on with your heart rate, and for far less. 

With a very similar daily experience, both watches are surprisingly alike. If you can afford it, it always makes sense to buy the more high-end option - the Apple Watch 8 - but don't feel like you'll miss out on too much if you stick with the cheaper Apple Watch SE 2.

Jennifer Allen has been writing about tech for nearly a decade. Her specialisms include fitness wearables, Bluetooth speakers, and all things Apple.