Should I buy Apple Watch SE?

The Apple Watch SE is bigger and better in more ways than one

Apple Watch SE
(Image credit: Apple)

Thinking about whether you should make the switch to the Apple Watch SE or stick to that aging smartwatch until a better model comes along? We’re here to help.

These days, Apple seldom does things half-baked, rolling out products and software updates that are upgrade-worthy. And, the Apple Watch SE is definitely among them, boasting impressive new innovations you wouldn’t have thought possible from a watch, even a smart one.

It is Apple’s latest budget-friendly offering, so while it may have some nifty features as well as a more accessible price tag, it’s also missing some features you’ll easily find (and probably already appreciate) in older models or the newest flagship, Apple Watch 6. 

Still, it’s a much better value for your money than the Apple Watch 4 or 5 ever were.

Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

 Who Is The Apple Watch SE For? 

Released on September 18, 2020 alongside the Apple Watch Series 6, the Apple Watch SE is Apple’s latest attempt at attracting the more budget-conscious consumers. At $279 for the GPS model and $329 for GPS + cellular option, it’s definitely an appealing option to that crowd. It’s the cheapest smartwatch Apple has released since the now-defunct Apple Watch Series 1 (though the older Series 3 has dropped in price, officially making it the cheapest on hand).

Of course, being cheaper, it has some missing features that will ultimately prove useful to folks with more advanced health concerns (or those with luxurious tastes). However, to most consumers including those are already invested in the Apple ecosystem and have a much older Apple Watch, this one’s definitely the smartwatch to beat.

Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

 Should You Buy The Apple Watch SE: Key Features  

 Not that you’ll find the Apple Watch SE wanting in excellent features. It has the same LTE-enabled (optional), water-resistant (up to 50 meters), Bluetooth 5.0-capable body as the Series 5 and 6. It also utilizes the same satellite navigation technologies, system on chip – the Apple S5, 64-bit dual-core processor, storage space and Wi-Fi standard as the Series 5.

That’s on top of the number of new features and applications that come with the watchOS 7, like new watch faces, language translation, hand-washing detector and a sleep tracker.

To set it apart from other models, it brings several new features to the table as well. These upgrades include an always-on altimeter so you can see elevation changes in real-time, handy when you’re hiking, backpacking in the wilderness or just exploring a new city, as well as more band types and colors than before. 

At 30.49g to 36.36g, it’s also slightly lighter than either the Series 5 or the Series 6. And, for the eco-conscious crowd, it produces less greenhouse gas emissions to make, package and ship at 35 kg CO2e (next to the Series 5’s 40 kg CO2e and the Series 6’s 36 kg CO2e).

If we’re being honest, however, it’s really its lower price tag that’s the key feature and main selling point here. Instead of loading the Apple Watch SE up with impressive new features, it makes it more accessible (read: more affordable) to the mass market instead at $120 less than the Series 4, 5 and 6. And, that’s while keeping its compromises at a minimum.

Since it’s compatible with watchOS 7, it’ll have many of the new functionalities and apps that the latest watchOS is bringing to the table, including the felicitous hand-washing detector, sleep tracker and language translator.

In other words, the Series 3 is still a highly-capable smartwatch in its own right, boasting all the key fitness, health and connectivity features that made the Apple Watch line so popular in the first place. 

Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

Should You Buy The Apple Watch SE: The Downsides  

As mentioned earlier, the Apple Watch SE is certainly not without sacrifices. Those who often utilize their Apple Watch Series 4 or 5’s ECG sensor might be disappointed to find it missing here. As will users who appreciate that Always-on Retina display functionality so they don’t have to tap on the screen or raise their wrist to check their watch.

Those who adore the stainless steel or titanium options – not to mention, the sapphire crystal display – should consider the Apple Watch Series 6 instead. The Apple Watch SE, being the budget option, is only available in aluminum with an Ion-X glass display.

Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

Should You Buy The Apple Watch SE: Verdict 

Missing an ECG sensor, Always-on Retina display and a variety of case options, which you’ll find in the Apple Watch 4 and 5, as well as the pricier Apple Watch 6, the Apple Watch SE is certainly missing several key features that many Apple Watch users have grown accustomed to. That’s understandable; considering its cheaper price tag, compromises have to be made.

Still, to the rest of the smartwatch-loving market, those are hardly deal-breakers. In fact, unless an electrical heart sensor is vital to your daily health-monitoring or you just have to have that titanium case, you’ll barely even miss them.

Of course, if you already own the Series 4 or 5, you’re not getting a whole lot of new features here to make it worth spending a few hundred bucks on. On the other hand, if you have a much older Apple Watch, or if you want to make the switch from a different brand, you’re getting a lot of value for your money with the Apple Watch SE.

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Michelle Rae Uy

Michelle Rae Uy is a tech and travel journalist, editor and photographer with a bad case of wanderlust. She is a regular contributor for IGN, TechRadar and Business Insider, and has contributed to Thrillist, Paste Magazine, Nylon, Fodor's and Steve's Digicams. Living mainly in California with her adorable cats, she splits her time between Los Angeles, London and the rest of the world.