Apple Watch SE doesn’t manage to address the flaws that remain in Apple’s smartwatch line, despite some notable advantages and a starting price of just $279 / £269 / AU$429. It offers the best of what you’d expect without offering anything new, so you’ll be waiting on the fabled Apple Watch SE 2 for any big changes.
The design of the Apple Watch SE is as familiar as you can get – the same curved edges, rounded aluminum chassis and Digital Crown on the side. If you’ve had an Apple Watch before, or just admired the devices and aspired to owning one, there’s nothing new here.
Along with the Apple Watch 6 it’s also a ‘larger’ Apple Watch, coming with a wider display and offered in 40mm and 44mm sizes, compared to the still-on-sale-from-2017 Apple Watch 3, which is 38mm and 42mm, and packs a smaller screen..
The display is also familiar, in terms of sharpness and resolution. Thanks to OLED technology it’s clear, bright and easy to read in any situation – this is Apple at its best.
However, some may be turned off by the lack of an always-on display – Apple has dropped it here to keep the price down, so as on older Watches you’ll need to raise your wrist to see the time, how your workout is going, follow a map you’re using… basically anything.
While that’s helpful in making it cheaper and saving battery, it’s not ideal for a watch.
Where the Apple Watch excels is that it’s probably the best extension of a phone onto a wrist of any smartwatch out there. Alarms sync across flawlessly. Your data is shared between apps instantly. The integration into Apple’s ecosystem is immense.
Apple Watch SE specs :
44MM (GPS + CELLULAR)
40MM (GPS + CELLULAR)
GPS + Cellular versions: A2355 40mm, A2356 44mm (Global); A2353 40mm, A2354 44mm (USA, LATAM, Canada)
GPS versions: A2351 40mm, A2352 44mm (Global)
|NETWORK||Technology||GSM / HSPA / LTE|
|LAUNCH||Announced||2020, September 15|
|Status||Available. Released 2020, September 18|
|BODY||Dimensions||44 x 38 x 10.4 mm (1.73 x 1.50 x 0.41 in)|
|Weight||36.4 g (1.27 oz)|
|Build||Glass front, ceramic/sapphire crystal back, aluminum frame|
|50m water resistant|
|DISPLAY||Type||Retina LTPO OLED, 1000 nits (peak)|
|Size||1.78 inches, 10.0 cm2 (~60.0% screen-to-body ratio)|
|Resolution||448 x 368 pixels (~326 ppi density)|
|Protection||Ion-X strengthened glass|
|3D Touch display|
|PLATFORM||OS||watchOS 7.0, upgradable to 7.5|
|Internal||32GB 1GB RAM|
|COMMS||WLAN||Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n|
|Bluetooth||5.0, A2DP, LE|
|GPS||Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS|
|FEATURES||Sensors||Accelerometer, gyro, heart rate (2nd gen), barometer, always-on altimeter, compass|
|Natural language commands and dictation (talking mode)|
|Stand-by||Up to 18 h (mixed usage)|
|MISC||Colors||Silver, Gold, Space Gray|
|Models||A2353, A2354, A2355, A2356, A2351, A2352|
But while many of the Watch SE features are smaller versions of those on the iPhone, when it comes to fitness the Apple Watch steps up well. The list of exercises that can be tracked in the default Workout app is growing all the time, and third-party apps like Strava work well – if a little simplistically – on the Watch too.
Add in an Apple Music subscription and a pair of AirPods, and you can head out of the house without your phone and go running with a wealth of music – these seamless experiences are what will entice Apple Watch users, and while this can be done on any of the Apple Watch range, the combination of the SE’s larger screen on which to track your workout and the lower-than-Watch-6 price make the Watch SE a compelling fitness companion.
However, when it comes to battery life Apple still has some hard yards to make up. Having a smartwatch that only lasts a day and a half isn’t good enough in 2020, especially now that Apple has deployed sleep tracking on the Watch SE.
When are you supposed to charge this thing? There’s no point in the day where charging is a natural option, as charging overnight is, so you end up just doing little top ups here and there, or just forgetting to pick the Watch back up again and not having it on the wrist for hours on end.
While the battery life is good in terms of the Apple Watch range (and thanks to the lack of an always-on display and an efficient chip at the heart, the best we’ve seen from Apple) compared to the rest of the market, it’s sorely lacking
If sleep tracking wasn’t so basic, this would present you with more of a conundrum – you’d have to decide whether to change your charging routine in order to take advantage of the feature, or just not use it very much. But all sleep tracking will do is tell you when you’ve been asleep, and several longer-lasting and cheaper smartwatches on the market can give you much more data.
If you’re after a cutting-edge Apple Watch, but don’t want to spend a huge amount of money, the Watch SE dispenses with ‘luxury’ features and just offers the things you need. It’s somewhere between the Apple Watch 4 and Apple Watch 5 in terms of power and features, and if you can get the older Watch 4 on a deal, it’s probably worth checking out.
But if you want a new Apple Watch, we absolutely recommend this model – as long as you can live without the always-on display.
Apple Watch SE price on the date of release :
The price of the Apple Watch SE will depend on whether you opt for the GPS-only version or the cellular edition, and whether you prefer the simple Solo Loop / Sport band, or the more elegant Braided Solo Loop.
We were sent samples of the Solo Loop, but unfortunately they were a little too large for our wrists. However, there was something much more pleasing about just slipping them on, rather than having to fiddle with a buckle instead.
The Apple Watch SE is available now from the Apple Store or online, having gone on sale September 18, 2020, in key territories worldwide.
|Region||40mm GPS||40mm GPS+LTE||44mm GPS||44mm GPS+LTE|
|Region||40mm GPS||40mm GPS+LTE||44mm GPS||44mm GPS+LTE|
A basic ‘upgrade’
The first question you might be asking is: what does the Apple Watch SE actually replace? It doesn’t have the always-on display of the Watch 5, but it has more power than the Watch 4, so if those two devices were still on sale we might well be calling it the Apple Watch 4.5.
With that in mind, what upgrades, if you can call them that, does the SE bring over the Watch 4 (which as mentioned is no longer on sale)?
The main change is to the chipset inside – we found that the battery life of the Apple Watch 5 improved markedly when the always-on display was turned off, and given that’s not an issue with the Watch SE, we’re expecting good battery life from this device – and that’s what we’re seeing in the first couple of days of having it strapped it to our wrist.
There are still reams of useful features on the Apple Watch SE that those upgrading from the Apple Watch 3 would enjoy, and a lot of them are great for health tracking too – which is fast becoming the primary reason to buy this Watch.
The decibel meter on board the Watch SE does a good job of alerting you when the sound around you is too high. The sleep tracking – which admittedly is available on any Watch capable of running the new WatchOS 7 these days – is useful, even if it’s not as fully-featured as dedicated sleep monitors, with things like time spent in deep, restorative sleep not specified.
The constantly-running altimeter is useful to let you know the true reflection of your elevation on a run – to the nearest foot according to Apple, although in side-by-side tests with the Apple Watch 6 on a workout we found that the height climbed and descended varied by 10-15 meters on a two-mile run.
Not massive, but we wouldn’t use the Watch SE to calculate our exact elevation stats on any workout.
At the other end of the fitness scale, the Apple Watch SE does feel like a great option for an elderly relative whose health you might want to keep an eye on – being able to get fall detection alerts, or warnings of issues with heart rate, will really bring peace of mind to those worried.
Combine that with the larger display on both the 40mm / 44mm size, courtesy of less bezel, and this is going to be a genuinely helpful device for the elderly.
With the new Family Setup feature for the Watch range, which enables you to set up an Apple wearable for someone else from your iPhone, buying the Watch SE for someone who doesn’t use an iPhone becomes a relatively straightforward proposition.
Should you buy the Apple Watch SE?
Buy it if…
You want an Apple Watch for less money.
The Watch SE has a lower price, but you still get a lot of the high-end features of the Watch 6 – it largely depends on how much you want an always-on display.
You don’t care about blood oxygen.
The ability to check how well your respiratory system is working is a key feature of the Watch 6, but it’s more of a peace-of-mind feature, rather than a must-have, and many people will be able to live without it.
You want good battery life
While the Apple Watch is far from market-leading here, the battery life on offer with the Watch SE is the best we’ve seen, thanks to a more modern chipset and the omission of the always-on display.
Don’t buy it if…
You want the latest and best
The Watch SE is effectively a hybrid of the Watch 4 and Watch 5, which effectively makes it 1.5 generations old. If you love having every cutting-edge feature, this isn’t for you.
You want the cheapest Apple Watch
That’s the Apple Watch 3, and it’s still on sale. It also lacks the always-on display, but it also has a smaller display, although many of the most useful Watch Features are present.
You love a cheeky glance
While the always-on display is battery-hogging, it does make it easier to quickly see the time – and that’s a good thing on a watch, we think.
If you know you want a new Apple Watch, the Watch SE is the one to go for: it’s got all the useful features of the Watch 6, but it’s much cheaper, and thus one of the best smartwatches around. The always-on display is sorely missing, but the fitness tracking – including motivating nudges to keep you active – is as good as ever, and will improve when Fitness Plus lands. However, the Watch SE comes with the same issues as the rest of the Apple Watch line: some features and apps are too lightweight, and the battery life is just too short to get the best out of the watch.
- Premium design
- Excellent phone companion
- Great range of features
- Lacks always-on display
- Battery life lacking