“But it doesn’t come with the Always-On display” is a mind-numbing comment that refused to subside when picking up an Apple Watch SE for the first time, leading me towards the grander and definitely always-on Apple Watch Series 7. The specialist at the Apple Store broke down the key advantages of the Cupertino giant’s triumphant wearable over the seemingly redundant “Special Edition” smartwatch — but that damned quote kept rattling around.
The Apple Watch Series 5 introduced the game-changing Always-On display, a feature that continues to be a strong selling point for the undisputed champion of the smartwatch world. It also presents a dilemma: pay extra for a feature that may not be worth your hard-earned cash or settle for a watch that looks like a metallic brick the majority of the time? It’s the first-world-problems edition of Sophie’s Choice.
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However, there's a good reason why the Apple Watch led the smartwatch market with over 50% market share (via Canalys) at the start of 2021, and it’s not driven by an always-on feature. With an Apple Watch SE now strapped to my wrist, that comment was quickly put to rest.
After using the Apple Watch SE over the past three months, there’s little doubt in my mind Apple’s more affordable wearable deserves a worthy spot on your wrist — and it’s my mission to prove it.
Apple Watch SE advantages
Compared to the limitations of the iPhone SE (2020) when placed next to the iPhone 13, the Apple Watch SE is a steal. Apple isn’t kidding with its “heavy on features, light on price” tagline, as SE owners are getting the full Apple Watch experience, along with Apple’s ongoing watchOS updates, at a more affordable $279/£249. The Apple Watch Series 7’s $399/£369 price tag really doesn’t look so appealing now, does it, Sophie?
The Series 7 offers a number of features, including a water resistance rating of 50 meters (164 feet), a smooth, rounded retina display, the tech to detect heart rate readings and irregular heartbeats, a fall detection sensor, cellular connectivity, the ability to pair multiple Apple Watches, and an 18-hour battery life. And well, would you look at that? It appears I have simultaneously listed everything the Apple Watch SE offers, too.
Okay, I’ve deliberately left out the Series 7’s strengths, including the Always-On display and advanced features, such as the SpO2 (blood oxygen) app and ECG monitor, which are FDA-approved.
These are important for the people that need routine updates on their health, so the SE falls flat on its (watch) face in this department. If you’ve never used these before, or are tempted to try them out to appease your curiosity, chances are you’ll give them a go once and forget about them. I say this from experience — after trying out the blood oxygen feature on the Huawei GT2e smartwatch, I found little reason to use it any more than once.
Apple’s health sensors are breaking new ground in the everyday lives of the general consumer, which is a welcome feat. Most of the time, though, many digital enthusiasts just want a smartwatch that can keep track of their fitness, wake them up in the morning with pleasing haptics, and manage their professional and social lives on their wrist. Oh, and tell the time, of course. The Apple Watch SE is the answer, and you won’t have to spend as much to get it.
I have to call attention to the lack of Always-On display, seeing as it can be a decisive factor when it comes down to choosing which Apple Watch to get. I have not once thought I was missing out on the feature, seeing as the SE model is so adept at switching on as soon as I want to look at it. In fact, despite Apple stating that both the Series 7 and SE have a battery life of “up to 18 hours,” I would say the Apple Watch SE has better battery life than its shinier sibling. I can stretch out just under two days of battery before charging, and according to Laptop Mag’s wearable expert Sean Riley, the Apple Watch Series 7 keeps its promise on its all-day battery life — singular. Maybe it does have something to do with that Always-On display.
Apple AirPods unequivocally became a fashion statement when they launched, and the company treats its Apple Watch in the same vein. A quick browse through the colorful array of Apple Watch straps will tell you that, as the collection grows with each new season. From a Pride-woven Braided Solo Loop and international Sport Loop bands representing many countries to the fancy stainless steel Milanese Loop and laughably expensive Hermès Leather straps, you’ll find a band that shows off your personal style. The Apple Watch SE fits them all.
The plethora of sport-influenced straps means you look good while working out, too. My Sport Loop is easy to strap on and comfortable to boot, and it never gets in the way of my workout. The SE is my favourite fitness partner. Lockdown has been a pain for my fitness goals, and my ever-expanding stomach isn’t going to downsize itself. Thanks to the nagging Activity Rings and the three-month Apple Fitness subscription thrown in when getting an Apple Watch SE, I can keep tabs on my belly.
I’m impressed by the selection of workouts the Apple Watch can track. From my daily outdoor walks to my weekly squash games, my SE can track my calories, steps, distance and more. Even more impressive is the Fitness Gaming feature, which has done wonders for my self-concocted VR fitness program while using an Oculus Quest 2 (a feature for another day).
The Apple Watch 7 has all of these features, and then some. That said, the point is you’re getting the same capabilities for fitness that the Series 7 offers without having to spend as much. That in itself is a win for the SE model.
The next step in SE
If you’re not convinced about the low-cost capabilities of the Apple Watch SE, perhaps its sequel will entice you.
Expected to arrive alongside the Apple Watch Series 8 in 2022, according to reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5Mac), the Apple Watch SE 2 is rumored to continue Apple’s focus on health at a similar, if not the same, price to the original SE model. As stated by CEO Tim Cook on the Outcast podcast: “There’s a ton of innovation left to go in there. We are in the early innings… think about the amount of sensors in your car. And arguably, your body is much more important than your car.”
Cook doesn’t say much about what to expect from the second-generation Apple Watch SE. However, with the continued advancements that the Cupertino giant is making in health technology, there’s reason to believe the now aging blood oxygen app and ECG monitoring will come to the new SE model. If the iPhone SE 2022 is expected to boast 5G connectivity, the next SE model is likely to be a low-cost hybrid between the Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch 7, and possibly offer a few capabilities the Series 8 may deliver.
While $279/£249 is still expensive when compared with most fitness trackers, it’s a solid entry-level device for a full-blown smartwatch like the Apple Watch SE. The smartwatch really is the best Apple Watch for most people — offering the same capabilities the latest Apple Watch boasts without the Always-On display or niche but favourable advanced health features. For iPhone users that don’t need the latter, Sophie’s Choice should now turn into Sophie’s Decision.
For a better look at which Apple Watch is best, we’ve got you covered. And, if you’re on the Apple SE bandwagon, check out why the iPhone SE (2020) is still one of the best iPhones.