Apple Watch SE review: all the key smartwatch features for under $300 (2023)

The Apple Watch wearables have been undeniably some of the best and most popular smartwatches around, but they're expensive -- frequently over $400. This is a pretty steep price for what is definitely an optional device. The new Apple Watch SE bring most of the features of a premium smartwatch, but starts at about $280. This isn't exactly cheap, but if you're and iOS user and you've been on the fence about trying out a smartwatch, the Apple Watch SE is a great device to start with.

Video Transcript

CHERLYNN LOW: Smartwatches have evolved since the first Apple Watch, sort of. They still look largely the same. Battery life is still an issue, and often, software is fairly limited. Yet, they've also secured their place on many wrists by offering more fitness and health tracking tools over time, and Apple quickly became the top seller in the space. Today, most people know what to expect from a good wearable, and yet while they have become more popular, smartwatches still aren't mainstream.


The Apple Watch SE might just change that. It's the company's first new smartwatch that costs under $300 and offers basically everything its more expensive stablemates do, minus advanced features like ECG and blood oxygen sensing. Its processor is a year older than the Series 6's, and you won't get an always-on display. But at 279, the watch SE might appeal to IOS users who didn't feel like spending $400 on a smartwatch to buy one at last. I've never liked smartwatches with rectangular faces, but out of all of them, the Apple Watch has the nicest build.

The SE looks nearly identical to the series 5 and 6. So if you're familiar with the company's latest devices, you'll know what to expect. It's small, light, and feels like a high-end machine neatly crammed into a dainty 40mm or 44mm case. I may have to live with a square-ish case, but at least this looks classy. Fitbit's $329 sense has a slightly squatter square case that's a little heavier and doesn't feel as dense or premium. Shape aside, the watch SE's old retina display is crisp, bright, and colorful. App icons, memoji, and pictures my friends sent, all looked tech sharp. While I still prefer Samsung's spinning bezel for scrolling through apps, Apple's digital crown has a lower profile, and it keeps this watch small and light overall.

This year, Apple introduced a new band, it's calling the solo loop. It's one complete strap with no buckles, clasps, or any other methods of attachments. You'd put it on the way you would a rubber band, stretch it over your knuckles, and then push it onto your wrist. Because it doesn't have different options for you to adjust the fit, the solo loops sizing is crucial. You have to choose from nine different sizes when you're buying the watch, and Apple's website does offer guides on using household tools to help you figure out what your measurements are.

I love this band. It's incredibly easy to pull off or put back on. You can even get it on with just one hand since you don't have to futz around with a buckle. The strap that Apple chose for me fit comfortably too. Although, people have reported having trouble with the fit, especially since the silicone bands seem a bit tighter than the woven options. So you'll want to be careful when taking your measurements. There's a chance you might have to deal with returning your watch strap after buying it to eventually find the right fit. If you've used an Apple Watch before, most of the SE's features will be familiar. The knob is a handy way to scroll through notifications, apps, and volume controls, and together with the button below it, it offers several nifty shortcuts.

Long pressing the digital crown triggers Siri, while long pressing the button below shows the power menu. Double tapping that pulls up your default card on Apple Pay, navigating the interface is the same as before too, and if you've already set up your favorite apps in the dock, they'll carry over when you set up the new device. As an Android user who's mostly lived with other smartwatches, though, I found it jarring that a swipe right doesn't take me back to the previous page. I also still prefer Samsung's Tizen OS for its simpler navigation, where all my favorite widgets and apps are just a spin away. On Apple's watches, I have to first pull up all apps or the dock and then find the one I want.

What's new with the watch SE are mostly updates from Watchos seven, like the new fitness app, sleep tracking, as well as automatic handwashing detection and countdown. There are also new shareable watch faces with support from multiple complications from the same app. Having the daily UV index and the weather at the same time on my home screen made it easy to tell when I could skip the sunscreen. Tapping any of these complications pulls up the respective app, and it was easy to summon my activity rings to see how far I was from closing them. In Watchos seven, you can set individual targets for each of the three circles as opposed to one overall goal. I spend so much of my day stuck at my desk that a stand goal of getting up every hour for 10 hours is nearly impossible to achieve. So I tuned that down and bumped up my exercise target instead.

Apple also added four new workouts you can track with Watchos seven, dance, core training, functional strength training, and cool down. Dance and cool down are intriguing additions, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference in tracking these activities versus a generic other exercise session. Apple said it uses the watch's sensors to figure out how your arms and legs are moving as you dance to predict body movements. But honestly, at the end of the day, you're just getting reports on how much time you spend in certain heart rate zones and the calories you burned.

I don't like wearing a watch to bed, but of all the smartwatches I've tested lately, the Apple Watch SE is the one I minded the least. Sadly, it also delivers the least insightful data. While Fitbit and Samsung both use a heart rate monitor to figure out whether you're in REM, light, deep, or restorative sleep, Apple only takes into account accelerometer data. It does track your heart rate overnight, but it doesn't use that to tell you what sleep zone you're in. The watch SE wasn't accurate at detecting when I fell asleep either, assuming that I had gone to bed at the time I had set in my wind-down sleep schedule, when in fact, I only got in about an hour later.

According to the watch SE, I was restless right after I fell asleep when really I was just awake and fidgeting. And then when I woke up and snoozed my alarm a few times, none of those movements registered, and Apple decided to take the time I finally stepped out of bed as when I woke up. This is the sort of unreliable tracking that plagued early Fitbits, but they've grown much better over the years. If accurate and insightful sleep tracking is important to you, the Apple Watch won't be your best option. Apple also introduced a wind-down and wake-up feature that helps you prepare for bed and your workday.

I set my bedtime to 1:00 AM, and at midnight, the watch SE went on do not disturb and stopped bothering me, which was nice. But I continued to while away on my phone anyway, despite do not disturb automatically being enabled there too. When my morning alarm went off, it was a gentle tune rather than a jarring cacophony, which was nice. But not that much different from just picking a different option for my alarm anyway, and these sounds were also already available in iOS. What is better is that you can use the watch's haptic engine for a vibration-based alarm on your wrist to rouse you without bothering others. Also, if you wake up and move in the 30 minutes before your set time, the watch will ask you if you want to cancel the alarm, which is a nice touch.

Another new Watchos seven feature is handwashing detection, which is particularly relevant during the pandemic. The watch will automatically recognize, based on the way your hands are moving, if you've started to wash them. Then, it'll turn on the microphone to listen for sounds of water and soap suds to confirm, and then launch a 20-second timer to make sure you're scrubbing for the recommended duration. This is helpful when I'm getting my first wash in after returning from home, but kind of annoying, subsequently, because I don't always need to wash my hands for 20 whole seconds. Sometimes I'm just trying to get some grease off of my palm, and 10 seconds is enough.

Thankfully, all you get if you stop washing before the time is up is a gentle admonishment that you can skip, so it's only a minor annoyance. The watch SE was almost always able to detect when I started washing my hands, missing only one very quick session. But it also thought I was cleaning my hands when I was actually washing some grapes. Again, it was easy enough to just ignore the timer and go on with my day. While most of the new Watchos seven features are underwhelming, I'm pretty happy with everything else the watch SE provides. Siri responds in an instant, and voice dictation is quick and accurate, even with a conversation playing on TV in the background.

Since these voice-based tasks are now processed on the watch, they're understandably faster than before. Apple also does some things better than Samsung or Fitbit, when you get a message on your watch, you can reply with more options like your voice, a handwriting keyboard, emojis, suggested responses, memoji stickers, or a digital touch. Pictures that come in your notifications will also appear and take up the whole screen. And the watch's camera app acts as a remote viewfinder for your phone. Tizen offers a version of these features either in limited form, like pictures, or only supported in text message alerts or via third-party apps. But Apple's system feels snappier and more thoughtful.

The watch SE is also more intuitive when it comes to guided breathing sessions. Instead of simply vibrating once to prompt you to start breathing the way Fitbit does, the watch SE vibrates in a pattern that mimics a balloon stretching as it fills with air. Quicker at first, and then slower as it approaches capacity. This is easier to follow with my eyes close, which makes for a more relaxing experience overall. I was also pleased at how quickly the watch SE connected to GPS on my outdoor walks, and Apple Maps effectively guided me to a nearby bakery. Its new cycling directions thoughtfully include guidance on bike paths and the steepness of slopes along the route too.

I do wish it was a bit more accurate and knowing when I've reached a street corner, and need to know where to turn, but in general, maps on the watch worked fine. I also appreciate how the watch SE is always on altimeter, includes changes in elevation on my workout reports when I finished a walk, bike ride, or hike. Apple estimates you get about 18 hours of juice on the watch SE, and that seems pretty accurate. Since there isn't an always-on display, it's not surprising that I got about a day and a half before needing to plug the device in. That battery life is similar to the Galaxy Watch 3, better than the watch active two, and slightly shorter than the Fitbit sense, so the Fitbit had an always-on display.

Apple expects similar run time from the series six, though, and that's also with an always-on screen. For 279, the watch SE packs more features you'd expect from a modern smartwatch than the competition. While the Fitbit sense does offer a ton of health tracking tools for 329, it's not as good at being a smartwatch as the watch SE. Though Apple's sleep tracking does lag the likes of Fitbit and Samsung, it beats them by simply being better at integrating with the iPhone. Anyone on iOS will have a hard time finding a better watch than the watch SE apart from the series five or series six, and those who don't need advanced health monitoring features like ECG or blood monitoring won't miss much.

People contemplating their first smartwatch will find the watch SE a polished and well-rounded introduction to the category. For more reviews on Fitbit's, Galaxy watches, Apple Watches, and all of the gadgets out of consumer technology, make sure you subscribe to Engadget. And as always, thank you for watching.



What are the key features of Apple Watch SE? ›

Safety features like Fall Detection,18 Emergency SOS, and high and low heart rate notifications make Apple Watch great for older family members, even if they don't own an iPhone. Calling, texting, and location sharing provide an easy way to stay connected with the family.

What is the downside of Apple Watch SE? ›

The Apple Watch SE offers many of the same health features as the Apple Watch Series 8, but it lacks a blood oxygen sensor, temperature sensing, and the capability to take an ECG reading.

Is it worth it to buy an Apple SE watch? ›

Whether it's the Apple Watch to buy will depend on what you want from your smartwatch and the depth and complexity of features you need. However at its level, the Watch SE (2022) offers an excellent combination of value for money and features on offer, making it a smartwatch we would highly recommend.

Is Apple Watch SE still worth it 2023? ›

Apple Watch SE

Though the SE is hardly cheap, especially compared to some of the dedicated fitness trackers and WearOS watches we recommend, it's still very good value.

Can Apple Watch SE make calls? ›

If your Apple Watch is connected to Wi-Fi or cellular

With a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, your Apple Watch can do the following things, even if your iPhone isn't with you. Make and answer phone calls. Send and receive messages.

Is the Apple Watch SE outdated? ›

With the arrival of these three Apple Watches, Apple has discontinued the Apple Watch 7, the Apple Watch 3, and the older Apple Watch SE model that launched in 2020, however you may still be able to buy those older Apple Watch models from resellers and from Apple's Refurbished Store.

Is the Apple Watch 7 or SE better? ›

Ultimately there's no doubt that of the two, the Apple Watch Series 7 is the better smartwatch thanks to its always-on display, bigger and tougher build, slightly improved performance and extra health tracking features.

How does Apple Watch SE compared to normal? ›

The difference is that the SE lacks the always-on display and two sensors that measure wellness. It lacks an electrical heart sensor and is thus not capable of taking an ECG (but it does have an optical heart sensor, similar to the one found in the Series 3, so it's still able to record your heart rate).

What is the difference between Apple Watch SE and 7? ›

The Apple Watch SE features the S5 Chip, while the Apple Watch Series 7 offers an S7 Chip. The Series 7 is therefore, 20% faster than the SE. The Apple Watch Series 7 has a blood-oxygen sensor and you can even perform an ECG. If you're interested in health tracking, you should be sporting an Apple Watch Series 7.

Can you text on the Apple Watch SE? ›

Press the Digital Crown. Press the message icon. Press the required text message. Press the microphone icon and follow the instructions on the screen to record and send the message.

How long does the Apple SE watch last? ›

Apple Watch is so capable you'll want to wear it all day long. So we made sure we gave it a battery that lasts all day, too. Our goal for battery life is 18 hours after an overnight charge, factoring in things like checking the time, receiving notifications, using apps, and doing a 60-minute workout.

What is better a Fitbit or Apple Watch? ›

While both brands offer outstanding, high-quality wearables, Fitbit has more budget-friendly options, superior battery life, and better health and fitness tracking than the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch edges out the Fitbit in terms of accuracy, convenience, and extra features, but it may be too pricey for some users.

What did Apple Watch SE replace? ›

Apple announced the second generation of Watch SE during its September 2022 event, alongside the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. It's the latest entry point into Apple's smartwatches, replacing the now discontinued Apple Watch Series 3.

Why is the Apple Watch SE better than the 3? ›

Both models contain a dual-core processor, but the ‌Apple Watch SE‌'s S5 chip delivers up to two times faster performance than the Apple Watch Series 3. This means the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ can launch apps in as little as half the time it takes on the Apple Watch Series 3. The S3 chip powers the Apple Watch Series 3.

Can Apple Watch SE send voice messages? ›

Press the microphone button and dictate a message from your Apple Watch's Messages app. Tap Done. After you dictate a message, tap Send as audio or Send as text. Send as audio shows the voice waveform icon to send your voice message as an audio clip.

Does the Apple Watch SE have GPS? ›

But you'll still be able to complete a call to emergency services almost anywhere in the world. Just press and hold the side button on Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular) or Apple Watch SE (GPS + Cellular) models and you'll be connected to the help you need, even if you're nowhere near your iPhone.

Can Apple Watch SE make calls without Wi-Fi? ›

Apple Watch GPS + Cellular models can connect to cellular. With a cellular connection, you can make calls and use data or apps when you don't have your iPhone or Wi-Fi.

What is the difference between Apple Watch SE and new Apple Watch SE? ›

The Apple Watch SE 2022's main advantage over the first generation is a faster processor. The new model also has Crash Detection. Otherwise, they share the same specs, except for colors. It's not a significant upgrade for existing owners of an Apple Watch SE 2020.

Which is better Apple Watch SE or SE 2nd gen? ›

The second-generation ‌Apple Watch SE‌ offers a refresh of the original model that launched in 2020, providing a full Apple Watch experience at a low price point. The second-generation ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is a minor update, with the main upgrade being a performance boost thanks to the S8 chip.

Is Apple Watch SE newer than 6? ›

The Watch Series 6 has the latest S6 chipset from Apple while the Series SE has the S5 system. While the Watch SE's setup isn't as advanced as the Series 6, Apple said the SE is twice as fast as 2017's Series 3.

What does Apple Watch SE stand for? ›

But the mystery was finally ended when Phil Schiller, then Apple's Senior President of Worldwide Product Market (and Head of Ass-related Hubristic Quotes) confirmed that the suffix stood for Special Edition.

Is Apple Watch SE better than Series 8? ›

The ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is a low-cost option that still offers many of the Apple Watch features that have made the device so popular over the years, while the ‌Apple Watch Series 8‌ offers a more feature-rich experience with additional health monitoring capabilities.

Does Apple Watch SE have cellular? ›

The international emergency calling feature requires an Apple Watch Ultra (Cellular), Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular), Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS + Cellular), or Apple Watch SE (GPS + Cellular) model.

Why Apple Watch 6 is better than SE? ›

Apple Watch Series 6: processor, Always On altimeter

That's because it has an S6 processor. This processor is up to 20% faster than the Apple Watch SE processor. Thanks to this processor, apps boot faster and your dynamic watch faces don't stutter. The Apple Watch Series 6 has an Always On altimeter.

How old is the SE Apple Watch? ›

At its September 2020 product introduction event, Apple also announced the Apple Watch SE, a lower-cost model.

Is it worth upgrading to Apple Watch 7 from SE? ›

If you have a hard time reading tiny text on a smartwatch screen, it might be the best model for you. The Series 7 offers 20% more screen area and a much slimmer bezel than the SE (which has the same size and resolution display as the Series 6). Compared with the Series 3, it offers 50% more display real estate.

Can you listen to music on Apple Watch? ›

You can play music stored on Apple Watch, control music on your iPhone, and stream music from Apple Music and Apple Music Voice if you're a subscriber.

How do I get Gmail on my Apple Watch? ›

Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone. Tap My Watch, then go to Mail > Include Mail. Tap the accounts you want to see on your Apple Watch under Accounts.

Does Apple Watch SE battery drain fast? ›

An Apple Watch has a battery life of approximately 18 hours before it requires charging. If your battery is draining quickly, there are a few tricks to drastically extend it. Battery-saving tips include reducing wake screen time, turning off push notifications, and updating your Apple Watch.

Should I charge my Apple Watch every night? ›

All Apple Watches and iPhones are designed to be charged all night every night on the recommended charger. Unless you are prepared to turn them off for long term storage, "making them last" more than a day actually uses more charge and will shorten battery health.

Does Apple Watch track blood pressure? ›

Apple Watch alone cannot take a blood pressure reading. The only medically accurate and validated way to do so today is by stopping the blood flow by inflating a blood pressure cuff around your upper arm and then deflating it while listening for changes in your arteries.

What sells more Fitbit or Apple Watch? ›

At the end of 2018, Apple controlled 50% of the global smartwatch market in terms of units shipped, according to Strategy Analytics. Fitbit was second at 12.2%, followed by Samsung, which sells Android-powered devices, at 11.8%.

Can you swim with Apple Watch? ›

Apple Watch Series 2 and later can be used for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean, but you shouldn't use models other than Apple Watch Ultra for diving, water skiing, or other activities involving submersion below shallow depth or high-velocity water.

Which Apple Watch size to get? ›

According to Apple, the 40mm and 41mm variants are best suited for wrist sizes ranging from 130mm to 200mm, while the 44mm and 45mm variants are best suited for wrist sizes ranging from 140mm to 220mm. However, if your wrist size exceeds 140mm, we recommend 44mm or 45mm; otherwise, 40mm or 41mm should suffice.

What is better Apple Watch 5 or SE? ›

So, what's the best choice between the two? For most people, the Apple Watch SE is likely the better smartwatch. It has all the core Apple Watch features, but if you need features like ECG or the always-on display, it's probably worth skipping the Series 5 altogether and just buying the Apple Watch Series 8.

What's the difference between Apple Watch SE and regular? ›

The difference is that the SE lacks the always-on display and two sensors that measure wellness. It lacks an electrical heart sensor and is thus not capable of taking an ECG (but it does have an optical heart sensor, similar to the one found in the Series 3, so it's still able to record your heart rate).

What is difference between Apple Watch SE and 7? ›

The Apple Watch SE features the S5 Chip, while the Apple Watch Series 7 offers an S7 Chip. The Series 7 is therefore, 20% faster than the SE. The Apple Watch Series 7 has a blood-oxygen sensor and you can even perform an ECG. If you're interested in health tracking, you should be sporting an Apple Watch Series 7.

Is an Apple Watch 6 or SE better? ›

If you believe that ECG and blood oxygen monitoring will be important to you, you should consider the Apple Watch Series 6. If these advanced health features are less of a priority for you, the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ still has some insightful health monitoring capabilities.

Do I need an Apple Watch 8 or SE? ›

The ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is a low-cost option that still offers many of the Apple Watch features that have made the device so popular over the years, while the ‌Apple Watch Series 8‌ offers a more feature-rich experience with additional health monitoring capabilities.

Is there a monthly fee for Apple Watch? ›

What to Know. Most carriers charge $10/month for an Apple Watch cellular plan. If you need multiple Apple Watch cellular plans, consider Family Setup to save money.

How long will Apple Watch SE be supported? ›

This means you can expect it to receives major updates until at least 2027. It runs watchOS 9 out of the box, and it will likely supports versions up to at least watchOS 14.

Is iPhone SE being discontinued? ›

Now though, with the cancelation of the 2024 iPhone SE, concerns remain about whether the performance of Apple's own baseband chip will be on par with what Qualcomm's offerings can muster.

Can Apple Watch SE answer messages? ›

Reply to a message

Turn the Digital Crown to scroll to the bottom of the message, then choose how to reply. To quickly respond with a Tapback, touch and hold a specific message in a conversation, then choose a Tapback—like thumbs-up or a heart.


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