Apple Watch SE: Apple’s Surprise Value Watch Model

Apple’s fall 2020 event brought several surprises, and one I was personally quite excited about was the Apple Watch SE. With comparable performance, massive watchOS 7 improvements, and Family Setup, users will find plenty of reasons to love this affordable version of the newest Apple Watch. In this article we'll take a look at the many benefits of the Watch SE, along with what you may be giving up for the lower price tag.

Apple Watch SE at a Glance:

Availability: Pre-orders for all models and new bands start September 15. Available in-store starting Friday, September 18.

Price: Starting at $279 for GPS and $329 for GPS + Cellular

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Materials: Aluminum cases, available in Gold, Silver, and Space Gray colors

Bonus Freebie: For a limited time starting today, anyone who purchases an Apple Watch Series 3 or later gets a free three-month trial of Apple's newest service, Apple Fitness+.

Family Setup: The Apple Watch SE will allow kids and other family members without an iPhone to enjoy watch features without the formerly requisite tie-in to a personal iPhone.

Tech Specs for the Apple Watch SE

  • Retina LTPO OLED display, 1000 nits 
  • S5 SiP 64-bit dual-core processor, W3 wireless chip
  • LTE, UMTS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 5.0 
  • 32 GB capacity
  • Optimized built-in microphone and 50 percent louder speaker than the Apple Watch 3

The 64-bit dual-core Series 5 SiP processing and W3 wireless chip put this newer Apple Watch on par with the performance capabilities of the no-longer available Series 5 (up to two times faster than the Apple Watch 3), and the size hasn't changed either. Users of the SE will still get to enjoy the sleek, well-designed Retina LTPO OLED display we saw with the Series 5 as well, though now you'll have to awaken the display since it won't come with the always-on feature. Bluetooth 5.0 and cellular capabilities also match those of the most recent watch, so both LTE and UMTS are supported where available, plus Wi-Fi connectivity comes standard.

It's important to note that the Watch SE is still waterproof to 50 meters like the Series 5, and I am personally in love with the touchy-feely features like the realistic mechanical clicks provided by the haptic feedback on the digital crown, a stepped-up homage to the adjustment crowns found on the sides of classic wristwatches. It's nice to see tributes to the old as we embrace the new.

Apple's newest watch iterations coupled with the watchOS 7 put health and safety at the forefront, so we'll see tons of health, fitness, and safety updates along with the brand's predictably fun and customizable design features. 

Apple Watch SE emergency features

Top Features of the Apple Watch SE

While there are some reasons for the significantly lower price tag to take home an Apple Watch SE, it's still chock-full of need-to-have features, along with others that are just plain cool.

Apple Watch SE & watchOS 7

My favorite updates with watchOS 7 are those that allow for greater personalization, but being a fitness junkie I also thoroughly appreciate the enhanced attention to health and safety. The new watchOS will also feature seven new watch face options and the ability to share and curate new watch face configurations. Apple never fails to keep us entertained with various methods of device personalization.

The low-range VO2 Max feature will speak to those who rely on these kinds of metrics for fitness training and overall health. The hand washing timer is a needed update, too, in our pandemic-affected world. Sleep tracking is yet another enhancement meant to contribute to holistic physical and mental well-being. 

For those who love cycling, the updates to the Maps app will allow easy access to your cycling data and routes on your wrist. Outdoor enthusiasts may also be interested to know that the Watch SE still features GPS/GNSS and a compass, but now includes an always-on altimeter.

Family Setup Apple WatchOS 7

Family Setup in watchOS 7

With this fantastic new ability, family members who don't use an iPhone can still be included in the Apple Watch fun! Communication, personalization, and emergency features will be available without being tied to a single-user iPhone. Activity rings will also be accessible to users without iPhones, and Apple's designers have cleverly included a new Schooltime mode to keep kids from becoming distracted while learning, whether they're at a school or learning from home.

The new watchOS also includes improvements to the features that target older users, such as simpler onboarding and the enlarged option for the watch face to make reading easier. 

Health & Safety Features

Emergency SOS and international emergency calling have come to be expected with Apple Watches, and fall detection can give some peace of mind to caretakers of those less steady on their feet. The Watch SE will not include the electrical heart sensor or the related ECG app, but it will still include the original optical heart sensor so users won't be without rhythm detection and heart rate data.

A Health Checklist is included to make tracking the use of these newer functions easier and more centralized for all users.

Apple Watch New Bands

New Apple Watch Bands

That's right, we're getting even cooler Apple Watch bands. The coolest new band is called the Solo Loop, and is a single-piece stretchable liquid silicone design that slides over your wrist and then shrinks comfortably back to size without any clasps, snaps, or buckles. The Solo Loop also comes in a gorgeous braided version made of recycled materials and designed for maximum comfort. Both are available in a variety of colors and sizes.

Sport bands are still in for the newest Watch models, and come in either a hook-and-loop or pin-and-tuck closure as before.

Perhaps the classiest new affordable band options are the magnetized Leather Link bands that contain hidden magnets designed to allow comfortable and secure wear with the stylish look of supple leather. We also see a few updates to the stainless steel line of bands, along with other color and style configurations of previous options.

Comparing the Apple Watch SE to the Series 5 & 6

The Watch SE is a kind of cousin to the no-longer-available Apple Watch 5, missing just a couple of features comparatively, but not without enhancements. The Apple Watch 6, on the other hand, is the SE's more tech-savvy sibling, outpacing the Watch SE and the 5 in numerous areas. 

Apple Watch 6 Blood Oxygen

What Features the Apple Watch SE Doesn't Have

The Apple Watch 5 has an always-on Retina LTPO OLED display with amazing 1000 nits brightness (great for outdoor use without loss of visibility). The Watch SE gets the same amazing display, but is without the always-on feature, which many users will never miss. The Series 5 watch also features both optical and electrical heart sensing, but we'll only get the optical sensor with the Watch SE, so that means the SE will also be missing the ECG app that some users enjoy with the Apple Watch 5.

When we compare the Apple Watch SE to the Apple Watch 6, though, we begin to see where the Series 6 leaves its sibling in the dust. The Watch SE will be without the highly anticipated blood oxygen sensor, the landmark feature of the Watch 6. The higher-tech Series 6 will also include the Ultra Wideband U1 chip, and the SE will not.

If you're wondering which Apple Watch you should buy, you may want to compare these details with those of the new Apple Watch 6.

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Author Details

Erin MacPherson's picture

Author Details

Erin MacPherson

Erin is a Web Editor for iPhone Life and has been a writer, editor, and researcher for many years. She has a degree in communication with an emphasis on psychology and communication, and has spent many of her professional years as a coach in various business and specialty fields. Erin officially joined the ranks of iPhone and Apple users everywhere around nine years ago, and has since enjoyed the unique and customized feel of Apple technology and its many gadgets. When she’s not working, Erin and her son enjoy outdoor adventures, camping, and spending time with their eclectic collection of pets.