Apple Watch SE (2022) review: A brilliant entry
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- The 2022 Apple Watch SE is the least expensive smartwatch in Apple’s lineup.
- It shares a lot of the same features as the Series 8, but makes some compromises.
- For some, the lack of an always-on display may be the ultimate deal-breaker.
Once upon a time, the Series 3 was the cheapest smartwatch in Apple’s lineup. But with the Series 3 discontinued, that honor now belongs to the second-generation Apple Watch SE.
The 2022 Apple Watch SE, which starts at $250, raises the bar of what to expect from an entry-level smartwatch. It uses the same processor found in the top-of-the-line Series 8 and Ultra models, and offers just enough smart features to satisfy most people.
As the low-cost option, the SE lacks some fancy features, like an always-on display and some of the next-gen health sensors found on the Series 8. But if you’re looking for a smartwatch to handle the basics and streamline your day-to-day, the SE will certainly meet, if not beat, your expectations.
The second-generation Apple Watch SE is Apple’s new reigning budget smartwatch. It’s an impressive entry-level wearable that shares the same processor as the Series 8 and Ultra. It doesn’t have the most advanced health sensors as premium models, but it offers just enough features to satisfy most people.
The Apple Watch SE looks just as good and works just as smoothly as the Series 8
You’d be forgiven to think that Apple sacrificed a premium design for its most affordable wearable, but the SE proves otherwise. By all accounts, the SE’s aluminum casing, curved glass, and Digital Crown look and feel almost identical to the Series 8.
Just like its predecessor, the second-gen SE is available in 40 or 44-millimeter case sizes, compared to the 41 or 45-millimeter Series 8. Apart from a larger display on the Series 8, the other difference is the SE has a plastic caseback rather than ceramic found on the Series 8.
About the display: The SE has a thicker display bezel than the Series 8. A thinner border means the display is closer to the edges of the case, which makes the screen look bigger and sleeker. However, the difference is slight and didn’t bother me at all when switching back and forth between the SE and Series 8.
The most impressive thing about the second-gen SE is the fact that it runs on the same S8 processor as the Series 8 and the $800 Ultra. That’s to say the SE runs as smoothly and quickly as Apple’s most expensive Apple Watch to date. It also means the second-gen SE will last as many years as Apple’s more expensive watches, and it’ll stay relevant thanks to watchOS and security updates.
While the SE comes standard with your choice of a braided or silicone rubber watch band, it’s worth noting that most Apple watch bands are compatible across models. So if it’s an elevated look you’re after, you could upgrade to a leather or stainless steel strap, making the SE an even more compelling sell.
The SE’s biggest compromise is the lack of an always-on display
While the Apple Watch has had an always-on display since the Series 5, the SE omits this feature as a tradeoff for a lower price. It’s unsurprising, as an always-on display is considered a premium feature in Apple devices.
To wake the SE display, you’d need to slightly turn or raise your wrist to your eyes, or tap on the screen. If you’re trading up from the Series 4 or older, or the first-gen SE, this may not seem like a big deal. In fact, the SE’s display is more responsive than those models.
But having used an Apple Watch with an always-on display for several years, I think It’s a frustrating compromise, even for a budget model. Always-on displays offer plenty of benefits, especially when using an Apple Watch for fitness tracking, and Apple should make it standard.
For example, if you’re in the middle of a workout and want to quickly look at your heart rate, time elapsed, or some other metric, an always-on display allows for that without the need to bring your watch into view and your eyes away from what you’re doing.
As a consolation, the SE’s display doesn’t eat up as much battery life as the Series 8. Plus, there are Apple Watch users who won’t be bothered by not having an always-on display, so it comes down to personal preference.
The SE’s health tracking capabilities aren’t the most advanced, but they’re good enough
The new SE sacrifices some health features found on the premium models, but it’s still adequate. While the SE uses Apple’s second-gen optical heart sensor compared to the third-gen variant in the Series 8, it’s just as good at tracking workouts. The SE also includes the same sleep tracking features.
It has the same swimproof 50m water resistance as the Series 8 for water-based workouts, but it doesn’t have an officially rated dust resistance, so it’s not an ideal option if you often find yourself in duty environments.
Aside from that, the second-gen SE has Apple’s core health tracking sensors, including high-and-low heart rate and irregular rhythm notifications, which have reportedly been attributed to helping certain users to become aware of a condition they didn’t know they had.
However, the second-gen SE is missing Apple’s advanced health sensors, including blood-oxygen or electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors, which became available starting with the Series 6. The SE also lacks the Series 8’s new wrist-temperature sensors for better ovulation and sleep tracking. Of course, whether these health features are worth the extra cash is up to you.
The SE has the same safety features as the Series 8 and Ultra
While the second-gen SE might not detect as many health factors as the Series 8, it looks out for your safety in the same capacity.
Like the Series 8 and the Ultra, the second-gen SE adds Apple’s new Crash Detection to its comprehensive repertoire of safety features, which also include Emergency SOS, International emergency calling, and Fall Detection.
Crash Detection can detect if you’ve been in a car accident and automatically contacts emergency services if you don’t interact with the alert within 10 seconds. It’s already been credited for helping someone in a crash, if it didn’t save that person’s life, and it’s good that Apple included it with its more affordable Apple Watch model.
Impressive battery life, plus the new Lower Power mode is a welcomed boost
Despite Apple’s claim that the second-gen SE has the same 18-hour battery life as the Series 8, the SE lasts longer on a single charge in normal casual use. That’s likely thanks to its display that turns off and missing health sensors.
Whether better battery life is a worthwhile trade-off for an always-on display or extra health sensing is up to you. I can safely say that the Series 8’s battery life never bothered me.
The new SE also includes Apple’s new Low Power mode, which boosts the battery life from 18 hours to 36. It sounds appealing at first glance, but a closer look shows that it’s not a feature you’d want to use on a regular basis.
Low Power mode sacrifices a lot of the Apple Watch’s utility, like delayed notification and disabling incoming calls and notifications if your iPhone isn’t nearby. Widget updates like weather or heart are less frequent, too.
As for charging, the 2nd-gen SE doesn’t support fast charging for Apple Watch, which was first introduced with the Series 7.
Apple Watch SE vs. Series 8 vs. Ultra: At a glance
Should you buy it?
The pros that come with the second-gen Apple Watch SE overwhelmingly outnumber the cons, and it comes easily recommended for people looking to spend under $300 on an Apple Watch.
However, if your budget allows for the Series 8, get the Series 8 for the always-on display, if not the extra health sensors. The always-on display removes a potentially major point of frustration for a device that you use often and daily for several years.