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Apple Watch SE review

The SE is pitched as an affordable (well, slightly more affordable) alternative to the flagship Watch Series 6. But how does it really compare? Our experts put it to the test.

Our rating 
4.5 out of 5 star rating 4.5
From £269
Apple Watch SE review
Pros: A wealth of reliable features
Highly intuitive UI
No visual difference to Apple Watch 6
Cons: Limited 18-hour battery life
No 'always-on' display
Still no Android compatibility

To say Apple has a captive audience is an understatement. There will be many, many prospective smartwatch buyers out there who will automatically gravitate to the Cupertino brand first – and not without good reason. Since the first Apple Watch was launched in 2015, each generation has gone from strength to strength, offering ever-increasing functionality alongside all the style and ease-of-use we expect from the company.

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But the smartwatch market is a mercilessly competitive one, and Apple has had solid rival flagship smartwatches to contend with from the likes of Samsung and Huawei. Apple has also had to deal with competition from the burgeoning fitness tracker market – the simple truth is that you’ll find plenty of wearables out there that will offer a host of tracking functions for much, much less. Not everyone can justify spending several hundred pounds on a smartwatch, even if it is Apple. 

Back in September 2020, Apple did something unusual: it launched two new smartwatches simultaneously. One was the latest flagship, the Apple Watch Series 6 – and the other was the Apple Watch SE. The latter had fewer features but was also cost £100 less, making it a far more realistic option for lots of consumers.

But is the Apple Watch SE a genuinely good proposition, or should you stump up the extra cash for the Series 6? We put both wearables to the test – read on for our full review of the SE, and be sure to check out our Apple Watch 6 review too. For a complete rundown of our favourite wearables, take a look at our best smartwatch list.

Apple Watch SE review: summary

Apple Watch SE review

We were pleased to discover the Apple’s move to offer a less pricey alternate to Watch Series 6 wasn’t a misfire. The Apple Watch SE offers a range of exceptionally reliable features, all packaging in a fabulously designed wearable that will sync flawlessly with your iPhone. Currently priced at £269, this is no budget wearable – but £110 is still a heck of a price difference compared to the latest flagship wearable. If you’re an Apple fan who has been hitherto put off by the exorbitant prices of the Watch line – here’s your moment to buy.

The Apple Watch is available to buy at Amazon, Currys PC World and, of course, the Apple Store.

What is the Apple Watch SE?

Launched in September 2020, the Apple Watch SE was positioned as a cheaper alternative to the latest flagship smartwatch, the Apple Watch 6. We’ve seen the label SE pop up before on the iPhone range – but curiously, Apple has never confirmed what it stands for.

When placed side by side, the two watches are all but identical. The SE lacks the ECG (electrocardiogram) and Sp02 (blood oxygen) sensors of the Series 6, two more advanced forms of health metric. One other feature the SE doesn’t have is the flagship smartwatch’s ‘always-on’ feature, meaning its face will stay automatically switched off until you activate it with a turn of the wrist.

What does the Apple Watch SE do?

The Apple Watch SE is capable of a host of different functions. Here’s what you can expect from this smartwatch:

  • Text, email and call notifications from your phone, as well as Facetime audio
  • Built-in maps, compass and GPS
  • Music and podcasts (both Spotify and, of course, Apple Music)
  • Heart rate and sleep tracking
  • The Apple Watch has three rings on its display: red measures the calories you’re burning, blue measures the steps you’re taking, and green measures the exercise in minutes. The idea is to ‘close’ each ring to meet your daily goals
  • The smartwatch can recognise a range of workouts
  • On the Apple Watch app on your phone, you can see in-depth info on your activities, fitness history and trends, which you can share with your friends
  • The built-in altimeter will tell you what elevation you’re at
  • The fall detector senses if and when you’ve taken a hard fall and will send the option to ring emergency service straight to the display
  • The cellular model of the Apple Watch SE will allow you to send and receive calls with no need for your phone – that’s one less thing to take out on your jog

How much is the Apple Watch SE?

The Apple Watch SE starts at £269 and goes depending on the choice of strap and design. The cellular model costs more at around £349.

Is the Apple Watch SE good value for money?

Yes, especially when compared to the Apple Watch 6 (currently £379) and the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (currently £369). There’s obviously a trade-off in features when setting the SE against those two higher-end smartwatches, but you can hardly call it a no-frills device.

The watch face has all the signature quality of an Apple product, and while some may not like the idea of a Velcro strap around their wrists (as was on the model we tested), it feels incredibly durable and is easy to adjust. To really enjoy the Apple Watch SE, you may want to consider subscribing to the Apple Fitness + app (£9.99 per month).

Apple Watch SE design

The Apple Watch SE stays very much within the rounded rectangular tradition of Apple’s wider smartwatches line. The faces are available in 40mm or 44mm options, and there’s an extensive range of strap designs too, which can be bought separately at £49 each. Look out for collaborations with Nike and Hermès. 

Outside of the touchscreen face, there is a ‘digital crown’ button, which is essentially a dial that can be twisted for scrolling and pressed to select your option. Below that, there’s also another less prominent button.

The Apple Watch SE isn’t as hefty as we expected: we’re classing it as a medium-weight smartwatch. The only range of wearables notably lighter is the Fitbits we’ve put to the test.

Apple Watch SE features

All the features we’ve listed above performed reliably and without error, and we were hugely impressed by the detailed analysis offered in the Apple Watch app. The Apple Watch SE can measure a seriously impressive range of activities, and like we’ve laid out already, it really doesn’t offer that much less than the Series 6. 

It’s hard to call this criticism per se, but the sheer breadth of features and functions can be a little overwhelming at first. You might also find you’re met with a barrage of notifications that you don’t necessarily want – but these can be edited to suit your particular needs. We were highly pleased to find that moving between apps and functions is an incredibly smooth experience without any delay via the highly responsive – but not too responsive – touchscreen.

What is the Apple Watch SE battery like?

With a maximum battery life of 18 hours, the Apple Watch SE is a device you’ll need to get into the habit of charging each night. It uses a wireless charger, a flat disc that magnetically connects to the watch’s rear. This uses a USB connection, but keep in mind that a wall adaptor isn’t included – a policy Apple is now implementing across its smartphones, too. 

We found, given its wide functionality, that the Apple Watch SE performed remarkably well. You can monitor the watch’s battery level by swiping upward from the bottom of the face, and you’ll receive a notification when the battery drops to 10%.

Apple Watch SE set-up: how easy is it to use?

Apple Watch SE review

From box to wrist, the Apple Watch SE setup process was an exceptionally smooth 20 minutes or so. It comes in a long, sleek box in Apple’s signature white. Inside, we found two separate boxes, one for the watch face and one for the strap. An included diagram guide made connecting to the two simple and easy. 

It synced faultlessly with our iPhone, with each of the phone’s apps immediately appearing on its screen. The pairing process for these took a few minutes altogether – we were pleased to find our phone was still operable while this syncing took place.

Our verdict: should you buy the Apple Watch SE?

The Apple Watch SE is a credible and excellent alternative to the Series 6. Fitness aficionados might want to go for the latter smartwatch’s advanced metrics – but, being honest, we think this will be the smarter purchase for most people.

We would have liked the always-on display of the Apple Watch 6, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that lots of leading wearables have a battery that will last for several days, rather than the limited 18 hours offered here. But the SE is, by our estimates, the best-value option right now for anyone who wants the Apple logo on their wrist.

A final caveat: sorry Android users, but Apple likes to keep it in the family, and its smartwatches remain only compatible with iPhones.

Review scores:

Certain categories are weighted more highly.

  • Design: 5/5
  • Features (average): 3.5/5
    • Functions: 4
    • Battery: 3
  • Value for money: 5/5
  • Ease of set-up: 5/5

Overall star rating: 4.5/5

Where to buy the Apple Watch SE

The Apple Watch SE is available to buy at the following stores. For the sake of accurate price comparisons, we’ve linked to the space grey 44mm model below – but prices do vary depending on watch size and strap colour.

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Looking for a bargain wearable? Don’t miss our list of the best smartwatch deals, or if you’re after a new phone, browse the best iPhone 11 deals.