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Apple Watch SE 2 vs. Apple Watch SE

After two years of waiting, Apple has refreshed its most affordable smartwatch, releasing the Apple Watch SE 2. While the visual changes are minimal, the device brings some important upgrades and a bunch of new features. Despite these changes, the price hasn’t increased — instead, it has gone down, making the Apple Watch SE 2 an even more exciting upgrade.

The Apple Watch SE 2 rocks the latest-generation chipset powering its pricier siblings, the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra. However, it does not include the blood oxygen sensor and the temperature sensor. If these seem necessary to you, we suggest you skip the Apple Watch SE 2. For everyone else, the entry-level Watch SE seems to be a solid option. Here, we compare the Apple Watch SE 2 with its predecessor to find out what’s different and whether an upgrade is the best choice for you.

Specs

Apple Watch SE 2
Apple Watch SE
Display size 40mm: 1.53 inches

44mm: 1.78 inches

40mm: 1.53 inches

44mm: 1.78 inches

Body size 40mm

44mm

40mm

44mm

Resolution in pixels 40mm: 394 x 324

44mm: 448 x 368

40mm: 394 x 324

44mm: 448 x 368

Touchscreen 40mm: LTPO OLED Retina

44mm: LTPO OLED Retina

40mm: LTPO OLED Retina

44mm: LTPO OLED Retina

Storage 32GB 32GB
Wireless interface Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, LTE Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, LTE
Depth 0.41 inches / 10.5mm 0.41 inches / 10.5mm
Blood oxygen sensor
No No
Accelerometer Yes Yes
Gyroscope Yes Yes
Ambient light sensor Yes Yes
Heart rate sensor Yes Yes
Barometer Yes Yes
GPS Yes Yes
Compass Yes Yes
Water/dust resistant IP6X IP6X
Battery life Up to 18 hours (36 hours in Low Power mode) Up to 18 hours (36 hours in Low Power mode with watchOS 9)
Price From $249 From $279
Availability Apple Apple
DT review 4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 out of 5 stars

Design and display

The front of the Apple Watch SE 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The new Apple Watch SE looks very similar to the previous-gen model. It has a square, pebble-shaped design and is made from 100% recycled aluminum, with a nylon composite matching back. Since the change is subtle, it provides a balanced look. Both have two sizes options available — 40mm and 44mm — and both have an LTPO retina display with a brightness of 1,000 nits. The smaller size sports a 1.57-inch display with a resolution of 394 x 324 pixels, while the larger model packs a 1.78-inch display with a resolution of 448 x 368 pixels. This means the larger model is likely to look crisper and clearer, though since it’s such a small display, you may not notice.

There’s absolutely no change in case sizes and display resolution when compared to the previous model. However, we think the matching back color on the Apple Watch SE 2  gives it a slight edge in style.

Winner: Apple Watch SE (2022)

Performance, battery life, and charging

The Apple Watch SE 2 on charge.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch SE 2 is powered by the S8 SiP chipset, a dual-core chipset based on a 7nm manufacturing process. Apple claims the new chipset is 20% faster than its predecessor, but really, Apple Watches are fairly fast and speedy anyway, and you’re unlikely to be playing anything demanding on the tiny screen, so ultimately, the boost in processing power is somewhat negligible. However, it does mean the newer model is likely to stay faster when updating to newer versions of watchOS, so there’s definitely a benefit here.

According to Apple, the battery on Apple Watch SE 2 should last for 18 hours — the same as the Apple Watch Series 8. In our review, the watch lasted for even longer. It lasted two full days, with a single non-GPS tracked workout, all the usual notifications, a permanent connection to your phone, and sleep tracking. There’s no fast charging on Watch SE 2, though, so it takes two hours for a complete charge. The original Apple Watch SE had a two-day battery life, too, and a similar charging speed.

Battery life and charging time are similar on the two models, so it comes down to the extra processing power on the newer model.

Winner: Apple Watch SE 2

Fitness and health-tracking features

Workout mode on the Apple Watch SE 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The updated heart rate sensor didn’t make its way to the Apple Watch SE 2, so it still relies on an optical sensor for heart tracking. An ECG tracker (available on Apple Watch Series 4 and later) provides detailed insight about your heartbeat, which can be presented to a doctor in case of abnormal readings. Since the Apple Watch SE 2 has an optical heart rate sensor, expect notifications for abnormally high or low heart rates and irregular heart rhythms only.

The Apple Watch SE was one of the first Apple Watches to get the sleep tracking feature. Along with this, you get features such as noise detection, fall detection, and cycle tracking (period tracking). The workout app on the Watch has a plethora of activities that you can track. This includes water sports such as swimming, rowing, and casual diving. For the same, it has a water resistance of up to 50 meters.

There’s also a new Medications app that manages and tracks medication, vitamins, and supplements. It also sends reminders to take medicines. Since the data is synced to the Apple Health app on iPhone, you can also get a detailed outlook of your upcoming medications. Finally, the Digital Crown is now mapped to swap between workout views. So you can turn it switch to your favorite workout activity.

The Apple Watch SE 2 and Watch SE pack the same sensors, including a gyroscope, accelerometer, heart rate (2nd-gen), barometer, always-on altimeter, and compass. However, the accelerometer and gyroscope have been updated on the new model. This should theoretically offer better fall detection and wins this round.

Winner: Apple Watch SE 2

Software and updates

Quick Settings on the Apple Watch SE 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch SE 2 ships with the latest watchOS 9. It’s available for a bunch of older Apple Watches, including the Apple Watch SE. Since watchOS 9 is a hefty upgrade, it may not run as fluidly as on the older hardware, so keep that in mind.

The watchOS 9 update brings a host of improvements. New watch faces have been added, existing watch faces have been updated, and Focus Mode can be triggered from specific watch faces. The Compass app has also been redesigned as part of watchOS 9, adding the ability to set waypoints and backtrack when required. This is great for hiking, outdoor enthusiasts, or anyone who finds themselves on trails with no network.

The original Watch SE is eligible for the watchOS 9 update, so there’s practically no difference in software between the two devices.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Crash Detection mode on the Apple Watch SE 2.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch SE 2 gets a new high-g accelerometer chip, which is essential for the crash detection feature. This is a bit of a surprise, as Apple usually reserves such features for its top-end offerings. Crash detection utilizes motion sensors and an advanced sensor-fusion algorithm to detect a severe car crash. As soon as the watch detects a crash, it checks in with the user and dials emergency services if they do not respond within a countdown of 10 seconds.

Besides crash detection, you get Apple Pay for NFC payments and Family Setup that lets you manage devices for members of your family. So your child or older parent will be able to make a phone call, send messages, and share their location even if they don’t own iPhone. Of course, all of this can be monitored by you.

Crash detection is a significant feature, and that alone makes the Apple Watch SE 2 a winner as compared to its predecessor.

Winner: Apple Watch SE 2

Price and availability

Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE side-by-side.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch SE 2 starts at $249 for the 40mm GPS, while the 44mm model costs $279. Add cellular connectivity, and the price goes up to $299 and $329, respectively. In comparison, the GPS models of Apple Watch SE were launched at $279 and $309, whereas the LTE models came in at $329 and $359, respectively.

Overall winner: Apple Watch SE 2

The new Apple Watch SE 2 is a worthy successor to the two-year-old Watch SE. It gets the latest chipset along with software, so you have nearly all the features that the higher-end Apple Watches possess. Add crash detection, and Watch SE 2 becomes irresistible, especially if you have an iPhone. This device absolutely makes sense for someone who is new to the Apple ecosystem and would settle without ECG, SpO2, and temperature tracking. It is also great for someone who plans to upgrade from something like the Apple Watch Series 3, which misses out on the watchOS 9 update.

Should you upgrade from the old Apple Watch SE to the new one? That’s a trickier question to answer, and we’re erring toward “no.” While the SE2 is clearly the more advanced Apple Watch, the upgrades are fairly minimal. If you’re buying a new Apple Watch, you should definitely pick the new SE 2 over the old one. If you’re still using an Apple Watch SE and it’s running fine, wait for the next generation.

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