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Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Apple Watch SE: What difference does $120 make?

Last week’s Apple event came with a slew of announcements. Some were as expected, such as the new iPad Air. Other things were missing entirely, such as the new iPhone 12. However, at the event, Apple announced not one, but two Apple watches: The Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE. Apple boasts that the SE offers all the same great features at a lower cost. Well, we put the two side by side to see if the cheaper SE really stacks up against its bigger (and pricier) brother, the Series 6.

Specs

Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch SE
Display size 40mm: 1.57 inches

44mm: 1.78 inches

40mm: 1.57 inches

44mm: 1.78 inches

Body size 40mm: 40 x 34 x 10.7mm

44mm: 44 x 38 x 10.7mm

40mm: 40 x 34 x 10.4mm

44mm: 44 x 38 x 10.4mm

Resolution 40mm: 324 x 394 pixels

44mm: 368 x 448 pixels

40mm: 324 x 394 pixels

44mm: 368 x 448 pixels

Touchscreen  

40mm: 1.57-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

44mm: 1.78-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

 

40mm: 1.57-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

44mm: 1.78-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

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 10.7mm 10.4mm
Blood Oxygen Sensor
Yes 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-resistant Yes Yes
Battery life Up to 18 hours Up to 18 hours
Price From $400 From $280
Availability Apple Apple
DT review News News

Design, display, and durability

From a design perspective the Series 6 and Watch SE are very similar, though there are a few key differences as well. First, let’s look at the overall design. The watches themselves are essentially the same. Both come in either 40- or 44-millimeter cases. The 40mm base models are 2mm larger than the cases found on older Apple Watch units, like the still available Apple Watch 3. The base models are also made of aluminum. However, the Series 6 can be upgraded to stainless steel or titanium. The Apple Watch SE only has the aluminum option available.

Along with the different metals, there are also a few different colors available for the Series 6 over the SE. Both aluminum models come in the silver, space gray, and gold variants, but the Series 6 has a new blue color and the (PRODUCT) Red found in some its iPhones. The stainless steel variants get silver as well as the new graphite and improved gold options. The titanium Series 6 models come with the same silver-ish titanium and space black options previously available.

The displays are also very similar on paper, though the Series 6 does have two standout differences. Both displays are the same size and quality, and both get up to 1,000 nits brightness. That makes both comfortable to look out in well-lit settings. However, the Series 6 has an always on display, where the Watch SE does not. The stainless steel and titanium versions of the Series 6 also come with a more durable crystal sapphire display, whereas the Watch SE is stuck with the standard Ion-X glass display. Those premium metals and tougher screen make the Series 6 a slightly more durable option than the SE, but they are both waterproof up to 50 meters. Both should serve you well, though you may have to be more cautious with the SE’s display.

The Series 6 and SE have more similarities than differences, but those seemingly minor changes give the Series 6 a distinct advantage over the Apple Watch SE, a theme you will see throughout this comparison.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 6

Performance, battery life, and charging

Apple Watch Series 6

In terms of battery life and charging, the Series 6 and Watch SE are identical. Both offer up to 18 hours on a single charge and use the same magnetic charger found with other Apple Watches. However, the Series 6 apparently delivers these results despite having an always-on display.

The real difference comes in performance. The Watch SE launches with the S5 chip — the same found in the Apple Watch Series 5. The Series 6 is roughly 20% faster than the Series 5, which is fairly typical for year over year performance. That also makes the Series 6 equally as competent over the Watch SE.

It’s a difference every day users may not immediately notice, but the performance boost will add more longevity to the Series 6 overall, making it the winner of this category.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 6

Fitness and health tracking

Again, the Series 6 and Watch SE have more in common than they do different when it comes to sensors. However, the Series 6 has two distinct sensors that make it standout from its more affordable variant.

Let’s start with the similarities. Both come with optical heart sensors that will notify you if your heart rate is too low or too high. Both also come with the new always-on altimeter that will update your elevation in real time. They also both have the usual GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope,, and compass as well as cellular options. Both have second generation microphones for better call quality, and both have speakers that are 50 percent louder.

Now for the differences: The Series 6 comes with the new blood oxygen sensor. Essentially, the Series 6 has an array of infrared lights on the underside of the case that detects oxygen levels. Blood oxygen has been a crucial measurement during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also a good measure of overall wellness.

The Series 6 also comes with an ECG, which has been on other main entries in the Apple Watch series, but is absent on the SE. The SE can still measure your heart rate, but the ECG is a more comprehensive test that can help doctors detect irregularities in your heart’s rhythm.

In all likelihood, the features on the Apple Watch SE are more than enough for the average user. However, the the blood oxygen sensor and the ECG app gives the Series 6 a slight edge, particularly if you have a chronic condition or are concerned about your health in any way. That difference once again gives the Series 6 the lead in this category.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 6

Software and updates

Both the Apple Watch SE and Series 6 will launch with WatchOS 7. This update has some pretty notable enhancements, and all of them are available on both the SE and the Series 6.

The biggest addition is the new Family Setup. With this feature, family members without iPhones can use the Apple Watch. The user gets their own number and data plan, letting them use all of the great features of the Watch, including messages, GPS, and the robust fitness options. This feature is ideal for kids who don’t have smartphones or elderly family members you would like to keep tabs on. For kids, activity rings have been uniquely revamped. The rings now check how long they have been moving as opposed to how many calories they’ve burnt. The main user can use Family Setup to check the location of their other users, which a safety feature many parents will love. The main user can also approve contacts and apps, as well as set Schooltime mode so it doesn’t distract kids during school hours.

The update also brings Memoji to the Apple Watch, so users can create their own custom avatars that they can share as stickers in the Messages app. The Memoji can also take over the watch face. Speaking of watch faces, WatchOS 7 has several new ones. Some of them are stylish, others are more niche. There are also more complications in WatchOS 7, which lets people create and share their own custom watch faces. There is also a new Sleep app. The app will help you create a schedule, track your sleep, as well as automatically turn on Do Not Disturb and stop your screen from waking. The app also uses the accelerometer to track subtle movement changes to register how restful your sleep is.

Probably the biggest incoming change, though, is the Fitness app. The original app has been overhauled and has new workouts. It still has the activity rings and competitions, so you can keep yourself on track by challenging friends and family. However, it is Fitness+ coming this fall that is the most appealing new feature. Fitness+ is a new service costing only $10 a month, which severely undercuts similar fitness subscriptions. Fitness+ is also built around the Apple Watch and includes a bevy of workouts for all types of users.

All of these features make WatchOS 7 one of the more exciting software updates to the lineup in recent years, and all of these features are coming to the SE and Series 6, making this section a tie.

Winner: Tie

Price and availability

Both watches were available right after the Apple event. Buying them directly from the Apple website gives you access to Apple’s Watch Studio, where you get full customization options for your watch. The Watch SE starts at $279, with the cellular option starting at $329. The Series 6 starts at $399, with the cellular option starting at $499.

The SE’s price may be tempting for users who are thinking about the Apple Watch for the first time. It offers the most essential new features, cutting cost in all the right areas to make it more appealing to users who haven’t made the plunge. However, the Series 6 is ultimately the better value. That’s likely intentional, after all we are talking about Apple. However, the more robust customization options, the more powerful S6 chip, and the additional sensors make the Series 6 the biggest bang for the buck.

Winner: Apple Series 6

Conclusion

The Apple Watch Series 6 is undoubtedly the better device. The results here shouldn’t be all that surprising. The Series 6 is the premium smart watch option, with the SE being geared more toward budget shoppers and first-time buyers. If you’re looking to upgrade your current Apple Watch or simply want the best of the best, the Series 6 is the obvious choice. However, if you’re new to the Apple Watch, there is still a compelling case for the SE, which offers the essential and latest features of the device at a lower cost of entry.

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