The Apple Watch SE offers plenty of health-tracking features and benefits at an affordable price — but how does it compare to the more capable Apple Watch Series 5? When it launched in September 2019, the Apple Watch Series 5 brought a lot of exciting upgrades to the table. It introduced an always-on display, a new Compass app, and emergency calling for cellular variants. In short, it was one of the most capable smartwatches of its time.
The Apple Watch SE, in comparison, is positioned as an affordable smartwatch — and it’s since become one of the most appealing options in the Apple Watch lineup. Apple’s affordable smartwatch comes with similar software improvements and performance upgrades found in its higher-end counterparts. However, the Apple Watch SE’s lower price tag means it has to forego some health-tracking technology present in the Series 5.
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According to Apple, the Watch SE comes with some of the latest motion sensors — including the same accelerometer, gyroscope, and altimeter as the Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7. Despite being the budget smartwatch alternative, it also benefits from oodles of performance upgrades offered through the watchOS 8 operating system. This includes new watch faces specifically designed for the wearer’s needs, sleep tracking, low-range VO2 Max, language translation, and Focus modes to help users only focus on notifications that matter to them.
Apple’s budget smartwatch offers a lot for its $279 starting price, but not without skimping on certain essential health-monitoring technology. Unlike the Series 5, the Watch SE doesn’t have any ECG sensor whatsoever. It also lacks the always-on Retina display of the Series 5. Furthermore, the aluminum-only case finish means that the Watch SE omits the Series 5’s varied case material options (including stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic). Despite those shortcomings, one big advantage of the Apple Watch SE is its S5 chipset. This is the exact same chip powering the Apple Watch Series 5. In other words, both smartwatches have virtually identical performance and battery life — a huge testament to the Watch SE’s competitive value.
There’s also the matter of availability to consider. Apple still sells the Apple Watch SE on its official website and through retail channels like Best Buy and Amazon. On the flip side, the Apple Watch Series 5 was discontinued in September 2020. It is still possible to find the Series 5 being sold online, though only if someone’s OK getting a used or refurbished model.
So, what’s the best choice between the two? For most people, the Apple Watch SE is likely the better purchase. It’s affordable, has all of the core Apple Watch features, and is still readily sold/supported by Apple. If you need features like ECG or the always-on display, it’s probably worth skipping the Series 5 altogether and just buying the Apple Watch Series 7. Not only does it have all the benefits of the Series 5, but it also touts features like a SpO2 sensor, improved performance, a larger display, and faster charging — all starting at $399.
For those still on the fence about the Watch SE, Apple is finally prepping to launch a successor two years after it was released. It’s unclear if the new model will be called the Apple Watch SE 2 or carry forward the same name. The design is expected to remain unchanged from the original model too. However, there are a few significant upgrades that users can expect. For one, the Watch SE 2 will feature the S8 chip that will be available on the Apple Watch Series 8 and the new extreme sports version. While the S8 chip is essentially a rebadged version of the S7 (and consequently, the S6) chip, that still puts the Watch SE 2’s performance on par with Apple’s flagship models.
Another likely upgrade on the Watch SE 2 is the inclusion of an always-on display, a feature that’s available on the Watch Series 7. Finally, it’s expected to get ECG support, putting it on par with the more expensive models. Apple is expected to retain the same $279 starting price for the new model, making the new Apple Watch SE look like a tempting upgrade.