Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen) Review: Pushing Value

Wondering how Apple improved the Watch SE in its second-generation? Read on for our thoughts after a week of testing.

Back in 2020, Apple released the first-generation Apple Watch SE. A kind of Frankenstein’s monster in the best way that took parts from the then brand new Series 6 along with the previous generations, to create a more affordable wearable that still had all the elements of an Apple Watch.

And for 2022, Apple’s  (AAPL) – Get Apple Inc. Report keeping that working formula, upping the specs, and chopping the price. For $249 you get an Apple Watch with a Retina display that’s not always-on, the ability to track activities, heart rate, and sleep, longer battery life and improved performance.

And here’s the scoop — the Apple Watch SE is best for if you’re new to Apple Watch, don’t need all the health features, a display that is always-on, or if you have an older model like a Series 1, 2, or 3.

Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS in Starlight, Midnight, or Silver ($249; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS in Starlight, Midnight, or Silver ($279; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS + Cellular in Starlight, Midnight, or Silver ($299; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS + Cellular in Starlight, Midnight, or Silver ($329; Amazon.com)

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A Nearly Identical Build With a New Back

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Much like the iPhone 14, the second-generation Apple Watch SE looks a lot like the first one. You can still pick from two sizes, either a 40mm or 44mm, to best fit your wrist. And it’s all housed in a now mostly aluminum case in three colors: Midnight, Silver, or Starlight. The big design change is that the rear, basically the back of the Apple Watch SE, is now a composite material. Apple says that as a whole the carbon footprint has been reduced by 80%.

You won’t necessarily notice that in everyday use, what you will notice is that the colors look more uniform all around and that it’s noticeably lighter on your wrist. It’s between 9% to 13% lighter depending on the screen size. And as I noticed from my first band swap, the press in buttons are still aluminum to ensure the band is securely locked in.

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Most critically, the Apple Watch SE still looks like an Apple Watch. The Digital Crown and Side Button still live on the right, both are still quite responsive to input as well. The Midnight variant that I’ve been using for a week looks pretty nice and still stands as a dark blue. Though it can sometimes look black depending on how the light hits it.

You can easily personalize the look though by swapping for a different band, and the second-generation SE still works with all previous bands. And that’s awesome.

The only other change I noticed is the rear glass, above the second generation heart-rate sensor, has a new circular line design in the glass. It doesn’t impact, positively or negatively, any of the function, but it’s a neat design change.

The Apple Watch SE has been super comfortable to wear for the past few days as well. It will still come in the box with a band, as well as a standard magnetic charging puck. Fast charging is still reserved for the Series 8 and Ultra.

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Swift Performance and Longer Battery Life

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Powering the second-generation Apple Watch SE is the SE SiP Apple-made processor. And in my testing, everything runs swiftly here. watchOS 9 is able to navigate around with no stutters or application crashes, applications open quickly and respond fast to inputs, and most importantly there’s no big dive into the battery.

In fact, Apple says this is up to 20% faster than the first-generation SE and in more intense use-cases, like starting a workout or taking a heart-rate reading, this does beat out the first generation by at most a second. You’ll see a larger performance jump if you’re coming from a Series 3 which at times was downright slow in my comparison testing, especially with wrapping or starting a workout.

The key advantage here though is that performance isn’t really a question, the Apple Watch SE has enough power to do what one is capable of doing on this model wearable. You also get access to a bunch of new watchOS 9 software features. Including a few new watch faces like Modular, PlayTime, and Portrait which are all responsive here. You can also track different workout types and take advantage of a new Compass app.

I decided to go for a stroll in Wave Hill, in NY, to test out the backtracking functionality. Essentially within the Compass app you can start this mode and it will track your route. You can even mark waypoints— like an exceptionally good looking tree, a spot to set up a camp, or even a great vantage point— and if in the end you need some help getting back, it can let you retrace your steps. Showing you which general direction to move in as well as the amount of feet away.

I’ve also been using the larger, 44mm version of Apple Watch SE and as someone who was previously rocking a Series 7 everyday, the jump back to a non always-on display is a bit challenging. But for most folks, you likely won’t be jumping from an Apple Watch with that display type to the SE.

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And it’s plenty simply to get the screen to turn on here — you can either tap it or just raise your wrist. The Retina LTPO OLED display will quickly light up and in especially bright scenarios it can get bright enough so that you can read it. To be specific, it has up to 1,000 nits of brightness which is the same spec as the Series 8.

I imagine a lot of folks will opt for this as the first Apple Watch or from a previous model, maybe the Series 3 which is no longer getting new software updates. And in comparison to that model, you’re getting a screen that is 30% larger. Which means it is easier to read text, browse photos, and control music playback right from your wrist.

The other new feature packaged inside watchOS 9 is a fix for an age-old request about the Apple Watch. It’s always been said to have “all-day battery life,” which could vary from day to day or user to user. Someone who tracks a lot of workouts or takes a bevy of calls on their wrists, would need to charge more frequently. However, in my testing so far the Apple Watch SE easily lasts a full day, from about 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. without the new charge during the day, unless I wanted to use it for sleep tracking. In which case I’d toss it on the charger for about 30 minutes to an hour before bed or right after I woke up. It takes a little bit longer to charge than a Series 7 or Series 8 which support fast charging, but it’s not the end of the world.

However with watchOS 9, there is now a low-power mode which can seriously stretch the battery life. You still get activity tracking and fall detection, as well as other core features. What you’re missing is background health checks, like the Watch taking heart-rate measurements. And with this engaged I got to about a day and half of use, with me still periodically raising my wrist to check something. I’ll report back on this as I use it a bit longer as well.

Activity and Sleep Tracking, Plus a New Safety Feature

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The other half of the Apple Watch is using it for health and activity tracking. And to be clear, if you want the Apple Watch that can take an ECG (electrocardiogram), blood oxygen, or skin temperature readings, this is not the model for you. You’ll want to opt for the Series 8, or score a discount on the Series 7 which is only missing skin temperature measurements.

For all else, the Apple Watch SE is just a great entry into wearable health and activity tracking, but it’s downright fantastic. Via the Workout App you can track a plethora of workouts like yoga, indoor or outdoor cycling, strength training, dance, walks, meditation, and swimming, among many others. When you start tracking a workout, it tracks key metrics like activity time, heart rate, and calories burned. And in my testing on various workouts like walks, strength, mediation, and cycling, the Apple Watch SE is as accurate and in-line as the Series 7 and Series 8.

Apple Watch Series 7 41mm GPS + Cellular in (PRODUCT) RED ($379, originally $499; Amazon.com)Apple Watch Series 8 41mm GPS in Midnight ($399; amazon.com)

Similarly, the main health tracking chops on here is heart-rate tracking from a second-generation sensor — in fact, the same one as on the first generation Apple Watch. It’s been just as accurate and fairly quick with getting a reading. You can view current, resting, and walking average heart rate on the watch itself. Of course historical health data from steps to heart rate to how much you exercise is available within the Health app on the iPhone.

You can also use the Apple Watch SE for sleep tracking and it got a big update within watchOS 9. Essentially allowing you to see total sleep, as well as total time in bed, but also more in-depth metrics like how long you slept in REM, core, and deep stages. And after a few nights it will also share if you’ve been consistent or not. Like Sleep Tracking on any other Apple Watch, you’ll need to work charging in between your schedule before you go to bed or after you wake up.

Lastly, the Apple Watch SE can also now detect if you’re in a car crash. And if that sounds familiar, it’s also available on the iPhone 14 as well as the Pros. Essentially, it’s measuring force through a number of sensors as well as speed and sound to detect if you’re in a crash. I haven’t tested this, but in the event the Apple Watch detects one, it will give you a few seconds before alerting the authorities and your emergency contacts. As I said in the iPhone review, it’s a feature you’ll hopefully never have to use.

Is the Apple Watch SE second-generation Worth it?

Jacob Krol/TheStreet

At $249.99 for the 40mm GPS or $279.99 for the 44mm GPS, there is no better value in the smartwatch market and no better value in the Apple Watch lineup, than the second-generation Apple Watch SE.

It’s great as an entry-level Apple Watch but also if you’ve been hanging on to a Series 0, 1, 2, or 3 it’s an excellent upgrade. One that improves on nearly everything, from performance to display size and activity tracking. If you already have an Apple Watch with an Always-On display, I’d recommend looking at the Series 8, Ultra, as well as a Series 6 or Series 7 if you can still get one.

In its second-generation Apple cut the price, updated the design, and tossed in a new processor. Not a bad upgrade at all, but critically it still makes the Apple Watch SE an unbeatable value.

Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS in Starlight ($249; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS in Midnight ($249; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS in Silver ($249; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS in Starlight ($279; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS in Midnight ($279; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS in Silver ($279; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS + Cellular in Starlight ($299; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS + Cellular in Midnight ($299; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 40mm GPS + Cellular in Silver ($299; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS + Cellular in Starlight ($329; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS + Cellular in Midnight ($329; Amazon.com)Apple Watch SE second-gen 44mm GPS + Cellular in Silver ($329; Amazon.com)

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.

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