The Apple Watch SE: Crazy Value
The Apple Watch SE is a budget smartwatch released by Apple alongside the flagship Apple Watch Series 6 to serve as a more affordable alternative. Released in September 2020, it was the first of its kind to be released since the Apple Watch’s debut “Series 0” was released in 2015. Currently, it is being sold at approximately $229 USD at major retailers alongside the older Series 3 (2017, $169) and the current flagship Series 7 (2021, $339).
Who the SE is for
Currently, you can buy the Series 3, SE, and 7 directly from Apple or from most major retailers new. However, pretty much every watch model from the Series 0 to the Series 6 is also available from third parties, whether that be new, used, refurbished, or in another condition. This presents a wide range of choices for anyone looking to purchase an Apple Watch and doesn’t restrict them to the current lineup officially available from Apple. Of course, it’s always good to know what you’re doing before purchasing a used device.
However, the special thing about the SE is similar to how the SE phones in the iPhone lineup work— old or cheaper components are used with the newest software to create a phone that maybe isn’t top of the line but is suitable and proves to be valuable for a wide demographic. Specfically, the SE uses the same screen and has the same amount of RAM, storage, nearly the same amount of durability certifications, and a lot of the same sensors as the Series 6 for 70% of the price (MSRP).
That being said, the SE’s processor is a year old (making it approximately 20% slower than the Series 6’s), there are no oxygen uptake or blood oxygen sensors, and the screen’s glass is weaker. However, the $120 difference in price can be great for people who don’t need to utilize the advantages that the Series 6 or 7 have over the SE.
watchOS & the Apple Watch
watchOS is the name of the operating system that the Apple Watch line runs on. Since the release of the Series 0 in 2015, watchOS has gone through 7 iterations (at the time of writing, the latest version is 8.3)— on average, one for each generation of watch that has been released.
Every model from the Series 3 on supports the latest version of watchOS (8.3). The Series 1 and 2 had support dropped on version 6.3 in 2020, and the Series 0 had support dropped on version 4.3.2 in 2018. The Series 3 already has “limited support” in versions 7 and 8, so it is likely that any support for the Series 3 will be dropped soon.
To use watchOS, you either need to have a compatible iPhone. As of watchOS 6, an iPhone 6s or later running the latest version of iOS is required. Alternatively, Apple also offers the option to have someone else with an iPhone set up the watch you, although the experience is somewhat limited without an iPhone. Since a lot of the Apple Watch’s functionality is based around connectivity with the iPhone and the rest of the Apple ecosystem, a lot of the usefulness is lost. Nevertheless, the watch can connect to Wi-Fi or use a cell network for data (on the more expensive cellular models) for tasks that require internet connectivity.
A basic rundown of the UI
The Apple Watch interface has a very small learning curve and is something you can get used to in a short amount of time. As expected, the “home screen” of the watch shows the time in a watch face. By default, the watch face is a simple analog clock with a couple other widgets showing (known as complications).
Navigating to apps
Like on phones and other smart watches, third-party apps can be installed on your Apple Watch via the App Store. Only apps that are specifically designed for the Apple Watch are available— not all iOS apps— but a lot of apps for iOS also have a separately-designed companion app for the Watch.
There are also a ton of pre-installed apps on the Watch from Apple to give you a starter kit of tools to get a bit more than basic functionality on your Apple Watch. A lot of them mirror those that are pre-installed on iPhones, including (but not limited to) Mail, Calculator, Messages, Voice Memos, and Phone. Some other ones that are Watch-exclusive are the Heart Rate app, Mindfulness, and Noise.
To access all apps installed on your watch, you will need to open the app drawer. You can do this by pressing down on the digital crown (that little wheel on the side), which will reveal a grid of app icons. This grid can be changed to a list, which lists all of the installed apps in alphabetical order. Turning the digital crown will zoom in or out on the grid view and will scroll up and down on the list view. Swiping on the screen will move the icons in the grid view. Tapping an app icon or listing will open that app.
To view recent apps, you can click the side button to see all apps open on your watch in order of time since last use. Swiping or scrolling the digital crown will move up and down the list of recent apps. Another way to move to each recent app is to double-press the digital crown, which will immediately bring you to the last app you used without having to go to the full list.
Payments and the power menu
The Apple Watch supports payment via Apple Pay, much like the iPhone. Double-tapping the side button will get you to the payments menu, where you can pay by holding your watch near a supported card reader (very similar to how Apple Pay works on an iPhone).
The power menu can be accessed by holding down the side button, where there are three options: to power the device off, open your medical ID (if you have one set up), or make an Emergency SOS call.
Much like an iPhone (or pretty much any smartphone), you can swipe your finger down from the top of the screen to access notifications. Some notifications are directly mirrored from your paired iPhone, but others will show on your phone but not your watch (e.g. the Health app’s bedtime reminder and the Screen Time’s weekly report) and others will show on your watch but not your phone (e.g. Activity goals and mindfulness reminders).
For apps that support it, clicking on a notification will bring you to the app on your watch or show extra detail like an attached image. For apps that don’t, any description given with the notification will be expanded and an option to dismiss the notification will appear at the bottom of the screen.
The Control Center
Like other Apple devices, the Apple Watch has a Control Center— albeit, a dumbed-down, more simplistic version fitted for the Watch specifically. There are 15 (16 for the cellular version) possible tiles that can be added to the Control Center, although not all of them are available all the time:
- Toggle cellular (only available for cellular models): turn on or turn off cellular data usage.
- Toggle Wi-Fi: turn on or turn off Wi-Fi usage.
- Toggle Schooltime (for managed watches only): turn on or turn off the Schooltime feature.
- Ping: make your paired iPhone play a tone to aid in locating it. There is also an option to make the screen flash by holding down the ping tile.
- Battery percentage: shows the battery percentage on the tile. Clicking it will bring up a screen that allows you to enter the Power Reserve mode, which preserves battery life by disabling all features except for the clock (accessable by clicking the side button).
- Toggle silent mode: turn on or turn off silent mode. Silent mode silences all sound that comes from your watch (most notably notifications and alerts) but doesn’t disable haptic feedback. While charging, alarms and timers still will sound. This silent mode is different from the one on your iPhone and will not synchronize.
- Lock watch: if a passcode is set, this option will lock your watch.
- Toggle theater mode: turn on or turn off theater mode. Theater mode prevents the watch screen from turning on when your wrist is raised, turns on silent mode, and makes your Walkie-Talkie status unavailable as to not serve as a distraction in a theater or theater-like setting.
- Toggle Walkie-Talkie availability: Turn on or turn off Walkie-Talkie availability. The Walkie-Talkie feature allows you to interact with other Apple Watch users by using the watch as a mock walkie-talkie. By holding down the talk button on the screen, you can talk and send a message to the person on the other end of the connection. Releasing it will allow you to listen for any reply— much like a real walkie-talkie.
- Choose a focus state: select between Do Not Disturb, Gaming Focus, Personal Focus, Sleep Focus, and Work focus (if set up). These will sync with any other Apple devices that support focus states, so it’s an fast and discreet way to change focus states. Focus states allow you to select apps and people to “block” on a certain schedule to help you focus on a task. In supported apps, it can also tell other people that you are busy in a focus state. Learn more at this support article.
- Toggle flashlight: turn on or turn off the flashlight. Since the Apple Watch doesn’t have an actual flashlight module, it turns up the brightness and uses the screen as a means for illumination. You can choose between it being solid white, flashing white, and red.
watchOS vs. Wear OS
watchOS’s main competitor is Android’s entrance into the wearable operating system market— Google’s Wear OS. Wear OS came approximately a year earlier than watchOS and, of course, has some notable differences— both good and bad.
Updates for Apple Watch devices come quite fast and consistently throughout the lineup. Additionally, they have a pretty good support lifetime: the Series 3 is currently the longest-running model in terms of support, being released in 2017 and likely getting the ax later this year, totaling to five years of support. Because Apple builds both the hardware and software for the Apple Watch lineup and only has to be concerned about putting out software for one line of watches, the speed and quality of which their updates are released is quite like that of their other device lineups (e.g. the iPhone, iPad, MacBook devices).
On the contrary, much like Android, Wear OS updates are not distributed very quickly or smoothly. This is a fundamental problem due to the fact that many manufacturers rely on Wear OS for their watches, quite unlike watchOS which only runs on Apple Watches. Nevertheless, this is still a big problem. Additionally, many manufacturers do not support their devices for very long, with many watches only getting one or two years’ worth of feature updates. Wear OS 3, the current iteration of Wear OS, is based on year-old Android 11 and (at the time of writing) is only available for the Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 lineup. However, securing a large part of the wearable market share is likely not a very big concern for Google, as it accounts for such a minuscule part of their revenue. Market share and revenue matter more for Apple, as the Apple Watch is a device that partakes in the Apple ecosystem— essentially the only thing they’re selling.
Even if Google doesn’t seem to care about how Wear OS is doing, there are of course the fundamental features that come with it. Both platforms of course do simple things like show the time and weather, but what more can they do?
- Fitness & Health
- Track step counts and count towards a daily goal
- Track workouts such as runs, walks, and bike rides. Supported workouts vary by watch and between Apple Watch devices and Wear OS devices, but a list for both Wear OS and watchOS can be found on the website of their respective manufacturers.
- Check heartrate (this varies by model, but most modern watches have a heartrate sensor that is reasonably accurate)
- Show and respond to texts, calls, emails, and other messages from supported apps
- On-watch apps
- Check stock prices
- Translate between languages
- Use maps for directions
- View reminders
- Set timers, use the stopwatch, and set alarms
- Use third-party apps which can be downloaded from their respective app stores
- Listen to music or podcasts either stored on the watch or streamed from a streaming service such as Spotify
- Personal assistants
- Use either Google Assistant (Wear OS) or Siri (watchOS) to answer common queries and perform simple actions, activateable via voice
Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list and that the capabilities of both platforms change with each coming update. However, this gives us a good rundown of the things that both platforms are capable of, which should be more or less expected from a few-hundred-dollar smartwatch. Nevertheless, there are differences between Wear OS and watchOS that can affect the user experience in a significant way.
Generally, if the capabilities listed above are fine with you, there probably won’t be a super large difference between your experience with the two operating systems— at least compared to those of someone who would be referred to as a power user. For those people, the more nuanced details probably matter more, and the specific type of watch to be bought takes more effort to decide.
Hardware differences between Wear OS watches and Apple Watch devices are also a big factor that should be taken into consideration. Smartwatches generally come with a plethora of health features that can better gauge your health status; generally, they will be able to track the number of steps you take, the amount of sleep you get, your heart rate, various workouts, and stuff like that. More sophisticated watches can have barometers, blood pressure sensors, electrocardiograms, maximal oxygen capacity sensors, blood oxygen sensors, altimeters, and other sensors that help to create a more accurate reading of your health.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 4, the most recent device released in the Galaxy Watch lineup and one of the only competitors of the Apple Watch Series 7, has a lot of the same sensors that the Series 7 has, but lacks in some areas— it doesn’t have an altimeter, blood oxygen, or max blood capacity sensor, features which many people find useful.
However, the sensors that are on any given watch are not the only hardware-related things you should consider. The Series 7 edges out the Galaxy Watch 4 in the amount of internal storage it has (32GB vs 16GB), the construction (a titanium version of the Series 7 with strengthened glass is available), and the screen (which can be larger by up to half an inch depending on the model you get). However, the Galaxy Watch 4 is considerably lighter (30g vs 43g), has stronger glass (against the aluminum Apple Watch model), supports Qi wireless charging (all Apple Watches only charge via a special magnetic charger), and has a higher resolution screen (slightly). I suggest carefully looking at the small details that differ between any two watches.
Synchronizing with your phone
Synchronizing your watch with your phone or similar device unlocks the full functionality and allows you to do a lot more with your watch than if you just used it standalone. Wear OS watches usually sync with the Google Fit app on Android phones or iPhones (on which the functionality is slightly reduced) and Apple Watch devices pair with the Apple Health & Watch apps on iPhones.
Both apps have a lot of the basic features, which generally consist of viewing data gathered by the watch— step count, sleep, heart rate, and more. Futher analyses of this data shown as graphs are also available.
A fundamental difference between the way that Google Fit and Apple Health track fitness is by the metrics they use. Google Fit tracks steps and “heart points” (a unit which represents the amount of high-intensity exercise you do), both of which can reach settable goals. Apple Health tracks active calories burnt, exercise minutes, and “stand hours” (hours in which at least one minute of standing time is achieved). Just with this information, other data like distance moved and flights climbed can also be implied and calculated.
Aside from fitness, there are features that phones can be of use for smartwatch users (or vice versa). The large majority of smartwatches can show notifications, calls, and texts received on the phones, with a lot of them allowing you to take calls or reply to texts or notifications. The virtual assistant for most smartwatches’ phone operating system counterpart is also available for limited functionality (Google Assistant for Wear OS watches— although Bixby for Samsung ones— and Siri for watchOS watches). Simple queries such as searching for answers on the web or asking to set a timer or alarm are possible, but more advanced functions that are available on a phone may not be available on your watch.
Watch faces are a big part of the Apple Watch. They can be used to check the weather, open apps, view your activity, and even check the time just at a glance. Watch faces are extremely customizable, coming in a plethora of different types, the vast majority of which can be customized to be unique. Certain watch faces have features, such as moving through an album of pictures on a tap, showing the solar phases with a scroll, or generating a unique face on each open. Each face has a set amount of complications, which are little widgets that show information from an app and can be pressed to open said app. Some apps may have multiple complications to show different things, and which can be of different sizes.
Some watch faces are only available under certain conditions. For example, the GMT face is only available on Series 4 watches and later, the Contour face is only available on Series 7 watches, and the Explorer face is only available on the cellular versions of each Apple Watch. Certain complications like the cellular service control one can also be restricted to some models. The region in which the Apple Watch is in may also affect availability of some watch faces.
You can have multiple watch faces available on your watch at a time, which you can switch between by swiping either left or right (the order of the watch faces can be set in the Watch iPhone app). There is no practical limit on the amount of watch faces you can have, but after having a few, there is little reason to have more.
Using your Watch in tandem with your iPhone
The Apple ecosystem, because it is so closed off, has a sense of continuity, fluidity, and connectedness. In the same way that other devices like the iPad or MacBook connect with your iPhone, so can your Apple Watch. In fact, the Apple Watch is essentially built as an extension of your phone— to be used when you don’t need a full-featured phone for performing simple tasks like checking notifications or replying to a friend’s text. While other smartwatches can perform the same simple tasks, the connectedness that the Apple ecosystem provides really proves itself in this department where Android Wear and Galaxy watches fall short.
The ability to send texts via iMessage or make a FaceTime call on your Apple Watch is something that most of the other devices in the Apple ecosystem have. Setting your focus state to Do Not Disturb or at work or asleep is consistent throughout your devices, all connected through your Apple ID. Because Apple makes loads of first-party apps as well as the software and hardware that make up their devices, more than just specific things like focus states can be used between multiple devices. If I start navigation to a nearby coffee shop on my iPhone, the same directions will instantly pop up on my Watch and MacBook— something that doesn’t work with Google Maps.
As you may already be aware, Siri is Apple’s virtual assistant— a personal receptionist that can answer questions, search the web, or perform simple tasks, similar to Google’s Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, or Samsung’s Bixby. Siri was originally unveiled with the iPhone 4s in 2011, originally only being available for iPhones. Since then, it has also moved to MacBooks, iPads, HomePods, and, of course, Apple Watches.
Siri can be activated using the “Hey, Siri” keyword (if activated in Settings) that is available for every other Siri-enabled device or by holding down the digital crown on the side of the watch. From there, you can use Siri as you normally would on any other device, albeit with a few shortcomings.
The implied disadvantages of having Siri on a watch as opposed to a phone or computer are definitely there. Since the Apple Watch technically doesn’t have a browser, it can’t search things up and will usually defer to the connected iPhone. Other things that are obviously phone-dependent won’t work well either, such as taking notes in the notes app or listing your contacts. And while there are a lot of things that Siri on the Apple Watch can do, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be done fast. Due to the downscaled hardware in the Apple Watch, there is a noticeable lag when asking Siri to do things when compared to more powerful devices like the iPhone or iPad. However, there is also a definite difference in speed between Apple Watch generations, so if that is something that matters to you, maybe the Series 7 is a good choice over the SE.
The cellular versions of the Apple Watch
Along with the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth-only versions of each Apple Watch, there are cellular versions that can connect to mobile networks when a valid SIM card with valid service is put in it. Because these don’t require your iPhone in close proximity, it is more convenient to run errands or go on a walk without having multiple devices on you. However, whether or not this extra feature is worth the money is another thing.
When you first purchase an Apple Watch, it comes with either a solid-colored silicone or Milanese steel band in the packaging along with the small, rounded, rectangular-shaped Watch device. The actual Apple Watch doesn’t have the band permanently attached onto it— rather, it has secure clip mechanisms on both the top and bottom which allow watch bands to clip into place with just a slide.
Watch bands come in many shapes, sizes, textures, and colors, and are not limited to the selection that are sold by default with each Apple Watch. Apple themselves has an extremely large selection of bands that you can choose from and purchase on their website or at a store, with many different product lines that serve different purposes, feel different, and look different. Some, like the Sport Bands and Solo Loops, are made from waterproof silicone that might suit a swimmer; others, like the Leather or Stainless Steel bands, have a more refined and classy look for people who care about that. Additionally, Apple has partnered with the luxury brand Hermès to bring many extremely premium bands— many of which cost more than an actual watch.
Apple’s first-party bands, as said before, come in a super wide variety of materials and colors. There are 8 main band types that are offered:
- Solo Loop: a stretchy silicone band type that doesn’t have a clasp in the middle of the band. Because of this, Solo Loops are less adjustable but are quicker to put on and have a cleaner look. Because they are less adjustable, Solo Loops come in many different lengths. To get the best fit watch band, you can print out Apple’s wrist measurement tool to find your wrist size. At the the time of writing, Solo Loops are sold at USD $49 each.
- Braided Solo Loop: a braided yarn band type that doesn’t have a clasp in the middle of the band, similar to the Solo Loop differing only in material. At the time of writing, Braided Solo Loops are sold at USD $99 each.
- Sport Band: a stretchy silicone band type that is generally sold as the “default” band bundled with Apple Watches. There is a clasp with a pin that can be adjusted to fit into 7 different holes to accomodate for different wrist sizes. At the time of writing, Sport Bands are sold at USD $49 each.
- Sport Loop: a woven nylon band type that has a “hook-and-loop” fastening mechanism, different from that of the Sport Band. Sport Loops come in patterns more than they do solid colors as featured in the previous three band types, with examples such as “Blue Jay/Abyss Blue” andd “Nectarine/Peony”. At the time of writing, Sport Loops are sold at USD $49 each.
- Nike Sport Band: a Nike-styled version of the Sport Band; there is a duo-tone (from front-to-back) color scheme with a very holey design. There are three rows of holes all around the watch, all of which are the same size as the one usually used to clasp the band to itself— so, theoretically, you could use any of the holes to fasten the band together. The material is “lightweight fluoroelastomer” as described on Apple’s website. At the time of writing, Nike Sport Bands are sold at USD $49 each.
- Nike Sport Loop: as expected, a Nike-styled version of the Sport Loop. Unlike the Nike Sport Band, there is no functional difference between the regular Sport Loop and the Nike-branded one. There is, however, a Nike logo on the strap that wraps all the way around. At the time of writing, Nike Sport Loops are sold at USD $49 each.
- Leather: a more luxurious band type that comes in two kinds: Leather Link, which has a fastening mechanism that comprises of a lot of magnetic pill-shaped bumps on the band that attach to each other— and Modern Buckle, a design that doesn’t make use of the magnets (and thus, is not bumpy), but rather a metal buckle that fastens the way you’d assume it does. At the time of writing, the Leather Link bands are USD $99 each and the Modern Buckle bands are USD $149 each.
- Stainless Steel: a metallic band type that comes in two kinds: Milanese, which is made up of a lot of super-small chains that are connected to create a rough but refined texture— and Link, which is made up of a bunch of linked pieces of metal commonly seen on other watches. At the time of writing, Milanese bands are USD $99 each and Link bands are USD $349 each for Silver or $449 each for Space Black.
- Hermès bands: Hermès bands are made in conjunction with the luxury brand Hermès to create high-quality and highly-priced watch bands. The Jumping Single Tour bands are textile bands with a metal clasp and colorful pattern. The Leather bands are made of calfskin leather with the same clasping mechanism as the Jumping Single Tour bands. Depending on the band material and color, Hermès bands can range from US $319 to $539, possibly costing more than the Apple Watch itself.
Third-party bands are a bit of a controversial topic in the Apple Watch community. Some Watch users complain that, due to their unofficial status and likeliness to have been massed produced in a factory with poor quality control, these bands are prone to breakage and potential damage to your Apple Watch. Others, however, have had little to no problem with cheap bands produced by companies other than Apple, going as far as to accuse Apple of overcharging customers for their bands.
An important difference to note is the distinction between cheap, mass-produced, generic bands that come off of sites like Amazon and AliExpress and ones that are made from a third party but are made with quality in mind (and are therefore more expensive, although still mostly cheaper than Apple’s).
Searches for “Apple Watch Band” on either Amazon or AliExpress will mostly return silicone bands priced at just a few bucks produced cheaply in a factory with no quality control. While your mileage obviously varies, many Watch users find it not worth the potential breakage of your Apple Watch if the silicone on the band breaks or if the clasp snaps one day. Another concern is the size— since many of these bands are cheaply made, quality control is generally not great and size discrepancies between bands and their listings can occur.
However, there are third-party bands that are not designed to be inferior clones of the bands that Apple themselves sells. Companies like Nomad and B&R Bands make bands with original designs and quality in mind for those who don’t like Apple’s offerings. Of course, these are more expensive than the aforementioned knockoff clones (and can sometimes be more expensive than some first-party Apple bands), but they offer more variety in terms of design and material.
3 vs. SE vs. 7
So, maybe you’re set on getting an Apple Watch. You like the connectedness you get with Apple’s ecosystem— or maybe the options you get with watch bands— or the customizability that is available with the wide array of watch faces. However, you haven’t decided which specific model to get yet. While they might all look similar, all 9 models of the Apple Watch have their nuances (however little) that separate them enough to be able to make a difference in someone’s purchasing decision.
Currently, the only ones on sale officially are the Series 3 (flagship from 2017), the SE (midrange from 2020), and the Series 7 (flagship from 2021). They cost USD $199, USD $279, and USD $399 respectively, although you will likely be able to get a lower price from a third-party retailer.
As mentioned before, you can also purchase used Apple Watches used from sites like eBay or Swappa. Because they are second-hand, you are not limited to purchasing one of the three currently-sold Watch models and can choose from a variety of different styles. However, make sure that you are aware of the pitfalls that come with buying a used device. While you can get some good value for the price, some purchases might make you wish you just bought the device new.
Here, I’ll focus mainly on the three models that are currently being sold by Apple. However, if you want, you can look at a detailed feature comparison between all of the Apple Watch models on Wikipedia.
The Series 3 was released in 2017, making it the oldest of the three that are currently out. Because of this, the feature set is less impressive than that of anything released after it, and sluggishness that comes with the older processor and fewer yearly updates make the Series 3 an unattractive choice for a lot of people. However, it packs a lot of the same basic features as other Apple Watch models, has a decently-sized screen, and comes with all of the benefits of the Apple ecosystem. However, the most compelling part of the Series 3 may be the price— at just $199, it is priced at half the current selling price of the Series 7.
Unfortunately, it seems as if there is a large divide between two “eras” of Apple Watch generations between the Series 3 and Series 4 (at least in terms of features). Without a Series 4 or above, you miss out on the year-by-year updated things like the system on chip, battery, and software updates, but a lot of other big features as well: an ECG sensor, the 2nd generation heartrate sensor, an LTPO display, the size bump from 38/42mm to 40/44mm, the change from a 32-bit architecture to a 64-bit one, an improved accelerometer, and a better gyroscope to name some. This is a slight turn-off for some people (me included), and is one of the larger reasons I went with the SE instead.
Deciding between the Series 3 and the SE is leveraging the “first predominant design of the Apple Watch” for $80 (at MSRP). Saving $80 will lose you the following features:
- Processor: The SE uses the Apple S5 chip, which can be up to twice as fast as the Series 3’s Apple S3 chip. The S5 also uses a 64-bit architecture in comparison to the S3’s 32-bit architecture.
- System memory: The SE has 1 GB of internal RAM, more than the Series 3’s 768 MB. This helps the watch run more apps concurrently without running into issues.
- Storage: The SE has 2-4 times as much internal storage as the Series 3— 32 GB vs 8 GB for the non-cellular version and 16GB for the cellular version. More storage means more apps can be installed on your watch.
- Sensors & connectivity: The Series 3 uses an older version of Bluetooth, has an older heartrate sensor model, has an older accelerometer, has a less accurate gyroscope, and has no ECG sensor. For people who find these sensors helpful in keeping themselves in shape and healthy, the less capable Series 3 might just be a deal-breaker.
- Display type: The SE has an LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) OLED display, a panel type that allows the display to modulate the refresh rate of the screen. This means that the display doesn’t have to constantly display the maximum amount of frames per second when it’s not necessary, helping increase battery life. The Series 3 has a 2nd generation OLED display, which does not have this capability.
- Display size & screen size: Continuing the topic of the screen, the SE has a larger and higher resolution display than the Series 3 for both of the small and large sizes that Apple offers. For the small size, the SE has a 40mm 324×294 pixel display, with a pixel density of about 326 pixels per inch. The Series 3 has a 38mm 272×340 pixel display, with a pixel density of about 290 pixels per inch. For the large size, the SE has a 44mm 368×448 pixel display, with a pixel density of about 326 pixels per inch. The Series 3 has a 42mm 312×390 pixel display, with a pixel density of about 303 pixels per inch.
- Software support: A very large difference between the Series 3 and SE are the years that they were released. The Series 3 was released in 2017, while the SE was released in 2020. With the Series 2 already being out of the update game, it is entirely possible for the Series 3 to have this year’s watchOS 8 as its final major update. The SE, on the other hand, is significantly more modern and will likely be offered support for years to come.
- Physical size: Physical size of the watch is a little less important to people, but there’s still a noticeable difference between the SE and the Series 3 in this category. The SE’s 40mm version has a height of 40mm, a width of 34mm, and a thickness of 10.7mm. This is slightly taller, wider, and thicker than the Series 3, which has a height of 36.8mm, a width of 33.3mm, and a thickness of 10.5mm. The relative difference in size is approximately equal for the larger variants.
- Weight: Wikipedia reports the weight of the SE is around 30.49 – 30.68 grams, about 14% heavier than the Series 3’s 26.7 – 28.7 grams. This is likely due to the new components and ceramic back that the Series 4 and beyond enjoy.
Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of the differences between the two models. The Apple Watch Wikipedia article goes far more into depth.
While of course, it depends on your situation, I would personally not recommend the Series 3. For $80 at MSRP, you lose a handful of features that are useful for the fitness and health features of the Apple Watch as well as speed (as the Series 3 is quite a bit older) and smaller things like the display and weight of the Watch. Personally, I don’t feel like the Series 3 is really targeted towards any demographic— it doesn’t provide enough value for me to not choose either the SE or no watch over it. However, if your goal is just to get an Apple Watch with slightly-more-than-basic functionality, the Series 3 is a decent pick.
The Series 7 is on the other end of the spectrum, being the current flagship of the Apple Watch lineup. Released in 2021, the Series 7 is newer, and therefore more powerful and feature-packed, than the SE. Feature-wise, the Series 7 is a larger leap over the Series 6 than the Series 6 is to the Series 5, with the main driving point being the increased screen size and the features that come with that.
However, whether or not he Series 7 is worth the extra $90 (at MSRP) is another question. The leap from the Series 6 to the Series 7 might be significant, but it pales in comparison to the leap from the Series 3 to the Series 4. For the extra $90, you are getting the following features:
- Processor: The Series 7 has the improved S7 chip, which is said to be about 20% faster than the previous generation’s Series 6.
- Sensors & connectivity: The only sensor you gain with the Series 7 is a Chinese satellite navigation system called BeiDou, which improves on satellite coverage in China.
- Display size & screen size: Probably the most significant upgrade of the Series 7 is the larger and higher quality screen. The small Series 7 has a 41mm screen with a 352×430 pixel display while the small 4/5/SE/6 screen is 40mm in size and has a resolution of 324×394. The larger Series 7 has a 45mm screen with a 396×484 pixel display while the small 4/5/SE/6 screen is 44mm in size and has a resolution of 368×448. With the larger screen comes a few new watch faces and a swipe keyboard (instead of the very slow character writing keyboard; however, voice typing and typing via your iPhone are still available and faster text input options).
- Software support: Because the Series 7 is the newest model in the Apple Watch lineup, it will get the longest software support of any Apple Watch as of now.
- Physical size & weight: Because the screen of the Series 7 is larger, so is the physical device. Both the small and large Series 7 versions are the largest models of their size category. The dimensions of the smaller model are 41x35x10.74mm, approximately 6% larger than the small Series 4, 5, 6, and SE. Depending on the material the watch is made of, the weight increases by between 5 and 7%. For the larger model, the dimensions are 45x38x10.74mm, approximately 2.6% larger than the large Series 4, 5, 6, and SE). Depending on the material the watch is made of, the weight increases by 6 to 9%.
Personally, I don’t feel that the differences that come with the Series 7 are worth the $90 that you spend to upgrade to it. The 2 most significant points I would consider are the screen size (the keyboard is nice to have, but the increase in screen area is not super significant) and the software support (which is likely only one more version). The processor performance increase might sound significant on paper, but I, personally, have not found that my SE has been slow with everyday use and doubt that I would notice that much of a difference in speed with the Series 7. The size of the Series 7 for the smaller version is nice to have, but the weight increases equivalently, making for a noticeably heavier watch. This increase in weight is exacerbated with the larger version of the Series 7, where the 6 to 9% increase in weight eclipses the 2.6% increase in size.
However, if you find the screen size increase and its accompanying features welcome along with the extra year of software support and faster processor, it might be worthwhile to pick the Series 7 over the SE or 3.
My experience with the Watch SE
The SE is the first Apple Watch that I have owned, so take my advice with a sizable grain of salt (if you aren’t already). I have owned it for about 4 months at the time of writing, so I’m not a seasoned Apple Watch owner nor a total beginner.
I have had a pretty good time with my SE in my everyday life. Mainly, I use it to check the time, peek at notifications and quickly respond to them, and occasionally check any reminders or pause music. With certain watch faces and complications, I am able to view a plethora of information with just a flick of my wrist: the current time, date, and temperature, to name a few. This functionality, replacing the need to have to pull out my phone, turn it on, and unlock it, is a time-saver that I find makes my purchase a worthwhile one.
When I initially bought the SE, I didn’t imagine that it’d have the functionality it had— at the time, I used Apple products sparsely and had only purchased a modern iPhone the month before, so I was in the mindset that Apple had a locked-down and freedomless ecosystem.
I was glad to have been proven wrong: watchOS provides the features that I need to get through everyday life and some, while allowing for a pretty seamless and connected experience. I can start Apple Maps navigation on my phone and continue it on my watch or open my task app on my watch and continue viewing my daily tasks on my laptop.
iOS sort of has a reputation of sacrificing freedom for a seamless ecosystem against Android. It doesn’t have sideloading, allow you to customize a lot of things, look at how the hardware is running, or many other features that enthusiast and power users enjoy on their Android phones. Some people have trouble striking a balance between the control and freedom of an Android phone and the smooth experience of iPhone in the Apple ecosystem. However, this doesn’t really apply to the smartwatch market— WearOS is so far behind in this regard that (disregarding phone operating system) the advantages of getting an Apple Watch as opposed to a Galaxy Watch or a Fossil or TicWatch are minimal.
The most surprising thing I found about the Apple Watch (and watchOS in general) is the amount of freedom you get when creating a watch face. There are just so many of them to choose from that have their own purpose and own little quirks. The complications in particular are extremely helpful— being able to view so much information at a glance and (if I want to) view them in more detail at just the tap on the screen is intensely useful. I didn’t expect that Apple would add this much functionality at first, and I am extremely glad that they did.
4 months in
I still find my SE as useful and performant as when I first got it. While it’s only been around 4 months, I haven’t noticed any slowdown as compared to when I got it doing mostly the same stuff on it everyday.
The hardware is holding up pretty well. For the first couple of weeks, I used a flimsy plastic screen protector to guard from scratches but later disposed of it when it started to peel off. I have not noticed any visible scratches on the display, even having bumped it against tables and desks on multiple occasions to the point where I would at least assume some defect would appear on the face. Fortuntately, I was proven wrong. And this is with the stainless steel version with the “Ion-X” glass— not even the titanium one.
My watch band looks as if it is new with no scratches or mold or decoloring at all. However, this thing is supposedly worth $50, and I’d be pretty disappointed if it started breaking down within the time span of a few months.
The parts of the watch that I use on a daily basis work well. Receiving and replying to notifications, the timer and stopwatch functions, the fitness app, and viewing reminders are just a few of those things that I have 0 complaints with.
Other parts of the watch I don’t use as much but appreciate as well. The mini versions of existing iOS apps along with new Watch-only apps like the noise and walkie talkie apps are a nice touch to the operating system even if they only just exist in the background for me.
All in all, I think that the Apple Watch is a great line of products (and in my opinion, the best line of smart watches on the market right now) that can be very beneficial to all types of people in their everyday lives. The amount of utility it provides in such a small package that can connect and integrate with all of your other Apple devices makes it a very nice device to have that feels almost like it shouldn’t be as powerful as it is.
However, the Apple Watch line is pretty extensive, with 9 models to choose from to buy. Out of those 9, three are available to purchase officially from Apple or an approved retailer. Out of those three— the Series 3, the SE, and the Series 7— I believe that the SE provides the most value for the average consumer who is looking to purchase an Apple Watch. It provides a lot of utility and has a large edge over the Series 3 without being overly expensive while adding just a few features (like the Series 7). I am currently enjoying my SE after 4 months and hope to continue enjoying it.
That being said, whatever you read online is to be taken with a grain of salt and you have to make the purchasing decision to best suit yourself. Weigh the pros and cons of everything you would consider buying and see what would really suit you. Happy shopping and thanks for reading this post!
Special thanks to Luke Chesser, Samer Khodeir, Rachit Tank, Alex Azabache, Ankush Minda, and Matteo Di Iorio for their stock photography.