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Apple Watch SE (2022) review: The best first Apple Watch

Updated 2 months ago
Published Oct 3rd, 2022 7:49PM EDT
Apple Watch SE Main
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

The Apple Watch SE has long served as a solid option for those who want the basis of what the Apple Watch can offer, for as little as possible. Sure, the device has never offered the latest and greatest sensors and features. But at the lower price point, traditionally, it has served as an excellent alternative to other models. For 2022, the Apple Watch SE sits alongside not only the Apple Watch Series 8, but also the higher-end Apple Watch Ultra.

The second-gen Apple Watch SE gets the Apple Watch Series 8’s S8 SiP, ensuring that it will get updates and remain fast-performing for years to come. It also has a few design tweaks, and some new health and safety features. But that’s about where the updates end.

Is the second-generation Apple Watch SE enough of an improvement to warrant buying? I’ve been using it for a while now to find out.

Apple Watch SE (2022)

Rating: 4 Stars
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Pros

  • Solid design
  • Powerful enough for years of use
  • Inexpensive
  • Good software experience

Cons

  • Smaller, non-always-on display

Apple Watch SE design and display

The design of the Apple Watch SE is based on that of the Apple Watch Series 4. Considering the fact that Apple hasn’t radically changed the design of the watch since the Apple Watch Series 4, it looks like any other modern Apple Watch, except for the new Apple Watch Ultra.

Well, it looks mostly like any other modern Apple Watch. Because it’s based on the Apple Watch Series 4, it doesn’t have the slightly more rounded corners that came in the Series 7, nor does it has the larger display, which we’ll get into below. Also, Apple has replaced the bottom of the watch with a new plastic-like nylon composite — but it feels fine, and it’s completely unnoticeable in day-to-day life.

Apple Watch SE RightImage source: Christian de Looper for BGR

None of these are things that you, or others, would notice at a glance — and generally, the 2022 Apple Watch SE looks sleek, stylish, and modern.

The display on the Apple Watch SE is the same as the Series 4 too. That means that it’s 1.78 inches, and not an always-on display, like other Apple Watch models have had since the Apple Watch Series 5. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you care about that, but as someone who has used the standard Apple Watch model for years now, I definitely missed the always-on display while reviewing the SE.

Thankfully, the display still gets bright enough for all situations, and even with a ton of ambient light, I found it mostly easy to see what was on the screen.

Apple Watch SE specs and sensors

The Apple Watch SE gets the same processor as the Series 8 (the S8 SiP), along with a new accelerometer and gyroscope. Those things mean that the device supports Apple’s new Crash Detection feature, which can alert emergency services if you’ve been in an accident and don’t intervene. It’s a pretty cool feature, but one that I was unable to test, and one that I hope you never have to use.

Apple Watch SE BottomImage source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Unfortunately, the SE doesn’t get other health and fitness improvements. I wouldn’t have expected the device to get the same fitness-tracking features as the Series 8, but at least one or two would have been nice. Namely, I would have liked Apple to include the ECG sensor that has been standard on the main Apple Watch since the Apple Watch Series 4. It’s a feature that has directly impacted me, and I hope it comes to cheaper devices soon.

Thankfully, you will still get many of the basic health and fitness tracking features that you would expect from an Apple Watch. It still has a heart rate monitor and can be used to track your workouts and sleep. It just won’t offer more advanced tracking, like blood oxygen sensing and temperature sensing.

Apple Watch SE battery and charging

The Apple Watch SE comes with the same 18-hour battery life as the Apple Watch Series 8, which I’ve found to be perfectly adequate. I’ve gotten used to charging the device before bed and while showering, so even though I use the Watch at night for sleep tracking, and I wouldn’t mind a longer battery life, the current battery life is perfectly fine. Like the other Apple Watch models, the Apple Watch SE also comes with a new low power mode — though it’s unclear just how much of an impact that will actually have on battery life on the SE.

Apple Watch SE LeftImage source: Christian de Looper for BGR

The Apple Watch SE charges at the same rate as other Apple Watch models, using the included USB-C Apple Watch charger. If find that it charges fast enough, but even faster charging would be nice at some point in the next year or two.

Apple Watch SE software

Apple Watch SE MainImage source: Christian de Looper for BGR

The Apple Watch SE comes with the new watchOS 9 operating system, which boasts a number of great new features and tweaks over watchOS 8. Notably, you’ll get things like better workout tracking, with support for heart rate zones, better sleep tracking, and tracking for triathletes. And, watchOS 9 also brings support for medication reminders, which plugs into the Apple Health app.

Of course, all of these features come from watchOS 9 — not the hardware of the watch itself. So, you’ll get them on any watch that supports watchOS 9, including the first-generation Apple Watch SE.

Conclusions

BGR Gold Award 2022

The Apple Watch SE represents a marked improvement over the last-generation model, and the addition of the S8 SiP means that it should perform well, and get updates for years. It’s not the right watch for those who want advanced health and fitness tracking — that’s where the Apple Watch Series 8 comes in. But if you like the Apple Watch in general and don’t need the latest-and-greatest health sensors, the Apple Watch SE is an excellent option.

The competition

Most will likely be deciding between the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series 8. Those who like advanced health and fitness-tracking should go for the Series 8 — while those who don’t care about that as much should instead opt for the Apple Watch SE.

Should I buy the Apple Watch SE?

Yes. It’s an excellent budget smartwatch.

More Apple coverage: See the top 5 products of the Apple post-Steve Jobs era.

Christian de Looper Senior Reviews Editor

Christian de Looper was born in Canberra, Australia, where he lived until the age of 14. After his father got a job in Paris, France, Christian lived there for five years, after which he moved to Minnesota for college. During college, Christian developed a passion for consumer technology by writing for tech blogs. Christian now lives in sunny Santa Cruz, California.