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(Pocket-lint) - Apple has three Watch models for 2022 that cover all bases when it comes to budgets and features. The Apple Watch Ultra is the most expensive model and sits at the top of the portfolio, while the Watch Series 8 sits in the middle. 

At the bottom - and the cheaper end of the scale - is the Watch SE (2022). It's the successor to the original - and excellent - Watch SE that launched in 2020, offering an option for those that maybe don't need all the features of the Series 8.

Is the Watch SE the Apple Watch to buy? Here is our review.

Our quick take

The Apple Watch SE makes some decent upgrades over its predecessor, predominantly in terms of a step-up in processor, as well as a colour-matched casing that is kinder to the environment, and some extra features like the Car Crash Detection. 

It doesn't have the latest display design like the Series 8, or the Always-On Display, and it's nowhere near as tough and durable as the Watch Ultra or as feature rich. It also doesn't offer the body temperature sensor, which can aid ovulation tracking in women, but as an entry point into Apple Watch, the Watch SE offers plenty. 

Whether it's the Apple Watch to buy will depend on what you want from your smartwatch and the depth and complexity of features you need. However at its level, the Watch SE (2022) offers an excellent combination of value for money and features on offer, making it a smartwatch we would highly recommend.

Apple Watch SE (2022) review: Best of the bunch?

Apple Watch SE (2022)

4.5 stars - Pocket-lint recommended
For
  • Colour-matched body
  • Lightweight
  • Upgraded processor
  • Great features
  • WatchOS 9
  • Good price
Against
  • No Always-On Display
  • No body temperature sensor
  • No SpO2 sensor

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Same design 

  • Starlight, Midnight, Silver
  • Aluminium only, Nike models
  • 40mm and 44mm
  • IPX6 rated

The second generation of the Apple Watch SE offers an almost identical design to its predecessor and the Watch Series 6, but that's probably not hugely surprising given the Series 8 remains the same as the Watch Series 7.

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The Watch SE therefore has the same rectangular casing with rounded corners and curved edges we've seen on the Apple Watch since its arrival in 2015, with the Watch Ultra the only exception. The Watch SE is water resistant to 50-metres and it features a Digital Crown with Haptic Touch and a button below on the right edge. Unlike the Watch Series 8, the Watch SE doesn't offer an electrical heart rate sensor within the Digital Crown.

On the underside of the aluminium casing - the Watch SE is only available in aluminium with no stainless steel options - there is the optical heart rate sensor, as well as the buttons for switching out the Watch straps. The underside of the casing has been redesigned for the Watch SE this year though, and it now colour matches the rest of the casing (which looks great), with new production processes to reduce carbon emissions too.

As with the Series 8, all previous Watch straps remain compatible on the Watch SE and they sit flush within the casing so there are no lugs, as you see on other smartwatches like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5. It's neat and tidy, though this has always resulted in the Apple Watch looking less like a traditional watch than some other options.

The aluminium casing means the Watch SE is very lightweight and comfortable to wear with a slim profile. Size options are 40mm and 44mm, which are the equivalent of the 41mm and 45mm sizes found on the Watch Series 8. As the screen isn't stretching as far into the edges with the SE model as with the Series 8, there's no need for the extra millimetre in the case.

There are new colours too, with Starlight and Midnight replacing Gold and Space Grey, and you'll also find a Silver model. We had the Midnight model in for review and it's lovely, offering an understated look that matches most outfits.

Same display 

  • 3mm border
  • Protected by Ion-X
  • Retina, LTPO OLED

The Apple Watch SE's display might not be as close to the edge as the Watch Series 8 - and Series 7 for that matter - but there's still 30 per cent more screen here than the Series 3 so as a replacement for the entry-level Apple Watch, it's a decent upgrade.

The border around the SE's display is 3mm compared to 1.7mm on the Series 8, but you likely wouldn't notice that unless you had the two models side-by-side. The difference between the Watch Series 3 and Watch SE is immediately noticeable though, so for anyone upgrading, you'd spot the difference and be grateful for the extra screen space.

As well as being the same display as the original SE in terms of real estate, the next generation Watch SE sticks with the same Retina LTPO OLED screen as its predecessor, as well as the same resolutions. The 44mm model has a 368 x 448 pixel display, while the 40mm has a 324 x 394 pixel display.

The display is sharp, with details lovely and crisp. Colours are very punchy too, as they were on the original SE and blacks are very black, making for a lovely viewing experience overall.

Sadly, the 2022 Watch SE is still missing an Always-On Retina display though. The Always-On display allows you to see certain bits of information all the time, like the time or Activity Rings, rather than having a black screen when the display is off. 

It's not a feature that everyone will miss and you can live without it - especially if you're coming from the Series 3 which also went without, but it would have been nice to see it in this entry-level device in 2022.

Hardware and battery 

  • S8 chip, same as Series 8
  • Second-gen optical heart rate sensor
  • Built-in GPS, Compass, accelerometer, gyroscope 
  • 18 hour battery

In terms of performance, the Apple Watch SE (2022) has the same chip as the Watch Series 8. That's the dual-core S8 chip and it's the same processor that was in the Series 6 and Series 7. The older Watch SE has the dual-core S5 chipset under its hood, so the new generation should offer a decent boost - 20 per cent according to Apple. It's also the only new Apple Watch to see a processor upgrade.

In use, the Watch SE is excellent, delivering a solid performance that's on par with the Series 8 in our experience. It handles everything well, from starting workouts to day-to-day notifications.

Like the Watch Series 8, there's 32GB of storage on board and the Watch SE comes in GPS only and GPS and Cellular models - the latter allowing you to use your Watch independently of your phone. There's International Roaming available on the cellular models too, as there is with the Series 8, but the Watch SE misses out on the body temperature sensor and SpO2 sensor.

A second-generation optical heart-rate sensor is on board the Watch SE though, while other hardware includes built-in GPS, a compass, always-on altimeter, upgraded accelerometer, gyroscope and an ambient light sensor.

The upgraded accelerometer - which can recognise up to 256 g-forces compared to 32 g-forces - enables the Watch SE to offer the Crash Detection feature found on the Series 8 and Watch Ultra, as well as the iPhone 14 models. The feature uses the accelerometer, barometer, GPS and microphone to help detect if you have been involved in a car crash. You can read all about what it does in our separate feature, but hopefully it's never something you will need.

The battery life remains the same as the original Watch SE at up to 18 hours, but despite no improvement, we find there's little to grumble at. We took it off charge at around 6AM in the morning most days and got through the entire day and night with sleep tracking, and into the next morning before we needed to top it up. Sleep tracking uses around 10 per cent and if you do multiple workouts, it drains slightly faster but you will generally still get a day and night with average-to-moderate use.

Sadly there's no fast charging, like the Watch Series 8, but that's not a deal breaker. You just have a plan when you charge it a little better, especially if you want to use it for sleep tracking.

Features

  • watchOS 9
  • Advanced sleep tracking with sleep stages
  • Apple Pay 
  • GymKit, Emergency SOS, Fall detection, multi-sport tracking, Crash Detection

The Apple Watch SE runs on watchOS 9 - the latest software build, which the Apple Watch Series 3 isn't compatible with. It brings with it a host of features, including more advanced sleep tracking, improvements to the Workout and Health apps, and plenty more.

Sleep tracking isn't as advanced as the likes of Fitbit and there's room for some improvement in terms of analysis but on the whole, it's very good and accurate in our experience. The Watch SE is also comfortable to wear in bed and barely noticeable.

You can read all about watchOS 9 in our separate feature. It's worth remembering the software isn't exclusive to the Watch SE, Watch Series 8 or Watch Ultra, so most of the features are available on the Watch Series 4 and later. 

As the Watch SE doesn't have the skin temperature sensor, SpO2 sensor or electrical heart rate sensor, you don't get those features like you will on the Watch Series 8 and Watch Ultra, but overall, the user experience is very similar across the different models. The Watch Ultra in particular has some extra functionality, like inbuilt dive features,  but it's still the same interface overall.

As with the Watch Series 8 and Watch Ultra, the Watch SE offers smartphone notifications, GymKit support, Apple Pay - one of the best things on an Apple Watch, Emergency SOS, international emergency calling, fall detection and noise monitoring. It also has high and low heart-rate notifications and irregular heart rhythm notifications.

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There's also multi-sport tracking, including running, swimming and cycling - all of which the Watch SE (2022) performs well at, plus the Apple Watch App Store has a number of great apps too - not to mention there's the Car Crash feature and International Roaming features too. It's therefore fair to say that while the Watch SE doesn't have everything, it has most of the features that most people will need.

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To recap

The Apple Watch SE makes some decent upgrades over its predecessor, predominantly in terms of a step-up in processor, as well as a colour-matched casing that is kinder to the environment, and some extra features like the Car Crash Detection.  It doesn't have the latest display design like the Series 8, or the Always-On Display, and it's nowhere near as tough and durable as the Watch Ultra or as feature rich. It also doesn't offer the body temperature sensor, which can aid ovulation tracking in women, but as an entry point into Apple Watch, the Watch SE offers plenty and is an excellent place to start.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle.
Sections Apple Smartwatches