Apple Watch Series 8 vs Watch SE (2nd gen): Which should you buy?
Should you spend up or drop down?
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The Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra are making all the headlines, but Apple actually unveiled a third Apple Watch model alongside those two devices: A new Apple Watch SE. That’s great news for those who want a more affordable Apple Watch that still retains the core features that perennially grant Apple the crown for the best smartwatch.
But can the Apple Watch SE really be a good stand-in for the pricier Series 8? The SE and Series 8 certainly look similar, but what's the difference? This dilemma is exactly why we’ve put together this guide. Here are the major similarities and differences between the new Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8, so you can decide which is the best Apple Watch for you.
Design and display
The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8 look very similar. There’s a reason for that though. The SE usually recycles the design of an Apple Watch from a few years ago, and Apple hasn’t radically changed the design of the Watch since it launched the Series 4 in 2018.
You’ll get similar rounded edges, the Digital Crown control dial and a button on the right side, and the fitness-tracking sensors on the back. Apple has changed the SE’s backside material to a so-called “nylon composite,” which feels a little less premium, but it's not something that you’ll notice much in day-to-day use.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the devices look similar. I’ve grown to like the Apple Watch design quite a lot, and while I think it’s due for a refresh, having a similar design means you can make a purchase decision based on features, rather than the need to show that you have the latest gadget, and you can also use the same bands. The biggest design difference is that the Series 8 is available in stainless steel, with glossy color options. If you buy the aluminum model, the colors are the same.
The display is a different story, and in fact, it’s quite a lot better on the Apple Watch Series 8. For starters, it’s bigger—1.9 inches compared to the Apple Watch SE's 1.78—basically meaning that there are larger bezels on the 2022 Apple Watch SE.
That’s likely not a huge deal for most, but what could be is the fact that the Apple Watch Series 8 has an always-on display, while the Apple Watch SE does not. The display on the Apple Watch Series 8 can scale down to 1Hz, which basically means that it only refreshes once per second, helping preserve battery while still ensuring that you can see the time and information from any complications you have on your watch face. This also means you have more watch face options.
I’ve found the always-on display to be very handy, especially when you want to check the time or other information without appearing rude to someone you might be talking to or having dinner with. Some may not want or need it, but once you get used to it you will definitely miss it when it’s gone.
Our pick: Apple Watch Series 8
Health and fitness features
For many, the most important aspect of the Apple Watch is its fitness and health tracking. The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8 both offer some of the same core fitness-tracking features, but if you want anything more advanced, you’ll have to go for the more expensive device.
Let’s start with the similarities. Both devices offer basic heart rate tracking and can use that data for sleep and workout tracking, the latter of which can pull from the built-in GPS for some activities. They also both have a new accelerometer and gyroscope to support the new Crash Detection feature that can alert emergency services if you’ve been in a car accident. And they both have an always-on altimeter and a built-in compass. If you want the basics, you’ll get them in either one of these devices.
But the Series 8’s more advanced sensors can be helpful. Notably, the Apple Watch Series 8 has an ECG sensor that it can use to detect signs of atrial fibrillation. It also has a blood oxygen sensor, which can be especially important for those with respiratory issues.
New for the Apple Watch Series 8 is a temperature sensor, which can track your body temperature when sleep tracking and alert you to big changes over time, which could signal an upcoming illness. That sensor plays another role though—helping improve the Apple Watch’s cycle tracking, and retroactively telling users when it thinks they have ovulated. That can be pretty helpful for family planning, though note that unlike some services, Apple Health will not predict when it thinks you will ovulate.
Our pick: Apple Watch Series 8
Battery and charging
The Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 8 both offer Apple’s new S8 processor, which means they’re equally efficient overall. Turns out, despite the fact that the Apple Watch SE does not have an always-on display, Apple rates the two as both offering up to 18 hours of normal use. With the new low-power mode, Apple says the Apple Watch Series 8 will get up to 36 hours of use. The devices charge at the same rate, using Apple’s included USB-C charging cable.
Unfortunately, the company also says that low power mode won’t have as much of an impact on the Apple Watch SE, so you probably won’t reach 36 hours on the cheaper device. Thankfully, you will still get low power mode on the SE as part of watchOS 9, and it should still keep your device running for longer than it otherwise would in a pinch. Still, most folks will generally be using the watch in regular mode, and since both can preserve batter with watchOS 9 we’ll call this a draw.
Our pick: Tie
Price is likely a major factor if you’re trying to decide between these two watches. There’s no getting around it: The Apple Watch SE is quite a bit cheaper. While the SE starts at $249, the Series 8 steps that up to $399–a full $150 more than the SE.
Now, there are a few things to note about those prices. For starters, they’re the prices for base models, meaning the smaller, aluminum, non-cellular models. You’ll pay a little more for the larger model, more for cellular connectivity (plus around $10 per month to your carrier), and if you buy an Apple Watch Series 8, you’ll pay more if you want a housing other than aluminum. The Apple Watch SE is only available in aluminum.
Still, the price increases are the same no matter which model you buy. That’s to say, if you want cellular, you’ll be paying more whether you get the SE or the Series 8. So no matter what, to get your preferences, the Apple Watch SE is a lot cheaper.
Our pick: Apple Watch SE
And the winner is…
There are no surprises here. The Apple Watch Series 8 is the better smartwatch. It has better health-tracking features, plus a larger, always-on display.
But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you. If you only want basic health and activity-tracking features, and don’t want to spend more than necessary, the Apple Watch SE is an excellent device. But if you do like getting a more in-depth look at health metrics and want to be able to glance at the display to check the time, it’s definitely worth going for the Apple Watch Series 8.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.