Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The 1st-generation Apple Watch SE was the mid-tier option between a cheap Series 3 and the latest and greatest Apple Watch. In 2022, the new 2nd-gen Apple Watch SE is still the budget model, but it does 90% of what the Series 8 can do. And honestly, it’s probably the best wearable for most.

Here’s What We Like

  • 90% of the features found on the Series 8
  • Least expensive Apple Watch
  • Fantastic performance

And What We Don’t

  • No always-on display
  • You’ll need to charge it almost every day
  • Cannot perform Blood Oxygen or ECG tests

How-To Geek’s expert reviewers go hands-on with each product we review. We put every piece of hardware through hours of testing in the real world and run them through benchmarks in our lab. We never accept payment to endorse or review a product and never aggregate other people’s reviews. Read more >>

Design: Not Much Has Changed

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features
Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features
Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

  • Dimensions: 40mm (40 x 34 x 10.7mm) or 44mm (44 x 38 x 10.7mm)
  • Weight: 40mm + GPS (26.4g), 44mm + GPS (32.9g), 40mm + Cellular (27.8g), 44mm + Cellular (33g)
  • Display: Retina LTO OLED, up to 1,000 nits brightness
  • CPU: S8 SiP advanced dual-core (same as Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra)
  • Storage: 32GB
  • Build material: Aluminum

If you’ve ever looked at an Apple Watch, you know exactly what to expect here. Instead of a traditional timepiece’s circular design, the Apple Watch SE 2 is square in shape with rounded corners and edges. On the right, you’ll find a rotating digital crown and a side button. On the left, there are cutouts for the watch’s built-in microphone and speaker.

Apple also uses a proprietary watch band design that slides into the top and bottom of the wearable. Third parties make accessories that allow you to adapt traditional bands, but it’s much easier to buy new ones for the Apple Watch (just make sure to purchase one for the correct screen size).

The first time you put the Apple Watch SE on your wrist, you’ll be surprised by how light it is. It’s a solid 6g lighter than my current Series 7, which doesn’t sound like much, but makes a world of difference when talking about something you wear every day.

Part of the reason why this model is so much lighter is that the Apple Watch SE has a new nylon composite material backing that’s color-matched to the aluminum frame. It’s a nice touch, but you won’t notice the change outside of the weight difference.

The 2022 Apple Watch SE’s display is the same as found on the Series 4-6, which comes with some drawbacks. For one, the bezels are noticeably wider than that found on premium models. Secondly, there’s no always-on display.

For me, that isn’t a huge loss. I always keep that feature off on my Series 7 because it dramatically drains the battery. But if you want to always see the time on your watch without raising your wrist, this can be a make-or-break component.

Features: Crash Detection, Improved Sleep Tracking, and More

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

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Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features
Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features
Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

  • Operating system: watchOS 9 (released in Sept. 2022)
  • 50m water resistant (swimproof), no IP rating

As you might expect, the Apple Watch SE (2022) comes with the latest operating system update, watchOS 9, out of the box. All of the OS’ new features, including better sleep tracking, improved workout views, and more, run flawlessly and without lag on the watch, thanks to Apple’s S8 CPU (which also powers the Series 8 and Ultra).

But beyond those, at its September 2022 “Far Out” event, Apple talked at length about the second-generation SE’s high-g accelerometer and improved gyroscope. What makes these special is that they allow for crash detection. I obviously wasn’t able to test this feature, but I was happy it wasn’t limited to the more premium watches.

I also had fun playing with the redesigned Compass app. Beyond looking nicer, you can now set waypoints and enable backtrack. If you ever go hiking and get lost, both of these will help you retrace your steps and get back to where you started.

Battery Life: Enough to Get You Through the Day

Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

Justin Duino / How-To Geek

  • Advertised battery life: 18 hours

Historically, the Apple Watch’s greatest weakness has been battery life. While it has gotten better since the first Apple Watch was released in 2015, you still can’t comfortably use the SE 2 for multiple days.

In my testing, I found that I could push 2 days out of the 2022 Apple Watch SE, but that was with zero exercise tracking. More commonly, I would put the wearable on at 9 am, wear it throughout the day, and have ~60% battery left. If I left it on overnight for sleep tracking, it normally drained another 5-10% by the time I woke up.

Using the included Apple Watch charging puck and a third-party power adaptor like the UGREEN Nexode 100W (because Apple no longer includes one), I could charge the SE from 0% to 100% in a little over 2 hours.

Unfortunately, the 2022 Apple Watch SE does not feature fast charging, which was first introduced with the Series 7 and has since been added to the Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. Slow charging isn’t the worst, but I often found that sticking the watch on the charger while I showered and got ready for the day wasn’t enough to fully juice up the SE.

Apple Watch SE (2022) vs. Apple Watch Series 8

Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

Apple

Apple announced 3 new smartwatches in 2022, the 2nd-gen SE, Series 8, and Ultra. But if you’re considering buying the budget-friendly SE, you’re not going to be interested in how it compares to the Ultra. Instead, let’s see how the Apple Watch SE stacks up against the Series 8.

Besides a small size difference, the overall design of the two watches is the same. Metal frame, glass screen, digital crown, and a side button. Turn on that display, though, and the first thing you’ll notice is that the bezels on the SE are much wider. Thankfully, they blend into the background if you use a black/dark watch face.

The screen itself is just as bright on both models (both max out at 1,000 nits), but you do lose the always-on display with the SE (as discussed above). I prefer saving battery life over my wearable’s screen always being on, but this difference might be a dealbreaker for you.

Almost every other difference between the Apple Watch SE and Series 8 is sensor related. Both feature a heart rate sensor, but the 2022 SE cannot take blood oxygen readings or perform an ECG. The SE is also missing the new temperature sensors that allow for better cycle tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates.

Besides that, both watches are powered by the same Apple-made S8 SiP advanced dual-core CPU, run watchOS 9, and can track almost all of the same basic workouts. The Apple Watch SE (2nd-gen) is missing some niceties, but it’s also $150 cheaper than the Series 8.

Should You Buy the Apple Watch SE (2022)?

Apple Watch SE (2022) Review: The Budget Model That Doesn’t Lack (Most) Features

Justin Duino / How-To Geek

  • Color options: Midnight (blackish blue), Starlight (light gold), Silver
  • Pricing: 40mm + GPS ($249), 44mm + GPS ($279), 40mm + Cellular ($299), 44mm + Cellular ($329)

Unless you are an incredibly active individual or you need the added functionality made possible using the extra sensors in the Series 8, I think the Apple Watch SE (2022) is a fantastic buy. After wearing it for several weeks, I realized it was capable of doing everything I relied on my Series 7 for. It shows notifications, it quickly launches the calculator or stopwatch app, and it tracks my walks around my neighborhood.

Do I wish the second-gen SE could take blood oxygen readings or perform an ECG? Yes, but I don’t mind missing out if it means saving a significant amount of money. Of course, if features like an always-on display and temperature tracking are must-haves, go for the Series 8.

You can buy the Apple Watch SE (2022) in three colors: Midnight, Starlight, and Silver (pictured above). It starts at $249 for the 40mm GPS model and goes up based on screen size and cellular connectivity.

Here’s What We Like

  • 90% of the features found on the Series 8
  • Least expensive Apple Watch
  • Fantastic performance

And What We Don’t

  • No always-on display
  • You’ll need to charge it almost every day
  • Cannot perform Blood Oxygen or ECG tests
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