Apple Watch SE (2020) — Full Review!

I’m Rene Ritchie and, yeah, this year, Apple released not just one… but two new Watches. Like 2016 all over again but, instead of a Series 2 and Series 1, we’ve got a Series 6 and a not-Series SE.

I’ve already reviewed the Series 6, link in the description, so now it’s time to dig into the SE. But… not how you might expect.

Sponsored by Ting.

So, ok. Yes, straight up at the top. Apple Watch models aren’t that different year over year. Just like car models. Fridge models. TV models. Pretty much everything.

And despite how fixated on yearly upgrade cycles some of the tech community has begun, literally no one, certainly not Apple, expects you to upgrade your Watch every year, not any more than your car or fridge or TV.

If money is no object and you just love tech, or you’re on some leasing or financing plan, or you’re buying this year so you can hand-down last year, or whatever, of course, you do you.

And, who’re we kidding, you already did. That’s why I’m aiming this review at everyone else. The 75% Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, said were first-time Watch buyers. And the vast majority of the rest, who likely have an Apple Watch Series less-than 4 and are looking to upgrade after not one but a few or more years.

And what I’m going to tell you is this — if you can afford it, get an Apple Watch Series 6. It has absolutely every one of the latest, greatest features, which means you’ll never find yourself missing out on something later you want or need and could have had for what amounts to just a few more dollars a week.

And that includes the computer system inside the watch, which means not only will you get more now, you’ll continue to get software updates for as long as possible going forward. Increasing that value over time.

But if you can’t afford it or if you’re on the fence about whether or not you should spend your hard-earned money on a starting at $399 for Wi-Fi, $499 for LTE Series 6 rather than saving some by going with the starting at $279 for Wi-Fi, $329 for LTE… SE, well, here’s what you’re giving up for that $120 to $170…


Both displays come in 40 or 44mm, high density, high contrast. But the Series 6 comes with what’s called always-on. That means, after a few seconds, the SE display turns off complete. The Series 6 display, though, just goes into always-on mode, which is slightly dimmer and less graphically intensive.

In other words, it lets you use your Apple Watch as a watch, not just when you tap it or raise twist your wrist to wake it up, but all the time. Any time you want to just glance at the time or your workout stats.

For me, this a high priority feature, something I’d been asking for… for years. And, at this point, is a complete deal-breaker that would prevent me ever going back to a not always-on display again. If you don’t care about it at all, though, you can save some money by going with the Apple Watch SE instead.

Health & Safety

Both Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE come with all the same safety features, from fall detection to international emergency calling. So, if you have an accident, and you can’t call 911 or whatever the local equivalent is, the Apple Watch can call for you.

Both also have noise level detection, to warn you of potential hearing damage, and low, high, and irregular heart rate warnings, so if the optical heart rate monitor detects anything amiss, it’ll let you know so you can go and get yourself checked.

And all these features really do save lives. Repeatedly.

The SE also supports the new Hand Washing feature, which reminds you to disinfect when you get home, and gives you a 20-second countdown while you wash so you don’t have sing happy birthday to yourself not once by twice.

The machine-learning based soap and water sound and hand turning motion detection system works well enough, but if I stop for any reason in the middle I can never get it to start up again and, hilariously, if I’m cooking and food is sizzling in the pan, and I turn the pepper-grinder, it’ll also start the countdown. Which is just too much pepper for anything but cacio e pepe.

Likewise, you can use Family Setup for both. That means you can give an LTE-enabled version of the Apple Watch Series 6 or Apple Watch SE to your children or parents who don’t have or want iPhones of their own, and keep in touch with them, know that they’re safe and sound, any time, any where.

What the Apple Watch SE doesn’t have is the electronic heart rate sensor and the ECG - electro cardiogram app — to go with it. It’s not available in all countries, so it may not matter to you if it isn’t available in yours, but if it is, in coordination with your doctor, it can help you keep better track of your heart health.

The Apple Watch SE also doesn’t have the new pulse oximeter, which means it can’t measure blood oxygen. Apple has made this a wellness feature not a medical feature, so it’s available everywhere. But if you need something with medically certified accuracy, or you don’t need anything like this at all, it may not matter to you either.

If you’re a high level or more extreme athlete or have very specific health and wellness needs, or you’re just a nerd like me who likes to have and test out these features, they can be great to have. If you’re not, then you can save some money by just not having them.

Apps & Features

Aside from the ECG and Blood Oxygen apps, both the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE can run all the same watchOS 7 and App Store apps like Maps, Messages, Mail, just everything you’d expect on a modern computer watch and much of what you’d expect on a modern computer phone as well. Also, nw features, like Sleep Tracking and Watch Face sharing.

I covered a lot of the base functionality in my Apple Watch Series 6 review, so I won’t repeat it here, but if your’e completely new to the Apple Watch, make sure you check it out.

It’s what separates the Apple Watch from longer-battery life but far less functional fitness bands and watches.

Features cost battery life. The more a device can do the more battery life it eats up doing it. So just like you need to charge your smart phone every day, you need to charge you almost-as-smart watch every day.

If you really want an Apple Watch, though, but want as much battery life as possible, and the new faster charging feature to boot, you can get an Apple Watch Series 6 and turn off some of those features like Always On, and the heart rate monitor for workouts.

That’ll lower power draw. Personally, I hate trading utility for battery. But, again, you charge you.

The Series 6 will also launch apps faster and apps will work faster on it. If you’ve never used a Series 6, though, you won’t notice the difference. Just don’t use a Series 6.

You also don’t get the U1 chip on the SE, which is Apple’s new ultra-wide-band spatial positioning chip. It’s not used for anything right now but Apple says it’ll eventually be used for CarKey-style features like iOS 14 is bringing to the iPhone. And, of course, almost certainly for next generation Find My Network features whenever those roll out.

Otherwise, both have NFC which means both have everything from GymKit, to connect to any exercise equipment that supports it, to ApplePay, for tap-to-pay at any businesses that support it. Which, outside the U.S., is pretty much everywhere.

What you don’t get any more is an AC adapter plug. Apple says it’s to combat e-waste, but for anyone new to the Apple Watch, it means scrounging for or sharing an existing adapter, plugging into a USB-A port on a PC or power bar, or coughing up some extra cash for a separate adapter.

I still wish Apple would make it a discount option at checkout.


In terms of fitness, both are the same. Same activity tracking, for stand, exercise, and move rings. And with watchOS 7, you can finally, legit finally, change your stand and exercise goals, so you can have hardcore or even light or rest days if you want.

Also, same workouts available, same digital compass and new, always-on altimeter if hikes and climbs are your thing.

Both also work with Apple’s upcoming Fitness+ service, where you can integrate the Apple Watch with the iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV and do a variety of guided workouts whenever and pretty much wherever you want.


The major difference between the Series 6 and the SE are the finishes you can get.

Both the Series 6 and the SE come in silver, space gray, and gold aluminum for the regular version and silver and space gray for the Nike+ version.

Yeah, both have Nike+ versions and they cost exactly the same as the regular version so, if you don’t want the gold color and like the Nike+ bands and watch faces at all, like at all at all, get one of those. You can always switch the Nike+ to regular bands and faces, but you can’t ever switch the regular to Nike+.

Both the regular and Nike+ have sapphire crystal over the sensor on the back but ion-exchange, which is to say, chemically hardened glass over the display on the front.

It’s the same material that’s on pretty much every smartphone but it’s not sapphire crystal. So, if you want that back and front, and if you want any material other than aluminum, you’ll have to go with the Apple Watch Series 6, and the even pricier stainless steel or titanium versions.

If you don’t think anything like that is worth paying extra for, though, you can save some cash by sticking with aluminum and the SE.

And that’s really the TL;DW of this whole review, the spoiler I dropped right at the beginning.

If you want a modern Apple Watch, but you don’t want to pay Apple Watch Series 6 prices, and none of the extra features that come with the Series 6 are compelling to you, never mind deal breakers, then the Apple Watch SE is great.