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Apple Watch SE vs 7: Which is for you?

Product shot of Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE
(Image credit: Apple)

Can't decide between Apple Watch SE vs 7? An Apple Watch on the wrist is always a good look for designers of any stripe, but if you've yet to take the plunge and can't make up your mind whether to go for the current top-of-the-range Apple Watch Series 7 or the cheaper and older – but still impressive – Apple Watch SE, we're here to help you make an informed decision.

Unlike with other Apple products such as the iPhone, MacBook Pro and of course the iPad Pro, there's less of a clear-cut reason for designers to invest in an Apple Watch. It's very much a nice thing to have, especially if you're already invested in the Apple ecosystem, and it's always a plus to have messages, emails and diary reminders right there on your wrist. There's maybe a case for using it as a neat and compact way to show off your work, but let's be honest: you doubtless already have at least one piece of tech on your person that'll do a better job.

However if you're sitting at a desk all day, every day, the health features that have formed the main thrust of the Apple Watch's runaway popularity over the past few years could make a real improvement to your life, and that's a factor that could well inform your choice between the full-featured Series 7 and the slightly less capable Apple Watch SE. Bear in mind, too, that Apple's likely to announce both the Watch Series 8 and SE 2 over the next few weeks, so you might do well to hold off buying until then (especially as you might be able to bag a sweet discount on the slightly older models at that point, in which case our guide to the best Apple Watch deals will always see you straight).

Also see our pick of the best Apple products of all time. And make sure you follow our roundup of the best Apple back to school 2022 deals. 

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Design

Product shots of the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

At first glance there's very little to separate the Apple Watch Series 7 and the cheaper SE. The Series 7 is ever so slightly larger than the SE and in its smallest model weighs 6g more. The Series 7 comes in 45 and 44mm sizes, while the SE measures 44 or 40mm, and both models use Apple's 'rounded square' design. Both options are water resistant to 50m and safe to take into a swimming pool, so there's not much to choose between them there either.

However the Series 7 is a tougher beast than the SE; it has a sturdier body, and while the SE is only available in an aluminium case, the Series 7 also offers stainless steel and titanium options. The Series 7 is also IP6X dust resistant, and you also get crack-resistant sapphire crystal protecting the display, while the SE features Ion-X strengthened glass. And if looks matter to you (which we're sure they do), the Series 7 has a lot more finishes and strap options to choose from than the SE. In short, from a pure design perspective the Series 7 stands out quite a way.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Display

Product shots of the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

The big display difference between the Apple Watch Series 7 and the SE is that the Series 7's display is always-on, which means that you still have to do the Apple hand jive to tell the time if you plump for the cheaper model. As for the display itself, the Series 7may only be marginally bigger than the SE, but you get a lot more screen with it; 20 per cent more, in fact. The Series 7 display measures 1.9 inches, while the SE's is 1.78 inches; not an enormous difference, but enough to mean that the Series 7 gives you a much clearer view and is able to display much more detailed watch faces as well as providing you with a full keyboard.

Both watches have Retina displays, which means each model looks super-sharp and crisp, but there's one other small advantage to the Series 7 in that the display curves just a bit more at the edges. Combined with the Contour watch face, this means that the numbers on the dial are a lot more visible from the side; a small bonus, but one that underlines the Series 7's superior display.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Battery life

This is where things start to get interesting. In short, both the Apple Watch Series 7 and SE promise an all-day charge lasting 18 hours, and unless you're a serious power user it'll likely be a significantly longer time before it runs out of juice. 

Excitingly, though, it's the Apple Watch SE that's likely to last the longest time without a charge; thanks to the lack of an always-on display – as well as advanced tracking options found only on the Series 7 – it doesn't guzzle the battery anywhere near as fast, and you can potentially squeeze 36 hours of life out of it. 

That said, the Series 7 charges via USB-C and can go from flat to fully charged in just over an hour, while the SE takes roughly twice as long, but if you're leaving it to charge overnight, who really cares? In this case the SE is the clear winner.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Features

Product shots of the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

Both the Apple Watch Series 7 and SE run WatchOS 8 and deliver roughly the same set of core features as well as access to the same set of apps. You also get a range of health-tracking features including heart rate monitoring and notifications, and basic sleep tracking, as well as GPS on both devices. There are also essential SOS features on both: emergency SOS, international emergency calling and fall detection.

Where the Series 7 pulls ahead, however, is in its extra health features. Like the previous Series 6, it packs a blood oxygen monitor and electrocardiogram app; if you have any niggling health concerns it's definitely the safer option to have on your wrist.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Performance

In terms of internal hardware, the Apple Watch Series 7 stands out in front of the SE, but maybe not by quite so much as you might expect. At its heart is Apple's S7 wearable chip, while the SE is powered by the older S5. Now, that might seem like quite a leap, but in fact the S7 is almost identical to the S6 found in the Apple Watch Series 6, and in use you'll most likely find that there really isn't much difference in performance.

Just as the SE squeezes a lot more life out the battery because it has slightly less going on, the Series 7's extra performance is balanced out by its bigger screen and additional health features. So in a final analysis, both Apple Watches are super slick to use, and they both come with 32GB of internal storage; we'll call this one a draw.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Price

Given the many commonalities between the Apple Watch Series 7 and the SE, we reckon that price is going to be the big dividing factor. If money's no object and conspicuous consumption's your thing, you'll be delighted to know that with the Series 7 the sky's the limit, especially when you start looking at high-end ranges such as the Apple Watch Hermès, starting at $1,229/£1,179. But let's boil it down to the basics.

The Apple Watch Series 7 starts at $399/£369, while the SE can be yours from $279/£249. That's $120/£120 difference, at least if you're paying full price (our guides to the lowest Apple Watch Series 7 prices and the best Apple Watch SE deals should save you some money). So, the question you need to ask yourself is whether the extra features and performance you get out of the Series 7 are worth that much extra. We're not entirely convinced.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Which should you choose?

Product shots of the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

Ultimately there's no doubt that of the two, the Apple Watch Series 7 is the better smartwatch thanks to its always-on display, bigger and tougher build, slightly improved performance and extra health tracking features. From a creative viewpoint, the larger, more detailed display and the more extensive choice of finishes and straps should make it a much more attractive proposition.

However times are tough right now, and we're not sure that the Series 7 is $120/£120 better than the Apple Watch SE. In day-to-day use we doubt you'd notice much difference between the two. The SE isn't quite as advanced as the Series 7, but it more than does the job and, as we've mentioned, the battery life is much better.

So, which should you choose? We think that if you're after a smartwatch as a statement piece then, sure, go for the Watch Series 7. But if all you really need is a watch with benefits, it's hard to argue for anything other than the SE; at least for now. All this may change when the Series 8 and SE 2 launch, so watch this space.

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Jim McCauley is a writer, performer and cat-wrangler who started writing professionally way back in 1995 on PC Format magazine, and has been covering technology-related subjects ever since, whether it's hardware, software or videogames. A chance call in 2005 led to Jim taking charge of Computer Arts' website and developing an interest in the world of graphic design, and eventually led to a move over to the freshly-launched Creative Bloq in 2012. Jim now works as a freelance writer for sites including Creative Bloq, T3 and PetsRadar, specialising in design, technology, wellness and cats, while doing the occasional pantomime and street performance in Bath and designing posters for a local drama group on the side.