Apple Watch SE vs 7: which is the best choice?

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

Apple Watch SE vs 7 is a battle between two Apple watches that you might have your eye on if you don't want a cheaper option than the new Apple Watch 8 or Apple Watch Ultra. The Apple Watch 7 was released in 2021 and it boasts many of the same features as the 2022 Apple Watch 8 but often has bigger discounts since it's now older. 

The Apple Watch SE is the cheapest Apple Watch and it got an update in 2022, with a second-generation model hitting the market. Both models are cheaper than Apple Watch 7, but how do they compare in terms of specs. In the guide below, we compare Apple Watch SE vs 7 (including both models of the SE) to help you decide which is best for you.

If you're also considering Apple's latest watch, make sure you see our Apple Watch 8 review and our roundup of the best Apple Watch 8 prices. We also have a general guide to the best Apple Watch deals across different models.

Apple Watch SE vs 7: Design

Product shot of Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 7 (left) and Apple Watch SE (right) (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 (2022) being worn by a man

The 2022 2nd gen Apple Watch SE (Image credit: Future)

The newer 2022 second-gen Apple Watch SE refines the previous version. The list of additions is short, but it feels less like a step back when compared to the Apple Watch 7. The design is essentially the same, with the same two display options (40mm or 44mm). Apple says it completely redesigned the back of the device, and it is slightly different, with a nylon composite and sapphire crystal back instead of ceramic, but it looks and feels much same. And the three colours: midnight, starlight, and silver are similar to the space gray, gold, and silver available for the first-gen Apple Watch SE.

Apple Watch SE (2022)

The back of the newer 2nd-gen Apple Watch SE (2022) (Image credit: Future)

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. 

Interestingly, 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.

Moreover, the 2022 Apple Watch SE 2 has a newer S8 SiP, the same processor that’s in the Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra, which Apple says is 20 per cent faster than the previous generation. As such it the new SE doesn't feel like it lacks performance compared to the Series 7.

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 first-gen SE started at $279/£249 and the second-gen SE starts at $249/ £259. Yes, Apple actually dropped the price for the newer SE in the US, which is a rare move. That means there's a $150/£90 difference if you're paying full price. That's a big if because all three watches come in for regular deals (our guides to the lowest Apple Watch Series 7 prices and the best Apple Watch SE deals should save you some money). At the end of the day, we're not sure the extra features of the Series 7 are worth it unless you can find price unless you can find a deal (if you can't, you might as well go for the Apple Watch 8, which is an incremental upgrade, but has a newer processor.)

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 or really think you'll use the extra health monitoring then go for the Watch Series 7. But if all you really need is a smartwatch that does its job, it's hard to argue for anything other than the SE.

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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.

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