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Apple Watch SE (2022) vs Apple Watch SE (2020): Should you upgrade?

Apple revamped its budget-friendly Apple Watch SE late last year, bringing it closer in performance to the flagship Series 8 released at the same time. Let us help you decide if the SE all the Apple Watch you need, or if potential discounts make the older model a better fit.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
Sample Image for testing only
Image: Apple

The original Apple Watch SE has been a consumer favorite since its 2020 launch. It provided a great middle-ground between the aging Series 3 and the latest and greatest main-line apple watches for the past few years. But, Apple decided it was time for an upgrade and created an all-new SE with features drawn right from the latest-gen Series 8

Also: Want a new Apple Watch? We compared the 5 best models available

Let's go over what's changed between the two models to help you decide whether you should get your order for a new Apple Watch SE in ASAP, or you should just snag the original model while it's still on some store shelves, or even as a used product.

Specifications

Apple Watch SE (2022)

Apple Watch SE (2020)

Display

40mm: 324 x 394 pixel Retina LTPO OLED display | 44mm 324 x 394 Retina LTPO OLED display

40mm: 324 x 394 pixel Retina LTPO OLED display | 44mm 324 x 394 Retina LTPO OLED display  

Weight

 40mm: 27g | 44mm: 33g   

40mm: 30.7g | 44mm: 36.4

Processor

S8 SiP chip (modified version of the Series 8 chip)

S5 chip (identical to the Series 5 chip)

Storage32GB32GB
Battery18-hour lithium-ion battery 18-hour lithium-ion battery
SensorsGPS, altimeter, optical heart sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor, high-G accelerometerGPS, altimeter, optical heart sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, LTE (GPS + cellular model only)   Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, LTE (GPS + cellular model only)  

Case materials and colors

Aluminum: Midnight, Starlight, Silver

Aluminum: Space Gray, Gold, Silver

IP rating

water-resistant to 50 meters

water-resistant to 50 meters

PriceStarting at $249
Starting at $200

You should buy the Apple Watch SE 2022 if...

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The back panels have also been updated to match your chosen case material

Image: Apple

1. You want the fastest budget-friendly Apple Watch

The revamped Apple Watch SE uses a modified version of the same S8 chip used in Apple's just-launched Series 8 Apple Watch. This, according to Apple, makes its 20% faster than the original Apple Watch SE, and nearly as fast as the Series 8 itself. Considering the significant price difference between the new SE and the Series 8, that makes the 2022 SE's retail price a downright steal. It's even more dramatic if you consider its essentially the same chip also running Apple's $800 Apple Watch Ultra.

2. You want to keep track of your family's safety

Aside from sharing a chip, the SE (2022) and Series 8 also both gained the new high-g accelerometer chip needed to support Apple's new crash detection feature. This new safety measure allows the Apple Watch SE (2022) (as well as the iPhone 14 lineup, Series 8, and Apple Watch Ultra) to immediately contact emergency services and your emergency contacts, if you've been in an automobile crash. Apple's decision to bring this feature to its more budget-minded model means you don't have to spend $400+ to get the peace of mind it provides.

3. You're a hiker or outdoor enthusiast

The SE (2022) supports Apple's redesigned Compass app, including its new waypoints and backtrack feature. This means you can set your own guide points when out in the wilderness, as long as you've got a stable GPS signal. This is excellent for orienteering hobbyists as well as those that just want an extra layer of safety when going camping. For that matter, it's a great way to drop a pin at your car so you can find it later in the stadium parking lot!

Also: How to enable the Activity Sharing feature on your Apple Watch

You should buy the Apple Watch SE (2020) if...

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Image: Apple

1. You want the cheapest modern Apple Watch available

Prices for the original Apple Watch SE are already below the launch price for the new SE (2022). Those price tags are guaranteed to drop even further. You can now get the well-loved, only two-years-old original SE for around $200 on a regular basis, and sometimes for even less, while supplies last. You can always purchase a used model from a reputable seller as well, with pricing likely going much lower if you're willing to accept a gently loved Apple device

2. You really liked the old Space Gray or Gold shades

While silver has stuck around for the revamped Apple Watch SE (2022) the older Space Gray and Gold colorways have been replaced by the newer Midnight and Starlight. Sure, it's a minor detail to many people, but maybe you've got a Space Gray iPhone, or a Gold MacBook you simply must color coordinate with. In that case, your best bet is grabbing one of the older SE (2020) models before they're sold out. 

3. You're looking for an Apple Watch for a youngster

Just a few years back, many parents probably worried about their kids bugging them to buy their first smartphone. Now we've got smartwatches to contend with too. The 2020 Apple Watch SE could be a great fit for this purpose. Most kids (especially those too young to drive) won't need any of the new features introduced by the 2022 update, and they'll love all of the extra connectivity, the 2020 SE provides. Best of all, it can be had for a price that won't sting quite as much when junior comes home and tells you it fell down a sewer...somehow. 

More: Apple Watch SE vs Apple Watch Series 7: Which should you buy?

Alternatives to consider

Open to other budget smartwatch prospects? Consider these ZDNET-recommended devices:

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