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

A watch that can give you an ECG in 30 seconds like the Apple Watch Series 7? Or a sleek design loaded with features that is more affordable like the SE? We'll cover the features and tech in this in-depth guide to the Apple Watch SE vs the Apple Watch Series 7.
maria-diaz
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer on
Apple Watch SE vs Apple Watch Series 7
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

There was a time when a smartwatch was something we dreamt about as children watching spy movies, but now they're all around us. With companies like Apple, Samsung, Garmin, and even Fitbit, just to name a few, selling smartwatches, it's not rare to see someone talking to their wrist and living out their childhood James Bond fantasies. 

With popularity at an all-time high, it's safe to say the Apple Watch is leading the charge in the smartwatch business. But seeing all the available options can leave you easily overwhelmed when deciding which to buy. As their best watches right now, the Apple Watch Series 7 and the Apple Watch SE are two certain contenders in that fight. 

Both watches offer a variety of finishes and health features that make them attractive to consumers. The Apple Watch SE is the more affordable of the two; and while it sports many comparable features to its counterpart, it doesn't quite live up to all the specs of the Series 7. In the end, it all comes down to determining which features are worth the cost for your individual needs. 

Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

The newest, upgraded version of the Apple Watch has all the top-of-the-line features to match. The Apple Watch Series 7 is a sleek watch with Apple's largest display that runs smoothly into the rounded corners of its case. Available in ten colors and three different finishes depending on the model, you're likely to have all the options that suit your needs with the Series 7, with a price tag to match.

Specifications

Features Apple Watch Series 7
Screen Size 45mm & 41mm
Construction Aluminum, Stainless Steel, Titanium
Screen Finish More crack-resistant, thicker crystal, Ion-X glass
Display Always-on Retina display
Finishes Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue, Product(RED), Graphite, Silver, Gold, Space Black, Titanium
Chip Dual-core S7 SiP
Capacity 32GB
Connectivity 2.4GHz & 5GHz, Bluetooth 5.0
Water Resistance Up to 50m
Health Blood Oxygen, ECG, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rythm notifications
Emergency Fall detection, noise monitoring and Emergency SOS
Battery life Up to 18 hours with Fast Charging

Display

Series 7 Display
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

The display on the Apple Watch Series 7 is the largest one yet, which is notable when we're talking about essentially wearing your smartphone on your wrist. Available in two sizes, the Series 7 comes in 45mm, giving it a 396px by 484px resolution and an 1143 square mm display area; and 41mm with a 352px by 430px resolution and 904 square mm display area. 

A larger display area and resolution means you're able to fit more on your Apple Watch screen at one time, which makes it easier and more enjoyable to use. On both sizes, the screen only has a 1.7mm border, so it goes closer to the rounded corners and borders of your watch display than the other models, giving it a sleek look. 

Series 7 Closeup
Apple

One feature I enjoy from a smartwatch is an always-on display -- battery-savers beware. The Always-On Retina display is a feature unique to the Series 7 and keeps the viewing area bright, even when not in use or when your wrist is down, letting you always see the time and anything else that you want to keep visible. 

Features

Technology on Series 7

The Series 7 sports the fastest Apple Watch chip to date: an S7 SiP with a 64-bit dual-core processor that lets you smoothly jump between apps and get your notifications in real-time. The Series 7 is also the only Apple Watch right now that connects to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wi-fi networks, as the SE is only compatible with 2.4GHz networks.

The built-in lithium-ion battery on both the SE and Series 7 lasts up to 18 hours on a single charge, and both have a USB-C magnetic charging cable, but the Series 7 also exclusively supports fast charging. Apple says just 45 minutes of charging takes your Series 7 watch from 0 to an 80% charge. 

And if you like wearing your Apple Watch overnight to track your sleep, just 8 minutes of charging the Series 7 provides enough charge for eight hours of sleep tracking, just in case you're one of the lucky ones that can get their eight hours in.

More: Five best smartwatches you can buy

Finishes and construction

The Apple Watch Series 7 comes in three different materials: 

  • Aluminum for their GPS+Cellular models, GPS-only models, and their Apple Watch Nike model. Aluminum models are available in in midnight, starlight, green, blue, and (Product)Red colors. 
Aluminum Series 7

The aluminum finish in Series 7 is available in five colors

Apple
  • Stainless steel only on their GPS+Cellular (graphite, silver, and gold colors) and Hermes models (in space black and silver).
The stainless steel case comes in three different finishes

The stainless steel case comes in three different finishes

Apple
  • Titanium finish is only for GPS+Cellular models in space black and natural titanium colors.
The titanium finish is available in two colors

The titanium finish is available in two colors

Apple

Durability is key in any watch, as being on our wrists exposes it to bumps and unfortunate encounters with sharp corners or objects. Apple touts their Series 7 watch as having the strongest, most crack-resistant screen yet. 

Aluminum models feature Apple's Ion-X front glass which is a dense piece of glass that is crack-resistant and flexible. Apple upgraded the Apple Watch screen with the Series 7, making the front crystal 50% thicker than the Series 6, for added toughness and resilience.

The stainless steel and titanium models have sapphire front crystals, which is a more high-end material used on watches and found on brands like Movado and Rolex. Sapphire glass is more scratch resistant than Ion-X crystal but it is more prone to cracking and shattering, though it would take a lot of force to achieve that.

With an IP6X certification for dust resistance, the Apple Watch Series 7 is dust-tight, so it can withstand anything from weekend gardening sessions to dusty construction site work. Both the Series 7 and the SE are swim-proof and water-resistant to depths up to 50m; neither are recommended for scuba diving or high-velocity watersports, though.

Also: Apple releases Apple Watch Pride Edition bands with matching watch faces

Health features

Though it doesn't replace the doctor, the Series 7 is hoping to keep its wearer on top of their health at all times. It is constantly monitoring heart rate to alert you of any high and low readings or of irregular heart rhythm. But the biggest feature is both the blood oxygen and ECG apps.

Some of the health features on the Series 7

Some of the health features on the Series 7

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Monitoring your blood oxygen is something the Apple Watch Series 7 does seamlessly through an app exclusive to this model. Through four clusters of red, green, and infrared LEDs and four photodiodes on the back of your watch, you'll have real-time blood oxygen readings visible with just a tap. 

An optical heart sensor on the back of your watch and an electrical heart sensor on the Digital Crown of your Series 7 watch generate an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram in just 30 seconds, giving you insights to stay on top of your health wherever you are. 

Wheezing through your workout is at least made better by knowing your watch is monitoring your heart rate and keeping you motivated with dozens of workouts available to start at any time. Your watch will log your activity levels with activity rings to track your daily exercise, move minutes and time spent standing. If fitness is a big part of your daily life, you can dip into Apple Fitness+, a membership fitness service from Apple that comes with three months free when you purchase an Apple Watch.

More: Best fitness trackers

Price

The iPhone Apple Watch Series 7 retails from $399 for the 41mm aluminum case and GPS technology and $429 for the same version in 45mm. Prices range all the way up to $1299 for the Hermes edition, so it's not a small purchase to make on a whim. It's only natural to want to make sure you're buying the right one for you with such a high price tag. You can see all the price options on Apple's website.

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

It might as well be called the Apple Watch Lite, it's a great watch reminiscent of the Series 6 but lacking just a few of the features. It sports a larger display and is two times faster than the Series 3, which is still available for sale, by the way. The Apple Watch SE is a more affordable option but still offers many laudable features, making it the perfect smartwatch for many consumers out there.

Specifications

Features Apple Watch SE
Screen Size 44mm & 40mm
Construction Aluminum
Screen Finish Ion-X front glass
Display Retina Display
Finishes Space Gray, Silver, Gold
Chip Dual-core S5 SiP
Capacity 32GB
Connectivity 2.4GHz
Water Resistance Up to 50m
Health High and low heart rate notifications & irregular heart rhythm notifications
Emergency Fall detection, noise monitoring and Emergency SOS
Battery life Up to 18 hours

Display

Display on the SE
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

Available in a 40mm and 44mm case, the Apple Watch SE has a retina display with only a 3mm border, so you can see more on your screen than you would with the Series 3, for example. The 40mm display features a 324px by 394px resolution with a 759 square mm display area, while the 44mm case has a 368px by 448px and a 977 square mm display area. 

SE Display closeup
Apple

Fancy numbers aside, the display on the SE doesn't fall behind from the Series 7. While it is slightly smaller and doesn't have the always-on capability, it's a smooth, great looking watch face with a retina LTPO OLED display. Having an always-on smartwatch isn't a preference for many, especially those who appreciate a longer battery life. 

Also: The best Apple Watch screen protectors: From rugged to invisible

Features

Technology on SE

The SE uses the S5 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor that, while not as fast as the Series 7, is considerably faster than the Series 3. With 32GB of storage, you can download your music on your watch, leave your iPhone at home, and go for a run, mapping your route with the built-in GPS. 

The battery life is similar to that of all Apple Watches, at up to 18 hours on a full charge. It has a built-in lithium-ion battery and comes with a USB-C magnetic charging cable.

The Apple Watch SE is only compatible with 2.4 GHz wi-fi networks.

Finishes & construction

The Apple Watch SE only comes in a lightweight aluminum case with Ion-X front glass and a ceramic and sapphire crystal back glass. There are three available finishes in space gray, silver, and gold.

Apple Watch SE finishes

There are three available finishes for the SE

The SE is water-resistant up to 50 meters in depth, but it is not IP6X dust-resistant certified. This means that you can swim with your Apple Watch SE (and track that workout!) but I probably wouldn't wear it during a sandstorm. You're likely to be fine with everyday use, though.

Also: How to pair and unpair an Apple Watch

Health features

Though you won't get the blood oxygen and ECG apps with the Apple Watch SE, its second-generation optical heart sensor enables notifications for irregular heart rhythm and unusually high or low heart rate. You can also check your heart rate at any time with the Heart Rate app.

Some of the health features on the Apple Watch SE

Some of the health features on the Apple Watch SE

Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

The SE's and Series 7's built-in accelerometer is able to detect falls, prompting the watch to then ask you if you need emergency services once it detects a brusque movement. 

All Apple Watches come with a free three-month subscription to Fitness+, the newer fitness service by Apple that includes multiple workouts, guided meditations, and audio-guided experiences for running or walking. 

If you're not interested in more features than the SE offers, this Apple Watch could really be your next fitness buddy. The activity rings on the Apple Watch are also really motivating. The more time in a day is spent exercising, moving or standing, the rings close in; the daily goal being to close all your rings.

Price

The Apple Watch SE starts at the retail price of $279 for the 40mm case, which is considerably lower than the Series 7. The 44mm case retails for $309. Although there are only three case finishes, Apple offers multiple colored bands and different combinations to meet your preferences. The band styles available are sport band, solo loop, or sport loop.

Also: How to change the Apple Watch band

Which one is better?

The Series 7 is the winner here.

The larger display is definitely the top most attractive feature that puts the Series 7 over SE for me. I enjoy a big screen on all my devices, being a former fan of phablets back in the day, and the Series 7 Apple Watch's display is almost 20% larger than the SE's. 

The second winning feature is the blood oxygen and ECG sensors. These health capabilities are a top priority for many looking for a wearable device, so having it all in one is a big plus. 

Apple also says the Series 7 is also 20% faster than the SE, and in a world where devices are becoming faster on the daily, that could be something consider.

More: Read our Apple Watch Series 7 review

Apple Watch SE vs Apple Watch Series 7
Image: Maria Diaz / ZDNet

How to choose between Series 7 and SE?

Feature Apple Watch SEApple Watch 7
Price Starting at $279Starting at $399
Technology Dual-core S5 SiPDual-core S7 SiP
Construction AluminumAluminum, Stainless Steel, Titanium
Screen Size 44mm & 40mm45mm & 41mm
Display Retina DisplayAlways-on Retina display
Water Resistance Up to 50mUp to 50m
Dust Resistance -IP6X certified
Health Capabilities High and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rhythm notifications, fall detectionBlood Oxygen, ECG, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rythm notifications, fall detection
Speaker & Mic 50% louder speaker than Series 7 & Mic that enables Noise app50% louder speaker than Series 7 & Mic that enables Noise app
SOS Emergency SOS & international emergency callingEmergency SOS & international emergency calling
Location GPS, Compass & Always-on altimeterGPS, Compass & Always-on altimeter
Cellular Available cellular connectivityAvailable cellular connectivity
Family Setup Supported with data planSupported with data plan
Buttons Digital Crown with haptic feedbackDigital Crown with haptic feedback
Battery life Up to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours
Fast charging -Up to 33% faster charging
Wi-Fi Connectivity 2.4GHz2.4GHz & 5GHz

Looking at the specifications for each one and making a comparison in relation to your individual needs and preferences for a smartwatch is probably the way to go. Durability is pretty equal on both the SE and Series 7, as well as the 32GB of capacity, GPS, altitude monitoring, fall detection, walkie-talkie, Apple Pay capability, music streaming, camera remote, Siri, high and low heart rate monitoring and irregular heart rhythm notifications, and more. 

Both watches also allow you to send messages, make and take calls, and support family setup, where you can add Apple Watches for family members that don't have an iPhone.

But the differences will be what makes one stand out more than the other, considering the Apple Watch Series 7 is faster than the SE, has a larger display with the always-on feature, has the blood oxygen and ECG sensors, and a fast-charging capability. If these features aren't as important to you, or you're buying the watch for a younger person (ECG is not accurate for people under 22), the SE is the perfect Apple Watch for everyday use.

Pricing is another thing to consider when making a decision on which one to buy. The Series 7 starts a $399 while the SE retails from $279. At such different prices, the watches are each in their own league. It'll come down to what features are important to you and how much those features are worth to you.

Alternatives worth considering?

Apple's Series 3 watch is still available for sale and is a great option for day-to-day use. Though it doesn't have all the bells and whistles as the SE and Series 7, the Series 3 has the essential features like a retina display, measuring heart rate, Emergency SOS calling, GPS, and Altimeter, and is water-resistant up to 50 meters in depth. The display sizes are available in 42mm and 38mm, making it a good option for kids or younger adults.

If you appreciate fitness features the most, the Garmin Vivoactive 4 smartwatch is a great alternative to the Apple Watch Series 7. This watch is able to track more than your heart rate and blood oxygen: it can monitor respiration, energy levels, stress, menstrual cycle, sleep, hydration, and more. The battery life is also a few notches above the Apple Watch, lasting up to eight days in smartwatch mode.

The Fitbit Versa 3 is a far more affordable option than the Apple Watch. Though you'd lose some features in comparison, the Versa 3 can be a great fit for those that like to stay active or just want to become more active. It comes with GPS, enabling you to track your walks, runs, or biking trips without your phone on you. And built-in Alexa can help you hear the news or set up reminders and alarms for you. Being a Fitbit, it also will alert you when you need to step up your activity level.

FAQs

Which iPhones are compatible with Apple Watch?

All Apple Watches currently on the market require an iPhone 6s or newer with at least iOS 15. 

Can you use an Apple Watch without an iPhone?

While you do need an iPhone to set up an Apple Watch, Apple's Family Setup lets you set up an Apple Watch for someone that doesn't have an iPhone, like a kid or an older family member. Their Apple Watches will need cellular connectivity to access the internet, send messages, and make phone calls from their watch.

Does Apple Watch track your sleep?

Yes, you can track your sleep using your Apple Watch, just make sure it has enough charge to make it overnight. You can open the Sleep app in the morning and see how your night was, how many hours of sleep you actually got,, as well as trends and averages from the past two weeks. 

Can you use Apple Pay on your watch?

Apple Pay is actually much more convenient from your watch than your phone: being that it's always out on your wrist so you don't have to pull out your phone or wallet to pay. You can use Apple Pay from your Apple Watch even if you forget your phone in your car.

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