Apple watches are starting to look almost the same. The new Series 8 and Watch SE look so similar to last year’s Series 7 that I have a hard time telling them apart. But in fact, the new models that Apple introduced last week bring some less obvious changes. The most notable of these is a new temperature sensor that is currently used for ovulation tracking, as well as a built-in high-gravity accelerometer that enables accident detection.

The company also introduced the Watch Ultra, which was designed specifically for outdoor adventurers. The Ultra may be the most exciting smartwatch of the three, but what the new Watch SE offers for the money makes it the most interesting device in my book. Plus, Apple slashed $30 off its price, so the SE now costs $250 even though it’s basically the same as the $400 Series 8. Honestly, this feels like the smartwatch most iOS users should consider.

In the week I’ve had the Watch SE, I’ve used it alongside my Series 7 or Series 8, which I’m also testing. Apart from the size, I haven’t noticed much difference between the three models. The Series 8 is available with 41mm or 45mm cases; I am using the latter. It’s a bit too big for my wrist, but I like how much easier it is to see things on that more spacious screen. The new SE, meanwhile, comes in 40mm or 44mm options; I have the smaller version, which I prefer especially as it is more comfortable to wear in bed.

The main features you’ll miss if you opt for an SE over a Series 8 are the always-on display (AOD), ECG reader, blood oxygen app, and new skin temperature sensor. Like the previous SE, this year’s model also charges at a slower rate than the Series 7 and 8, and it doesn’t have a U1 chip for ultra-wideband. It also lacks the IP6X dust-resistance rating of its more premium counterparts, so if you’re likely to take this Tough Mudding or to the beach, it might be worth considering a more expensive model. Those who hate thick bezels will also find the SE’s thicker edges off-putting, but without a side-by-side comparison I didn’t notice much of a difference.

Otherwise, this year’s Watch SE packs the same system-in-a-package (SiP) processor as the $400 Series 8, as well as a high-g accelerometer that makes fault detection possible. In my time with it, unsurprisingly, the SE has been just as responsive as the Series 8, launching workouts and completing heart rate scans in the same amount of time. It tended to be slower at detecting outdoor walking workouts, but when it did go to record a workout, it usually showed the same continuous duration as the more premium watch. It also generally recognized when it had stopped walking faster than my Series 7.

Cherylnn Low / Engadget

As for the other missing features, frankly I haven’t used the ECG and blood oxygen readings on the Series 7 which I’ve used for a year. I’ve done maybe three scans of each type in that time, and I definitely rely more on heart rate than blood oxygen to gauge my fitness.

I only noticed the AOD missing on the SE when I was using both the SE and Series 7, and each issued an alert. I had to wait a fraction of a second for the SE screen to wake up, while the notification was ready for immediate display on the Series 7. Other than that, though, the AOD didn’t affect my SE experience much.

It didn’t even affect battery life, for better or worse. You’d think not having an always-on display would make the SE last longer, but most days the SE and my Series 7 lasted the same amount of time, even though the latter had an AOD. They both stayed all day, following my morning workouts and frequent walks outside while delivering various reminders and alerts. I could usually make it to the next morning with a bit of battery left as well.

Apple Watch SE (2022) on a person's wrist held up in front of a colorful row of kettlebells.

Cherylnn Low / Engadget

I have yet to try the new low power mode on the Watch SE, but I tried it on the Series 8 when it was only about 20 percent juice one morning before an 8am workout class I turned on the low power mode and I was able to track the entire 45-minute session and go home with less than 10 percent remaining.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the Watch SE still had 92 percent battery life after monitoring my sleep overnight. I woke up to a report showing all the zones I’d been through in my five hours of sleep, detailing the amount of time I’d spent in core, deep, and REM. This is a feature of watchOS 9, so if you have an older model, you’ll get it when you update your software.

Apple Watch SE (2022) on a person's wrist, showing the Activity app and rings.

Cherylnn Low / Engadget

Compared to the last Watch SE, this year’s model features a larger screen and the new SiPs and sensors I mentioned earlier. If you are considering upgrading from that model, the SE new you will definitely feel fresh. However, if you’re choosing between a new SE and an 8 Series, it’s less about what you can live without and more about how much extra money you have. Those who don’t mind spending an extra $150 can buy the Series 8 with the assurance of having all the features Apple has to offer. Otherwise, most people will be satisfied with what the new Watch SE offers for the money.

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