Apple Watch SE review (2022): The best smartwatch $250 can buy

I I didn’t expect Apple of all people to deliver the most affordable smartwatch money can buy in 2022. But with Apple saving $30 on the cost, the new Watch SE is arguably the most compelling wearable out there. For $150 less than the new Series 8, this year’s Watch SE offers a full suite of health and fitness tools, emergency features, and surprisingly few compromises. It even uses the same new chip as the Series 8 and looks indistinguishable to boot.

design and hardware

If you’ve seen one Apple Watch, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Unlike most smartwatches for Android users, iPhone owners are stuck with the rounded square face that the company has maintained year after year. At this point, it feels like most people are used to the form and have either embraced it, adapted to it, or given up complaining.

advantages

  • Comprehensive features at a new lower price
  • Well-rounded fitness and health tracking
  • Good performance
  • Comfortable design

Disadvantages

  • Shorter battery life than other Apple Watches
  • Not rated for dust resistance

I’m one of those people who decided to stop wasting my breath asking for a round face. At least the Watch SE looks harmless and is light, comfortable and well made. The 40mm model I tested fits my wrist well and most of the time I hardly even notice it’s there. A 44mm version is also available.

It’s worth noting that the latest wearables are similarly inconspicuous, although the 40mm Apple Watch SE is one of the lightest at 26.4 grams (0.93 ounces). Meanwhile, the Fitbit Sense and Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 dominate at 37.6 grams and 28.7 grams, respectively.

The Apple Watch SE (2022) with Starlight case and Starlight bracelet on a person's wrist.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Even though the SE’s bottom is made of a nylon composite and sapphire crystal instead of the ceramic of the predecessor and Series 8, I didn’t even realize there was a difference until I examined the spec sheet.

Unlike the Series 8 and Watch Ultra, the new SE isn’t rated IPX6 for dust resistance, but it is is water resistant to 50 meters. It also uses an older heart-rate monitor than the other two, but has the same S8 System-in-a-Package (SiP) processor, as well as an integrated High-G accelerometer that enables crash detection.

As with its predecessor, the SE’s screen is covered by an Ion-X glass, as opposed to the sapphire glass of the Series 8. I’ve had no glitches with the new SE, although my first review of the last-gen device was seriously damaged, with spiderweb tears covering the display after it fell off my sink. If you’re clumsy or expect to be careless with your smartwatch, it might be worth paying more to get a sturdier model.

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The Watch SE’s retina display is bright, razor-sharp, and easy to read even in direct sunlight. The latter has a lot to do with Apple’s consistent use of colored text on a black background, which is great for readability. Although Samsung watches like the Galaxy Watch 5 often have higher resolutions and greater brightness, they also sometimes use tiny, low-contrast fonts and can be difficult to read.

The Apple Watch SE (2022) on a person's wrist showing the Apps gallery.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The new SE has the same display as its predecessor, meaning it’s also an LTPO OLED panel, running at 394 x 324 and 448 x 368 resolutions for the 40mm and 44mm versions respectively. It also tops out at 1,000 nits of brightness like the older SE and Series 8.

Aside from the lack of a skin temperature sensor, the main difference between this year’s Watch SE and its premium siblings is that it doesn’t have an Always On Display (AOD). It just means raising your wrist (sometimes quite intentionally) to see things like the time, how long you’ve been exercising, or a notification you’ve just received. It takes a second for the Watch SE to wake up and show me what I’m looking for, but it never felt too sluggish. If you’re the impatient type and have cash to spare, this is one feature the Series 8 could be worth the extra $150.

performance and in action

For the price, it’s impressive that the Watch SE uses the same S8 SiP as the Series 8 and Watch Ultra. In general, this meant the $250 watch was just as snappy as its pricier counterparts when it came to setting new watch faces, taking my heart rate, starting a workout, and more. I wore the SE and a Series 8 during my testing and sometimes it was quicker to tell I’d run 10 minutes or more, while other times a higher quality model was first. Regardless of which device alerted me first, both clocked roughly the same duration for my outdoor walks.

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

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Using the SE to record my daily HIIT and strength training sessions felt the same as using the Series 8. The only difference was that the latter’s AOD kept the workout screen on, making it easier for me to keep track of stats like elapsed time and calories could keep burned.

The main feature missing from the SE is the new skin temperature sensor that Apple introduced on the Series 8. This measures the body temperature of the wearer overnight and, based on any deviations from an initial value, retrospectively estimates whether ovulation has taken place. Since the SE doesn’t have the hardware, it doesn’t offer this ovulation tracking feature. But it does everything else to do with cycle and sleep tracking. You can log your period or wear this to bed to see how long you’ve been in zones like REM, deep and core sleep.

Despite packing an older heart-rate monitor than the Series 8 and Watch Ultra, the SE didn’t take significantly longer to provide a reading. To be honest, for the most part I couldn’t tell any difference between the SE and the Series 7, which I’ve had for a year. I didn’t use the missing features like the ECG and blood oxygen apps very often anyway.

The Apple Watch SE (2022) on a person's wrist with an activity app and rings.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Battery life

One area where the SE has lagged behind the more expensive Apple Watches is battery life. While the Series 8 typically stuck around all day with juice the next morning, the SE tended to be dangerously low at night when I used to be particularly active. I typically log a workout every morning and rely on the watches to automatically recognize my two to five outdoor walks each day as I try to get my stance and hit goals. If I walk for more than 10 minutes more than twice, the Watch SE will struggle to last until midnight.

Another notable difference between the SE and the Series 7 and up is that it doesn’t offer fast charging, but it never took more than an hour to get back to 100 percent.

Wrap up

Apple sacrificed surprisingly few features on the second-gen Watch SE. As a starter smartwatch, it offers numerous health and fitness tracking functions while ensuring safety with emergency functions such as crash detection and compass trackback. Unless you’re extremely clumsy or impatient, you won’t miss things like the sturdier screen, dust resistance, or always-on display. At $250, the new Watch SE is the best smartwatch for the money.

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Russell Falcon

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