Apple Watch SE | Is It Still a Good Deal in 2021?

Apple Watch SE 22 Credit: Apple
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With the new Apple Watch Series 7 landing in stores this Friday having relatively modest improvements over its predecessor, many Apple fans are pondering whether to make the jump to the newest model. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that the Series 7 isn’t the only option on the table.

While Apple has taken the usual step of discontinuing last year’s mainstream Series 6 model, there’s still another horse in the race: The 2020 Apple Watch SE, introduced last year as a lower-cost option alongside the Series 6.

The Apple Watch Series 7 sells at the same price points as the Apple Watch Series 6 that it replaces, and sadly, Apple hasn’t chosen to drop the price of the Apple Watch SE either — it still starts at $279 for the 40mm GPS-only model, going up from there if you opt for the larger 44m size or the GPS+Cellular version.

However, suppose you’ve been holding on to an older Apple Watch, anticipating what this year’s model would bring. In that case, the Apple Watch SE gives you another option that may be worth considering if you’re tired of waiting for major improvements to come to Apple’s premium wearable.

The Apple Watch SE vs. the Series 7

There are clearly some nice improvements that make the Series 7 worth it for anybody coming from a much older model since you get the cumulative upgrades from all the prior generations.

For example, if you’re still wearing a Series 4, the Series 7 will give you the always-on display and compass from the Series 5, the blood oxygen sensor from the Series 6, and a bigger and brighter always-on display that’s one of the hallmarks of the newest model.

However, if you don’t feel the need for all these features, it may be time to consider saving a few bucks and going with the Apple Watch SE instead.

For one thing, not only is the Apple Watch SE more affordable to start with, but the price gap to move up to the GPS+Cellular version is also less. You pay only a $50 premium over the GPS-only model, rather than the $100 increase of the Series 7. In other words, you can get a 44mm GPS+Cellular Apple Watch SE for only $359, versus $529 for the equivalent Apple Watch Series 7.

If you’re still wearing an Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple Watch SE is an upgrade from your current Apple Watch in every way, as you’ll gain the new design with a larger screen — albeit not as large as the one on the new Series 7 — plus fall detection, noise monitoring, a faster processor, better battery life, an always-on altimeter, and even a built-in compass.

That said, however, if you already have an Apple Watch Series 4, there are very few compelling reasons to move to the Apple Watch SE. You’ll be gaining more storage capacity — 32GB vs. 16GB — plus the aforementioned compass, but you’ll also be giving up the ECG feature. Further, while the Apple Watch SE uses Apple’s S5 chip that was introduced in the Series 5, it’s actually no faster than the S4 chip.

Lastly, it’s also important to remember that even though Apple skipped releasing a new Apple Watch SE this time around, there’s a good chance that another one is on the horizon. A new model could come as soon as next spring and may even feature the new design we’ve heard rumours about.

Who Is the Apple Watch SE Really For?

The Apple Watch SE appears to be intended primarily to lure new users into the Apple Watch fold — especially those that don’t need the advanced health features.

After all, the major difference between the Apple Watch SE and the Series 4/5/6 generations is the lack of health monitoring features like ECG and Blood Oxygen sensors. Apart from that, you’re only really missing the always-on display. All the important fitness features are there, including heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, and even the new respiratory rate monitoring in watchOS 8.

Basically, the Apple Watch SE still includes all the most important core features of Apple’s wearable, at a much more affordable price.

It’s also no coincidence that Apple launched the Apple Watch SE alongside its new Family Setup feature since it creates a much more affordable wearable to give to kids or other family members who may not (yet) have their own iPhone to pair it with.

In short, the Apple Watch SE is a great option for users buying their first Apple Watch who don’t want to spend a lot of money, but it’s also a solid choice for those who are happy with a Series 3 or older model and have been looking for an affordable upgrade to something a bit more modern.

The Lame Duck: The Apple Watch Series 3

For reasons that somewhat mystify us, Apple is still selling the Apple Watch Series 3 for $199, making it one of the oldest products that Apple still currently sells. It’s still technically compatible with watchOS 8 — despite a rash of problems Series 3 users had with watchOS 7.

In fact, the 2017 Apple Watch Series 3 is surpassed only by the 2015 Apple TV HD in terms of legacy products that Apple is still selling in 2021, and both are equally bad places to spend your money.

In the case of the Apple TV HD, Apple has the audacity to try to sell a six-year-old model for only $30 less than the 2021 Apple TV 4K that it launched this past spring. The $80 price gap from the Apple Watch Series 3 to the Apple Watch SE is no better when you consider how much more you’re getting for that additional $80.

Apple’s comparison page tries to put the best spin on the Series 3 that it can, but you can clearly see how much you’ll really be missing. Here are just a few of the things that the Apple Watch SE offers that the Series 3 doesn’t:

  • International Emergency Calling
  • Fall Detection
  • Compass
  • Always-on Altimeter
  • Cellular Option
  • Support for Family Setup
  • Larger Display with LTPO technology
  • Noise Monitoring
  • Faster 64-bit Processor
  • W3 Wireless chip
  • Significantly More Storage Capacity (32GB vs. 8GB)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Improved Heart Sensor
  • Louder Speaker and Improved Mic
  • Haptic Feedback on Digital Crown
  • Ceramic and Sapphire Crystal Back
  • USB-C Magnetic Charging Cable
  • Nike Models Available

It’s also worth noting that many of these features are identical to those found on the Apple Watch Series 7. In other words, for only $80 more, you’re getting a significantly more modern Apple Watch, and the only important things you’ll be missing from the latest and greatest flagship model is the always-on display, fast charging, the ECG, Blood Oxygen sensors, and a slightly faster processor.

The bottom line is that we can’t think of any good reason for most people even to consider the Apple Watch Series 3. In fact, we were very surprised that it’s still supported in watchOS 8, and there’s every reason to believe the Apple Watch Series 3 is on life support at this point.

At this point, it’s basically not much more than an alternative to a Fitbit for those who prefer to stay in the Apple ecosystem. However, unless you’re on an extremely tight budget, we strongly recommend spending the extra money to move up to the Apple Watch SE.

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