Apple Watch SE review: does it deliver at the 'special edition' price?

You will be missing some advanced health features and the 'always-on' function, but you can do without those

The second-generation Apple Watch SE will have more customisable watch faces to choose from. AFP
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Apple’s SE devices have been a boon to those on a budget: they are obviously cheaper than mainstream models and are still very much capable of doing the job.

The new Apple Watch SE aims to bring that experience to more wrists. The iPhone maker has been focusing on pricing recently. The company did not raise prices on the new iPhone 14 line-up and a cheaper digital timepiece may complement that.

We take a look at what makes this special since it has been described as a “special edition”.

Apple Watch SE's first and second generation: what’s the difference?

The old and new Apple Watch SE models are officially called the first and second generation, respectively. But to simplify things, we will refer to them as SE 1 and SE 2 from this point.

TECH SPECS: APPLE WATCH SE (second generation)

Display: 40mm, 324 x 394; 44mm, 368 x 448; Retina LTPO OLED, up to 1000 nits; Ion-X glass

Processor: Apple S8, W3 wireless

Capacity: 32GB

Memory: 1GB

Platform: watchOS 9

Health metrics: 2nd-gen heart rate sensor, workouts, fall/crash detection; emergency SOS, international emergency calling

Connectivity: GPS/GPS + cellular; Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Apple Pay)

Durability: Water resistant up to 50m

Battery: 269mAh Li-ion, up to 18h, wireless charging

Cards: eSIM

Finishes: Aluminium; midnight, silver, starlight

In the box: Watch SE, magnetic-to-USB-C charging cable, band/loop

Price: Starts at Dh999 (40mm) / 1,119 (44mm)

First, what they have in common: both have 40 millimetre and 44mm options and an organic light-emitting diode (Oled) display with a maximum brightness of 1000 nits. They come with 32 gigabytes of capacity and are water resistant up to a depth of 50 metres.

Aesthetically, there is nothing different, with the digital crown and button on the right still in their usual spots.

Next up are the two most important upgrades that lie within: the chips. The SE 2 uses the latest S8 processor — at par with Series 8 and Ultra — and is three notches above the SE 1’s S5, which is now three years old.

Complementing that is the U1 chip, another of Apple’s processors that handles specialised tasks, such as the W1 in AirPods and, most recently, H1.

U1 — U for ultra-wideband — basically helps to locate other devices with U1 chips, which is critical in Apple tasks such as AirDrop transfer and Find My location tracking.

Display

The SE 2 retains its 40mm and 44mm options, and if you think about it, the devices have come a long way from the initial 38mm and 42mm line-up from the early years. You can always adjust text size if you face difficulty reading from a distance.

It also has a max brightness of 1,000 nits, which is at par with Series 8. That is comfortable but you may require an extended glance in bright light conditions.

Since the SE 2 doesn’t have a display that is always on, you will have to twist your wrist to awaken it, and sometimes it doesn’t pop up instantly.

Health benefits

The SE 2, like its predecessor, comes with the same second-generation optical heart sensor, fall detection, emergency SOS and international emergency calling. You don’t get the latest heart, oxygen and ECG sensors, nor the newest temperature sensor found in the Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra. The Cycle Tracking app is available, which is a good tool for women.

It is important to note that Apple makes it explicitly clear that any results from any health metric tool from watches should not be substituted for professional medical advice. If you feel that there is something amiss with your health, consult a doctor.

Meanwhile, a new app called Medications has also been added, which helps you to manage, track, schedule and set reminders for your medications, vitamins and supplements.

Arguably, the most important feature Apple introduced in watchOS 9 is crash detection, which is basically an evolution of fall detection. In the event you are involved in a crash, your device will sound an alarm and a screen will pop up.

If you are OK, you can dismiss the alert; if you do not respond within 20 seconds, it will trigger a call to emergency services.

Crash detection — which cancels out any ongoing or non-emergency calls — will also be reflected on your iPhone. Your emergency contacts, if you have marked them, will be sent messages as well. However, no matter how great it is, this is one feature we hope you won’t need to use.

On the workout front, you can track your activity and set goals from hundreds of workouts. You will have a starting line-up of about 20 but you can add other workouts using the workout app.

How long does it last?

Apple usually markets its products as having “all-day” battery life but technically, the SE 2 is listed as having a battery life of up to 18 hours, the same as its predecessor.

As a matter of fact, it has been this way since the original Apple Watch in 2015. The only exception is the Apple Watch Ultra, whose battery lasts up to 36 hours, but we will look forward to that another day.

However, Apple has been typically conservative with its listed numbers — and the SE 2 pulled off a pleasant surprise.

Starting our day at 7am we never hit the 10 per cent red warning at the end of the day. In fact, we still had about 40 per cent of battery life at around the same time the following day.

Second generation Apple Watch SE models

Keep your use at bay and you can actually stretch the SE2 up until early evening, so it basically gives you two days of use. However, it is still a long way to go from the likes of Fitbit, whose watches can last for about a week.

You can, however, push that further with low-power mode, which was introduced in watchOS 9. This feature, which can be used on Series 4 and later models, disables functions such as always-on display, automatic workout detection, heart rate notifications and other background health measurements. Notifications may also be delayed.

When the low-power mode is active, a yellow circle icon will appear on top of the display. You will also have the option to keep low-power mode on for one, two or three days. This considerably stretches battery life — in our case, we were able to stretch it to more than three days, with a little decreased use. But keep in mind all those aforementioned disabled or limited functions, especially if you are monitoring your health or expecting some important message.

Verdict

The new Apple Watch SE reminds us of how it all started — a device that does not have everything but still performs. Sure, you will be missing some advanced health features and the always-on function, but you can do without those, making the SE 2, overall, value for money.

And it is, without a doubt, the best watch option for an iPhone, considering the seamless integration that it offers. You may have the missing features on other brands — for less, even — but the fall and crash detection is a very welcome inclusion.

Updated: October 04, 2022, 4:30 AM
TECH SPECS: APPLE WATCH SE (second generation)

Display: 40mm, 324 x 394; 44mm, 368 x 448; Retina LTPO OLED, up to 1000 nits; Ion-X glass

Processor: Apple S8, W3 wireless

Capacity: 32GB

Memory: 1GB

Platform: watchOS 9

Health metrics: 2nd-gen heart rate sensor, workouts, fall/crash detection; emergency SOS, international emergency calling

Connectivity: GPS/GPS + cellular; Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Apple Pay)

Durability: Water resistant up to 50m

Battery: 269mAh Li-ion, up to 18h, wireless charging

Cards: eSIM

Finishes: Aluminium; midnight, silver, starlight

In the box: Watch SE, magnetic-to-USB-C charging cable, band/loop

Price: Starts at Dh999 (40mm) / 1,119 (44mm)

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