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Apple Watch SE review: an almost great cheaper alternative Technology



Apple Watch SE is a cheaper version of Apple’s smartwatch that offers most things that do well while cutting out some important features.

Watch SE comes in two sizes, 40 mm or 44 mm, and is made of aluminum. Prices start at £ 269 – £ 100 less than the best Apple Watch Series 6 – and tested here in 44mm space gray version with 4G and cost £ 349. It requires an iPhone and cannot be used with Android.

Like Apple̵

7;s iPhone SE, the idea behind the Watch SE is to combine the best pieces of the company’s recent devices into a less expensive model. As such, the watch is essentially a Series 6 with the S5 processor from last year’s Series 5, no always on screen and no electrocardiogram (ECG) or blood oxygen sensor (SpO2).

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



The back of the Watch SE is different from other recent Apple Watch models and has a redesigned optical heart rate sensor configuration. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

The screen has the same quality as the Series 6, which makes it bright, colorful and sharp when on. But Apple has removed the ability to display the dial all the time. When you are not actively using it, the Watch SE screen is off. Only when you press it, turn the digital crown or turn the dial towards you, it lights up to show the time or an app.

It takes about half a second to do this when you rotate your wrist. But it requires a fairly deliberate action, which means you can not check the time with an angled glance when you carry something or just type on a keyboard on a desk.

Otherwise, the Watch SE fits the same as other Apple Watches with the same range of straps, and is available in silver, space gray or gold.

Specifications

  • Case size: 40mm or 44mm

  • Case thickness: 10.4 mm

  • Weight: 30.5 to 36.4 g, depending on version

  • Processor: S5

  • RAM: 1 GB

  • Storage: 32 GB

  • Operating system: WatchOS 7

  • Water resistance: 50 meters (5ATM)

  • Sensors: gyro, HR sensor, light, microphone, speaker, NFC, GPS / GNSS, compass, altimeter

  • Connection: Bluetooth 5, wifi n, NFC, optional 4G that requires eSIM and compatible plan

Solid performance and two-day battery

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



The USB charging puck is magnetically attached to the back of the watch and connected to any standard USB power adapter (there is not one in the box). Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Watch SE has the S5 chip which was used with great effect in series 5. On paper it is 20% slower than the S6 in series 6, but there is no noticeable difference. It is significantly faster than the chip used in the older Series 3 that is still on sale.

Battery life is very good, and lasts a total of 49 hours between charges. It includes overnight sleep tracking, which consumed 12% of the battery in eight hours, and a 25-minute drive that consumed 5%.

The watch is fully charged in 1 hour and 52 minutes from flat with magnetic charging cable and a standard 2A USB power adapter, which is just under 30 minutes longer than Series 6 and about the same as Series 5.

Sustainability

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



The watch is made of recycled aluminum. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Apple does not provide an expected battery life for the Watch SE. Similar batteries typically last at least 500 fully charged cycles while maintaining at least 80% capacity. The battery can be replaced for £ 82.44, while the watch can be repaired for between £ 206.44 and £ 236.44, depending on the model.

Watch SE uses 100% recycled aluminum in its case. It does not come with a power adapter in the box, but the wireless charging puck has a USB-A connector for connecting standard USB power adapters.

Apple also uses renewable energy to finalize the watch and breaks down Watch SE’s environmental impact in its report.

It offers exchange and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

WatchOS 7

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



Google Maps has returned to Apple Watch after a break. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Watch SE drives the latest watchOS 7 out of the box and has all the same warning, training and health tracking features as the Series 6, minus the ECG and SpO2 that require dedicated hardware sensors.

Voice dictation is now completely processed locally, which means that Siri is super fast for setting timers and other bits. Watch SE has the same tight integration with an iPhone as other Apple Watches, for alerts, Apple Pay and a relatively healthy selection of third-party apps, including Strava, Google Maps and a basic version of Spotify.

The one app that is missing is WhatsApp. You can reply to messages via the notification system, but can not start new ones from your wrist.

The watch connects to an iPhone and internet via Bluetooth and wifi, plus 4G for the models that support it, and if you have a compatible phone plan. Most of the watch’s functions also work offline, such as health and fitness tracking, but not alerts or maps. Apple Music can store tracks offline, to play via Bluetooth headphones for driving or the like, but Spotify can not.

Health monitoring

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



Heart rate monitoring on the Watch SE is the same as the Series 6, but it lacks an ECG and oxygen tracking in the blood. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Watch SE has all the health monitoring features of other Apple Watch models except those that rely on the ECG or SpO2 sensors, which are not included here. Watch SE therefore has heart rate monitoring, fall detection, noise monitoring, steps and general activity tracking, plus training sessions from running, cycling and swimming to core training, yoga and a huge list of others.

The screen does not stay on when you exercise, which means you cannot see the timer or the like while exercising, unless you press the clock or rotate your wrist as you can to see the time. It is not a problem to run, but was to see how long it was left under a plank.

Sleep tracking registers the time you slept, and can set a standard alarm, but can not measure your sleep cycle and has none of the smart alarm functions that competitors have, which wake you up in a light sleep phase so that you feel up to date.

Washbasin tracking is really smart and useful, and uses AI on the device to detect when you wash your hands using your movements and the sounds of water and soap, and automatically timing you for 20 seconds and logging it into the Health app.

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



The sleep tracking on the Apple Watch is basic compared to competitors. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Price

The Apple Watch SE comes in two sizes, three colors, different strap options and with or without optional 4G, which requires an eSIM and compatible phone subscription to use.

The 40mm version costs £ 269, or £ 319 with 4G. The 44mm version costs £ 299, or £ 349 with 4G.

By comparison, the Apple Watch Series 6 costs £ 379, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 costs £ 269, the Fossil Gen 5 costs £ 279 and the Fitbit Versa 3 costs £ 199.99.

Verdict

Apple Watch SE is almost a resounding success, but is let down by a corner for many.

It has all the key features that make an Apple Watch great. Excellent alerts, pin-sharp haptics, snappy performance and good battery life. Sleep tracking is a bit of rubbish, but the rest of the good health monitoring features are excellent, and it also has solid training tracking.

The lack of ECG and oxygen saturation sensors in the blood is only negative if you are looking for extensive monitoring done manually – they are just things you stop during the day to use if you are worried about a particular thing like your heart.

But the lack of one always on screen is a deadly killer for me. From looking at time and date to timing exercises, it is not annoying not to have the screen on all the time. It is also a feature that virtually all other smartwatches at this price or less have.

If you can get over one major drawback, the Apple Watch SE is great. Just be aware that while the £ 269 Watch SE is the lower cost of an Apple Watch, it is not cheap for a smartwatch with most rivals costing similar or less.

Benefits: excellent haptics, good health tracking, solid activity tracking, 50 meters water resistance, good battery, comfortable, quick-changing straps, Apple Pay.

Disadvantages: screen not on all the time, only works with an iPhone, sleep tracking not good, no ECG.

Apple Watch SE 2020 Review



The fit and finish of the Watch SE is as good as other Apple Watch versions. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

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