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An Apple Watch SE 2 displays the Activity Analog watch face.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority
aa2020 recommended

Apple Watch SE 2 review: All the essentials for less

There's no need to break the bank for an Apple Watch when the excellent, affordable SE 2 is up for grabs.
By
September 27, 2022
aa2020 recommended

Apple Watch SE 2

If you're looking at buying your first Apple Watch, the Watch SE 2 shouldn't be your budget pick, it should be your starting point. Apple's affordable smartwatch offers all the tools and features most users will need, plus unrivaled app support and highly-accurate fitness tracking. The lack of blood oxygen monitoring is a questionable miss and you'll have to live without the Series 8's larger, always-on display, but if you only want the essentials, there's no reason not to save your cash.

What we like

Great value, priced lower than original model
Speedy S8 processor
Handy Low Power Mode
Color-matched back panel
A lot to like in watchOS 9
Much improved sleep tracking

What we don't like

Still no always-on display
Limited screen real estate
No SpO2 sensor
No advanced health tracking features
aa2020 recommended

Apple Watch SE 2

If you're looking at buying your first Apple Watch, the Watch SE 2 shouldn't be your budget pick, it should be your starting point. Apple's affordable smartwatch offers all the tools and features most users will need, plus unrivaled app support and highly-accurate fitness tracking. The lack of blood oxygen monitoring is a questionable miss and you'll have to live without the Series 8's larger, always-on display, but if you only want the essentials, there's no reason not to save your cash.

The second generation Apple Watch SE checks a lot of boxes. Primarily, it puts Apple’s iconic square smartwatch onto users’ wrists for a fraction of the price. While it might not have all the tools of its more expensive siblings, this budget-friendly wearable is stocked with everything users will ever need — as long as you’re rocking an iPhone, of course. Find out more in our Apple Watch SE 2 review.

About this Apple Watch SE 2 review: I tested the Apple Watch SE 2 for seven days. It was connected to my iPhone 11 Pro Max throughout the testing period. The Apple Watch SE 2 review unit was purchased by Android Authority.

What you need to know about the Apple Watch SE 2

An Apple Watch SE 2 user reviews their app library.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority
  • Apple Watch SE (40mm GPS): $249 / £259 / €299
  • Apple Watch SE (44mm GPS): $279 / £319 / €339
  • Apple Watch SE (40mm GPS + Cellular): $299 / £319 / €369
  • Apple Watch SE (44mm GPS + Cellular): $329 / £349 / €409

Apple’s smartwatch family expanded big time in 2022, launching three new watches in September 2022. Alongside the traditional Apple Watch Series 8, the company also introduced the rugged, super-premium Apple Watch Ultra and an updated, second-generation Apple Watch SE. The cheapest of these — the new Apple Watch SE (2022), which we’re calling the Watch SE 2 here for convenience — brings a number of improvements to Apple’s budget-conscious line while simultaneously setting a lower price than its predecessor in the US.

As always, the SE lineup represents a simplified version of Apple’s flagship watch. Stripped of costly sensors, it doesn’t record advanced health metrics such as electrocardiogram (ECG) or SpO2 measurements. It also doesn’t pack Apple’s new temperature sensor for advanced menstrual cycle tracking. Nor does it have the Watch Series 8’s IP6X dust resistance rating. Finally, it doesn’t feature the latest, oversized display or offer an always-on mode.

However, the Watch SE 2 is the best value Apple Watch available with plenty on board for the average user. It builds on the reliable device we applauded back in 2020, adding a faster processor, low-power mode, and a slightly redesigned aesthetic. It also supports watchOS 9 and consequently boasts Apple’s highly reliable activity tracking, new safety features, and deeper and more insightful sleep tracking. As with every other Apple Watch, though, it is not compatible with Android phones.

The Apple Watch SE 2 is available now from Apple and other major retailers. The series includes 40mm and 44mm case sizes, each of which is available in three colors: Midnight, Starlight, and Silver. Case builds are limited to aluminum but can be paired with bands in a variety of materials including silicone, nylon, and braided yarn. The base, Wi-Fi-only Apple Watch SE 2 model starts at just $249. Springing for the LTE model adds $50 for a starting price of $299, a great deal when you consider that adding cellular capabilities to the Apple Watch Series 8 requires a $100 surcharge.

What’s good?

An Apple Watch SE displays the Astronomy watch face featuring compass and weather complications.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

The new Apple Watch SE 2’s biggest selling point is its name and pedigree. Apple consistently makes stellar smartwatches. While shoppers may see a budget-friendly price tag, the Watch SE 2 hardly feels like a cheap or compromised device. Instead, the Watch SE 2 offers all the core components of an Apple wearable including seamless integration with iOS devices, dedicated and accurate fitness tracking, and unmatched app support.

The Watch SE 2 offers the core Apple Watch experience, including apps and integration, on the same speedy processor as the Series 8.

In this year’s model, all of these features run smoother than ever on the device’s new S8 dual-core processor. Though it launched alongside the Apple Watch 6, the original SE harbored an older S5 chip. The Watch SE 2’s leap to an S8 system-in-package (SiP) is significant; Apple estimates a resulting 20% faster product. For users, that equals a snappier performance, which you’ll definitely notice based on my testing.

Apps load quickly and menus scroll smoothly. Daily functions feel nearly identical to that of my regular fit, the Apple Watch Series 7. I was able to seamlessly swap between losing a game of chess, silencing move alerts, and paying for the day’s third coffee, all while keeping up with an overactive group chat of college girlfriends. Add in breaking news updates and a Harry Potter audiobook and what else do you really need on your wrist? This is a powerful smartwatch built for heavy usage.

An Apple Watch SE 2 watch case rests face down displaying the device's sensors.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

On the hardware side, Apple also upgraded the design of the SE’s watch case with a new color-matched, composite nylon backing. This material does double duty, refining the look of the wearable while also reducing its carbon footprint. It’s a subtle change that you only really see when the watch is off your wrist, but hey, the environment appreciates it. It also weighs ever so slightly less. It doesn’t overheat and played nice with my skin through sweat and sleep.

While the device is flipped over, users will also notice a different sensor package than that of the Series 8. The Apple Watch SE 2 doesn’t offer the same advanced health measurements as the high-end model. However, it does offer heart rate tracking that is every bit as accurate, as well as high, low, and irregular heart rate notifications. These measurements were reliable at rest as well as throughout a number of workouts.

A graph shows heart rate data for both the Apple Watch SE 2 and the Apple Watch Series 7 during a 3 mile run.

The graph above shows heart rate data recorded by the Apple Watch SE 2 as well as the Apple Watch Series 7. The data is nearly identical between the two devices despite their significant price difference. In fact, there are a few instances when the SE 2 seems to outperform the Series 7, which occasionally shows single-point anomalies. More importantly, the SE 2 doesn’t just perform well compared to other Apple Watches. I was also very happy to see the SE 2 consistently align with my Polar H10 chest strap.

GPS data shows nearly identical routes recorded by the Apple Watch SE 2 and Apple Watch Series 7.

Likewise, the SE 2 features notably accurate built-in GPS. I took the Apple Watch SE 2 on a number of runs, and once again, Apple contends with dedicated GPS devices. My watch recorded accurate routes as well as total distances. For example, I also compared GPS data for the same 30-minute run mentioned above. Here again, the Apple Watch SE 2 and Apple Watch Series 7 routes largely mirrored each other.

 

I also simply had more fun with added workout views and on-screen metrics. The new heart rate-focused view allows you to see what heart rate zone you are in throughout your workout. This feature officially validated that the hill I loathe isn’t just a struggle in my head. The activity rings view, meanwhile, offers instant gratification for anyone who wants to see their rings fill up in real-time. watchOS 9 brought a number of new tools to Apple’s wearables. When paired with accurate sensors like those of the SE 2, there is no doubt that this is an effective fitness companion.

In fact, in the health and fitness arena, many of the Apple Watch SE 2’s most significant upgrades are found within the software experience. Since these are not unique to the SE 2 and will in fact roll back to the original model as well, I won’t dig into them too much here — check out our deep dive for all the details. Highlights include AFib History, Medication Reminder, multi-sport mode, and much deeper workout analysis including training and recovery tools. watchOS 9 also brought improvements to sleep tracking (which I will talk more about below) and four fresh watch faces: Astronomy, Lunar, Metropolitan, and Playtime.

An Apple Watch SE 2 displays 22% battery and the Low Power Mode toggle.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Apple’s battery life claim for this model is the same old 18-hour timeframe, which is a disappointment to be sure. But instead of lamenting over why Apple can’t compete in the power arena, I will say the watch consistently outlasted its promised lifespan. In regular mode, my Apple Watch SE 2 review device lasted about 24 hours before needing to charge up. In Low Power Mode the battery lasted more than 40 hours.

To conserve battery life, the new Low Power Mode disables background activity such as resting heart rate measurements and irregular heart rate notifications. However, if you perform a workout in this mode, (which I did during testing), it will still provide heart rate data as well as GPS tracking. In fact, I found the day-to-day user experience virtually unchanged when in low power mode. The device still offered every feature I needed and tracked all the data I wanted to see. I charged my watch beginning at 9 PM, turned on low power mode, and climbed into bed. Two days later I charged it again while eating a late lunch.

The Apple Watch SE 2 prompts users to switch to Low Power Mode when their battery reaches 10%. It also adds a yellow icon to your watch face to indicate the mode is enabled. You can set this power-saving feature up by tapping your current battery percentage in the control center menu.

An Apple Watch SE 2 rests on a white surface displaying a user's sleep stages.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

The enhancements to Low Power Mode are especially convenient considering Apple has finally stepped up its sleep tracking to keep a closer count of users’ Zs. The new SE 2 launched with more advanced sleep tracking than the previous generation, with watchOS9 finally bringing sleep stages to the Apple ecosystem. This is a major step for the company as limitations in sleep tracking have been a consistent pain point. Apple’s tracking is reliable and detailed, with at-a-glance stats available on the wrist and further details available on your paired iPhone in the Health app.

That isn’t to say there isn’t room to improve. Apple still doesn’t offer sleep coaching or actionable advice like other brands. Fitbit’s Sleep Profile, for example, provides much deeper insights and guidance. Garmin’s sleep platform also offers sleep scores and data analysis. Apple remains somewhat simplistic, but the data it does provide is at least accurate.

I can also appreciate the seamless integration with the iPhone’s Focus settings. I live in a region where the time is several hours behind many long-distance family members. As such, I depend on do not disturb modes more than most. I am also deeply committed to remaining in bed once I tuck in and being able to easily set Sleep Focus mode on my phone with a few taps from my watch was glorious every time.

A user enables Crash Detection on their Apple Watch.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Apple also proves it values customers’ safety with the addition of Crash Detection on the Apple Watch SE 2. Utilizing the device’s new high-g accelerometer, along with other sensors, the watch can detect if a user has been in a car accident. It will even contact emergency services. Fortunately, I didn’t have to put this feature to the test during my review period. However, it’s comforting to see Apple include this on its budget lineup rather than pare back where safety is concerned. Though you will need your iPhone nearby to use Emergency SOS on an Apple Watch without cellular connectivity.

What’s not so good?

An Apple Watch rests on a gold and blue surface with the screen off.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Bright, colorful, square, Retina displays define the Apple Watch dynasty. Intricate watch faces pair complications and funky designs to add style and stats to users’ wrists. The Apple Watch SE 2 offers the same 1,000 nits of brightness as its siblings, but not all the time. Despite popular demand, the updated model still forgoes an always-on display. When not in use, the screen is unabashedly blank.

The Apple Watch SE 2 doesn't enjoy the same bump in display size as the Series 7 and Series 8, nor their optional always-on settings.

For anyone committed to a visible watch face, be it for looks or for function, this omission is disappointing. On the other hand, the device’s raise to wake is very responsive. I can’t remember a single time I found myself frustrated or waiting for the screen to appear during my testing. Similarly, I didn’t actively miss the additional real estate users will find on the Series 7 and 8, though it would have been nice for those that want a larger display without paying a premium (especially considering it has relatively large bezels).

The Apple Watch SE 2 echoes the case sizing and display design of the Series 6. It’s available in 40mm and 44mm cases rather than 41mm and 45mm. The screen area is larger than the original Apple Watch SE, but roughly 20% smaller than that of the Series 8 and nearly 27% smaller than that of the Ultra. Perhaps as a result of the smaller size compared to its siblings, there’s also no QWERTY keyboard function for responding to messages and the like. If you have the handwriting of a small child and can’t use the Scribble function, you’ll have to stick with voice input.

A user reviews the health tools available and unavailable on their device.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Unfortunately, display space isn’t the only cutback. The major features missing from the Apple Watch SE 2 are advanced health sensors. Like the original SE, the 2022 model skips out on blood oxygen monitoring as well as an ECG. This isn’t altogether surprising as these features help maintain the value difference between Apple’s budget and flagship options, though the lack of an SpO2 sensor stands out when many rivals’ devices at this point — and many that are even cheaper — have one.

Advanced health sensors keep Apple's more expensive models a step above the affordable SE 2.

This year, however, Apple also added temperature sensing to the Apple Watch Series 8. Utilizing two sensors, one on the back of the device and a second under the display, the watch can determine users’ body temperature. This is a powerful tool, with significant implications for female health tracking. While a very long shot, it would have been great to see Apple make this health tool accessible for every budget.

Apple Watch SE 2 specs

Apple Watch SE 2
Display
LTPO OLED Retina
368 x 448 pixels (44mm)

324 x 394 pixels (40mm)
Dimensions and weight
44mm:
44 x 38 x 10.7mm
33g

40mm:
40 x 34 x 10.7mm
26.4g

Durability
WR50
SoC
Apple S8 with 64-bit dual-core processor
Apple W3
RAM
1GB
Storage
32GB
Battery
18 hours
45 min to 80% charge

USB-C magnetic fast charging cable
Software
WatchOS 9
Case materials and colors
Aluminum
Midnight, Starlight, Silver

Connectivity
GPS/GNSS
GLONASS
Galileo
QZSS
BeiDou
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Bluetooth 5.0

LTE bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 19, 25, 26, 39, 40, 41, 66
Sensors
Always-on altimeter
Third-generation optical heart sensor
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Ambient light sensor
Compatibility
iOS 15 or later

Apple Watch SE 2 review: The verdict

An Apple Watch SE 2 40mm watch case rests on a blue abstract surface.
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

The Apple Watch SE 2 is a strong contender and offers one of the most well-rounded smartwatch experiences available. With the launch of watchOS 9, the company added deeper workout analysis and more extensive sleep tracking, creeping into Fitbit and Garmin’s wheelhouses. These advancements broaden Apple’s reach, and luckily, they’re not just on the company’s most expensive models. The Apple Watch SE 2 offers all the benefits of Apple’s latest software update. It also packs an incredibly accurate GPS tracking system, extensive fitness tracking, and adequate battery life. Plus, with the most extensive third-party app support in wearables, its potential is almost limitless.

With the many new features of watchOS 9, the Apple Watch SE 2 isn't just Apple's most affordable option, it's one of the best entry-level smartwatches you can buy.

That said, the Watch SE 2 isn’t the cream of Apple’s crop. The Apple Watch Series 8 ($399) is still the better smartwatch. However, the more affordable model is perhaps the better pick for most people. Short of advanced health sensors, the Apple Watch SE 2 offers nearly an identical experience at a much better price. Only if you have relevant health concerns, or if detailed cycle tracking is a priority, is the pricier model worth the splurge. Of course, if you’re an adventurer with money to burn, the Apple Watch Ultra ($799) might also be the right fit. The Apple Watch Series 7 ($349) also makes our shortlist if you can find it on sale, but you won’t get a temperature sensor with that option.

If you aren’t an iOS user, none of these will do, of course. For better or worse Apple Watches remain singularly compatible with iPhones. Luckily there are plenty of Apple Watch alternatives to consider. The leading square-shaped device for non-Apple users is the Garmin Venu Sq 2 ($249.99 at Garmin). It offers highly-accurate fitness tracking, an SpO2 sensor, and much better battery life. Grabbing the Music Edition is also well worth the price hike if you can swing it so you can listen to tunes on the go.

For a more comprehensive experience, the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 ($279.99 at Samsung) is currently the best Wear OS watch available. It offers useful smartwatch features including the Google Play Store plus a quality build. For the best sleep tracking on a budget smartwatch, Fitbit’s latest smartwatches, the Versa 4 ($229) and Sense 2 ($299) are also worth considering. Fitbit’s ecosystem is an especially good fit for anyone new to tracking who wants to focus on the basics.

Again though, if you are already tied into the Apple ecosystem, it’s tough to argue against the Apple Watch SE 2. It’s affordable, reliable, and powerful. Most importantly, its value is undeniable.

Apple Watch SE (2022)
Apple Watch SE (2022)
More affordable • Made from recycled materials • Excellent display
The excellent, affordable SE 2 is up for grabs.
The Watch SE 2 carries the essential features of the Apple Series 8 at a more affordable price. It features the same processor and the Car Crash detector as the more expensive models, and Apple says the battery lasts a decent eighteen hours of use.

Top Apple Watch SE 2 questions and answers

The Apple Watch SE has a water resistance rating of 50 meters. It is safe for shallow swimming in a pool or ocean.

Yes, the Apple Watch SE 2 has a speaker.

Yes, the Apple Watch SE 2 can be used to support family members who do not have an iPhone for phone calls, messages, and location sharing.

The Apple Watch SE 2 features Emergency SOS, International emergency calling, Fall Detection, Crash Detection, Noise monitoring, and Backtrack.

Unfortunately, all Apple Watches remain compatible with iOS devices only, so the Apple Watch SE 2 will not work with an Android phone.

The Apple Watch SE 2 takes about an hour and a half to charge from 0 to 100%. It does not feature the same fast charging technology as more expensive Apple Watch models, though it’s far from the slowest charging smartwatch you’ll find.