Apple Watch SE 2 made me think twice about Series 8

It’s easy to dismiss the Apple Watch SE 2 as the “lowest” Apple Watch, which only those who watch the bottom line buy. The Apple Watch Series 8 (or even the Apple Watch Ultra) is the one to buy, right? Sorry, but this is a completely wrong way of looking at it.

Living with the second generation Apple Watch SE made me realize that it should be the default Apple smartwatch, and only then should you consider whether you need more of the Series 8. It’s really good, and here’s why.

Understanding Apple Watch SE 2

I’m not reviewing the Apple Watch SE 2, so I won’t go into too much detail about its specs or features — plus I’ve only been wearing it for a few days. But I am very familiar with the Apple Watch Series 7 and have worn the original Watch SE as well, and this experience pretty much tells me what I need to know about the value proposition of the Watch SE 2. It also tells me who to consider, even without a few weeks with Put it on my wrist.

Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Not that the Apple Watch SE 2 is the perfect smartwatch, but many of the features that distinguish the Watch Series 8 from a relatively large segment of people wanting to buy an Apple Watch. Well, aside from one feature, that is, but I’ll come back to that.

At first, I thought I’d miss out on the larger screen space of the Series 7 and Series 8, as the SE 2 is based on a 44mm and 40mm case last seen on the Watch Series 6. But I haven’t done that yet! I prefer the larger extension when I’m using the larger Apple Watch, but the Watch SE 2 didn’t feel restrictive or “outdated” simply because it doesn’t have the same visual punch as its more expensive sister. They are still wonderfully sharp and colorful, which is the most important.

The cover of the Apple Watch SE 2 has appeared.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Apple used a new material for the rear case on the SE 2. It’s the nylon material instead of the ceramic on the 8 Series, and I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be skin-friendly, and you might sweat a lot. So far, neither case has proven to be cause for concern. I’ve worn it all night without any adverse reactions, and while it’s not as cold as the ceramic on your wrist, it doesn’t feel hot or sweaty. It’s there to reduce cost, and for once, it doesn’t diminish appearance or mean compromising on comfort.

Do you need the added health features?

I know what you’re thinking right now, what about health and fitness features? There are three primary features missing from the Watch SE 2: a blood oxygen sensor, an electrocardiogram, and a temperature sensor. It’s great to have and open Watch up to track more of your health — blood oxygen works with sleep tracking, and a temperature sensor for improved cycle tracking, for example — but everything still works without it, and pretty well, too.

Troubleshooting mode on Apple Watch SE 2.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I’ve never (thankfully) needed to use an ECG outside of my test for review purposes, cycle tracking isn’t right for me personally, and the Apple Watch isn’t the best sleep tracker regardless of its features due to the need to charge the battery regularly. The Apple Watch SE 2 still tracks workouts, has a powerful and reliable GPS, a heart rate sensor, and all the fitness apps I could want.

It comes with a new fault detection feature to go along with fall detection and noise monitoring. You also get warnings about an irregular heart rate, and a hand-washing timer is always helpful too, so it’s not like you’re personally any less safe with the SE. You’ll be less familiar with the data, but you can look at the list above and wonder if additional features will be relevant to you on a regular basis. If not, the Apple Watch SE 2 is probably the best buy.

Lots of power and battery life

If you decide to order the Apple Watch SE 2, you can look forward to great battery life. Apple says you’ll get “up to 18 hours” with multiple uses. For me, the Watch SE 2’s battery life was even better, coming in at two full days with two tracked 30-minute workouts and one night’s sleep also being tracked, along with the usual notifications and music control.

You won’t lose power either, because it has the same S8 processor as the Series 8 and Watch Ultra, and WatchOS 9 is excellent. It’s smooth when swiping through menus, quick to open apps and show notifications in more detail. I didn’t notice any performance differences switching from the Apple Watch Series 7 to the Watch SE 2, and I suspect it would be the same when I switched to the Apple Watch Series 8. That’s not a criticism of either, as the Apple Watch in all its forms is the best performing smartwatch you can buy.

Apple Watch SE 2’s biggest flaw

What is the one thing I mentioned earlier? It’s the always-on screen. When the Apple Watch SE 2 display isn’t being used, it’s a large black area out of nothing. This affects functionality somewhat as you can’t see the time at a glance, but Apple’s wrist-raising gesture is impeccable and somewhat mitigates that, but from a watch fan’s perspective its absence is painful.

I love wearing watches of all kinds, as much (if not more) for design than for any level of functionality. Wearing one and not showing the watch face all the time is annoying to me personally. Especially since Apple has opened up fun Nike watch faces to everyone, which, when paired with Nike’s new “Just Do It” sports strap here, gives the look of the Nike Edition on the SE. The effect will be complete on the Watch Series 8 with its always-on display.

It bothers me so much that I’d pay extra for an Apple Watch Series 8, but if that doesn’t worry you, the $299 starting price of the Apple Watch SE 2 makes it a rarity: the budget option envisioned in the product range is a lot of people’s best bet.

What these past few days have taught me is that the Apple Watch SE 2 really should be your first stop when considering the Apple Watch, rather than the Watch Series 8 as the default. Yes, the latter is technically superior, but really ask yourself if these additional features will be important to you before you buy one.

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