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Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Which should you buy?

The Apple Watch Series 7 has been released in September 2021, featuring larger displays, improved durability, and faster charging. Apple unveiled the Apple Watch SE last year, a low-cost Apple Watch option that still offers many of the Apple Watch features that have made the device so popular over the years.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ starts at $399, while the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is more competitively priced at $279. Since both models share many key features, including design, water resistance, and an optical heart sensor, it might not be immediately obvious which model is right for you. Is it worth buying a cheaper model with fewer features? Our guide answers the question of how to decide which of these two Apple Watches is best for you.

Comparing the differences and similarities between Apple Watch Series 7 and the Apple Watch SE

Many of the features of these two models of Apple Watch are the same, with Apple listing the following identical features:

Similarities

  • Available with aluminum casing option
  • Digital Crown with haptic feedback
  • Retina LTPO OLED display, with a brightness of up to 1,000 nits
  • “Swimproof” water resistance up to 50 meters
  • 64‑bit dual-core processor
  • High and low heart rate and irregular heart rhythm notifications
  • Accelerometer and gyroscope (fall detection)
  • Always-on altimeter
  • Compass
  • Ambient light sensor
  • 50 percent louder speaker than Series 3
  • Microphone
  • Noise monitoring
  • 18-hour “all-day” battery life
  • GPS and GPS + Cellular models
  • Support for Family Setup (GPS + Cellular models)
  • International emergency calling and emergency SOS
  • W3 wireless chip
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • 32GB capacity

Apple’s breakdown shows that these two models share a majority of features. Even so, there are a number of meaningful differences between the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ and the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ that are worth highlighting, such as display size, ECGs, and blood oxygen monitoring.

Although the size of both watches is different, the Apple watch bands are compatible with these two watches. The 44mm size Apple watch band fits the 45 mm watch and the 40mm watch band fits the 41mm watch. However, the watch case must be the same size as the watch then it fits.

Differences

Apple Watch SE

  • Available with aluminum casing only
  • 44mm or 40mm casing sizes
  • Retina display
  • Display with 3.0mm borders
  • S5 SiP with 64‑bit dual-core processor
  • The second-generation optical heart sensor
  • Available in Space Gray, Silver, and Gold
  • Weighs 30.8g/36.5g
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
  • Comes with a 1m USB-C charging cable

Apple Watch Series 7

  • Aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium casing options
  • 45mm or 41mm casing sizes
  • Always-On Retina display
  • 20 percent larger display with 1.7mm borders
  • Crack-resistant front crystal
  • IP6X dust resistance
  • S7 SiP with 64‑bit dual-core processor (up to 20 percent faster than ‌Apple Watch SE‌)
  • Third-generation optical heart sensor
  • Blood oxygen sensor
  • Electrical heart sensor
  • Fast charging (up to 80 percent charge in about 45 minutes)
  • Aluminum models are available in Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue, and (PRODUCT)RED, stainless steel models available in Graphite, Silver, and Gold, and titanium models available in Silver and Space Black
  • Aluminum models weigh 32.0g/38.8g, stainless steel 42.3g/51.5g, and titanium 37.0g/45.1g
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz, 5GHz
  • U1 Ultra Wideband chip
  • Comes with a 1m USB-C magnetic fast charging cable

Read on for a closer look at each of these aspects, and see what exactly both of the Apple Watch models have to offer.

Design

Although the Apple watch SE and Apple Watch 7 look similar, the Apple Watch 7 has a softer and more rounded edge. The device has only one speaker grille on the left side, and the overall look is slightly more dedicated.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ display features refractive edges that curve around the top of the device, allowing the full-screen watch face and apps to almost reach the case.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ also has a larger case, available in 41mm and 45mm models. This is a 1mm increase over the SE’s 40mm and 44mm case sizes. All ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ models are also heavier than SE models.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ is available in aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium, while the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is only available in aluminum. Apple Watches in stainless steel or titanium also use sapphire crystal screens, while aluminum watches use Ion-X tempered glass.

The two generations of the Apple Watch have a range of different finishes and color options, while the aluminum case has an almost completely different set of color options.

There are Space Gray, Silver, and Gold aluminum color options for Apple Watch SE, while the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ is available in Midnight, Starlight, Green, Blue, and (PRODUCT)RED aluminum color options.

If you particularly like the space gray, silver, or gold aluminum ‌Apple Watch SE‌, you’ll have to consider the different colors you want for the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌. While it probably won’t affect which of the two models you’ll buy as your first Apple Watch or as an upgrade from an older model, the different color options are still a notable consideration.

If you prefer stainless steel or titanium, you should get the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌, as it’s the only model to offer these finish options, but if you’re content with a lightweight aluminum case and a basic silver, space gray, or gold finish After that, “Apple Watch SE” is enough.

Durability

The ‌Apple Watch SE is not more durable than the Series 7, supporting a more crack-resistant front crystal. The new crystal component has a stronger geometry and is more than 50% thicker than the Apple Watch SE.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ is also IP6X certified for dust resistance, making it more durable in environments like the beach or desert. Like the SE, the Series 7 continues to be “water resistant” to a depth of 50 meters.

While the improved durability alone is unlikely to spur Series 7 purchases, it could be an important factor for users who regularly use it in dusty or sandy environments, or who have broken watches in the past.

Displays

The biggest difference between Apple Watch SE and Series 7 is the display size. The SE features borders around its display that are 3.0mm thick, but the Series 7 slims these down to just 1.7mm. With the help of larger casing sizes, the Series 7 features larger displays that have almost 20 percent more screen area than the SE.

The display of the Apple Watch Series 3 (left), SE (middle), and Series 7 (right)

Thanks to the larger display, the Apple watch series 7 can show more content on the screen and Apple has optimized watchOS 8 to take advantage of the extra space for larger menu titles and buttons in apps. There are also two additional larger font sizes and a new QWERTY keyboard that can be tapped or swiped with QuickPath.

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ also features two exclusive watch faces designed to showcase the larger display and smaller bezels. The new Contour watch face brings animated dials to the edge of the display and emphasizes the current hour. The new Modular Duo face takes advantage of the extra screen real estate and two large center complications.

The Contour and Modular Duo exclusive watch faces

Both the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ and ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ have a Retina LTPO OLED display and the maximum brightness of both displays is the same at 1,000 nits.

The Series 7 also has an always-on display. This means the display stays on even when you lower your wrist, so you don’t need to lift your wrist properly to always see the watch face. When their wrist is down, users can also access the Notification Center and Control Center, tap complications, and swipe to change faces without waking up the watch’s screen.

The ‌Apple Watch SE‌ doesn’t have an always-on display, which means users have to actively lift their wrist or tap the display to see their watch face.

Unless you feel like you specifically need to always see your watch face without raising your wrist, the Apple Watch SE’s display is good enough for most users. Series 7 simply elevates the watchOS experience with more space for UI elements, a full-size keyboard, and more. If you’re craving a bigger Apple Watch display, the Series 7 might be a better choice than the SE, but for most users, the SE will suffice.

S5 vs. S7 Chip

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ is powered by the S7 chip, which is based on the same CPU as the Apple Watch Series 6’s S6 chip. This is the similarity between two CPU chips with the same identifier.

Apple says the S7 chip offers a 20 percent boost in performance compared to the S5 chip in the Apple Watch SE, which enables apps to launch 20 percent faster while maintaining the same “all-day” 18-hour battery life.

Apple says the “Apple Watch SE” inherits the S5 dual-core processor from the Apple Watch Series 5, which still “offers incredibly fast performance.” The S5 is twice as fast as the Apple Watch Series 3.

The S7 chip wasn’t the main reason to choose the “Apple Watch Series 7”, it represented a small increase in performance. The S5 was already a powerful chip when it debuted in the Apple Watch Series 5, and the S7 just offered a more refined chip.

The performance improvement of the S7 chip over the S5 doesn’t seem like enough to justify the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ over the ‌Apple Watch SE‌, unless you absolutely need the fastest possible app launch speeds. For the vast majority of users, the Apple Watch SE’s chip will be fairly fast and efficient.

U1 Ultra-Wideband Chip

Only the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ contains the U1 Ultra Wideband chip. Apple says that the U1 on Apple Watch will “enable short-range wireless location to support new experiences, such as next-generation digital car keys and tracking of AirTags.

The distance between two devices that support ultra-wideband can be measured precisely by calculating the time that it takes for a radio wave to pass between the two devices, with much more accuracy than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi.

Since the U1 chip currently has few use cases, it is probably not worth getting the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ simply because of it. Nevertheless, if you plan on keeping your Apple Watch for many years, the U1 chip will likely make it a much more future-proof model, due to the high chance that more functionality will come to it in the coming years.

Charging

Both Apple Watch models retain what Apple calls an “all-day” battery life of around 18 hours, but the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ features 33 percent faster charging than the Series 6 due to a new charging architecture, which itself charged faster than the Series SE. The Apple Watch Series 6 is able to charge up to 100 percent in an hour and a half, but the Series 7 can reach 80 percent in just 45 minutes.

According to Apple, just eight minutes of charging time can provide eight hours of sleep tracking with the Series 7. This is partly thanks to a new USB-C magnetic fast charging cable that is included with the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ in the box.

Since the battery life of both models is virtually the same, it is probably not worth favoring the Series 7 simply on the basis of faster charging and slightly improved battery usage during particular activities. The Series 7’s battery and charging enhancements instead remain an important indication of how the device offers a range of small but meaningful improvements over the ‌Apple Watch SE‌.

If you find that you have little time to charge your Apple Watch during the day, the Series 7’s faster charging could be an important reason to upgrade for you. Even so, both devices still have the same “all-day” 18-hour battery life and will need to be recharged every day.

Health Monitoring

‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ offers blood oxygen monitoring. The feature measures the oxygen saturation of the user’s blood, so they can better understand their overall fitness and wellbeing. Oxygen saturation, also known as SpO2, represents the percentage of oxygen being carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body and indicates how well this oxygenated blood is being delivered throughout the body.

The Apple Watch Series 6 has a blood oxygen sensor on its rear with an array of four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDs. They measure light reflected back from blood and using an advanced custom algorithm, can determine blood oxygen saturation between 70 and 100 percent.

On-demand measurements can be taken using the Blood Oxygen app, and periodic background measurements are also taken, including during sleep. All data is visible in the Health app, and the user is able to track trends over time to see how their blood oxygen level changes.

Moreover, the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ contains the electrical heart sensor from previous models that is used to take electrocardiograms or ECGs. The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ has electrodes built into the Digital Crown and an electrical heart rate sensor on the rear. With the ECG app, users touch the Digital Crown and after 30 seconds, receive a heart rhythm classification. It can classify if the heart is beating in a normal pattern or whether there are signs of Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), a heart condition that may lead to major health complications. All recordings, their associated classifications, and any noted symptoms are stored in the Health app in a PDF that can be shared with physicians.

The ‌Apple Watch SE‌ does not have blood oxygen or an electrical heart sensor to monitor either of these health statistics. However, the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is not without the ability to record any health data.

The ‌Apple Watch SE‌ has an optical heart sensor to monitor heart rate and can give notifications about high and low heart rate, as well as irregular heart rhythm. The lower-cost model can also still perform emergency SOS, fall detection, and noise monitoring, just like the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌.

The additional health monitoring features of the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ are the main appeal of the more expensive model. If you believe that ECG and blood oxygen monitoring will be important to you, you should consider the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌. If these advanced health features are less of a priority for you, the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ still has some insightful health monitoring capabilities.

Other Apple Watch Options

Apple also offers the Apple Watch Series 3 for $199. This older model offers substantially fewer features and has a smaller screen. The Apple Watch Series 3 is still a capable device, with 8GB of storage, water resistance up to 50 meters, an altimeter, Emergency SOS, and an optical heart sensor. Functionally, it is more pared back than the ‌Apple Watch SE‌, being thicker with larger bezels.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is really only intended for those who want an Apple Watch at the lowest possible price, but it will certainly be the least future-proof model. Given that the Apple Watch Series 3 is a much older model, if you can afford an ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ or ‌Apple Watch SE‌, you should definitely prefer those newer options.

Final Thoughts

The ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ is an improvement over the previous Series 6 model, offering a larger display, improved durability, and faster charging. With its larger casing, always-on display, advanced health monitoring features, and range of colors and finishes, the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ will be the model of choice for those that want the most out of their wearable. If you are particularly interested in health tracking, the larger display, fast charging, or simply like a particular casing and color combination, the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌ will be the best model for you.

Although the ‌Apple Watch SE‌ is now over a year old, if you are on a budget and are not particularly attracted to the additional features of the Series 7, it is still a compelling option. The ‌Apple Watch SE‌ will be the go-to model for many Apple Watch customers due to its competitive pricing and generous feature set, and it may be the best choice for those new to Apple Watch or users who are coming from a Series 3 or older. As it shares so many features with the ‌Apple Watch Series 7‌, in most cases you should probably choose the more inexpensive model, unless you particularly value features such as the always-on display or advanced health monitoring and can justify the added cost.

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