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

Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch SE
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE might be a difficult decision for shoppers throughout the next year. Whether it's price or design, both smartwatches offer exclusive advantages.

As Apple's latest wearable flagship, the Apple Watch 7 introduces a curvier chassis, thinner display borders and a brighter screen compared to the Apple Watch 6. It's the best smartwatch yet. 

Meanwhile, the Apple Watch SE remains Apple's mid-tier option. It skips on some health sensors and doesn't support an always-on display, but it starts at a fair $279.

The Apple Watch 7 starts at $399. So does it have enough upgrades compared to Apple Watch SE to make it the best Apple Watch for you? Or is the budget-friendly model have everything you need?

Read on for the key Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE differences you'll want to know about if you're planning on picking up a new Apple smartwatch.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Price and availability

The 41mm Apple Watch 7 starts at $399, with the larger 45mm size starts at $429. You can pay an $100 premium for Cellular support, which lets your Apple Watch stay connected when it's untethered from your iPhone.

The Apple Watch SE is $279 (or less, with the best Apple Watch deals.) If you want the Cellular version, the 40mm model starts at $329 and the 44mm version is $359. That’s only a $50 premium for LTE support.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Specs compared

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Apple Watch 7 Apple Watch SE
Starting price$399$279
Sizes41mm, 45mm40mm, 44mm
Display size/resolution1.9 inches, 484 x 396 pixels (45mm) 1.6 inches, 394 x 324 pixels (40mm); 1.8 inches, 448 x 368 pixels (44mm)
Cellular optionYesYes
Always-on displayYesNo
Color optionsSilver, Black, Green, Blue, RedSilver, Gold, Space Gray
Special featuresECG, SpO2, heart rate alerts, fall-detection, compass, always-on altimeterHeart rate alerts, fall-detection, compass, always-on altimeter

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Design and display

The Apple Watch SE's design is typical Apple Watch. It comes only in an aluminum case (the Apple Watch 7 will also available in stainless steel and titanium), but you will be able to choose between silver, gold, and space gray finishes. As for the display, the SE has the same screen as the Apple Watch 5 — which is 30% larger than that on the Apple Watch 3 — but it doesn't offer an always-on mode.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Apple)

You get an always-on display with the Apple Watch 7, meaning you can see a toned-down version of your complication without needing to raise your wrist or tap your screen. The display is also 70% brighter than the Apple Watch 6's.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

And that's not even the standout new display feature. Apple shrunk the screen's bezels making the Apple Watch 7's display around 20% bigger than the Apple Watch SE's. With a narrow 1.7mm bezel, the Apple Watch 7 looks larger without making the smartwatch any bulkier.

In fact, the Apple Watch 7's more curvaceous exterior should have the opposite effect. The smartwatch's refined geometrics promise a more seamless transition from the screen to the case than before. The new Apple Watch 7 sizes add to the effect.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Health sensors

Though the Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch 6 aren't much different in terms of health features, there are tools on the newest Apple Watch that the SE version doesn't get. For one, the SE doesn't have the Apple Watch blood oxygen app. It also can't record ECGs, which are used to detect signs of atrial fibrillation.

Apple Watch 7 heart rate monitor

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch SE does have continuous heart rate monitoring, though, and like Apple's other smartwatches it can send notifications for alarmingly high or low heart rates, plus send irregular heart rhythm notifications.

Both smartwatches come with the regular suite of fitness tracking metrics, including support for automatic workout tracking and a wide range of workout types. New workout types are also available with watchOS 8 — more on that below.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Features

The Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch SE are powered by watchOS 8, which shipped on the Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch SE.

With watchOS 8, users will get a new Mindfulness app, expanded support for digital keys, better HomeKit controls, multiple timers, precipitation alerts and refreshed messaging options. Apple also added an Apple Watch keyboard to the Apple Watch 7, so users aren't limited to scribble or talk-to-type.

Apple Watch 7

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to the updates, both the Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch SE have the expected support for Apple Pay, the best Apple Watch apps, music controls and more. When your iPhone is nearby, you can even answer phone calls from your wrist. And if you have a Cellular version connected to a wireless carrier, you can make calls when your iPhone is out of bounds, too.

Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Battery life

The Apple Watch 7 and Apple Watch SE have the same battery life — an estimated 18 hours. We've found you can eke out almost a full 24 hours of use, depending on the display settings you enable and whether you're using the GPS for an extended period of time.

The Apple Watch 7 touts faster charging. Apple estimates it charges 33% faster than the Apple Watch 6 with the help of a new USB-C compatible cord. 

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

With the Apple Watch SE sticking around, shoppers will get to choose from an all-new flagship and a reliable midrange model. You could read our Apple Watch SE vs. Apple Watch 3 face-off to figure out which of the less expensive versions offers the best value for you, but we'd suggest keeping your decision between the Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch SE.

It comes down to whether you want the bigger and brighter always-on display, as well as features like ECG and SpO2. If you think you can go without the upgraded screen and health sensors, the Apple Watch SE remains an excellent option for the price. And it'll get even better with watchOS 8.

See our guide on how to trade in your Apple Watch if you're preparing to purchase a new one. And be sure to check out our guide on how to use the Apple Watch as well as our smartwatch buying guide for more shopping options.

  • Next: Everything you need to know about iPhone 13
Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.