Apple Watch SE (2022) review

There's a lot to like about the $249 Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The new Apple Watch SE (2022) pairs an up-to-date processor with many of Apple's latest smartwatch features, including watchOS 9 and low power mode. Plus it checks out at a lower starting price. But if only it had an Always-On Display...

Pros

  • +

    Lower price than previous Apple Watch SE

  • +

    Color-matched bottom case

  • +

    Same chipset as Apple Watch Series 8

  • +

    Low power mode

Cons

  • -

    Thick bezels

  • -

    No Always-On Display

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Apple Watch SE (2022): Specs

Starting price: $249 (AU$399)
Sizes: 40mm, 44mm
Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Silver
Processor: S8
Connectivity: Cellular (optional,) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, U1, NFC, GPS
Waterproof: Up to 50 meters
Sensors: Heart rate
Battery life: 18 hours

The Apple Watch SE (2022) replaces the original Apple Watch SE with a modern processor, redesigned bottom casing and a lower price. It starts at $249, falling from $279 for the previous SE and alleviating some of the affordability concerns with the Apple Watch Series 3 being discontinued. 

Though it's $150 less than the Apple Watch Series 8, it has the same S8 chipset powering both Apple's latest flagship and the all-new (and much more expensive) Apple Watch Ultra. So while it might not have all the features of the two additional products in this year's Apple Watch lineup, the Apple Watch SE (2022) does offer an attractive compromise. 

The compromise might not be for everyone — oh, how I would've loved to rave about an Always-On Display in this Apple Watch SE (2022) review. But for the price, it's easy to call the Apple Watch SE the best Apple Watch value yet.

Apple Watch SE (2022) price and release date

The Apple Watch SE (2022) starts at $249 (£259, AU$399) for the 40mm, GPS-only size. The 44mm GPS-only model starts at $279 (£299, AU$449). In each configuration, this year's Apple Watch SE is less expensive compared to the Apple Watch SE released in 2020.

If you have an older Apple Watch, you can check out our guide on how to trade in your Apple Watch to fetch further savings towards a new device. Otherwise, we expect to see some of the best Apple Watch deals on the Apple Watch SE later this year.

Apple Watch SE (2022) review: Design

  • Still looks like an Apple Watch Series 4
  • New color-matched bottom casing made of nylon composite materials

The Apple Watch SE (2022) looks like a resurrected Apple Watch Series 4, with thicker bezels than those on the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Series 7. I can't help but wish it instead took over the Apple Watch Series 5 design to receive an Always-On Display; I mean, there are a number of affordable smartwatches that have an always-on option. Still, the display size is 30% larger than the bygone Apple Watch Series 3's, which would make a significant difference if you're upgrading.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Otherwise, the Apple Watch SE (2022) features an aluminum case in three colors: Silver, Midnight and Starlight. These are three of the four colors available for Apple Watch Series 8, if you were curious.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Plus, the bottom casing is now made of nylon composite materials that are color-matched to the bezel. You can't see it when it's on your wrist, but it's a subtle change with an environmental benefit. I happen to think it looks great.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You can also use any of the best Apple Watch bands with the Apple Watch SE. 41mm bands are compatible with the 40mm version and the 45mm bands are compatible with the 44mm version.

Apple Watch SE (2022) review: Key specs and features

  • Same S8 chipset as Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra
  • Limited health sensors, ample safety features

The Apple Watch SE (2022)'s performance is noticeably more sharp the original Apple Watch SE's. It's been updated from the S5 chipset to the S8 chipset, which in theory provides the same responsiveness and reliable connectivity as the Apple Watch Series 8.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Perhaps the biggest features you'll miss between the Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch SE (2022) are the health sensors. While it can count steps and monitor heart rate, it doesn't have ECG, a blood oxygen reader or the new Apple Watch skin temperature sensor found in Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. 

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The skin temperature sensor is probably the one I miss most, since it can actually inform cycle and sleep tracking — two areas of health I happen to care a lot about. But ECG and SpO2 readings are easy to live without if you don't have an existing need to see those metrics.

As for safety features, the Apple Watch SE has the same offerings as the Apple Watch Series 8. In addition to existing tools like Emergency SOS and Fall Detection, both watches come with a newer Crash Detection capability thanks to upgraded motion sensors in the watch. If your Apple Watch SE detects you're in a car crash, it can automatically call emergency services and notify your emergency contacts.

Apple Watch SE (2022) review: watchOS 9

  • watchOS 9 software makes for a great user experience
  • Family Setup is particularly good for the Apple Watch SE

The Apple Watch SE is powered by watchOS 9, the latest software update that packs all the new watchOS 9 faces, support for the best Apple Watch apps and other great feature updates such as slim-lined notifications, the Medications app and the upgraded workout interface.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The new workout interface is probably one of my favorite watchOS 9 features, now showing both your heart rate zones and Apple Watch rings directly in the workout app. If you're trying to get more active, you could sign up for Apple Fitness Plus, too. Pair the $249 (AU$399) Apple Watch SE with the $9.99 (AU$14.99)/month (or $79.99 (AU$119.99)/year) workout service membership, and you have what I'd consider a fair value for at-home fitness. You could also use watch-based audio experiences with Time to Walk, Time to Run and Audio Meditations.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As was the case with the previous SE, the Apple Watch SE (2022) is the smartwatch Apple most closely associates with Family Setup. Family Setup lets you manage Apple Watch devices for family members who don't have their own iPhone, such as an older parent or child. In watchOS 9, Family Setup is upgraded to allow access to assigned HomeKit devices and virtual keys.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple Watch SE (2022) review: Battery life

  • 18 hours of battery life with standard use
  • New low power mode can extend stamina

The Apple Watch SE (2022) battery life is rated for 18 hours, which is the same as the previous SE, but the new Apple Watch low power mode extends battery life by disabling power-draining features until you get your device back on a charger.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple didn’t rate the Apple Watch SE (2022)’s battery with low power mode as it did for the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra. That's because it already lacks the Always On Display, so there are fewer features to disable to save battery. I used low power mode on the Apple Watch SE for a few hours each day, and found the smartwatch lasted just over 24 hours with my normal use.

If you want to make your Apple Watch SE's battery health last as long as possible, make sure you turn on optimized charging. 

Apple Watch SE (2022) review: Verdict

As a "starter" Apple Watch, an Apple Watch managed with Family Setup or an Apple Watch experience for less, the Apple Watch SE (2022) makes perfect sense. It has the features that matter to most people, offering a way to get connected with less strain on your wallet. The further discount compared to the original Apple Watch SE is an added bonus, though arguably necessary with the discontinuation of the $199 Series 3.

Apple Watch SE (2022) shown on wrist

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you want the full-featured Apple Watch experience, the Apple Watch Series 8 is the better choice. But I think many average users will find everything they need in the new SE.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.