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Apple Watch SE beats pricier Apple Watch Series 6 in Which? lab tests

Apple's 'cheap' smartwatch might be a better choice than the flagship Series 6

Apple Watch SE beats pricier Apple Watch Series 6 in Which? lab tests

Apple launched two new smartwatches this year: the Apple Watch Series 6 (starting price £379) and the more pared-down Apple Watch SE (starting price £269). If you’re wondering if the SE is up to scratch – wonder no more, it actually scored higher than the more expensive Series 6 in our lab tests.

We assessed both smartwatches on a range of criteria including smart features, fitness features, comfort and ease of use. The cheaper SE (pictured below) edged it – and we believe it could be a better shout for many. However, this will depend on the importance of certain features, including the latest health tools.

Head straight over to our reviews of the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE, or read on for more. 

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 6 Apple Watch SE
Display size and resolution 40mm and 44mm, 368 x 448 pixels 40mm and 44mm, 368 x 448 pixels
Starting price for GPS version (version without LTE connectivity) £379 for the 40mm version, £409 for the 44mm version. £269 for the 40mm version, £299 for the 44mm version.
Starting price for LTE version £479 for the 40mm version, £509 for the 44mm version, plus carrier fees £319 for the 40mm version, £349 for the 44mm version, plus carrier fees
Case colours Black, grey, silver, gold, space grey, graphite, red, blue (some only available for certain materials) Gold, silver or grey
Case materials Aluminium, stainless steel, titanium Aluminium
Processor S6 chip dual-core processor S5 chip dual-core processor
Advertised battery life 18 hours 18 hours
Connectivity Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. LTE model available Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. LTE model available
Water resistance 50 metres 50 metres
Special health features Fall detection, emergency SOS calling, noise level alerts, blood oxygen monitoring, ECGs Fall detection, emergency SOS calling, noise level alerts

As you’ll see from the table, there’s a lot of similarities between the two watches. We’ve pulled out a few points of difference below:

Similar design, but different colour options

Designwise, they look very similar, with the same sizes available. You’ve got a range of strap options available for either, including pricey designer bands, and with either watch you can swap the straps later if you fancy a change.

The Series 6 comes in more colours and case materials, so, if you’ve got your heart set on a red or blue watch, for example, you’ll need to go for the Series 6.

Same resolution display, one key feature difference

Both have the same high-resolution display: you certainly don’t need to worry that the cheaper watch’s screen will be old-fashioned or pixellated. The screens on both are impressively bright, clear and sharp, and scratch-resistant, too.

The Series 6 has an always-on display, like the Series 5. The SE doesn’t; you’ll need to raise your wrist or tap the screen to wake the screen up.

How much this bothers you will be down to personal preference. We like having the screen always-on: it feels more like having an actual watch, for starters. But it does impact on battery life.

Apple Watch SE

Battery life – are things getting better?

We were disappointed to see that both have advertised battery life of 18 hours. One of our biggest gripes with the Apple Watches we’ve tested to date is the short battery life, forcing you to charge your watch pretty much daily. Apple has now introduced a native sleep-tracking app, but good luck using it if you need to stick your watch on charge each night.

We got both watches to last a fair bit longer in our tests, with GPS switched off but smart notifications coming in. Of course, you won’t always use your smartwatch under these conditions: you will often want to use GPS for example. But the point is that with more features switched on, your watch will drain even faster. For this reason, many people might find the SE is to be more convenient.

Health features – where the Series 6 shines

What you won’t get from the SE is the latest health features. It will have some, including those which were introduced for earlier models and those that are being rolled out as part of watchOS 7, but it won’t have others specific to the Series 6.

Both watches can:

  • Monitor your heart rate, including your resting heart rate, walking heart rate, heart rate during a workout and your recovery rate. They can also notify you if your heart rate goes above or below a chosen beats per minute (BPM).
  • Monitor your sleep
  • Detect that you’ve fallen over and make an emergency call for you (if you have the LTE version, it will do this even if your phone isn’t in range)
  • Notify you if you’re listening to sounds above a certain level
  • Detect that you’re washing your hands, remind you to continue washing if you stop before the recommended 20 seconds and remind you to wash when you get home. That might sound a little naggy – but we’re more than happy to be nagged if it helps reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19.

You won’t get the following features from the SE, but you will from the Series 6:

  • Blood oxygen monitoring – the Series 6 has an SpO2 sensor for taking blood oxygen aka pulse oximetry readings. That could be useful if you often exercise at high altitudes, but you don’t need to worry about not having it otherwise. You shouldn’t rely on a pulse oximeter (wearable or otherwise) to detect Covid-19 either.
  • ECG app, allowing you to take electrocardiograms at any time. Again, it’s cool to be able to do this, but please speak to your GP if you’re genuinely concerned about your heart health. Apple says the ECG app isn’t intended for use by people under the age of 22.Apple Series 6 measuring blood oxygen

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch SE: which is best?

There’s no doubt that both are snazzy smartwatches, packed with features. For most people, though, the SE will be the better choice.

Still too pricey for you? Check out our guide to the best cheap smartwatches under £100 and under £200 for genuinely cheap models.

How much can you save on an older Apple Watch?

Apple has discontinued all of its older models save the Series 3, although you can still buy the Series 5 from retailers while stocks last. The Series 4 was the biggest leap forwards in terms of Apple Watch design in recent years, so later models are significantly more advanced than the Series 3.

That said, the Series 3 is still a high-end smartwatch. Here’s what you’ll miss if you opt for the Series 5 or Series 3 rather than one of the latest launches. 

Apple Watch 5 (from £329 – save up to £50 compared to the Series 6)

Apple Watch Series 5Very similar to the Series 6. The Series 5 will have the older processor (so the Series 6 should be faster). 

You could save a small amount by buying it from a retailer while stocks last. Read our review of the Apple Watch Series 5 or buy it now for £329 from Argos, and £359 at Currys PC World and John Lewis

Apple Watch Series 3 (from £195 – save £180)

There are bigger differences here. The Series 3 (above) has a smaller display, comes in different sizes (38mm and 44mm) and Apple is no longer selling a cellular version.

WatchOS 7 is compatible with the Series 3 and Series 5, but not all features will be supported. For example, the Series 3 doesn’t support Family Set-up either: a new feature allowing you to pair multiple smartwatches with one iPhone, opening up the possibility for other members of the family, such as children, to use a smartwatch.

Read our review of the Apple Watch Series 3 or buy it now from £195 at Currys PC World, John Lewis or Amazon.

Read our guide on Apples watches compared to find out more about Apple’s famous wearables.

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