Apple Watch SE is almost the perfect entry-level smartwatch

If only the SE featured an always-on display

Apple Watch SE

While I’ve always liked the Apple Watch, $529 CAD for the Series 6 is a lot to ask for a device that isn’t entirely integral to most people’s lives.

That’s why I often find myself recommending Fitbit’s Versa series of smartwatches to friends and family looking for a wearable capable of sending them notifications and performing basic fitness tracking. This seems to be the role Apple aims the Apple Watch SE to fill for iPhone users.

Apple Watch SE Colour Watch Face

Effectively replacing the Series 3 — though the Series 3 is still available in the Apple Store right now for $259 — the Apple Watch SE offers a mix of most of the Series 4’s and Series 5’s best features.

First off, the Apple Watch SE includes the same S5 processor as the Series 4 and 5, giving it ample power for both Apple’s own apps and third-party applications. This also makes the Apple Watch SE two times faster than the Series 3, which is an impressive hardware boost.

Apple Watch SE on wrist

It includes the same OLED display with minimized bezels as the Series 4, and while I didn’t find it quite as bright as the Series 6’s always-on retina display, it’s still easily visible under direct sunlight. Further, the SE features the same altimeter as the Series 6, works with all Watch Bands, includes safety features like fall detection and emergency calling, includes heart low/high heart rate notifications and has the same fitness functionality.

The SE offers nearly everything I actually use with the Apple Watch except for one crucial feature: the always-on display. For me, the Series 5’s always-on display was an absolute game changer and felt like a monumental leap over previous versions of the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Alien Memoji

For the first time, I had notifications truly available on my wrist at-a-glance. In a way, the Series 5 finally fulfilled the original Apple Watch’s initial promise.

Unfortunately, the Apple Watch SE includes a display that turns off when idle and lights up when you lift your wrist, just like the Series 3 and Series 4. It also doesn’t feature other, more recent health additions like the Series 4 and 5’s ECG and the Series 6’s new blood oxygen level detection.

The latter two features I don’t miss at all, especially given the SE’s lower price tag, but the always-on display could end up being a deal-breaker for me. My other issue with the Apple Watch SE is its price tag feels a little steep in Canada. While the $279 U.S. cost is perfect, $369 for the SE in Canada is a little steep for it to truly feel entry-level, especially when compared to $179 Fitbit Versa 2 and the recently revealed $229 Versa 3.

Apple Watch SE beside iPhone 11 Pro Max

That being said, the SE’s raise-to-wake feature is responsive and works quickly. The smartwatch could potentially find an audience of children and older people that aren’t interested in the always-on display featured in Apple’s higher-end smartwatches, but that remains to be seen.

MobileSyrup will have more on the Apple Watch SE in the coming weeks.

The Apple Watch SE is available in ‘Gold,’ ‘Silver,’ and ‘Space Grey’ starting at $369.

For more on Apple’s fall hardware event, check out my early impressions of the iPad (2020) and Apple Watch Series 6.

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