Apple Watch SE review: pay a lot less to give up only a little

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Apple’s smartwatch lineup has gone from straightforward to surprisingly complex seemingly overnight. Where we used to have this year’s model or last year’s model at a lower price to choose from, now Apple is selling three distinct Apple Watch models at varying price tiers and with varying options.

In this piece I’m reviewing the one in the middle: the brand-new, but not really new inside, Apple Watch SE. Starting at $279 for a 40mm version or $309 for the 44mm, it’s considerably less than the flagship Series 6 and not that much more expensive than the aging Series 3.

The SE is technically a new model for Apple, but much like the iPhone SE, it’s not exactly new inside and out. Essentially, it’s the same thing as a Series 4 from 2018, with just two minor differences: the SE doesn’t have the ability to measure your ECG, but does have an always-on altimeter. The latter is unlikely to have an impact on your use, while the former might be important to some people. Otherwise, it has the same design, performance, and capabilities as the Series 4.

Compared to the Series 6 or last year’s Series 5, the main thing the SE lacks is an always-on display, which allows you to see the time or your notifications without having to tap the screen or lift your wrist up. For me, this is a must-have feature — I think a watch should always function as a watch and tell me the time without any extra work. But it’s not important for everybody, and it does consume more battery life.

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