Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Which watch is right for you?

Both Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE are top-of-the-line smartwatches. As the latest Apple Watch release, Series 7 hosts all of the bells and whistles Apple Watch has to offer including the largest, most durable display ever, an optimized UI with a new keyboard, fast charging, new colors, and all the advanced features of Watch OS. 

Apple Watch SE is Apple's most cost-effective option and has features to track every part of your day and all the ways you move. You can opt into the built-in cellular system on both, so how exactly do these two differ? 

Well, other than the display and keyboard, Apple Watch Series 7 is not a whole lot different than last year's Series 6, which means the Apple Watch SE is a great cheaper alternative to the flagship Apple Watch. Let's get granular. 

Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Let's break it down

Of course, the new display on the Apple Watch Series 7 sticks out at first glance and will be the top contender for the best Apple Watch, but there are a few differences that can be hard to spot on the surface between the current flagship and the Apple Watch SE. Overall, the differences are mostly cosmetic, but if you look at the spec sheet, there are a few things you'll want to pay attention to when making your selection.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch Series 7Apple Watch SE
Starting price$399$279
Case materialsAluminum, Stainless steel, TitaniumAluminum
Case sizes41mm and 45mm40mm and 44mm
Battery performanceUp to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours
Fast chargingYesNo
Display qualityAlways-On Retina LTPO OLED display (1000 nits)Retina LTPO OLED display (1000 nits)
ProcessorS7 with 64-bit dual-core processorS5 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor
Wireless chipsetW3W3
Water-resistance50 meters50 meters
Dust-resistanceIP6XNo rating
Storage capacity32GB32GB

Above you'll notice that the Apple Watch Series 7 is sporting a faster chip. It's not faster than the Apple Watch Series 6 from last year, but Apple claims it's about 20% faster than the Apple Watch SE. As someone who has both watches, the performance increase isn't super noticeable, but the Series 7 does perform slightly better under a heavy load.

If you pick it apart, the Apple Watch SE is missing a few key things from the Apple Watch Series 7, but the few you really want to consider are the missing health features, the screen, the dust resistance, and the fast charging.

Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: More health features on the Series 7

Apple Watch Series 6 Blue Blood Oxygen App (Image credit: iMore)

The Apple Watch Series 7 offers blood oxygen monitoring just like the Series 6 did last year, and it also has an electrical heart sensor. Both of those features are missing from the Apple Watch SE, but pretty much every other health feature is on the cheaper model.

With the Apple Watch SE, you still get 32GB storage, fall detection, international emergency calling, noise monitoring, support for Family Setup, compass, always-on altimeter, Digital Crown with haptic feedback, second-generation speaker and mic, and a ceramic and sapphire crystal back. It's no slouch when it comes to features; it just doesn't have a few key abilities that Apple has deemed flagship worthy.

Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Display and appearance

Apple Watch Series 7

Apple Watch Series 7 Green (Image credit: Apple)

Let's talk about the screen for a second. The Apple Watch Series 7 has 40% thinner bezels when compared to the Apple Watch SE and a slightly bigger case size — 41mm and 45mm. I'll be the first to admit that it didn't sound like much at first, but after seeing the two side-by-side, you really notice the difference.

Not only is it bigger, but the Apple Watch Series 7 display wraps around the edges of the watch case just a little bit (as seen in the photo above), which is a neat touch. However, outside of using the new Contour watch face, you're likely not going to notice it too much.

Another interesting thing to point out is the different finishes and color options on each device. The Apple Watch Series 7 comes in three finishes: aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium — while the Apple Watch SE only comes in aluminum. The Series 7 also comes in more colors with an aluminum finish including midnight, starlight, (PRODUCT)RED, blue, and green, whereas the SE comes in space gray, silver, and gold.

Also, the Series 7 doesn't quite come in a pure neutral tone. The midnight color is mostly black but does have a bit of blue hue to it, and the starlight finish is a bit more cream-colored than you might expect. So, if you're nitpicky about color and prefer your Apple Watch to be a more standard black or silver finish, you'll have to go up to the stainless steel finish for that.

Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Dust and water resistance

Apple Watch Series 7 Hero Underwater Apple

Apple Watch Series 7 Hero Underwater Apple (Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE are water-resistant up to 50 meters. You can jump in the pool with them and swim laps no problem, but the Series 7 is now IP6X against dust. That's the strongest rating a device can have on the Ingress Protection rating you can have for dust, meaning the Series 7 has been proven to be dust-tight.

One thing to keep in mind is while the Apple Watch SE has no IP rating, that doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't protected from dust at all. It just means Apple has never tested it for dust protection. Usually, when a device is water-sealed strong enough, you'll get some protection from dust anyways, but companies don't often test their products for that protection.

If you want the most durable Apple Watch, the Series 7 is the way to go. However, as someone who has had the Apple Watch SE since its launch, dust and water have never been a problem for me. 

Apple Watch Series 7 vs. Apple Watch SE: Battery life and fast charging

Apple Watch SE Workout (Image credit: iMore)

Both the Apple Watch Series 7 and Apple Watch SE have the same battery life — about 18 hours — but the Apple Watch Series 7 added fast charging.

Apple says the Apple Watch Series 7 can charge up to 33% faster than the Apple Watch Series 6; however, it's important to note that they got those results by charging the Series 7 with Apple's own 20W USB-C charger. The good news is the Apple Watch Series 7 comes with a USB-C cable (rather than the USB-A cable that comes with the SE model), so you can plug it into a 20W USB-C charger if you have one — remember, a charger doesn't come in the box. Another critical thing to remember is that the Series 7 can only fast charge with this new cable; even Apple's own MagSafe Duo charger can't fast charge the Series 7.

With all that being said, the Apple Watch SE will charge slower than the Apple Watch Series 7, provided you have all the required pieces to make that fast charging work. If you don't, you won't see a difference in charging time.

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

Looking forward, we're greatly anticipating the launch of Apple Watch Series 8, but if you're looking for the latest and greatest Apple Watch right now, the Series 7 is the choice for you. It's the one with the most features and styles. Plus, that bigger screen with an always-on display really does look good on your wrist!

For those new to Apple Watch, the SE could be the model for you. I have adored my Apple Watch SE since it launched, and I believe it offers a perfect blend of features for its price point. If you don't mind missing out on a few things, the SE is a perfect compromise, especially if you're finally upgrading from a much older model. 

However, although Apple Watch SE looks enticing today, you might want to hold off as word on the street is Apple's about to refresh the whole lineup, and there's never been a worse time to buy Apple Watch SE. Regardless of the model you select, be sure to check out some of our favorite watch bands!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.

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