CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE: Every big difference

Although the Apple Watch 7 is now available, you may want to save some money with one of Apple's older smartwatches.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Eric Franklin Former Editorial Director
Eric Franklin led the CNET Tech team as Editorial Director. A 20-plus-year industry veteran, Eric began his tech journey testing computers in the CNET Labs. When not at work he can usually be found at the gym, chauffeuring his kids around town, or absorbing every motivational book he can get his hands on.
Expertise Graphics and display technology Credentials
  • Once wrote 50 articles in one month.
Lynn La
Eric Franklin
5 min read

Apple's newest smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 7, made its debut at the tech giant's California Streaming event in September, and it's now available for purchase. (Here's how to trade in your old Apple Watch to get the best deal.) But, before committing to the Apple Watch 7, you may want to consider last year's models. 

Apple launched two new smartwatches last year: the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE. Both devices ran on WatchOS 7 and are now compatible with WatchOS 8. The Watch SE is a more affordable version of Apple's flagship Watch. It has fewer features and an older processor, Apple's S5 chip. The devices have cellular and Wi-Fi-only variants. Apple no longer sells the Watch Series 6 on its website, but it launched at $399 (£379, AU$599). It can now be found at Walmart, Amazon and other retailers for $350. The Watch SE costs $279 (£269, AU$429), and is still available through Apple's site.

If you're interested in either smartwatch but aren't sure which one you should get, read on for our deep dive on how these two compare.

Read more: Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch 6: All the major changes 

Watch this: Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 6 comparison

Design: Similar looks, but Series 6 has more design options

Both the Watch Series 6 and the SE have the same display and resolution, so you'll get the same viewing experience. They're also water resistant so you can swim with them, and they work with Apple's Solo and Braided loop bands. 

The Watch Series 6, however, has more design and color choices. In addition to the standard silver, grey and gold aluminum colors, the Series 6 comes in blue and red. It also has steel and titanium variants, with different color options in both materials. Hermès, the luxury fashion company and longtime partner of Apple Watch also has new bands of its own for the Series 6.

Lastly, the Series 6 has an always-on display. Originally introduced in the Watch Series 5, it means that the display is constantly on and you don't need to raise your wrist or tap the screen to look at the time or check for notifications.


The Watch Series 6 with its new loop bands.


Hardware: Watch Series 6's blood oxygen sensor

The Watch Series 6 has the latest S6 chipset from Apple while the Series SE has the S5 system. While the Watch SE's setup isn't as advanced as the Series 6, Apple said the SE is twice as fast as 2017's Series 3.

One major update that's only on the Watch Series 6 are sensors that measure your blood oxygen levels. Known as an oximeter, this feature can gather important information about your breathing and blood circulation in 15 seconds, and lend key insight about your overall respiratory and cardiac health. It's particularly important for those affected by COVID-19, since blood oxygen levels are indicative of how severely the disease is affecting your body.

Read more: Apple Watch SE: Um, what exactly is the point of this $279 smartwatch?

The Blood Oxygen app.


The accompanying Blood Oxygen app will take measurements in the background, like during sleep, but you can manually activate a reading too. Data is viewable through the built-in Health app , where you can see your levels and track trends over time.

Both watches also have an optical heart sensor to measure heart rate. But the Watch Series 6 also has an app for its electrical heart sensor (abbreviated as ECG or EKG), which debuted on the Watch Series 4, to detect irregular heart rhythms.

Lastly, Watch Series 6 has an Ultra Wideband, or U1 chip. Available in iPhones starting with the iPhone 11 line, this chip is for "spatial awareness," and it helps devices find other devices more precisely when they're in close proximity. When it debuted, Apple said this chip would improve AirDrop, a service that lets iPhone users quickly share files with nearby iPhones. Tantalizingly, Apple added that "that's just the beginning" of its uses. Many believe that the U1 chip actually laid the groundwork for the Apple AirTags.

Read more: Apple Watch SE vs Series 6 vs. Series 3: How to choose?

Software features: Both are compatible with WatchOS 8

Both the Apple Watch Series 6 and Watch SE are compatible with WatchOS 8. Apple's new operating system comes with new workout features, a redesigned Mindfulness app, Wallet app upgrades and more. 

The two watches previously ran on WatchOS 7 and introduced Family Setup. The feature allows you to pair an iPhone to someone else's Apple Watch, be it a family member like a young child or an elderly adult. You can then apply controls, like limiting contacts and app downloads, or automatic location tracking. The other person won't have to have an iPhone of their own. WatchOS 7 also came with a number of new watch faces as well, including ones for Memoji stickers.

These updates are included on top of several standard Apple Watch features like fall detection, noise-level monitoring, emergency SOS contact and an altimeter to measure elevation levels.


The Apple Watch Series SE.


Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Series SE specs

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch Series SE
Display size, resolution 40mm, 44mm Retina OLED 368x448 pixels40mm, 44mm Retina OLED 368x448 pixels
Always-on YesNo
Dimensions (millimeters) 40mm: 40mm (height), 34mm (width), 10.4mm (depth);  44mm: 44mm (height) 38mm (width) 10.4mm (depth)40mm: 40mm (height), 34mm (width), 10.4mm (depth); 44mm: 44mm (height) 38mm (width) 10.4mm (depth)
Weight (grams) 40mm Wi-Fi: 30.5g, Wi-Fi + Cellular: 30.5g; 44mm Wi-Fi: 36.5g Wi-Fi + Cellular: 36.5g40mm Wi-Fi: 30.49g, Wi-Fi + Cellular: 30.68g; 44mm Wi-Fi: 36.2g Wi-Fi + Cellular: 36.36g
Materials/ finishes Aluminum, steel and titaniumAluminum
Colors Silver, gray, gold, blue and red (aluminum); silver, graphite and gold (steel); titanium and black (titanium)Silver, gray and gold
Interchangeable bands YesYes
GPS Built-in Built-in
Automatic workout detection YesYes
Compass YesYes
Altimeter YesYes
Water resistance Yes, up to 50mYes, up to 50m
Calls YesYes
Notifications Text replies Text replies
Microphone YesYes
Speaker YesYes
Voice assistant Siri Siri
Music Onboard, playback and streaming (with Cellular model)Onboard, playback and streaming (with Cellular model)
Mobile Payments Apple Pay Apple Pay
Sleep tracking YesYes
Period tracking Yes Yes
Special features Blood Oxygen app, ECG app, U1 chip, emergency SOS, fall detection, hearing health alertsEmergency SOS, fall detection, hearing health alerts
Emergency features Emergency SOS, International emergency calling, fall detection Emergency SOS calling (911 and emergency contacts)
Compatibility iOS/iPhone onlyiOS/iPhone only
Software WatchOS 7WatchOS 7
Processor S6 chip dual-core processor and W3 wireless chipS5 chip dual-core processor and W3 wireless chip
Connectivity Wi-Fi and Cellular option ($100 more)Wi-Fi and Cellular option ($50 more)
Storage 32GB32GB
Bluetooth 5.05.0
Power Magnetic Apple charging cable and USB connector (backward compatible)Magnetic Apple charging cable and USB connector (backward compatible)
Battery life All day (18 hrs.)All day (18 hrs.)
Price (USD) Starting at $399 (40mm aluminum)Starting at $279 (40mm aluminum)
Price (GBP) £379£269
Price (AUD) AU$599AU$429
Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Starting at $399, the Apple Watch Series 6 has the most advanced features Apple offers on a smartwatch, with an even brighter screen than the Apple Watch SE that's easy to see even when it's on standby. The Series 6 is the only Watch with an always-on display and it has a built-in ECG app on your wrist. (These features were first introduced on the Apple Watch Series 5 in 2019, which Apple has since stopped selling.) The Series 6 is also the first, and only Apple Watch to monitor blood oxygen levels both on demand, or automatically as you go about your day (and while you sleep).

Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

If you've never owned an Apple Watch, this is the one to get. The Apple Watch SE is a cheaper alternative to the Series 7 with a lot of the same great features plus a slightly longer battery life. Aside from the extra health sensors (ECG and SpO2), the most notable difference between the two is that the SE doesn't have an always-on display watch face. But you probably won't miss it if you've never had this smartwatch feature. Read our Apple Watch SE review.

Read our Apple Watch SE review.