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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.
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.
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.
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
, 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.
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.
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).
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.