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Apple Watch SE Hands-On: A Faster Watch for a Lower Price

The 2022 Apple Watch SE includes car-crash detection and a speedier chip, and comes in three colors.

The new Apple Watch SE on a wrist
The new Apple Watch SE, unveiled at Apple's "Far Out" event on Sept. 7. 
Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

This story is part of Focal Point iPhone 2022, CNET's collection of news, tips and advice around Apple's most popular product.

Apple's new $249 Apple Watch SE made its debut during Apple's "Far Out" event Wednesday, bringing a new lower-cost Apple Watch to replace the 2020 version. The Apple Watch SE includes the new car-crash detection feature that is also coming to the Apple Watch Series 8, with Apple promising the watch will run 20% faster than the previous SE. The Apple Watch SE goes on preorder Wednesday and will be released next Friday, Sept. 16. In addition to the Series 8, the new Watch SE debuted alongside the rugged $799 Apple Watch Ultra

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The $249 starting price for the new SE is lower than the $279 price of the 2020 model, and the cellular version of the Apple Watch SE starts at $299. The watch comes in three aluminum models, in silver, midnight and starlight colors. 

Among the biggest changes coming to the new Apple Watch SE is its new S8 processor, which is the same chip inside the Series 8 and Ultra models. In the brief time that I had with the new Apple Watch SE, scrolling around the app selection screen and other user interface elements felt zippy and smooth. But the bigger benefit is that the SE's new processor means it will likely support new software features for a long period of time. The previous generation Apple Watch SE, by comparison, runs on the same chip as the Series 5, which is getting a bit old.

The Apple Watch SE 2022 being held with a yellow watch face

The new Apple Watch SE

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Car crash detection is the other major update coming to the SE and Apple's other new smartwatches. It leverages new gyroscopes and accelerometers inside the watches to detect crashes and notify emergency services and contacts within 10 seconds if the user is unresponsive.

The Apple Watch SE generally looks the same as its predecessor. Without the screen turned on, I was barely able to distinguish it from the Series 7 strapped to my wrist. But if you look closely when flipping the watch over, you'll notice a subtle change. The finish surrounding the new SE's sensors has been updated to more closely match the watch's color. It's a nice touch, but since it's on the watch's underside I'm not sure how noticeable it will be.

The underside of the Apple Watch SE 2022

The Apple Watch SE 2022's underside. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

The Apple Watch SE is also getting a new low power mode, along with every other Apple Watch from the Series 4 and higher. The new mode dials back certain features, like background heart rate measurements, to extend battery life. Although it doesn't seem like Apple has extended the SE's battery life, low power mode should hopefully address some of our criticisms about the Apple Watch's battery life. 

The new Apple Watch SE will include support for WatchOS 9, supporting the new workout- and sleep-tracking features that are planned for the upcoming operating system update.

Apple/Sarah Lord/CNET

Preorder your 2022 Apple Watch SE direct at Apple for $249. You'll also score three months of Apple Fitness Plus with your purchase. 

You're receiving price alerts for Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen) [GPS 40mm] Smart Watch w/Starlight Aluminum Case & Starlight Sport Band - S/M. Fitness & Sleep Tracker, Crash Detection, Heart Rate Monitor, Retina Display, Water Resistant

The Watch SE appears to be replacing the Apple Watch Series 3 as the most affordable watch in Apple's lineup, as the Series 3 will not include support for WatchOS 9. The Apple Watch Series 3 remained on the market for five years at $199, so with the Watch SE, Apple appears to be raising the entry-level price for its watch lineup, but with a watch that includes most essential features and can run the most up-to-date software.

Scott Stein contributed to this report.

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