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 SE: Who exactly is an 'affordable' $279 smartwatch for?

Apple's new affordable watch costs a good amount more more than the Series 3, but on paper packs a lot more.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
3 min read

While it doesn't have the lowest price, the new Apple Watch SE does represent a better value on paper.


With the launch of the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE this fall, you now have even more options for your wrist and wallet. The Series 6 brings a slew of new features including the S6 processor and a sensor that can measure your blood oxygen level. The Watch SE pulls parts from the Series 3, Series 5 and Series 6 into a new affordable version.

Read more: Apple Fitness Plus is a no-brainer if you already own an Apple Watch

We saw Apple do something similar when it launched the iPhone SE earlier this year. It used the body of the iPhone 8 and the processor from the iPhone 11 Pro, but came with a $399 price tag. It's the most affordable new iPhone you can buy. (Apple has since released the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max as well.)

With a price of $279 (£269, AU$429), the same can't be said about the Apple Watch SE. That's because you can still buy the Apple Watch Series 3 for $199 (£199, AU$299) -- $169 on sale. So, you might wonder, what's the point of the Apple Watch SE?

If you're just looking at price, obviously saving $80+ and getting the Series 3 will be tempting. But you'd get a watch that launched three years ago and, if everything is equal, will run out of WatchOS updates three years earlier than the Watch SE.

The Watch SE also contains a more powerful processor than Apple's older wearable. Think of the SE as a Series 3 with a much-needed refresh on the inside. Powering the Series 3 is the S3 processor. Underneath the watch face of the SE is an S5 processor which is 2x faster than the S3 and it's the same one found in the Series 5. The newer processor makes the SE more relevant in 2020 and the future. For example, the Series 3 doesn't support Apple's new Family Setup plan that lets you set up an Apple Watch for your child, with parental controls for messaging and location tracking. The Apple Watch SE does.

Apple Watch Series 3

The Apple Watch Series 3 launched in 2017.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Then there's the display and body. The Watch SE has a Retina display that's 30% larger than the Series 3. That said, neither has the always-on display found on the Series 6. The SE comes in silver, space gray and gold whereas the Series 3 is available in just silver and space gray.

The SE also supports features like fall detection and noise monitoring, and comes in both cellular and noncellular models. Apple only sells the Series 3 in a noncellular version. Though you might be able to find the Series 3 cellular version through other retailers.

The SE also has a compass, an always-on altimeter (the Series 3 has an altimeter, but it's not always on), a second-generation optical sensor (the Series 3 has a first-generation one) and a W3 chip for connecting accessories like AirPods . The Series 3 has a W2 chip.

At the end of the day, even with a higher price, the Apple Watch SE seems like the better value. But no one will shame you for getting a Series 3. You do you.

Watch this: Apple unveils lower-priced Apple Watch SE