I’ve been testing the new Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE second generation ahead of their release Friday.
If you already have an Apple Watch, the $399 Series 8 doesn’t have enough new features to justify an upgrade. Most of the worthwhile innovations are available on the Watch OS 9 software, which you can download as long as you have an Apple Watch Series 4 paired with iPhone 8 or later.
The Apple Watch SE, on the other hand, has gotten a pretty big makeover. The new SE has a starting price that’s $30 less than the first generation SE at just $249. It’s Apple’s most affordable watch and it has new upgrades including a new Apple S8 processor — which makes for faster and smoother performance — low-power mode, sleep tracking, crash detection, and you’re able to set up the SE for a family member without an iPhone.
The Series 8 and the SE are pretty similar, except for the $150 price difference. The benefits you’ll get from paying the premium for the Series 8 are a few more health tracking features and a bigger screen.
The $799 Apple Watch Ultra, built for people who are into extreme sports, won’t be available until Sept. 23, and we’ll cover that when we get our hands on it.
Apple doesn’t break out its watch revenue the way it does for the iPad, iPhone and Mac. However, the company’s Wearables, Home and Accessories business — which includes Apple Watch, HomePod, AirPods and Apple TV — saw sales fall in Apple’s latest quarter to $8.08 billion from $8.78 billion a year earlier. The two watches that go on sale Friday probably won’t have much effect on this business segment, but the pricey Ultra — if successful — could help increase wearables sales for the company’s next fiscal year, which starts in October.
So could the new AirPods Pro 2, which I’ll be reviewing later on.
Here’s why I would hold off on splurging for the Series 8, and why the SE is a great value.
Series 8 has a larger screen & always-on display
The Series 8 comes in two sizes: 41mm and 45mm. Like the new iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max, the Series 8 comes with an always-on display, meaning you can see the time even when your watch is inactive. You can choose a case that’s either aluminum or stainless steel. The aluminum comes in black, tan, silver and red. The stainless steel comes in black, silver and gold.
The second-generation Apple Watch SE comes only in aluminum in either 44mm or 40mm, and it doesn’t have the always-on display. It’s available in black, tan and silver.
While the aluminum is slightly cheaper looking, you can feel a little better knowing the production process Apple is now using for the 2022 SE reduces carbon emissions by over 80%.
I appreciate the size of the SE. The Apple Watch 8 felt a bit clunky while I was using it, which is a complaint I’ve heard from my other female friends. I also found that because the SE is lighter in weight, it was more comfortable to use for sleep tracking.
Both the SE and Series 8 have the same S8 processor
Despite being the cheaper model, the SE has the latest S8 processor, which is the same one that’s inside the new Series 8. Apple says the upgrade makes the SE 20% faster than the first generation SE, which debuted in 2020.
The Series 8 does have the U1 chip as well, which the SE does not. This chip allows you to use location tracking in the Find My app.
Both watches felt like they worked at the same speed to me. It was just as easy to navigate on either watch between the workout app, mindfulness and the weather app with no glitches.
SE has fewer health features but important ones
The SE has heart rate and fall detection, while the Series 8 can measure blood oxygen levels and has an ECG app to monitor heart rhythms.
The Series 8 does have a new temperature sensor that enables menstrual cycle tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates.
While I appreciate Apple incorporating women’s health into the new watch, I have a hard time understanding how retrospective ovulation will provide the data necessary for women who are trying to conceive. Instead of giving you data about when you ovulated last month, other wearables such as Ava Fertility tell you when you’re actively ovulating so you can take advantage of your fertility window if you are trying to conceive.
Heart rate notifications on the new SE can alert users of unusually high or low heart rates or irregular rhythms which Apple says has helped save lives.
There is one advancement in the Series 8 that could provide users with important information. It now has AFib monitoring, which will help diagnose people with atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat.
When it comes to sleep, both watches provide comprehensive sleep tracking, though as I mentioned, the smaller and lighter SE is a little more comfortable to wear to bed.
The new crash detection feature is available on both the SE and Series 8.
The Series 8 has better battery life
The Series 8 charges very quickly. Apple says it can recharge from 0 to 80% in 45 minutes and to 100% in about 75 minutes. I definitely noticed a difference when charging my Series 8.
When the Series 8 is in low-power mode, it lasts up to 36 hours. Both watches have “all-day” battery life of up to 18 hours.
If Apple wanted to get me to buy the Series 8, they would have given it as much battery life as the new Ultra, which boasts 36 hours in regular mode and 60 hours in low-power mode.
Having a wearable that lasts only 18 hours or less is disappointing. A few months ago, I started using the Oura Ring, which gives me many of the same metrics as the Apple Watch, except I forget I’m wearing it and it only needs to be charged every three and a half to four days.
Which one should you buy?
If you’ve never owned a smartwatch and you just want the basic functions, such as notifications and activity monitoring, the SE is a great value. If you are concerned about your health, and want to get early warnings if things may be going wrong, the Series 8 may provide you with some added peace of mind.
The SE is also perfect to buy for a child who is too young for a smartphone. Maybe you don’t want them to go on social media or text, but setting them up with an SE can allow you to track their location and contact them in case of an emergency.
If you’ve already got a recent-model Apple Watch, I would not suggest upgrading. I hardly noticed a difference when using the Series 8 compared with my Series 7, or even the Series 5. The new health tracking features such as the temperature sensor don’t feel worthwhile enough to justify the price, especially since ovulation tracking is backward-looking.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the abbreviation AFib stands for atrial fibrillation. A previous version used an incorrect term. It has also been updated to remove references to the Apple Watch being used a health device by people who have already been diagnosed with AFib. Apple says in a footnote on its website that the Watch is not intended for such use.