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Apple Watch SE vs Series 4 (2021): Comparing the New Smartwatch to the Old

Out with the old, in with the new—new Apple Watch models, that is. This time around, the Cupertino-based brand unwrapped not one, but two: the Apple Watch Series 6 and Apple Watch SE, the latter of which is what we’re focusing on here. Basically, it’s the company’s take on an affordable version of the wearable, meaning it had to cut corners here and there to keep the price down. At that, how does it compare to the older iterations?

In this comparison, we take the new “lite” Apple Watch and put it side by side with the Apple Watch Series 4, which introduced significant features that became mainstays throughout the lineup over the years.

Apple Watch SE vs Series 4 Comparison Chart

ModelApple Watch SEApple Watch Series 4
 
Price
Size40 mm, 44 mm40 mm, 44 mm
DisplayRetina LTPO OLEDRetina LTPO OLED
Resolution40 mm: 324 x 394
44 mm: 368 x 448
40 mm: 324 x 394
44 mm: 368 x 448
CasingAluminumAluminum, stainless steel
LensIon-XIon-X (aluminum), sapphire crystal (stainless steel)
ChipsetS5S4
Operating SystemwatchOS 7watchOS 7 (upgradable)
Capacity32 GB16 GB
ConnectivityWi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, LTE (optional)Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, LTE (optional)
AltimeterAlways-onYes
Electrocardiogram (ECG)NoYes
Heart Rate SensorOpticalSecond-generation optical, electrical
Abnormal Heart Rate NotificationsYesYes
Sleep TrackingYesYes
Automatic Fall DetectionYesYes
Emergency AlertsYesYes
Water ResistanceUp to 50 metersUp to 50 meters
Battery LifeUp to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours

Brief History

The Apple Watch Series 4 was revolutionary during its time.

Apple Watch Series SE vs Series 4 Brief History
The Apple Watch SE

Just to put things into perspective, the move from the Apple Watch Series 3 to the Series 4 was huge. It introduced cellular connectivity, haptic feedback on the Digital Crown, electrocardiogram (ECG), the second-generation optical sensor, automatic fall detection, and the W3 wireless chip for Bluetooth 5.0. It also doubled the capacity from 8 GB to 16 GB and made 40 mm and 44 mm the standard sizes.

In the Apple Watch SE’s case, the same can’t be said. It’s sort of a mixed bag of upgrades and downgrades, like an amalgamation of what made the previous models good. But now it centers more on fitness and functionality and less on health, which is likely why it’s cheaper (read: fewer sensors).

Performance and Build

The Apple Watch SE is faster than the Apple Watch Series 4.

Apple Watch Series SE vs Series 4 Performance and Build
In terms of appearance, the two share a lot of design cues.

The Apple Watch SE has a couple of advantages here. For starters, it’s powered by the same S5 chip as the Apple Watch Series 5, which is a lot faster than the Apple Watch Series 4’s S4 processor. It also has 32 GB of storage as opposed to only 16 GB.

One downside to these two models is they don’t have an always-on display, so it’s a raise-to-wake affair. Speaking of similarities, they come in 40 mm and 44 mm, sporting the brand’s iconic “squircle” watch face. Thing is, the Apple Watch SE is available only in aluminum, while the Apple Watch Series 4 is offered in aluminum and stainless steel.

You can expect the same battery life of up to 18 hours, Bluetooth 5.0, water resistance of up to 50 meters, and all that jazz from both of them.

Health and Fitness Tracking

You get better health features on the Apple Watch Series 4.

Apple Watch Series SE vs Series 4 Health and Fitness Tracking
Only the Apple Watch SE (left) has an always-on altimeter, but only the Apple Watch Series 4 (right) has ECG.

Among the Apple Watch SE’s “new features” is its always-on altimeter. Thanks to that, it can track your elevation in real-time, and it can come in real handy when you’re out for a hike. However, it doesn’t have ECG, and it’s using the same first-generation optical heart rate sensor as the Apple Watch Series 3.

In comparison, the Apple Watch Series 4 has ECG and a second-generation optical sensor, and the takeaway here is it can stay on top of personal health better.

Both do have abnormal heart rate alerts and watchOS 7, which gives a new lease of life to the Apple Watch Series 4. Fitness-wise, it’s bringing new workout modes such as Core Training, Dance, and Functional Strength Training, as well as the new Apple Fitness+ service. To top it all off, it’s adding native sleep tracking and automatic handwashing detection to the mix.

Smart Features

Both deliver what you’d expect from a smartwatch nowadays.

Apple Watch Series SE vs Series 4 Smart Features
watchOS 7 will bring new features such as Family Setup.

Each one of the two is as smart as the other. To no one’s surprise, they support Apple Pay, Apple Music, and notifications. They have emergency SOS and automatic fall detection too, which is useful for older adults.

Moreover, watchOS 7 is also bringing Family Setup. It lets you manage multiple Apple Watches using only one iPhone, and every member in the network can then contact one another through text or calls from their wrist.

Verdict

Both have their own advantages.

To boil things down, the Apple Watch SE has an always-on altimeter, speedier processor, and a bigger capacity, while the Apple Watch Series 4 has ECG and a second-generation optical heart sensor. Elsewhere, they’re more or less the same, so these are pretty much the pros and cons you’ll be weighing, besides pricing.

In other words, it’s a matter of what’s more important to you: the Apple Watch SE for better functionality and performance or the Apple Watch Series 4 for better health monitoring.

FAQs

📌 What’s the difference between the Apple Watch SE and Series 4?

The key differences between the two are that the Apple Watch SE has an always-on altimeter, a faster processor, and bigger storage. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch Series 4 has ECG and a second-generation optical heart sensor, so you can keep tabs on your health better with it.

📌 Is the Apple Watch SE worth it?

Yes, the Apple Watch SE is worth getting. Not only is it affordable, but it also comes with emergency SOS, automatic fall detection, and an always-on altimeter, among other things.

📌 Is the Apple Watch SE worth the upgrade?

That depends on which model you’re coming from. In a way, the Apple Watch SE is an affordable, modern version of the wearable but with health capabilities on par only with the Apple Watch Series 3.

📌 Is the Apple Watch Series 4 still worth getting?

Yes, as the Apple Watch Series 4 can still somewhat keep up with the newer models, after all. Not to mention that watchOS 7 will give it new features such as native sleep tracking and Family Setup, to name a few.

Last update on 2022-08-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Vincent Lanaria

Senior Editor, researcher and writer passionate about running, cooking, and how technology mixes with the two.