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Apple Watch SE vs Series 5 (2021): Comparing Apple’s Budget and High-End Smartwatch

The Apple Watch SE is Apple’s first foray into offering a budget-friendly wearable. It looks just like its flagship counterpart, and comes packed with the latest software upgrades and performance enhancements. On the other hand, the release of the Apple Watch Series 6 means previous models of the watch are expectedly getting a price drop, including the more recent Apple Watch Series 5. Boasting advanced health features while enjoying comprehensive updates courtesy of the watchOS 7, the Series 5 is as great as it was when first released. But is Apple’s affordable wearable a better deal than it is? Read below for our verdict and recommendation.

Apple Watch SE vs Series 5 Comparison Chart

ModelApple Watch SEApple Watch Series 5
 
Price
Sizes40mm, 44mm40mm, 44mm
Case MaterialAluminumAluminum, Titanium, Stainless Steel, Ceramic
Display TypeOLED Retina displayAlways-on OLED Retina display
Display Size1.57โ€ณ (40mm)
1.78โ€ณ (44mm)
1.57โ€ณ (40mm)
1.78โ€ณ (44mm)
Resolution324 x 394 (40mm)
368 x 448 (44mm)
324 x 394 (40mm)
368 x 448 (44mm)
ProcessorS5 dual-core processerS5 dual-core processer
ECG AppNoYes
Blood Oxygen SensorNoNo
Sleep TrackingYes, thru watchOS 7Yes, thru watchOS 7
Heart SensorOptical heart sensorSecond-generation optical heart sensor
Fall DetectionYesYes
AltimeterYes, always-onYes
CompassYesYes
Water ResistanceUp to 50 metersUp to 50 meters
Battery LifeUp to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours

Design

The Apple Watch Series 5 sports a better display and more casing options compared with the Apple Watch SE.

When it comes to design, there’s no doubt the Apple Watch SE (left) and Series 5 (right) are good looking.

At first glance, it’s hard to tell the difference between the Apple Watch SE and Series 5. Both devices sport the same form-factor, with a large display encased in durable materials. They also come in Apple’s now standard 40mm and 44mm sizes.

A closer look at the specs, however, reveal you still get more options from the Apple Watch Series 5. The Watch SE only comes in an aluminum casing. With the Series 5 watch, you have additional options like stainless steel, titanium, and even ceramic. The aluminum variants on both models brandish an Ion-X glass display.

Speaking of display, Apple’s budget-friendly smartwatch does skimp on this area. You get a regular OLED Retina display instead of the Always-On screen introduced back in Series 4. While this move makes sense in reducing the Watch SE’s cost, it doesn’t translate to improved battery life, which is a bit of a bummer.

The Apple Watch SE and Series 5 are equipped with an S5 dual-core processor. In contrast, the Series 6 sports an S6 chip. The Watch SE and Series 5 are also available in GPS and GPS + Cellular models, both of which come with 32GBs of storage.

Apple shares the Watch SE comes with your standard sensors โ€” like the compass, gyroscope, and accelerometer โ€” found in flagship models. However, you do get an upgraded always-on altimeter that offers real-time updates and more accurate readings compared with what the Series 5 has. Lastly, both watches are water resistant up to 50 meters.

Health

Unlike the Series 5, the Watch SE doesn’t come with an electrical heart sensor and ECG app.

Some key health and safety features included the Emergency SOS and menstrual cycle tracking.

As in recent years, the Apple Watch SE and Series 5 focus largely on health and wellness features. Apple’s budget wearable, however, makes a few compromises in this area.

For one, you’re not going to get an ECG App with the Watch SE. It’s a feature that has been a staple in the regular models since being introduced in the Series 4 with the addition of an electrical heart sensor. Unlike the Series 5, the Watch SE also uses an older optical heart sensor for heart rate tracking.

Then there are the shared features pretty much standard to Apple’s wearables. Fall detection, menstrual cycle tracking, noise monitoring โ€” these are all present in the Watch SE. Thanks to the watchOS 7, the Series 5 is also going to get access to Apple’s first native sleep tracking app called, what else, Sleep. It’s a feature long-delayed in its appearance on the Apple Watch considering their availability in wearables from other brands.

And as if taking a cue from the times, the software update adds an automatic hand-washing detection capability to the watches. Apple shares the feature is designed to remind users to wash their hands following WHO’s 20-second recommendation.

Fitness

Both Apple watches are equipped with comprehensive fitness features courtesy of the watchOS 7.

The Apple Watch SE and Series 5 are great companions for sports.

Fitness and activity tracking is pretty even between the Apple Watch SE and Series 5. After all, these features are mostly courtesy of the watchOS. Performance is still largely measured through Apple’s three activity rings: Move, Exercise, and Stand. Active calories burned, steps taken, floors climbed, and heart beats per minute โ€” all these metrics are standard to the devices, giving users crucial insight about how active, or inactive, they are.

With the new watchOS 7 however, the Watch SE and Series 5 also get four new workouts โ€” Dance, Core Training, Functional Strength Training, and CoolDown. Meanwhile, the Activity app on your paired iPhone is rebranded simply to Fitness. The update integrates trends, activity, and workout insights from your watch to a single page on your phone. If you’d like a healthy dose of competition, you can even share this data to friends.

Perhaps the most anticipated feature that will be available on these wearables is Apple Fitness +. The subscription-based fitness service is primed to offer virtual workouts for Apple Watch users, and can also be integrated with an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.

Battery Life and Other Features

Battery life and smart features are still the same for both the Apple Watch SE and Series 5.

WatchOS 7 introduces Family Setup. On the right, taking calls using the watch.

Despite ditching the Always-On Display and lacking a few sensors here and there, the battery life on the Watch SE remains unchanged. In fact, it’s the same 18-hour performance offered since the Apple Watch Series 3. However, just how well the Watch SE holds up for the day will likely depend on usage, similar to any other wearable. What’s certain, however, is you’ll probably need to charge both the Watch SE and Series 5 by the end of the day.

Just like the fitness features, the smart capabilities of the Watch SE and Series 5 are largely the same. Smart notifications are available in both devices. In addition, you can take calls using the watches themselves. There is still Apple Pay, if contactless payment solution is your thing. And of course, Siri is built-in.

If you’re not on iOS, Apple has also introduced Family Setup with the watchOS 7. It’s a nifty feature that allows family members who don’t own an iPhone to still enjoy using an Apple Watch, whether it’s the SE or the Series 5. Just keep in mind you still need to pair the watches with at least one iPhone for it to work.

Verdict

The Apple Watch SE offers plenty of features but lacks some of the advanced health tracking tools available on the Apple Watch Series 5.

The Apple Watch SE should appeal to a broader base of consumers who want a smartwatch but find the flagship models too expensive. It comes with plenty of tools for work and working out, and enjoys software improvements courtesy of the watchOS 7. However, it does cut corners when it comes to health tracking and some hardware features. Now, this shouldn’t be too much an issue for users who don’t really stand to benefit from an ECG app or, as in the case of its companion Series 6, a blood oxygen sensor. But if you do need advanced health monitoring features, or prefer an always-on display, you’re better off with the Apple Watch Series 5.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ What’s the difference between the Apple Watch SE from the Apple Watch Series 5?

Unlike the Apple Watch Series 5, the Apple Watch SE comes with a regular OLED Retina display and optical heart sensor. Apple’s budget wearable also lacks an electrical heart sensor for ECG.

๐Ÿ“Œ Can the Apple Watch SE monitor blood oxygen saturation levels?

The Apple Watch SE does not have sensors for SpO2 monitoring.

๐Ÿ“Œ Does the Apple Watch SE’s digital crown come with haptic feedback?

Since the Apple Watch Series 5, Apple’s wearables feature a digital crown with haptic feedback. This includes the Apple Watch SE.

๐Ÿ“Œ Is the Apple Watch Series 5 available in Blue or Red?

The Apple Watch Series 5 comes in three color finishes โ€” gold, silver, and space gray.

Last update on 2022-05-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Mari Bassig

Senior Editor, writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, social media, and music.