The Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch SE represent the most expensive and most affordable Apple watches of 2020. Almost identical in look, scratch the surface (not literally) and you’ll notice a few key differences in terms of specs – the two watches pack different sensors, strap options and features. And, of course, the flagship Apple Watch 6 is pricier too.
Much of what makes Apple watches the go-to wearables for iPhone users on the look-out for a reliable smartwatch experience is compelling app support and capable fitness credentials. It’s safe to say, these highlights are comparable across both the Apple Watch 6 and the Apple Watch SE.
Both support standard training features, including Apple’s Fitness Plus, heart rate monitoring and GPS tracking. That said, advanced features such as ECG and blood oxygen monitoring are reserved for the Series 6.
With the Apple Watch 6 costing around a third more than the SE, are its extra features enough to tempt potential buyers?
Design and display – Same front, different back
If you’re simply getting the Apple Watch as a piece of bling, then no-one will be any the wiser if you opt for the SE over the pricier Apple Watch 6. In fact, you may actually be better off choosing a previous gen model – Apple hasn’t really made any significant changes to the Apple Watch design since it first dropped in 2015.
The Apple Watch 6 and SE both come in 40mm and 44mm variants, and while they have the same dimensions, the Apple Watch 6 is a few grams heavier. Not much at all, then – but given the low weight of the watches, the difference could be just about noticeable.
Both devices are water-resistant up to 50 meters, but the casings of the SE and Series 6 are available in a few different options. The Apple Watch 6 comes in aluminum or stainless steel, while the Apple Watch SE is available exclusively in aluminum.
Getting into specifics, the Apple Watch 6 comes in Silver (aluminum and stainless steel), Gold (aluminum and stainless steel), Space Gray (aluminum), Blue (aluminum), Product RED (aluminum), Graphite (stainless steel), Space Black (stainless steel and titanium), and as for band options, at the low-end these are virtually identical, with both Apple Watches available with Braided Solo Loop, Solo and Sport bands. That said, the Apple Watch Series 6 is also available with a few other flavors, including the breathable Nike Sports band and the iconic, expensive Milanese Loop.
But that’s not all: there’s also a special Hermès edition Apple Watch 6 that will set you back the small sum of $1,249. Sporting a fundamentally different design, rather than Apple’s standard clasp system, bands aren’t interchangeable on the Hermès edition and are attached to the watch body via a metal loop at the top and bottom.
The displays across all recent Apple watches are identical on paper, with Retina LTPO OLED tech combined with 1,000-nit brightness. With a resolution of 448 x 368 and a pixel density of 326 pixels per inch in the larger 44mm version of both, sharpness across all Apple watches is excellent.
One element that is different is the front glass of the watch face. While the Apple Watch Series 6 sports a sapphire crystal display, the more affordable SE fascia is Ion-X strengthened glass. Both watches have the same 60% screen-to-bezel ratio and 1.78-inch screen size, however.
Given those identical specs, the fact the Apple Watch 6 supports an always-on display while the Apple Watch SE doesn’t is a touch frustrating. This is something both phones could have featured from a hardware point of view, but Apple chose to curtail the functionality of its more affordable watch with a software limitation.
Flip over the smartwatches and the final difference comes into view: the sensors. On the Apple Watch Series 6 you’ll see four dots within a refined-looking sensor array, but the SE sports a concentric circle pattern that doesn’t support the two tracking features on everyone’s lips at the moment: ECG and SpO2.
Fitness and features – ECG and SpO2
It was in the Watch 5 that Apple introduced ECGs/EKG (electrocardiogram) technology to smartwatches, and the feature has been carried forward to the Apple Watch 6 – but not in the SE. The inclusion of this sensor in the pricier Apple Watch means it can read heart rhythm data, in turn detecting potential arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) that can be a precursor to heart conditions.
One electrode sits on the underside of the watch, while the other is on the crown of the Apple Watch 6. Press a finger on the crown as the Apple Watch is secured on your wrist, and your reading will appear on-screen.
The SE also misses out on a blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor. Although such a unit isn't anything new, we’ve seen it on even affordable fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Band 5; prior to the Series 6, they weren’t a feature on any Apple watches. Note that all SpO2 monitors aren’t created equally, and Apple’s unit is FDA-certified, and likely to be one of the better performers on wearables.
In general, both models of Apple Watch are excellent fitness and health trackers, working with Apple’s latest on-demand service, Fitness Plus.
Apple Fitness Plus is a streaming video subscription service that offers guided workouts on your Apple TV, iPad or iPhone. These cover activities such as yoga, indoor cycling, and running on a treadmill.
The Apple Watch broadcasts your heart rate to the Fitness Plus interface, which can be displayed on a connected device. This isn't available at launch, but it's expected to be introduced later in 2020.
Both watches also support third-party applications that use the wearable’s sensors to similar ends, such as FIIT (now available through Sky in the UK) and Wondercise, which goes so far as to match movements with those of an on-screen trainer.
OS, power and battery – Déjà vu
Apple says the Watch 6 and SE will last 18 hours, as have previous generations of Apple Watch. Given the lack of always-on display support for the SE, however, we found its real-world use to be more generous – nearer a day and a half, with the flagship Apple Watch 6 trailing slightly behind.
This still leaves users with a charging conundrum across both watches. WatchOS 7 brings sleep tracking to the series, so if you want to use it, you’ll need to find a time other than while you're in bed to recharge it. There's no low-power processor as found on the Oppo Watch, nor is there VOOC rapid-charging tech to see it power up in a little over an hour, giving you less freedom to extend the battery life.
When it comes to power, we didn't notice performance discrepancies across either watch, although the Apple Watch 6 houses a newer processor: an Apple S6 versus the Apple S5 on the SE. Both have 32GB onboard storage and 1GB of RAM.
In addition, both watches support third-party apps, unlike other less-smart smartwatches such as the Huawei Watch GT 2 Pro, for example. In our tests, app support across both appeared identical, but if upcoming apps engage the ECG or SpO2 sensors, then naturally the features won’t work on the SE.
In terms of the Apple Watch 6 price, the Wi-Fi version comes in at $399 / £379 / AU$599 for the 40mm version, while the 44mm version costs $429 / £409 / AU$649. Meanwhile, the Apple Watch SE can be had for $279 / £269 / AU$429 for the 40mm version, and $309 / £299 / AU$479 for the 44mm version.
Anyone with their sights set on LTE can expect to pay $499 / £479 / AU$749 for the 40mm Apple Watch 6, and $529 / £509 / AU$799 for the 44mm version. Meanwhile, prices for the Watch SE LTE 40mm come in at $329 / £319 / AU$499, while the 44mm version costs $359 / £349 / AU$549.
Naturally, as covered earlier, there are plenty of pricier options for the Apple Watch 6. Want a stainless-steel Apple Watch instead of an aluminum one? Prices start at $699 / £649 / AU$1,049. Prices for the Hermes Double Tour stainless steel edition climb as high as $1,399 / £1,349 / AU$2,119