Tech

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: I tested both for 13 days


This Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE face-off will obliterate all the questions you have about the popular smartwatches — well, that’s the plan at least.

I’ve always been a smartwatch skeptic. Whether it’s the Google Pixel Watch, the Samsung Galaxy Watch, or the Apple Watch, all seemed superfluous for anyone who has a phone. When people tried to persuade me to join the smartwatch squad, they always brought up fitness as a use case, which has never been a priority for me — until now.

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After hearing my doctor tell me that my blood pressure is too high, I decided to take exercise more seriously. What really drew me to consider an Apple Watch, however, is that I want to make sure I’m hitting — and maintaining — a target heart rate while running on the treadmill, ensuring effective calorie burning.

And of course, one of the best ways to track heart rate is to use an Apple Watch. But I’ve been faced with a dilemma. Should I get the SE (second generation) or spend a little more for the Watch Series 9? I decided to get both to determine their differences.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: price and specs

I got the cheapest model for both variants. This means I spent $249 for the Apple Watch SE (second generation), which I purchased from Apple’s official website.

Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

The model I have comes with the following specs:

  • 40mm case size

  • Silver finish

  • Aluminum chassis

  • GPS (no cellular)

  • Ocean Blue solo loop

Some features require you to shell out a little more. For example, a stainless steel chassis is an extra $50 and a bigger case size (i.e., 44mm) is an extra $30. If you want GPS and cellular support, that will set you back $50.

The Apple Watch Series 9 costs $399 on Apple’s official website (again, this is the cheapest you can get in this model).

Apple Watch Series 9 on a woman's wrist

Apple Watch Series 9
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Here’s my configuration:

  • 41mm case size

  • (Product) Red finish

  • Aluminum chassis

  • GPS (no cellular)

  • Product (Red) sport band

As with the Watch Series 9, you can spend an extra $50 to get a stainless-steel chassis. If you want cellular support, that will set you back another $100.

With the Watch SE being the cheaper of the two, it’s the obvious winner in this round.

Winner: Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Display

The first thing I noticed about the Watch SE is that it has thicker bezels, which reduces its screen real estate — and the display is minimal to begin with.

Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch SE side-by-side

Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch SE side-by-side.
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

The Watch Series 9’s bezels are a lot less obstructive, but either way, I still found display navigation to be fine on both screens. Thicker bezels, in my opinion, aren’t a big deal.

It’s also worth nothing that the resolution is different for the watches:

Watch Series 9 (41mm) – 430 x 352 pixels

Watch SE (40mm) – 394 x 324 pixels

Looking at them side by side, the Watch Series 9 definitely delivers a sharper, clearer visuals. But if I were looking at the Watch SE independently, I would think that the display quality is sufficient enough.

Now, let’s talk brightness:

Watch Series 9 (41mm) – up to 2,000 nits

Watch SE (40mm) – up to 1,000 nits

The Watch Series 9 is supposedly brighter than Series 9, delivering a max of 2,000 nits over the SE’s 1,000-nit screen. However, while comparing both watches in the sun, I could see both of them just fine, even with the rays shining bright on them like a spotlight.

Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 9 on woman's wrist

Apple Watch SE (left) and Apple Watch Series 9 (right)
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

You can tell the Watch SE is slightly dimmer, but the difference is negligible to the naked eye.

The main difference between the two screens, however, is the always-on display. I thought I wouldn’t care about the Watch SE not having an always-on display (AOD). (For the uninitiated, AOD means that the screen is always feeding you visual information.)

However, I found myself getting frustrated that I had to keep either touching the Watch SE’s screen or flick my wrist toward myself to check the time. Meanwhile, the Watch Series 9, well, stays on. As you can see in the photo below, the Watch SE’s screen is completely dark, but the Series 9’s display is still “active” (though it is dimmed).

Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 9 on woman's wrist

Apple Watch SE (left) and Apple Watch Series 9 (right)
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Also, from a fashion standpoint, an always-on display looks more attractive.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Design

I decided to go with two color choices to determine whether I’d prefer the more sophisticated, subtle design of the Watch SE — or the conspicuous, striking presence of the Watch Series 9.

Sleep monitoring on the Apple Watch SE

Apple Watch SE displaying sleep data
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

To my surprise, I prefer the Watch Series 9’s gorgeous (Product)Red look. I feared that it would be too red — like the eyesore of a hue that drapes the blindingly orange Rabbit R1. However, the Product (Red) has the perfect balance of vividness and elegeance. It’s such an eye-catching ruby red.

Apple Watch Series 9 on woman's wrist

Apple Watch Series 9 displaying Indoor Run app
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

I went with the Silver finish for the Watch SE along with the Ocean Blue solo loop — and I regret it. Oddly, the solo loop collects dirt easily. And unlike the sports band that’s featured on the Watch Series 9, the solo loop requires custom sizing. Mine is a size 3, which fits OK, but it could stand to be a smidge tighter.

Apple Watch SE with solo loop

Apple Watch SE with solo loop
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

The sports band has an adjustable strap, allowing me to make it as tight or loose as I need it to be. The solo loop, on the other hand, is just a stretchy bracelet band. I also don’t expect it to have good durability. As you take it off and on over time, I foresee it getting too stretched out.

Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 sports band
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Other than that, the Watch Series 9 and SE have the same squircle design, with a digital crown and side button on the right.

Mashable Light Speed

Simply because of its larger watch face, Series 9 is the winner here.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Texting and calling

I tested texting and calling with both the Apple Watch Series 9 and the Watch SE.

Apple Watch Series 9

Texting with the Apple Series 9
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

When it comes to texting, the Apple Watch Series 9 features a QWERTY keyboard. I thought it’d be an awkward mess trying to text on the Apple Watch Series 9 with one finger, but it wasn’t half bad if you have a little bit of patience in you.

The Watch SE has something different. You can still text, but there is no keyboard available. Instead, you’ll get a field that lets you scribble the letter or word you want to write — and it will transform it into digital text.

Apple Watch SE


Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

To be fair, neither the Watch Series 9 nor the Watch SE are ideal for texting, but the most useful feature for messaging — a perk that both devices have — is Dictation. I found that Dictation, a utility that transforms your speech into text, is the best for texting on the Series 9 and SE.

There are prepared replies readily available, too, like “Thanks” and “OK.”

After calling a friend with the Watch Series 9 and Watch SE, I blind-tested him and asked him to pick which smartwatch sounded better. Surprisingly, he said I sounded better on the Watch SE. I couldn’t tell a marked difference between the two in terms of sound quality.

Due to its superior texting features, the Watch Series 9 wins this round.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE 2: Double Tap

Don’t buy the Apple Watch Series 9 because of its Double Tap feature. The Watch SE supports the Double Tap, too.

Apple Watch Series 9 double tap

Double Tap with the Apple Watch Series 9
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

With the Apple Watch Series 9, you simply need to make sure it’s turned on in Settings — and you can use Double Tap to accept and end calls, turn off alarms, play and pause songs, and more. However, with the Watch SE, you can only use Double Tap when prompted. For example, a blue-outlined prompt that says “End call” will appear on the Watch SE, allowing you to hang up.

It’s worth noting, though, that the Watch Series 9’s Double Tap feature lets you do more with it. For example, you can use Double Tap to trigger the shutter button on the Camera app or scroll through your Widget stacks (things you can’t do with the Watch SE’s Double Tap).

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Siri

Apple boasted that the Watch Series 9 lets you tap into Siri for your health data. One time, I asked, “Siri, how many hours did I sleep last night?” In response, it said, “5 hours and 51 minutes.”

Apple Watch SE Siri

Siri on the Apple Watch SE
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

In response to “How many calories did I burn today?”, it said, “You burned 285 calories today.”

If I were to ask Siri the same questions on the Watch SE, Siri wouldn’t respond with a direct answer. It would, instead, show me the app that would provide me the right answer.

Apple claims that the Watch Series 9’s S9 chip yields a faster on-device Siri, allowing you to have zippier access to your health data.

The only disappointment I’d add for both devices is that Siri directed me to the iPhone app when I asked for ovulation estimates.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Health tracking

If you want a watch with the best health-tracking features, get the Watch Series 9. Here are the sensors and trackers you’ll get with it:

  • Temperature sensing (not on Watch SE)

  • Cycle tracking (available on Watch SE, but doesn’t provide ovulation estimates)

  • Irregular rhythm notifications (available on Watch SE)

  • High or low heart rate notifications (available on Watch SE)

  • ECG testing (not on Watch SE)

On the Watch SE, you will not find the ECG app, a tracker that analyzes your heart’s electrical pulses. However, you will find it on the Apple Watch Series 9. It prompts you to hold your finger on the digital crown for 30 seconds. You’ll then get a reading that tells you your beats per minute (bpm) — and whether your heartbeat is “sinus,” “AFib,” “low heart rate,” “high heart rate,” or “inconclusive.”

ECG on Apple Watch Series 9

ECG on Apple Watch Series 9
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Its worth noting that its AFib detection is the first digital-health tech to qualify for the FDA’s MDDT program. In other words, an official authority in the medical device space has green-lighted the Apple Watch for testing atrial fibrillation. Nice!

As for ovulation tracking, again, you’d be better off with the Watch Series 9. Ovulation tracking relies on taking temperature readings while you sleep every five seconds overnight. And, well, the Watch SE doesn’t have a temperature sensor.

However, whether I was on the SE or Series 9, I could still log my menstrual cycle, allowing me to check when my next estimated cycle will arrive.

Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Speaking of the temperature sensor, on the Watch Series 9, you can get temperature readings of your skin by going to Settings > Health > Health Data > Body Measurements > Wrist Temperature. Not sure why I need to know that my right wrist is 96 degrees Fahrenheit, but er, it’s there in case anyone asks, I guess.

Interestingly, I also noticed that both watches test for environmental noise using the mics. Before turning off a whistling teapot, I got an alert from the Apple Watch Series 9 that the decibels in my surroundings are too high.

Apple Watch Series 9 loud environment alert

Apple Watch Series 9’s loud environment alert
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

Oddly, I didn’t get that alert on my Watch SE, though it has a noise detector feature, too.

Note: The Apple Watch Series 9 no longer supports the blood-oxygen monitor for U.S. consumers.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Fitness tracking

I haven’t spotted much of a difference between the Watch Series 9 and SE when it comes to fitness tracking.

Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

If you want something that tracks your steps and lets you close your rings at the end of the day, the Watch SE will do just fine.

While wearing the watches to run on the treadmill everyday, I set both devices to tell me when I’ve hit my target beats per minute (i.e., 146 to 156 bpm) while running. (I did this by fiddling with the “Indoor Run” preferences under the “Workout” app.) My experience with both have been seamless.

If you’re a swimmer or a diver, however, you may want to consider the Apple Watch Ultra 2 instead; it supports high-speed water sports and recreational diving.

Winner: Draw

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Battery life

I thought that the Apple Watch Series 9’s battery life would be significantly better than the Watch SE, but the differences in their power efficiency are minimal.

Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 text conversation
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

One day, to test both devices’ battery life, I charged the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch SE to 100 percent at 4:30 p.m. The Apple Watch SE tapped out the next day at 8:10 p.m. while the Watch Series 9 lasted a little longer by an hour and some change.

Apple Watch SE – 1 day and 3 hours and 30 minutes

Apple Watch Series 9 – 1 day and 4 hours and 36 minutes

The usage profile included using Siri to ask questions throughout the day (e.g., weather, math calculations, asking for health data), setting timers for workouts, tracking my heart rate during jogs, sleep monitoring, texting friends, controlling Apple Music, glancing at emails, and more.

Photos app on the Apple Watch SE

Photos app on the Apple Watch SE
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

It’s worth noting, though, that Apple Watch Series 9 supports fast charging; the Apple Watch SE does not. This means that, on the Watch Series 9, the battery can go from 0 percent to 80 percent in 45 minutes, according to Apple.

You can use a USB-C Apple charging brick like this one from Amazon to get the fast-charging job done.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 9

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. SE: Which one should you buy?

Apple Watch Series 9 is better at tracking your health. If you’re seeking a device that can give you ovulation estimates, deliver ECG readings, keep tabs on your skin temperature (if you care about that sort of thing), and lets you access most of that data via Siri, get the Series 9.

Apple Watch Series 9 on a woman's wrist

Apple Watch Series 9 with Snoopy watchface
Credit: Kimberly Gedeon / Mashable

If you’re more fitness-focused, and you don’t mind the thicker bezels and lack of always-on display, the Watch SE is a solid choice.

You, like me, may assume that the Watch Series 9 has better battery life because it’s pricier, but in my experience, both held up pretty well in terms of power efficiency (though the Series 9 edged out the Watch SE by an hour or so).

The only thing I’d warn against is getting the solo loop band for your Apple Watch. It seems to get loose after some time — and it’s not very durable. Instead, get the sports band, allowing you to adjust the Apple Watch to your wrist as you like it.





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