It may surprise let the casual reader know that I do not run a multi-trillion dollar corporation. Like any decent tech writer, however, I’m more than happy to offer all my thoughts on the matter in a very public forum. Having followed hardware makers most closely over the years, I’m often struck by one particular topic in particular: choice.
I’m generally of the opinion that more choice is better. This applies to many aspects of life (best to avoid the annoyances of an introduction to a smartwatch article), including consumer products. More companies, more competition, more customer choice. All that fun stuff. The question of choice was especially interesting from Apple.
Looking at the company over the years, there has been a decline. In some cases, it may be a matter of quality control, not confusing the customer with “too many” choices, and not spreading yourself too thin (although I’m not sure a brand with a $2-3 trillion market cap is at risk of the latter).
These are valid concerns, and there is a push and pull within a single company. The opposite end of the spectrum is intentionally limited selection so you know what’s best for the consumer. It’s a criticism that has understandably been leveled at Apple for years.
Among the consumer electronics categories, wearables stand to benefit the most from the selection. In addition to the standard client preference, you have wide variations in the spectrum of human bodies. We’re all perfect, beautiful snowflakes here, and at the very least, we deserve a watch that fits on our wrist. This was the main complaint of the first generation of smartwatches. they were too big with too little variation.
After eight generations of Apple Watches, we’re looking for more choices than ever. You have the big, shiny and expensive Ultra, the mid-range 8 Series and the budget SE. The latter are both available in a number of different colors and in two sizes (41 and 45mm for the 8 and 40 and 44mm for the SE). I’m curious to see if there will be a more compact version of the Ultra in the future, but for now it’s a big watch mostly for big wrists.
Earlier today I posted a rather lengthy review of Episode 8 . The material focused on many different factors, but one thing in particular took center stage. In a world where some competition rates battery in terms of days or even weeks, it’s been a while. Apple partially addressed the issue by adding Low Power Mode introduced with watchOS 9.
The presence of the feature raises an interesting question. If you had the option to turn off any and all features for the sake of battery life, what, if any, would you sacrifice? This is an interesting exercise in determining what is really valuable in everyday life. Every year, Apple adds a number of features. Some you will use, some you will never touch. In my case, I can lose everything that turns off in Low Power Mode. Someone who controls the heart condition, on the other hand, cannot.
Maybe now is a good time to discuss what exactly “SE” means. The first edition was introduced in 2019 alongside the 5 Series. It’s been three years now, and Apple’s approach has been a combination based on the SE and older models to appease the lower end of the market (although this time the 7 is only about as long as retail channels still have current stock).
Theories differ on what SE means here (and on the iPhone). Some have pointed out that it once stood for “System Extension” in Apple parlance. But recently Apple CEO Phil Schiller confirmed what many suspected, the two-letter acronym stands for “Special Edition.” From where I sit, I think special editions are reserved for the odd Batman FunkoPop that you can only buy after waiting in line for 15 hours at Comic-Con, which you later sell at a 10,000% markup.
But that’s probably just me.
In the case of this device, I would suggest another, similar offering, the Streamlined Edition. The SE is the Apple Watch for people on a slightly tighter budget who realize they don’t absolutely need to top up the device every year. As reviewers, I think we all too often lose sight of the fact that a few hundred dollars is not a small chunk of change for the vast majority of readers. Starting at $249 for the standard version and $299 for the mobile version, the SE is $150 to $200 cheaper than the 8 Series.
“Cheap” is, of course, relative. Especially in the case of Apple products. Sub-$100 smartwatches do exist, but as a general rule of thumb, I use the $200 Fitbit Versa as a starting point for affordable smartwatches with a premium experience. At $50 more, the SE isn’t too far off the mark.
Here’s what you lose by choosing the SE over the 8 Series:
- Screen size (the 8 has “nearly 20% more screen real estate than the SE, according to Apple)
- Fast charging
- Dust resistance
- Always on display
- Blood oxygen/ECG/Temperature sensing (for cycle tracking)
Your mileage will vary, but as compromises go, they seem manageable. And, frankly, good luck distinguishing them at first glance. Again, if my doctor suggested getting the watch for heart monitoring, I’d probably pay the extra money and go for the 8. to be significant to many.
Other than that, the devices share the same processor (W3) and the stated battery life (18 hours with Low Power Mode enabled). Much has already been written about how the Ultra is effectively a special device compared to the S8, but having used both the standard S8 and the SE since the Far Out event last week, I’ll add that suddenly a very plausible argument is made. that the SE really is the right Apple Watch for most people.