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Apple series 6 vs Apple SE: Which smartwatch is best?

We tried and tested Apple’s latest launches to see which one you should invest in 

David Phelan@davidphelan2009
Monday 14 December 2020 15:54
We looked at features including health metrics, design and battery life
We looked at features including health metrics, design and battery life

In September, Apple did something unprecedented: instead of launching one Apple watch, it revealed two completely new models.

It means that now there are three smartwatches to choose from: the entry-level Apple watch series 3, first revealed in Autumn 2017 and the new pair, Apple watch SE and the top-flight Apple watch series 6.

How the watches are the same

In some ways, there’s no difference between them. They all run the latest software, watchOS 7, have GPS built in, so you can go running without your iPhone weighing you down and still get deeply accurate running stats, and have bright screens and all are water-resistant up to 50m.

If your heart rate is unusually high or low, all three models of Apple watch will notify you, which is also the case for irregular heart rhythms.  All Apple watches work with Apple pay so you can use the watch as a contactless payment mechanism.

How the series 3 differs from the newly released models

Apple watch series 3 is the most keenly priced, from £199, but has a smaller display and, as it was first seen three years ago, is noticeably less advanced than the new models, with heart rate monitoring as standard but without extra features such as fall detection, found on the newer versions.

Fall detection is a useful function: if you fall down hard and don’t move for 60 seconds after, the watch begins a series of actions including sounding an alarm and calling selected contacts and even the emergency services, where it can report your exact location.

Series 3 is also only available with an aluminium-case model and in two colours, silver and space grey. It doesn’t have a GPS + Cellular option.

As such, excellent though series 3 is, it’s the SE and series 6 which really deliver the most Apple has to offer, so let’s focus on those. Below, we put the newest launches head to head to see which watch comes out on top.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent. 

Apple watch series 6

Watch sizes: 40mm and 44mm

Always-on Display? Yes

Health metrics: Blood oxygen levels, ECG, fall detection, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rhythm notifications, noise alerts

GPS or GPS plus cellular? Both available

Case material choices: Aluminium, stainless steel, titanium

Aluminium watch colour choices: Space grey, silver, gold, blue, Product Red

Stainless steel watch colour choices: Graphite, gold, silver

Titanium watch colour choices: Titanium, space black titanium

Processor: S6 system-in-package

Storage capacity: 32GB

Series 6 is the most advanced Apple watch yet. It has an always-on display so that you don’t need to raise your wrist to illuminate the screen as on the SE. This is handy if you want to sneak a look at the time in a dull meeting without raising your wrist. In design terms, the series 6 and SE look very similar with a 30 per cent bigger display than series 3. The screen has beautifully curved corners, a big speaker, a microphone and so on. The display comes in two sizes, 40mm and 44mm.

Series 6 is also available in three different material finishes: aluminium, stainless-steel and titanium in what’s called Apple watch edition. This is an especially sumptuous watch, and is pricier. The aluminium series 6 comes in GPS and GPS + cellular variants but the stainless steel and titanium models come with GPS + cellular as standard. Aluminium casing means the watch face is covered in Ion-X glass but the stainless steel and titanium options use sapphire crystal instead which is much tougher.

This is the most colourful Apple watch yet, with five choices in the aluminium version: space grey, silver, gold (these three are also available in the Apple watch SE) plus a gorgeous blue and Product Red, which refers to Apple’s partnership with HIV/Aids charities. The glossy stainless-steel finish comes in three shades, gold, which is perky and opulent, silver which is straightforwardly shiny and graphite which is classily discreet. Titanium comes in two finishes, regular titanium and a space black version, which is the most discreet of all because it’s matte and very black. 

If health, fitness or wellness are important to you, then series 6 is the watch for you. All current Apple watches can count your steps, encourage you to stand up each hour, exercise for 30 minutes each day, and can even track your sleep. Heart rate notifications are also on every watch. But if you want to delve a little deeper into your health, then the two features exclusive to series 6 may appeal. 

An ECG app means that in addition to the heart rate features mentioned above, you can take an ECG measurement on your watch. Another exclusive addition is blood oxygen monitoring. This is a very slick app that is quick and easy to use, telling you your blood oxygen levels in just 15 seconds. And monitoring blood oxygen while Covid-19 is around is pretty important.

Noise monitoring is a feature that sends you alerts when the racket around you is loud enough to potentially damage your hearing. It’s available on series 6 and Apple watch SE. The latest processor is only found in series 6 (Apple watch SE uses last year’s chip, which is still pretty nippy). And if you are tracking your sleep, then you’ll need to wear the watch at night and recharge it in the morning. Though both SE and series 6 can do this, the battery on the series 6 recharges more quickly. In terms of choice of design, health features and sheer power, Apple watch series 6 is head and shoulders above the SE – and every other smartwatch available.

Apple watch SE

Watch sizes: 40mm and 44mm

Always-on Display? No

Health metrics: Fall Detection, high and low heart rate notifications, irregular heart rhythm notifications, noise alerts

GPS or GPS plus cellular? Both available

Case material choices: Aluminium only

Watch colour choices: Space grey, silver, gold

Processor: S5 system-in-package

Storage Capacity: 32GB

Apple watch SE looks identical to series 6 and works largely the same, though it lacks some of the extra features and more powerful processor on the flagship watch. The display is not always-on, as on series 6, so to see the time, or whatever’s on the screen, you need to raise your wrist. The Apple watch is completely reliable at illuminating the screen with the slightest movement, unlike some rival gadgets, but it’s not quite as slick as series 6. But in everyday use, there’s precious little difference between the two models, and the SE is more than £100 cheaper.

Battery life on both is a full day’s usage, so overnight charges are required, but you won’t be buying the series 6 for extra battery life. The displays are identical, too. Although the SE doesn’t have ECG or blood oxygen monitoring, it has the same heart rate capabilities and neat features like Breathe, a one-minute mindfulness app, as the series 6.

The range of bands with which to adorn your timepiece is also identical between series 6 and SE. These vary from the glorious “solo loop” to the gorgeous stainless-steel “Milanese loop”. And Nike+ special editions for sportier types are also available in both models, with distinctive straps and extra watch faces (for the same price as the regular watch). It’s worth noting that as part of Apple’s battle against electronic waste, the SE and Series 6 both are packed with a charging cable but no charging plug – the cable will fit any USB charging plug you have knocking around.

The verdict: Apple series 6 vs Apple SE 

There’s no doubt that series 6 has everything going for it, and if you’re especially interested in wellness features like blood oxygen levels and taking an ECG on your wrist, then that’s the one you’ll want.

But in truth, Apple watch SE is the best buy for many people, offering something very nearly as brilliant for a lot less money. If you want a stainless-steel case, then it’s series 6, if you want the brightest blue colour watch, you’re also going for series 6. But if you want a smart, effective watch that counts your steps, calories and warns you if it spots something erratic in your heart rate, then the SE will be more than fine.

Since so many of the standout Apple watch features – dazzling design, intuitive notifications, accurate heart rate monitoring, slick activity tracking and sleep monitoring, scores of watch faces, warnings when you’re in an over-noisy environment, fall detection and much more – are in both devices, the Apple watch SE is good enough for most people.

If you’re after even more options, we’ve already rounded up all the best fitness trackers and smartwatches 

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