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Monday, September 20, 2021

Apple Watch SE review: A taste of the finest

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If you have wanted the proper smartwatch experience, there has nothing been better than an Apple Watch. Over the years, it has come across as the ultimate wearable technology you can have on your wrist. It has reliable health-tracking features that have actually saved lives, looks great, and literally acts as an extension to an iPhone. It comes at a price, thereby making it exclusive to the well-heeled. This year though, it is different. Also Read – Apple TV and Streaming Apps are Coming on Microsoft’s Xbox Consoles on November 10

The cheapest Apple Watch you can buy today is the Watch Series 3, starting at Rs 20,900. While it delivers the Watch experience, it is old by all means. The Series 6 carries an exorbitant starting price of Rs 40,900. Apple identified the gap and came up with the Apple Watch SE. It starts at Rs 29,900 and, in my opinion, offers the best of all worlds. It gets the new design of the Series 6 but is almost Rs 10,000 cheaper. Also Read – Apple announced another launch event on November 10: New MacBooks this time?

It is still expensive but for those looking for better value in a premium smartwatch, it appeals highly. Many of you might have the following questions, both of which I have tried to answer after spending two weeks with the Watch SE: Also Read – Xiaomi overtakes Apple in global smartphone shipments in Q3: IDC

Does it make sense to save some bucks and choose this over the Watch Series 6? Is it worth spending an extra ten grand over the Apple Watch Series 3?

The Design Stuff

Most affordable fitness trackers and smartwatches try to ape the Apple Watch design – this itself is a fitting complement to Apple design that has mostly remained unchanged since 2015. The Watch Series 4 got slightly curvier with a bigger display and it has only made the modern-day Apple Watches more desirable. The Watch Series 6 gets that design and so does that Watch SE. To my naked eyes, it would be a challenge distinguishing the two side-by-side.

That means you are treated to the finesse of a rectangular watch composed of premium metal and glass, all fused into an example of the utmost craftsmanship. Apple sent me the 44mm version with LTE, which means I had a red accent to the crown. There’s also a multitasker key that you can use to switch between apps. The bottom is made of ceramic and aluminum, holding the optical sensor for reading heart rate.

I personally like the Space Gray variant of the Watch SE, given its stealthy finish. Moreover, with the Sport Loop, it mixes well with all kinds of attire. The watch itself is heavy and I often found it sliding down the wrist (I wear my watches a little loose). As with all smartwatches, the Watch SE can survive splashes and dust without a bother. The display glass is quite resistant to scratches and in my two weeks, I could not spot any scuffs that you usually see on your smartphone display.

The display is the best I have seen on any smartwatch so far. It is sharp and renders punchy colors, which means it does justice to the beautiful watch faces WatchOS 7 ships with. It gets bright enough in the sun to be easily visible to the eyes and I never struggled to read texts on it.

Apple Watch SE

Design is subjective and there are chances that you may like round watches. Personally, I prefer square or rectangular displays on my watches to see the content better. Additionally, the Apple Watch design has been the gold standard for me and on the Watch SE, it works as intended. I have used an Apple Watch Series 3 and this one definitely looks as well as feels better than it. If you value design over functionality, the Watch SE’s design makes it worth the extra money over the Series 3.

The Health Stuff

Correct me if I am wrong but the Apple Watch and Fitbit wearables have defined the ideal fitness assistant over the last few years – nothing else is as reliable and consistent with the data as these two. The Apple Watch has garnered a name for itself with its active tracking, eventually saving lives.

So, what fitness stuff you get with the Apple Watch SE? The headline features like ECG and Blood Oxygen monitoring are reserved for the elitist Series 6 users. With the Watch SE, you can track pretty much everything else a fitness tracker can do these days. You have a myriad of sports tracking modes, active heart rate tracking, as well as the usual steps tracking. You can also monitor sleep and noise with the onboard sensors. Fall detection and SOS calling also makes its way to the Watch SE.

Apple Watch SE

Fortunately, I never got to test the fall detection system and I hope to not get the opportunity in the future. However, I did test the other fitness features and they worked wonderfully. The step tracking is accurate and during my evening walk sessions, the Watch SE kept a track of my pace, distance covered, calories burnt, and active heart rate. Combined with the onboard GPS system, it kept a fairly accurate track of the distances I covered. Upon completion, it greets with a notification congratulating you on completing a kilometer. On the mental level, it surely works to push me in order to do one more.

I also tried cycling and it worked as intended. I did get a high heart rate warning once when I started racing a motorbike one evening. While it confirmed that I can be an idiot on the streets at times, it did prove its point – the Apple Watch is always keeping a track of your health.

When you aren’t working out, the Watch SE keeps throwing motivations to complete its famed “rings”, i.e. complete the daily fitness goals. During my work hours, it showed messages like, “ Hey Amritanshu, you have completed so many steps, you can complete the rings before the day ends.” Isn’t that a lovely way to make you stay fit and motivated?

Apple Watch SE

In fact, WatchOS 7 keeps throwing notifications throughout the day to cater to various health parameters. During my work hours, it keeps asking me to take the breathing exercises to keep the stress levels down. It makes me stand up frequently to complete my standing goals. During Durga Puja, it asked me to watch out for noise pollution during a visit to the pandal (I did a socially distant visit). It is as if there’s always somebody by my side watching out for me while I go on with my life. Aah, so lovely you are Apple Watch!

The sleep tracking bit is where I found the Watch SE struggling. WatchOS 7, in general, does not have a robust sleep tracking system. In the few nights I wore it to sleep, I got inconsistent readings of my sleep. For example, I know that I go to bed at 11:30 pm but I doze off an hour later. The Watch SE recorded the sleep from 11:30 pm and missed out on an hour of tossing around the bed with my phone. The last I checked, a Mi Smart Band 5 can track sleep better. In fact, I could not see a way to examine the quality of my sleep, something that more affordable trackers can do.

Apple Watch SE

WatchOS 7 also adds the ability to detect a handwash session and automatically throw up an animation motivating you for a full 20-second handwash. It works most of the time and when it does, it is indeed helpful. There were times it detected a handwash session just after I finished an entire 20-second session. It also asked me to wash my hands while doing the dishes. These are software issues and Apple can fix them with future bug fixes.

The Smart Stuff

This is where the Apple Watch has got it all sorted out. WatchOS 7 is an incredibly designed operating system that lives up to the actual definition of a smartwatch. It basically acts as an extension of my iPhone and most days, I seldom picked up my phone to get something done. Get this – I was able to make calls right from the watch. I was reading all messages, including large parts of an email on the watch. Heck, I could even reply to them with my voice or scribble input. I can also send emojis from my watch! Where was this when I was in college?

There’s a lot in WatchOS 7 that you can keep playing with all day. Since I don’t have the luxury of an eternity of words, I will highlight the top features. The Watch SE lacks the Always On Display from the Watch Series 6 but it gets all those stunning watch faces, each of them offering umpteen number of customizations options. The new Animoji watch face is funky but there are some classy Typograph faces that I found more useful.

Apple Watch SE

Siri is always available and you don’t even need to use the “Hey Siri” wake word anymore. I just lifted up my wrist and spoke into the watch, after which Siri responded. This feature does struggle at times and I had to eventually fall back on the wake word in loud surroundings. The speaker on the watch is fairly loud but sounds tinny – good enough for taking calls.

With LTE, I was able to play my Apple Music playlists directly from the watch on my iPhone. I was even able to take calls while I left my iPhone in my home during my walking sessions. Apple offers a host of third-party apps you can download and use directly from the watch. During the setup, the Watch SE automatically downloaded WatchOS versions of the apps already installed on my iPhone. The setup process is easy and all you need to do is just follow the on-screen instructions.

Apple Watch SE

I wish Apple baked in swipe gestures in WatchOS 7. I had to press the crown in order to go back to the main menu or minimize an app. Other than that, the Watch SE’s performance was as fine as silk. It uses the older S5 chip from the Watch Series 5 but in my daily use, I never noticed a pause or delay on opening an app or responding to texts. All the animations are reliably smooth and it all feels natural – something no other smartwatch can achieve right now.

With the newer S5 chip (compared to the Series 3) and the lack of an Always On Display, I was able to get a battery life of a day and a half on Watch SE. The figure decreased if I made more calls, and increased on the silent weekends. Charging takes up to 1.5 hours and you need to do that using the proprietary charging cable that Apple supplies. If you don’t require LTE connectivity, I guess the battery can easily last up to two days with moderate usage (fitness tracking, notifications, taking calls via Bluetooth, etc)

Apple Watch SE: Worth buying?

Apple Watch SE

Despite its lower starting price of Rs 29,900, the Apple Watch SE still qualifies as a luxurious addition to your Apple ecosystem collection. However, if you are reading this, you already have the means to get it, in which case I can say that it is an absolute delight to wear the Apple Watch SE. There is simply nothing like it in the smartwatch space, especially if you use an iPhone. Reliable fitness tracking and exceptional smart functions make this the ultimate smartwatch at its price.

The real questions, however, linger for the value-centric buyers. Is it worth spending an extra Rs 10,000 over the Watch Series 3? I think it is indeed. The Watch SE will last longer with its superior performance and more WatchOS updates. Not to forget, it looks so much better than the Series 3.

If you are confused between the Watch SE and Series 6, it boils down to this – do you seek ECG and Blood Oxygen monitoring? Fitness enthusiasts will have a big “Yes” ready, in which case, get the Series 6. If you don’t seek such deep levels of tracking, the Apple Watch SE suits your needs better. It gives you a taste of the finest smartwatch experience without hurting your wallet as much. It is the Apple Watch that is the easiest to recommend.

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