- The Apple Watch Series 9 offers better hardware and a more premium build with stainless steel options, while the Apple Watch SE is more affordable with an aluminum build.
- The Apple Watch Series 9 has a larger and brighter display, with a modern edge-to-edge design and better readability in sunlight.
- The Series 9 has a faster S9 chip with performance improvements and additional features, but the SE’s S8 chip already handles most tasks well. Both have essential health monitoring features and a similar set of safety features.
- The Series 9 has fast charging and more storage, but both models offer up to 18 hours of battery life. Prices range from $249 to $529, with additional options for stainless steel models starting at $699. Choose based on your budget and desired features.
If you’re looking to buy an Apple Watch without breaking the bank, you have two options: the Apple Watch SE and the Apple Watch Series 9. The latter is newer and packs better hardware, but is it worth the extra money? Let’s find out.
Design and Build
Apple Watches generally look the same. It’s true even for the Apple Watch Series 9 and the Apple Watch SE (2nd generation)—at least with the screen turned off. Both models feature a boxy design with a power button and a Digital Crown on the right side of the case.
However, the differences become apparent when you factor in the size and the build quality. Apple offers the Series 9 in 41mm and 45mm sizes, whereas the affordable SE comes in slightly smaller, 40mm and 44mm cases.
While you can get the Apple Watch Series 9 in aluminum and stainless steel, the SE comes in just aluminum, which isn’t bad, but it’s not as premium as stainless steel, which may matter to some. For instance, the stainless steel variants of the Apple Watch have sapphire crystal glass, which is more resistant to scratches.
Another notable build difference is that the Series 9 has IP6X dust resistance, which the SE misses out on. Both watches, however, are water-resistant up to 50 meters.
Display is one area where you’ll notice a huge difference between the Apple Watch SE (2nd generation) and the Series 9.
The Apple Watch Series 9, with its larger case sizes, houses slightly bigger screens than the SE. Part of this is due to the smaller bezels, which also make the Series 9 a more modern-looking smartwatch. Likewise, the edge-to-edge screen design provides more screen estate for content and, in turn, makes using the screen a little easier.
Besides a bigger screen, the Apple Watch Series 9 has a significantly brighter display. Compared to the Apple Watch SE, which can go up to 1000 nits, the Series 9 can reach 2000 nits of peak brightness, making it easy to read the screen in bright sunlight. Not only that, but it can go down as low as one nit when it’s dark.
Even though both watches use an LTPO OLED display, the one on the Series 9 supports the always-on feature. As such, you can quickly check the time without raising your wrist.
Performance and Features
The Apple Watch Series 9 runs on the S9 chip, the same chip that powers the top-of-the-line Apple Watch Ultra 2, and promises performance improvements and support for additional features. A major highlight of the S9 is a 4-core Neural Engine that allows the Apple Watch Series 9 to process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast as the S8 chip in the Apple Watch SE.
However, the Apple Watch SE’s S8 chip should be able to handle most tasks without a hitch, considering it’s the same chip that powered the Apple Watch Series 8 and the original Apple Watch Ultra.
One of the standout features of the Series 9, thanks to the S9 chip, is the double-tap feature, which allows you to control your wearable with just one hand by tapping the index finger and thumb together. Fortunately, you can use a similar double-tap gesture on any Apple Watch, including the SE.
The Series 9 packs a second-gen Ultra Wideband chip that unlocks features like Precision Finding for iPhone 15 users and HomePod integration. Besides the newer processor, the Series 9 also gets 64GB of internal storage, which is twice that of the Apple Watch SE.
As for other hardware differences, the Series 9 includes a bunch of additional sensors like a blood oxygen sensor to monitor blood oxygen saturation and an electrical heart sensor that lets you take an ECG.
While it’s good to have these features, not everyone needs them. The Apple Watch SE has all the essentials you’ll need. This includes heart-rate monitoring, sleep monitoring, and cycle tracking, which will help you comfortably keep track of your health goals. It doesn’t cut back on the typical Apple Watch safety features either, so you get Emergency SOS, Fall Detection, and Crash Detection features, just like the Series 9.
Battery Life and Charging
Apple claims up to 18 hours of battery life on the Series 9 and the Apple Watch SE. However, your mileage with the Series 9 may vary depending on how often you use its always-on display.
One area where Series 9 gets the upper hand over the SE is fast charging. Apple says you can charge the Apple Watch Series 9 from 0-100% in about 75 minutes (using Apple’s USB-C Magnetic Fast Charger to USB-C cable). In comparison, the same would take about two and a half hours on the SE.
Both the Apple Watch Series 9 and the Apple Watch SE come in two sizes and have two connectivity options: GPS and GPS + Cellular.
The GPS-only Apple Watch SE costs $249 for the 40mm variant and $279 for the 44mm variant, whereas the cellular variant will set you back at $299 and $329 for 40mm and 44mm sizes, respectively.
Likewise, the GPS-only Apple Watch Series 9 costs $399 for the 41mm size and $429 for the 45mm size. If you need cellular connectivity, the 41mm and the 45mm versions will set you back by $499 and $529, respectively.
Don’t forget that you can also pick the Series 9 in stainless steel (with different band options), which starts at $699 for the 41mm model and $749 for the 45mm version. These stainless steel models come with cellular connectivity as standard.
Buy the Right Apple Watch for Your Needs
Both the Series 9 and Apple Watch SE are excellent options with long-term software support and can easily last you several years. That said, if you want the latest offering with no compromise on features and don’t have budget constraints, the Apple Watch Series 9 is the one you should get.
The Apple Watch SE is more suited to someone who’s looking to buy their first Apple Watch and isn’t sure whether a smartwatch is a good long-term investment for them.