Apple has officially announced the new generation of its premium wearable devices, the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra. Both models have a host of new features, but the dirty little secret of the wearable tech world is that most people won’t actually need or use them. If you’re looking for the best value smartwatch to pair with your iPhone, just get the cheaper Apple Watch SE instead.
What does the Apple Watch Ultra offer anyway?
The Apple Watch’s battery life has never been its standout feature, especially for hardcore users. While most people are fine with needing to charge the watch once a day, this might hinder some users—like, say, endurance athletes. If you’re running ultramarathons or participating in triathlons, you need a watch that doesn’t die halfway through your workout.
The Apple Watch Ultra is that product. Apple claims the watch gets up to 36 hours of battery life with typical use, and 60 hours using a new “battery optimization” setting. Aside from its excellent battery life, the Ultra has the biggest display ever seen in an Apple Watch, and offers a uniquely rugged build to protect it from the elements. For example, if you need your smartwatch while underwater, you can wear it while engaging in recreational scuba diving at a depth of up to 40 meters.
With a bigger battery comes added weight. The Apple Watch Ultra weighs almost twice as much as the Apple Watch SE, which is worth noting for a product you wear on your wrist all day. Of course, most people would be willing to use a heavier product in return for better battery life. The real question is whether you should pay $799 for it.
As good as it sounds on paper, most of the Ultra’s features are targeted at a specific niche. If you’re not into endurance sports or scuba diving, you can safely opt for a different (cheaper) model.
What about the Apple Watch Series 8?
This is where things get interesting. The Series 8 starts at $399 for the GPS variant and $499 for the cellular model. That’s around $100 to $150 more than the Apple Watch SE.
With the Series 8 you get EKG readings, blood oxygen measurement, a temperature sensor for fertility tracking, a bigger Always-On display, and dust resistance. This variant supports also supports fast charging and has a stainless steel finish option, both of which are missing from the SE.
Yes, these features are nice to have, and might be worth the extra money to you. But if they don’t feel essential, pocket the extra cash and get the Apple Watch SE—because it’s the best Apple Watch for the money.
Why the Apple Watch SE is the best choice for most people
This year, Apple has refreshed the Apple Watch SE with an updated processor—and it’s the very same dual-core S8 SiP found in Series 8 and Ultra. That ensures the SE will be snappier than ever, and won’t soon become unusable like the Series 3. You still get a watch that’s swim-proof, supports most fitness activities you’re likely to log, and will need to be charged once a day.
The Apple Watch SE does not have an Always-On display, which means the watch face will be blank when the screen goes to sleep. However, you’ll still be able to see it the moment you raise your wrist, and the lack of an always-on display does improve the watch’s battery life.
Some of the most interesting new Apple Watch options, including Crash Detection, which can alert emergencies services if you are involved in a serious collision, as well as a suite of watchOS 9 features, are all available on the Apple Watch SE, so it’s not like you’re missing out on every new feature. At a starting price of $249 for the GPS model and $299 for the cellular, the value is hard to beat. And with those savings, you can pick up some useful accessories (like a flashier watch band), and/or cover the cost of AppleCare+ (never a bad option for a device you’ll be strapping to your wrist daily).
In short, the SE is the best value Apple Watch right now. The Series 8 does offer some tantalizing advantages, and the Ultra is perfect for its audience. But for most of us, the SE is the right choice.