Watch SE or Series 9? How much of a game-changer is always-on?

I’m considering jumping back in with Apple Watch. I have a Series 4 that’s seen better days, and of course I know about the Apple Refurb store, so my main options seem to be between a current SE ($239) or a 9 ($339). Both aluminum.

I realize that in the realm of Apple hardware $100 isn’t that much of a jump. But by the same token, I really mostly use the watch as a portal to access data from my phone. Recording my voice, checking weather, etc. I wouldn’t mind saving the $100.

It seems like the main thing I’d be not getting with the SE would be the always-on display. I’m not used to it, so I don’t know how game-changing (or not) it is. Can anybody share their experiences?

Are there any other non-obvious things I’m missing?

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“The Apple Watch SE offers many of the same health features as the Apple Watch Series 9, but it lacks a blood oxygen sensor, temperature sensing, and the capability to take an ECG reading”

I purchased an SE because I have no need for always on, or any of these health features, in a watch. I have a separate meter that measures pulse, SpO2, etc. for those rare occasions when I want/need that info.

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I have a watch with Always On but I don’t really care about it. In some ways, I like the old method where it was mostly off.

I do like having the body temperature sensor. It helped me recognize that I had caught COVID the one time I had it and thought it was “just a cold.”

I wouldn’t want to lose the always on screen. I like the glances, orienting my eyes before sensitive info appears, and the look on the wrist. (The processor on the 9 also makes a difference, but we have opposite views on the value of performance in the watch department, IIRC.)


I’d say the Series 9 is worth the extra $100 over the SE if you can afford it. In addition to the extra sensors and always on display, you get:

  • Faster, newer processor that will almost certainly be supported longer
  • twice as much storage (64 vs 32 gb)
  • twice the screen brightness
  • Siri processes on device
  • double tap feature, which I’ve found very helpful when I only have one hand free or my hands are wet or dirty
  • precision finding if you have an iPhone 15 or will be upgrading to it or later—much faster and better in my experience

I don’t remember a conversation about watch processor performance, although I definitely wouldn’t do a single-year upgrade or anything to get the “new shiny.”

What do you find the difference to be? Is it just a touch snappier overall, or … ?

Ah, that’s definitely interesting. I don’t know what all I’d use storage on a watch for, but more does tend to be better - especially if there’s some scenario where I want to save some music or something. And more brightness is always good, especially in the summer when things get washed out pretty easily.

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Well, it’s really a referendum on whether you do much with apps on the watch. The more you do with apps, the more you notice loading/processing/transitioning times. If you’re mostly using the watch for notifications, then processor mostly means more stable battery life and faster OS updates. (That’s what we were talking about previously–the value difference came from you mostly looking at notifications and viewing pre-processed data from your phone.)

More RAM and more brightness are also good callouts @Synchronicity :+1:

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I would definitely go for the Series 9. The always-on display is very helpful since you don’t need to awkwardly flick your wrist just to see the time. And the health sensors on the Series 9 also give me huge peace of mind. After seeing so many stories about the Apple Watch saving someone’s life, that $100 could be the difference between life and death :wink:


Mactracker doesn’t show RAM for Watches, just storage, so I don’t know if there’s a difference between the 9 and SE in that regard. But since Apple says the 9 “can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast, when compared with Apple Watch Series 8,” I wouldn’t be surprised if they added some RAM in addition to upgrading the processor. More RAM would probably also help with moving Siri processing on device.

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I agree. And you always have the option to temporarily turn it off if you need a small boost in battery life.


That makes a lot of sense. I think I’m still largely in that camp, although I’m sure with Apple’s AI push they’ll be trying to get WatchOS doing more and more on-device. I’m on a regular iPhone 15 though, so it’ll likely be a couple of years (and quite possibly a watch upgrade cycle) before I jump aboard the Apple Intelligence train.

That’s another really, really good point. It’s looking more and more like the 9 is the most solid choice.

But I’ve already perfected the “raising my wrist to activate my watch” gesture where it looks vaguely like I’m a bullfighter twirling a cape. :wink:


I wouldn’t want an Apple Watch without an always on display. It’s not a watch without one of those. I liked wearing normal watches before I got my Apple Watch because I like to know what time it is at a glance, without wrist flicking weirdness. The always on display makes that possible. I use it countless times a day.

But you do you, man.


For me the “raise wrist” option is the best. I had not worn a watch for decades before commiting to a Series 9 when it came out so the absence of a permanent watch face is not a problem for me. The watch face is there when I need it as it would be if I had a mechanical watch and is not there to distract my vision when, as now, I am typing.

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“This fall, Apple is planning some notable changes to its original smartwatch line — the “Series” models — including larger displays. The device also will be thinner . . . “

What’s Next for the Apple Watch?

I’m not interested in thinner. I want more battery life, in all models of AW


Easy to spend someone else’s money, but my vote is the 9. Always on display is nice, processor makes a difference in general snappiness, and I really like the double tap pinch gesture… happy to hear that it is coming to more apps with a dev APU.

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I completely agree. Battery life is by far the #1 weakness of Apple Watches. Even the Ultra’s battery life is very poor compared to smartwatches from companies like Garmin

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I looked at a couple of Garmin solar powered watches a few months ago. And I think about them every time I have to charge my AW.

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Although I wouldn’t mind a larger display on the base model (non-Ultra) watches.


I wear an AW mainly for notifications and reminders. 45mm is enough for me.

I don’t need a 5" screen on my wrist or anything, but with my old eyes - and the complete inability to change sizes of some things on the screen - I wouldn’t mind something the size of the Ultra in the regular line.