The Apple Watch has long been top of the pile when it comes to premium smartwatch recommendations due to its excellent performance, unparalleled app selection, and comprehensive scatter of health and fitness tracking features.With the Series 6 , Apple builds upon its flagship smartwatch with the addition of a blood oxygen saturation sensor that calculates your SpO2 level on demand and captures periodic background measurements when you’re sleeping and inactive. Putting this technology in a consumer wearable has never been more important given the global COVID-19 pandemic, as it indicates how well your circulatory and respiratory systems are delivering oxygenated blood to your body, and can help you gauge whether a hospital visit is necessary.Beyond this, Apple’s changes include a faster processor, an always-on altimeter that lets you see your elevation in real time, and a bump in screen brightness when your wrist is down. These improvements, plus many new additions in watchOS 7, including a 20-second handwashing timer and sleep-tracking capabilities, make the Apple Watch Series 6 the company’s best smartwatch yet.
Design and Build Quality
The Apple Watch Series 6 looks just like the Apple Watch Series 5 with the same sized curved glass display, curved square watch case, spinning crown button, right side button, same band attachment design, similar heart rate sensor on the back, and same magnetic charging puck. Apple does not include an A/C adapter for the USB cable in the package so you will have to provide your own or purchase one.
Although there’s a lot of the same here, you do have some new colors and materials to enjoy – for the aluminium Apple Watch you can now get it in blue or (Product)Red, as well as the previous silver, black, and rose gold. For stainless steel, there’s the option of a gold or graphite colorway. Titanium remains, but ceramic has been ditched.
The one on my wrist is the bigger 44mm version, and a 40mm version is also available for smaller wrists. The size and weight are practically identical to the Series 5, apart from a tiny, imperceptible reduction in depth (0.34 mm, if you must know).
Turn on the display of the Apple Watch Series 6 and you may also note the always-on retina display is 2.5 times brighter than the Series 5. At first I thought the full watch face was lit, but it was just the always-on display. The display looks fantastic, just the same as previous Apple Watch models.
Apple says it increased the maximum brightness of the display from 200 nits to 500 nits when your wrist is down, which makes it easier to see in the sunlight. That’s a welcome addition for those who workout outdoor, especially in particularly bright environments.
Apple has also made changes to how the always-on display works on both the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6. Previously, while your Apple Watch was asleep, if you wanted to access Notification Center or Control Center, you’d have a two-step process: Tap to wake, then tap to access. Thanks to watchOS 7, you can tap a notification, check your battery health, tap into a complication, and even change your watch face with just one tap.
Performance and Software
A key upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 6 is the faster processor: Apple’s S6 chip is based on the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro. The Watch feels snappy loading apps, displaying messages and showing stats in real time.
The Series 6 also features a new antenna with double the spectrum of the Series 5 that enables it to support 5GHz Wi-Fi for the first time. This can help free up congested 2.4GHz bands, while allowing access to potentially speedier 5GHz bands.
However, the Series 5 and the Series 4 before it, already felt fast, and so far I haven’t noticed a huge change in my day-to-day use. The Series 6 is also the only Apple Watch to include Apple’s new U1 chip for ultrawideband support, which improves spatial awareness between devices. The benefits of this new U1 chip may not be obvious right away, but eventually will enable features such as CarKey.
Health and wellness are important for wearable makers today as the world deals with the global coronavirus pandemic. We have seen pulse oximeters, aka blood oxygen or SpO2 sensors, on more fitness-focussed wearables for years from companies like Garmin and Fitbit. Its now evident that the biggies like Apple and Samsung want to jump on the train too come 2020.
Well, in typical Apple fashion, the blood oxygen sensing app is very well done on the Apple Watch. Neat animation and a large number countdown help ensure you stay still while measuring your blood oxygen levels with easy-to-read results – in fact, I found the process less finicky than that on the Galaxy Watch 3.
All of your blood oxygen data is bundled together in the Respiratory section of the iPhone’s Health app. It’s a real shame the watch can’t detect symptoms, but readings above 90% are generally considered healthy, so it’s up to you to interpret everything.
Apple’s press release for the new Apple Watch Series 6 states it is working closely with various medical facilities to continue to study and understand how blood oxygen measurements can help with health management. The key is tracking the trends and understanding that none of these watches are medical devices.
The more features that come with the Apple Watch, the harder it is to get through an entire day without your Apple Watch battery taking a powder. With sleep tracking, how are we supposed to be able to get through 24-hours of Apple Watch?
Apple Watch Series 6 has some notable improvements to help with battery management, including one additional hour of audio playback and an additional hour of workout tracking. Daily workout tracking seem to be the biggest pain point for battery life on Apple Watch and I do see a big improvement over performance of the Apple Watch Series 4 that I’ve been using for the past 8 months or so.
Apple improved charging time in addition to battery size with the Series 6, and the difference is noticeable. You can go from a dead battery to 80% in an hour, and to 100% in 90 minutes. I’m usually at 10% when I charge up after I wake up in the morning, so it usually takes about an hour and 10 minutes for my watch to fully charge when I’m not heading out for a run. My iPhone now alerts me when the watch is fully charged, so I don’t forget to slip it back on my wrist.
It’s not a big deal to me, and it’s now part of the routine. But other watches last much longer than the Apple Watch, and that’s just a fact.