When the Apple Watch first became available for purchase on Amazon, I was ecstatic to get my hands on one. However, after wearing it for a while, I wasn’t sure why I needed it at all. Apple has gradually increased the utility of its premium wearable by expanding its fitness tracking capabilities, adding health monitoring features, sleep tracking, an always-on screen, and other features. It has become an indispensible part of millions of people’s daily lives.
The new Apple Watch Series 6 is a minor upgrade in comparison to the previous two models in terms of updates and enhancements. It adds a blood oxygen sensor and two new colors, but otherwise feels like a minor step forward with iterative improvements. Granted, it’s the best Apple Watch to date, but with the cheaper Apple Watch SE arriving at the same time, there may be less of an incentive to spend $400+ on the top model this time.
Design and Display: New style options
The Apple Watch’s size and shape haven’t changed with Series 6, which has the same dimensions as the Series 5 before it in 40mm and 44mm sizes. It’s still a rounded rectangle that fits on your wrist like a tiny iPhone and displays a variety of colorful faces, apps, media, and more.
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However, there are now two additional case color options to choose from. The aluminum base model is still available in Silver, Space Gray, and Gold, but Blue and (Product)RED are now available as well. I went with Blue, which has a deep, metallic hue that complements the Blue model of the new iPhone 12. The (Product)RED is a much more daring option, but as someone who once owned and proudly wore a neon orange watch, I think I could pull it off. There are also more expensive stainless steel and titanium options, though the previous ceramic models have been phased out with Series 6.
Apple Watch bands, as always, are simple to put on and take off, allowing for easy customization. Apple offers official options such as the rubber Sport Band, leather Modern Buckle, and stainless steel Milanese Loop, and all bands released since the beginning are still compatible. There are a lot of unofficial bands out there as well, usually for a lot less money. Over the years, I’ve become most accustomed to the Sport Band, but I’ve always found it a little uncomfortable to wear while working on my laptop. However, when I tried on one of the newer fabric/velcro Sport Loop bands, I found the slim fit to be much more uncomfortable.
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The Apple Watch Series 6 screen is crisp and bright on your wrist, with a resolution of 368×448 for 44mm and 324×394 for 40mm, and the always-on screen feature introduced in Series 5 is still present—and even brighter this time around. That means you’ll never have to raise your wrist to check the time, and your screen will never be blank.
The ingenious Digital Crown remains to the right of the screen, where you can press it in to access your cluster of apps or rotate it to scroll through screens and options. By pressing the small button beneath the Crown, you can access all open apps and switch between them quickly. The Apple Watch has 32GB of onboard storage, which can be used for apps, as well as loading up your favorite albums and playlists and listening to music via Bluetooth headphones like Apple’s own AirPods.
Setup Process: Grab your iPhone
To set up the Apple Watch, you’ll need an iPhone (6s or newer with iOS 14) as usual. The standard Watch models use your iPhone’s connection to receive data, stream music, and perform other internet-related tasks, but even the standalone Apple Watch Series 6 with LTE requires your iPhone to set up. It’s a simple process: you’ll scan the unique cluster of dots on the screen with your iPhone’s camera, which pairs the devices, and then simply follow the software prompts to complete the process.
Performance: Slightly speedier
Apple’s new dual-core S6 chip, which claims to be up to 20% faster than the S5 chip in last year’s Apple Watch Series 5 and the new Apple Watch SE, is used in the Apple Watch Series 6. When navigating the interface, both feel responsive, but the Series 6 opens apps a beat faster than the Apple Watch SE when compared side by side. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable. And, as watchOS becomes more robust in the coming years, that extra processing power could help the Series 6 maintain its speed.
Series 6 appears to be more modestly iterative than revolutionary, given all of the year-over-year upgrades.
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Battery: Make a charging routine
Every Apple Watch is advertised as an all-day device with an 18-hour battery life, but some users have gone beyond that. In my own experience, the Apple Watch Series 4 would typically last two full days if I didn’t push it too hard on fitness tracking. The always-on screen from the previous two models appears to have reduced that extra buffer, and sleep tracking is sure to have an impact on its battery life per charge.
Despite this, the Apple Watch Series 6 is still very comfortable to wear for a full day. I could usually get through a typical day with about 40-50 percent of the charge remaining, which is useful if you forget to charge it overnight. However, you’re unlikely to get two full days out of the Series 6, and if you’re tracking your sleep with the Apple Watch, you’ll need to find another time to charge it—perhaps while working during the day, showering, or relaxing before bedtime.
Software and Key Features: One truly intelligent smartwatch
The Apple Watch Series 6 is an impressively full-featured wearable device thanks to a combination of incremental hardware and software upgrades. Sure, it acts as an extension of your phone, allowing you to receive notifications, respond to messages, and answer calls all from the palm of your hand, but it also does a lot of things that your phone can’t.
Because it’s a watch, it obviously tells the time. While it’s unfortunate that Apple hasn’t yet opened up the watch face ecosystem to App Store developers, the company has gradually expanded the included selection and increased customization features—such as color options and widget-like “complications”—to provide a fairly wide range of personalized face creations. Charming Animoji, as well as a “Artist” face with an abstract human face with numbers for eyes and a randomized design, were introduced in watchOS 7.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is also a powerful fitness device, with the accelerometer and GPS tracking fitness activities like running and cycling. Swimming is supported as well, thanks to the waterproof design—if any water gets into the speaker, the Apple Watch even has a function to eject it from the small ports on the left. I also like how it starts tracking automatically after a 10-minute brisk walk, so I don’t have to start the process manually.
The Apple Watch’s effectiveness comes from the fact that it not only tracks but also encourages exercise without being intrusive. The Activity Rings show you how much you’ve moved throughout the day and not only encourage you to make better choices or set aside time to be active, but they can also be used socially to compete with friends, increasing your motivation to stick with it. It’s such a simple and effective way to celebrate small victories on a daily basis.
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The Apple Watch has shifted its focus away from fitness and toward overall wellness. It can monitor your heart rate on a regular basis using sensors pressed against your wrist and alert you if it is elevated or irregular. Meanwhile, the electrocardiogram (ECG) test checks for atrial fibrillation using the electrical heart sensor built into the Digital Crown, and the fall detection feature can alert trusted contacts and authorities if the Watch detects a hard fall without you responding quickly.
A blood oxygen sensor is new to Apple Watch Series 6, and it can measure how much oxygen is flowing through your body. It could be a sign of illness if your level is lower than the average—typically 95-100 percent, though people with chronic conditions may have lower levels. The Apple Watch will not be able to diagnose any of these illnesses, but it may serve as a reminder to see a doctor.
Sleep tracking isn’t unique to the Apple Watch Series 6, but it was added to the line with Apple’s watchOS 7 software update recently. Wear your Watch while sleeping, and it will use the built-in sensors to detect your breathing and movement to give you a snapshot of your sleep. These and other additions may appear minor on their own, but they have combined to make the Apple Watch Series 6 a seriously capable health device.
All things considered, the hardware upgrade for the Apple Watch Series 6 is the smallest to date. Series 2 added GPS functionality, Series 3 introduced standalone LTE models, Series 4 slimmed down the screen, and Series 5 introduced the always-on display. Series 6 appears to be more modestly iterative than revolutionary, given all of the year-over-year upgrades.
The Series 6 is the best Apple Watch to date, but it’s also the one with the least reason to upgrade if you already own the previous model.
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Price: Expensive, but useful
The Apple Watch Series 6 is priced the same as its predecessor (), starting at $399 for the 40mm edition and $429 for the 44mm, with LTE functionality available for an additional $100. That’s just for the base aluminum case model; the stainless steel ($699+) and titanium ($799+) versions are both significantly more expensive. It’s pricey, but if you’re an iPhone user who believes you’ll benefit from the fitness and health features, I believe you can justify it. The Apple Watch SE, on the other hand, might be more appealing.
Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Apple Watch SE
The Apple Watch SE debuted alongside the Apple Watch Series 6, and it retains the majority of the Apple Watch experience, but not all of it. It’s only available in aluminum in the three colors mentioned above (no blue or red), and it’s powered by the Series 5 processor, though the difference in speed is only noticeable on rare occasions in my testing. However, it lacks an always-on display, which may be the most significant omission for many users.
In terms of health, the Apple Watch SE lacks ECG and blood oxygen testing capabilities, making it a less capable wellness device. If you’re in relatively good health and/or don’t expect to use your smartwatch for such things, the Apple Watch SE still offers the majority of the wearable device’s features, such as fitness tracking, phone notifications and interactions, customizable faces, and more. It’s also reasonably priced, starting at $279.
The Final Word
The Series 6 is the best Apple Watch to date, but it’s also the one with the least reason to upgrade if you already own the previous model. If you’re upgrading from a Series 4 or earlier, you’ll notice enough new features and improvements to justify the purchase, especially given the improvements over last year’s always-on screen and other tweaks. The ever-expanding health and fitness suite remains a big draw, and the new blue and red versions are bold alternatives to Apple Watch’s traditional style options. For first-time buyers, those features may be enough to sway you away from the Apple Watch SE, which is less expensive and simpler.