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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Robust health/fitness tracking
Bright, always-on display
Appealing new color options
Speedy and responsive
Fun, diverse watch faces
Modest upgrade over Series 5
Still need to charge daily
No third-party faces
For newcomers or those with an older model, the Apple Watch Series 6 is the most robust, feature-packed, and stylish edition to date. Series 5 owners can hold off, however.
When the Apple Watch first debuted, I was incredibly excited to get my hands on one. However, once I’d worn it for a while, I wasn’t entirely sure why I really needed it. Gradually, Apple has given its premium wearable significantly more purpose by expanding its fitness tracking capabilities, adding health monitoring features, sleep tracking, an always-on screen, and more. For millions, it’s now an indispensable part of their daily routines.
In that grand scheme of updates and enhancements, the new Apple Watch Series 6 is a pretty minor upgrade compared to the last couple of models. It adds a blood oxygen sensor and comes in two new colors, but otherwise feels like a very slight step up with otherwise iterative enhancements. Granted, it’s the best Apple Watch to date, but with the cheaper Apple Watch SE launching alongside, there’s perhaps less incentive to drop $400+ on the top model this time.
The size and shape of the Apple Watch hasn’t changed with Series 6, carrying the same dimensions of the Series 5 before it in 40mm and 44mm size options. It’s still a rounded rectangle, looking much like a tiny iPhone on your wrist and using the screen to display all sorts of colorful faces, apps, media, and more.
There are two additional case color options to choose from now, though. The aluminum base model is still offered in Silver, Space Gray, and Gold, but also now Blue and (Product)RED. I opted for Blue, which comes in a fetching deep, metallic hue that pairs well with the frame of the Blue model of the new iPhone 12. The (Product)RED is definitely a much bolder option, but as someone who owned and proudly wore a neon orange watch once upon a time, I think I could rock it. Pricier stainless steel and titanium options are also available, although the previous ceramic models have been discontinued with Series 6.
As ever, Apple Watch bands easily pop on and off, allowing for effortless customization. All bands released since the start are still compatible, and Apple offers official options such as the rubber Sport Band, leather Modern Buckle, and stainless steel Milanese Loop. There are loads of unofficial bands out there, too, typically for much less cash. I’m most used to the Sport Band over the years but have always found it a bit uncomfortable to wear while working on my laptop. I grabbed one of the newer fabric/velcro Sport Loop bands, however, and found the slim fit to be a lot more uncomfortable.
At 368x448 for 44mm and 324x394 for 40mm, the Apple Watch Series 6 screen looks crisp and bright on your wrist, and the always-on screen feature introduced in Series 5 is still here—and even brighter this time around. That means you’ll still get a glance at the time without raising your wrist, and it also means that your screen never sits blank.
The clever Digital Crown still sits to the right of the screen, and you can press it in to access your cluster of apps or rotate it to scroll through screens and options. Pressing the small button beneath the Crown lets you access all open apps to quickly swap between them. There’s 32GB of onboard storage on the Apple Watch itself, which is used for apps as well as loading up your favorite albums and playlists and listening via Bluetooth headphones, such as Apple’s own AirPods.
As ever, you’ll need an iPhone (6s or newer with iOS 14) to set up the Apple Watch. The standard Watch models use your iPhone’s connection to receive data, stream music, and execute other internet-related needs, but even the optional LTE-equipped standalone Apple Watch Series 6 needs your iPhone for setup. It’s an easy process: you’ll use the iPhone’s camera to scan the unique cluster of dots shown on the screen, which pairs the devices, and then you can just follow the software prompts to complete the process.
The Apple Watch Series 6 uses Apple’s new dual-core S6 chip, which claims to be up to 20 percent faster than the S5 chip in last year’s Apple Watch Series 5 and the new Apple Watch SE. Both feel responsive when navigating the interface, but put side-by-side, the Series 6 does sometimes open up apps a beat faster than the Apple Watch SE. It’s not a dramatic difference, but it’s something. And that extra processing power could help the Series 6 retain its swiftness in the years ahead as watchOS becomes even more robust.
Given all the year-over-year upgrades, Series 6 comes across more modestly iterative than revolutionary.
Every Apple Watch has been pegged as an all-day device offering 18 hours of battery life, but some have stretched that tally. For example, the Apple Watch Series 4 would routinely last for two full days in my own experience, assuming I didn’t push too hard on fitness tracking. The always-on screen from the last two models has seemingly reduced that extra buffer, plus sleep tracking is sure to impact its longevity per charge as well.
That said, the Apple Watch Series 6 still provides a very comfortable full day of usage. I’d usually get through an average day with around 40-50 percent of a charge left, which is handy if you forget to drop it on the charger overnight. You’re unlikely to get two full days out of the Series 6, however, and if you’re using the Apple Watch for sleep tracking, then you’ll need to figure out another window to charge the device—maybe when working during the day, showering, or when relaxing before bedtime.
Thanks to a combination of incremental hardware and software upgrades, the Apple Watch Series 6 is an impressively full-featured wearable device. Sure, it’s an extension of your phone thanks to the ability to receive notifications, respond to messages, and answer calls right on your wrist, but it also does many things that your phone isn’t as well suited for.
It’s a watch, obviously, so it tells time. While it’s a shame that Apple still hasn’t opened up the watch face ecosystem to App Store developers, the company itself has gradually expanded the included selection and increased customization features—such as color options and those widget-like “complications”—to provide a pretty wide assortment of personalized face creations. Fun new faces introduced in watchOS 7 include charming Animoji as well as an “Artist” face with an abstract human face with numbers for eyes and a randomized design.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is a very potent fitness device, too, tracking fitness activities including running and cycling via the accelerometer and GPS. Many other activities are supported, too, including swimming thanks to the waterproof design—if any water gets into the speaker, the Apple Watch even has a function to eject it from the little ports on the left. And I love how it automatically starts tracking once I’ve been on a brisk walk for 10-or-so minutes, meaning I don’t even have to manually begin the process to track my activity.
What makes the Apple Watch such an effective fitness device is the way that it not only tracks exercise, but also encourages it without being pushy. The Activity rings provide an at-a-glance look at how much you’ve been moving during the day, and not only encourage you to make smarter choices or take time to get active but also can be used socially to compete with friends, further fueling your desire to stay with it. It’s such a smart, effortless way to encourage small daily wins.
Even outside of fitness, the Apple Watch has increased its focus on broader wellness as well. It can regularly monitor your heart rate via the sensors pressed against your wrist, and alert you if your heart rate is elevated or irregular. The electrocardiogram (ECG) test, meanwhile, uses the electrical heart sensor built into the Digital Crown to check for atrial fibrillation, while the fall detection feature can alert trusted contacts and authorities if the Watch detects a hard fall without you giving a response soon after.
New to Apple Watch Series 6 is a blood oxygen sensor that can provide reading of how much oxygen is flowing through your body. If your level is lower than the average—typically 95-100 percent, although people with chronic conditions may be lower—then it could be a sign of illness, even potentially COVID-19. The Apple Watch cannot diagnose any such illnesses, but it could provide the nudge needed to see a doctor.
Sleep tracking is not exclusive to the Apple Watch Series 6, but it was recently introduced to the line via Apple’s watchOS 7 software update. You’ll simply wear your Watch while sleeping, and it uses the built-in sensors to detect your breathing and movement to provide an overview of your slumber. Taken individually, these and other additions may seem relatively minor, but they have collectively made the Apple Watch Series 6 a seriously robust health device.
All that said, the hardware-side upgrade for the Apple Watch Series 6 feels like the lightest to date. Series 2 added GPS functionality, Series 3 offered optional standalone LTE models, Series 4 expanded the screen with a thinner build, and Series 5 added the always-on display. Given all the year-over-year upgrades, Series 6 comes across more modestly iterative than revolutionary.
Series 6 is the best Apple Watch to date, but also the one that provides the least incentive to upgrade if you already have last year’s model.
The Apple Watch Series 6 maintains the same pricing as its predecessor, starting at $399 for the 40mm edition and $429 for 44mm, and you can add $100 to either price tag for LTE functionality. That’s just for the base aluminum case model, too, and the stainless steel ($699+) and titanium ($799+) models cost a fair bit more. It’s pricey, but if you’re an iPhone user who thinks you will truly benefit from its fitness and health features, then I think it can be reasonably justified. That said, the Apple Watch SE could be more appealing.
The Apple Watch SE just launched alongside the Apple Watch Series 6, and it maintains most but not all of the full Apple Watch experience. It only comes in aluminum in the three previous colors (no blue or red) and it uses the Series 5 processor, although the difference in speed is only occasionally noticeable in my testing. It also lacks the always-on display, however, which may feel like the biggest omission for many users.
On the health front, the Apple Watch SE scraps the ECG and blood oxygen testing functionality, so it’s a less-capable wellness device. If you’re in pretty good health and/or don’t think you’ll rely on your smartwatch for such things, then the Apple Watch SE still delivers on most of the rest of the wearable device’s functionality, including fitness tracking, phone notifications, and interactions, customizable faces, and more. And it starts at just $279.
Series 6 is the best Apple Watch to date, but also the one that provides the least incentive to upgrade if you already have last year’s model. Coming from a Series 4 or earlier, you’ll see enough new changes and enhancements to potentially consider the purchase, however, given the added benefits over last year’s always-on screen and other tweaks. The ever-expanding health and fitness suite remains a big draw, plus the new blue and red versions are bold alternatives to the familiar Apple Watch style options. For new buyers, those elements could help sway you away from the cheaper, simpler Apple Watch SE.