Allow me to start this review by stating the obvious. The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy in 2020. By a long way.
Which isn’t really a surprise at all because the Apple Watch Series 5 was also the best smartwatch by a long way too. So what do you do when you’re already the best (by a long way)? Add some more new features seems to be Apple’s answer.
And given that Apple’s now outselling the entire Swiss watch industry at a ratio of almost 3:2, it’s a strategy that’s impossible to argue with.
The Series 6’s flagship new features are the ability to measure blood oxygen levels on demand (see below) and an always-on altimeter for real-time elevation tracking.
There are several other improvements. Better battery life, faster charging are, I think, the two most important features Apple Watch has ever received. The other two are 1) a brighter always-on screen and 2) a faster processor. Both are welcome; both are still kind of “meh”.
There’s also very little to report in terms of design. The Series 6 is the same as Series 5, though Apple is keen to show off its new Solo Loop band that does away with a clasp. This isn’t exclusive to the Series 6 though; it’ll fit with previous Apple Watches.
About that new battery…
I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch Series 6 for a week now, after wearing its predecessor for the best part of a year, and the most noticeable difference is the battery. A feature that’s benefit has been compounded by the addition of fast charging too.
Pretty basic advancement(s), right?
Yes and no. Smartwatches biggest problem has always been the fact that you have to charge them. For most people, this means physically taking the watch off at night and charging it overnight. The problem here is that it costs the wearer approximately eight hours worth of data. And that’s the whole point of smartwatches.
The most obvious feature that’s hurt by this enforced routine is sleep tracking. But its more than that. We spend a third of our lives asleep. Roughly. This means all of the Apple Watch’s other excellent health monitoring features (checking heart rate and heart rhythms, etc.) aren’t doing their job for 1/3 of the time.
All of this is a long way of explaining why I think the new fast charging feature (0-80% in an hour) and the improved battery performance are actually massive advancements for Apple Watch.
Now, it’s feasible to wear your Apple Watch Series 6 all day and all night, and charge it during your morning shower, breakfast and teeth routine. And then once again while you’re brushing your teeth before bed at night.
About time too.
What’s new in the Apple Watch Series 6?
The new Apple Watch Series 6 builds on the dominance of Apple’s previous four-years of (smart) watchmaking experience: adding server interesting and innovative new features. Below, I’ve gone through what’s new in the Apple Watch Series 6.
Blood Oxygen Sensor
Apple Watch Series 6 has a high-tech new feature that, it says, can accurately measure a wearer’s blood oxygen levels using red and green LEDs and infrared light. However, Apple is keen to stress that it is not a serious medical feature.
The technique used by AWS6 is similar to how non-evasive hospital-grade blood oxygen tests are conducted, using Pulse Oximetry – a clip-like device that is commonly placed onto a wearer’s finger.
A Pulse Oximetry device sends beams of light through the wearer’s finger and calculates the amount of oxygen by measuring the changes of light absorption in oxygenated or deoxygenated blood.
And the Apple Watch does largely the same. The difference is that the Apple Watch Series 6 uses green and green LEDs, infrared, and the four photodiodes on the Apple Watch’s back crystal and measures the light reflected back from your blood (not passed through).
See also: How does the Apple Watch Series 6 measure blood oxygen levels?
It charges faster!
The new Apple Watch can go from 0-80 per cent charge in an hour. So far, so straightforward, right? However, this is an interesting feature because it unlocks the new Sleep Tracking feature in watchOS 7 from a user experience PoV.
Charge times (0-100 %):
- Series 6: 1hr 30mins
- Series 5: 2hr 30mins
A quick note about Sleep Tracking…
Sleep Tracking works alongside Sleep feature (formerly called Bedtime) on an iPhone.
As you know, you can use your iPhone to set a time that you want to wake up, and it’ll remind you when you need to go to sleep, and your Apple Watch will notify you 45 minutes (or whatever) before your bedtime.
When Bedtime arrives, your Apple Watch will automatically switch on Sleep Mode. This dims and locks your watch screen, forcing you to wind the Digital Crown to unlock the device – both features designed to improve your night’s sleep.
In the morning, you can see the data your Apple Watch measured during your sleep.
This improved charging time of the AWS6 is important because the Apple Watch doesn’t really last 24 hours. Certainly not 48 hours. Which is niggly for wearing an Apple Watch to measure sleep quality because most people charge their smartwatch during the night. Meaning Apple needed to find a way to speed up the charging times of Apple Watch to encourage people to use it as a device to monitor their sleep – like some rival products can.
The new SiP (system-in-package) chip – based on the A13 Bionic processor – gives the AWS6 a 20% performance boost. This probably won’t be noticeable for users upgrading from AWS5, but the inclusion of an optimised processor could/should have a positive knock-on on battery performance.
Other new features…
Always-on display is 2.5x brighter
The previous-generation Apple Watch (Series 5) debuted the always-on Retina display. And the Series 6 see a 2.5 improvement to the always-on display’s brightness.
Not massive. But a welcome update.
A new sensor that will be useful for AW wearer’s who want more data from their workouts. Particularly useful for hikers, cyclists, rock climbers…you get the picture.
Apple Watch Series 6 review: Verdict
The Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch in the world, and its closest competition is last year’s Series 5. If you’re looking for a device to help monitor your health, then you won’t be disappointed with the AWS6. However, I’d argue that not everyone needs a NZ$699 device that takes ECGs and measures blood oxygen levels on demand.
Which is probably why Apple also released the slimmed-down Apple Watch SE too. Which I’m reviewing next week.