Apple Watch Series 6 again affirms Apple’s vision for the smartwatch predominantly as a health and wellness tool. Contrary to what its classic and largely unchanged design may suggest, the latest Apple Watch features a myriad of small yet meaningful improvements. While many updates may initially go unnoticed, in concert all these new features represent a deliberate evolution of Apple Watch and cements its position as a mature product.
Apple Watch Series 6 is available in three new Aluminum casings; PRODUCT(RED), Navy Blue, and a less-rosy Gold. For stainless steel models Apple has removed its jet black color option dubbed Space Black in favor of a lighter grey color called Graphite for all but one model: Double Tour Noir Apple Watch Hermès. Apple also introduced a revised gold color for its stainless steel lineup which adopts a champagne-like hue evoking a stark contrast to last year’s blush gold model. Apple Watch Edition remains available in titanium and Space Black titanium. For the purpose of this review I will be using the following two Series 6 models:
- 44mm (PRODUCT)RED Aluminum Case w/ Red Sport Loop (GPS + Cellular)
- 44mm Gold Stainless Steel Case w/ Charcoal Sport Loop (GPS + Cellular)
Design & Build Quality
Aside from the addition of new colors this year, little has changed since Apple introduced a revised design for Apple Watch with the introduction of Series 4 in 2018. Unless you are sporting a PRODUCT(RED) or Navy Blue model anyone would be hard pressed to correctly infer that you have the latest Apple Watch. The (PRODUCT)RED model is a bold expression of Apple Watch featuring a 100% recycled aluminum casing that has been bead blasted and anodized to achieve a velvet-like appearance; a microscopically textured form that highlights its deep red color. Beyond the red sport loop that comes with the (PRODUCT)RED Apple Watch, I found it quite difficult to select band pairings that actually complimented its red casing. At 36.5g the 44mm aluminum Apple Watch models do not feel as substantial on the wrist as their Stainless Steel counterparts with my 44mm Gold Stainless Steel model coming in at 47.1 grams. Paired with a white sport band, the gold stainless steel model on Apple Watch Series 6 is reminiscent of the original Apple Watch Edition with its subtly yellow gold appearance. Unlike aluminum models which feature an ion-strengthened glass screen, stainless steel Apple Watch models include a sapphire crystal coating for improved scratch and shatter resistance. It is also worth noting that the gold stainless steel Apple Watch includes a protective PVD coating while Graphite and Space Black stainless steel models receive an even more effective DLC coatings. When it comes to my own taste, I favor the gold stainless steel model more than I do the (PRODUCT)RED aluminum model simply because the stainless steel models feature improved durability along with a more exquisite design.
Performance & Wireless Connectivity
This year Apple is once again leading the industry in wearable silicon tech; an industry in which it was already a leader. Apple Watch Series 6 features Apple’s sixth generation system-in-package (SiP) befittingly named the S6 chip. The S6 chip features a sophisticated 64-bit architecture that drives a dual core design that is based on Apple’s flagship A13 Bionic processor found in last year’s iPhone 11 lineup. Optimized extensively for Apple Watch Series 6, the S6 chip provides speeds that are up to 20% faster than its predecessor. Tasks such as Siri dictation and email refresh feel quite a bit faster on Series 6 compared to last year’s model, but it is hard to tell if these perceived improvements can be attributed to updated silicon, enhanced wireless capability, or watchOS 7. The S6 chip additionally includes notable support for faster 5ghz WiFi, an always-on altimeter, Apple’s proprietary U1 (ultra-wideband) chip, and an energy efficient design that enables its always-on display to offer 2.5x greater brightness in direct sunlight.
Prior to the introduction of Series 6, Apple Watch Series 5 and earlier featured support for 2.4ghz WiFi which is a long abandoned industry standard dating back to 2012. This year Apple Watch Series 6 gains 5ghz WiFi, allowing web content to load faster than ever before. In my testing 5ghz WiFi capability made a notable difference when loading email content and viewing external links from the Messages app. Instead of instinctively reaching for my iPhone, I find my Apple Watch more practical than before for quickly referencing info online via embedded links. Upon running a network speed test on Apple Watch Series 6 against its predecessor, Apple Watch Series 5, we can see significant improvements.
Cellular connectivity has also been enhanced on Apple Watch Series 6 with random connection dropouts while the watch transitions from WiFi to LTE now an element of the past. No more random pauses for your music as you begin your outdoor run and fall out of range of your home WiFi network! Speaking of outdoor workouts, the brighter screen on Apple Watch Series 6 is fantastic for viewing workout metrics in direct sunlight. With the always-on altimeter I was able to measure my outdoor runs with increased precision by monitoring elevation change in real time.
Apple’s inclusion of the U1 chip inside Apple Watch Series 6 is exciting even if we are not exactly sure how its capabilities will be leveraged in future software updates to watchOS. As of right now Apple’s proprietary ultra-wideband chip does not offer added or improved functionality on the latest Apple Watch. Built on the foundation of Bluetooth, ultra-wideband chips enable short-range wireless radio transmission technology that is extremely power efficient. Devices equipped with U1 are able to precisely communicate with other U1-equipped devices to accurately measure (within centimeters) the distance between those devices. This functionality can be utilized in the future to offer more precise Find My Watch functionality as well as improved indoor mapping directions.
Health & Wellness
Apple adopted the tag line “The future of health on your wrist” for Apple Watch Series 6, which may seem fitting since users can now monitor Blood Oxygen levels on their wrist anytime they want. However, in my experience blood oxygen is not what I expected it to be. Here is Apple’s statement on the Blood Oxygen app:
“Blood Oxygen app measurements are not intended for medical use, including self-diagnosis or consultation with a doctor, and are only designed for general fitness and wellness purposes.”
Many people have suggested that Apple’s decision to forgo seeking FDA certification or any type of official endorsement for its blood oxygen technology is its way of circumventing a slow rollout of the technology with users in some countries still waiting for ECG capability to be enabled on Apple Watch Series 4 models that they purchased two years ago.
In my experience the Blood Oxygen app on Apple Watch Series 6 only works approximately 73% of the time with the message “unsuccessful measurement” displaying much more often than I expected. Failure to remain still, slight fluctuations in body temperature, and the presence of liquid from sweat or a pool swim also prevent the Apple Watch Series 6 from being able to take a blood oxygen reading. Apple’s decision to introduce the form-fitting solo loop and solo woven loop bands alongside the new Apple Watch is a tactical move given that these bands offer the particularly snug fit needed to achieve a successful blood oxygen reading.
Apple has been criticized for its “buy this product or you might die” marketing strategy when it comes Apple Watch and its health features. The notion that Apple Watch preys on hypochondriacs as a marketing tactic is one I’m willing to reject since Apple Watch does save and improve lives everyday. There is not a week that goes by where we do not hear several reports detailing how Apple Watch has helped someone diagnose a potentially life threatening medical condition, or call for help during an emergency situation where their iPhone is out of reach. That is not to say that I have not looked inward at my relationship with my Apple Watch as it relates to my health. Every time I mindlessly take an ECG or Blood Oxygen reading on my watch I wonder if these are vitals I would have concerned my self with having not owned an Apple Watch. I would like to think I would but to be frank I found myself researching the significance of many of these health measurements only after they have been implemented on Apple Watch. In the case of blood oxygen, I wonder how seriously I should take the measurements that my Apple Watch produces as an assessment of my overall health even if it’s meant only as a “wellness” feature. After all, Apple Watch measures blood oxygen by using an algorithm capable of measuring light refraction using red and infrared light as opposed to traditional pulse oximeters which measure light to determine the color of your blood.
When a new Apple Watch is revealed its validity as a product in Apple’s lineup is often analyzed by its ability to obsolesce its predecessor. In my opinion, this is a myopic assessment of what Apple Watch truly means to the majority of consumers. Unlike the smartphone market, the bulk of smartwatch owners are still first-time buyers. Apple seems more concerned with offering the best Apple Watch they can to as many consumers as possible. Apple Watch SE, which eliminates a few premium features in order to offer a more approachable price point for a modern Apple Watch is the perfect materialization of this philosophy. Most users will not upgrade their Apple Watch for 2-3 years which makes any number of improvements, however incremental they may seem against the previous Apple Watch, more important than one would think in prolonging things such as software support.
Perhaps the best feature on Apple Watch and why I feel it deserves a spot on my wrist is not one feature alone but rather its ability to quite literally transcend time. Coincidentally Apple Watch does far more than tell time; it actually helps me manage my time more efficiently. Every time I glance at my Apple Watch I can immediately see all the notifications and health metrics currently vying for my attention. I get to decide what needs my urgent attention all without pulling out my iPhone. Unlike my iPhone, Apple Watch works best for quick interactions and it’s not practical for mindlessly scrolling through social media or burning time on YouTube. My Apple Watch buys back one of life’s most precious resources and to me that is worth every penny. Now if you could excuse me I need to check my ECG, blood oxygen, and V02 max levels.