Apple Watch 6 review | still the best smartwatch
So slick, so smooth and with the best fitness & health tracking for your iPhone; the sleep features need improvement and the blood oxygen monitor is useless for most of us, that’s the Apple Watch 6 and this review shares my regrets and top tips I’ve found with over 9 months of using it.
Apple’s Series 6 Watch boasts a new heart rate sensor, a faster chip, slightly more battery and an always-on altimeter, giving Apple fans just enough of an excuse to upgrade.
It’s available in 44mm or 40mm case sizes, both with an LTE option, and the basic aluminium case variant starts at rrp$399/£379, I have the 44mm aluminium version and like ALL my Apple products I buy it with my own money.
Apple remains the king of the smartwatch for one reason – the experience. The hardware specs are not cutting-edge, yet it all works so smoothly and so well, almost every interaction with it works how it should.
Beating the Apple Watch hardware is easy, it’s been done several times. But beating the tightly knit software package around it is nigh-on impossible.
The new optical heart rate sensor is Apple’s most accurate yet. I produced the most detailed Apple Watch 6 accuracy report back in October (supporter-only content) and since then I have increased my usage with the latest Apple Watches ten-fold…just to be super-sure! On 18 April, I finished my 1000th Apple Watch workout!
Fun Fact: Apple Watch 6 (not SE) is more accurate than just about every athletically-focussed watch, including Garmin. That said, the blood oxygen sensor and EKG/ECG features are probably useless to anyone who doesn’t know what they are.
The Apple Watch 6 boasts new colours, including red and blue and two new Solo strap styles. The Solo Loop, Solo Braided Loop and Sport Loop are poorly designed, yet comfortable straps and should be avoided. My aluminium case feels & looks slightly cheaper than the stainless steel and other case materials that are available at higher price points.
Apple Watch 6 – Top 10 Tips
Here are some Apple Watch Series 6 top tips that are rarely covered by other reviewers
- All AW6 aluminium case models come with a softer ‘plastic’ screen. The more expensive stainless steel & ceramic cases have a super-tough Gorilla Glass-like screen. If you plan to keep your AW6 for many years then you WILL scratch the cheaper screen and you CANNOT polish out even the shallowest of scratches without affecting how the touchscreen works. Buy the stainless steel version, get a screen protector or get insurance. My biggest regret with AW6 is NOT doing this.
- The mindfulness/breath app is a very powerful app that records HRV data into Apple Health. HRV data is also automatically recorded 2 or 3 times a night. This is great data to be leveraged by readiness apps and produces similarly useful info that you might instead get from OuraRing or Whoop.
- Get a decent sports band. The velcro-like ones are GREAT except they get very dirty and need frequent washing. But avoid the cheapest Apple Sport Band which looks good but is uncomfortable. Here is a detailed look at some of the best Apple Watch Sports bands from Apple and from other companies.
- Explore sports apps beyond the basic sports profiles included in the Apple Workout app. Here are the best sports apps for Apple Watch: iSmoothRun, WorkoutDoors. The best and most popular mainstream running apps are adidas Runtastic, Asics Runkeeper and Nike Running Club.
- Make a sports-focused watchface using the watch app on your iPhone. One great thing with the Apple Watch is you can swap a watch face within a matter of seconds once you’ve put your trainers on. Perhaps your sports watch screen would include a shortcut to your favourite sports app or Spotify. An advanced watch face would include a complication like Running Stress Balance (rSB) from Stryd. If you use the Nike Run Club app there are some great complications you can use from that too.
- Use RunGap to move any of your workout data from the watch/iPhone. I use it to link to dropbox. Remember: directly link apps like Strava to the iPhone/Watch – you don’t need RunGap for that.
- Unless you specifically need it, turn off the blood oxygen/SpO2 sensor as it uses a lot of battery for virtually no benefit.
- To workout to offline music, use Apple Music and now Spotify too.
- Swipe up to access the control centre and pair a Bluetooth heart rate monitor for more accurate heart rate recording during a workout.
- Make WiFi calls on your AW6 (non-LTE) without your phone nearby. On iPhone: Settings > Phone, Wi-Fi Calling, enable Wi-Fi Calling & Add Wi-Fi Calling For Other Devices.
Full specifications of all models are here and these are the headlines
- Case size: 40mm or 44mm
- Case thickness: 10.4mm
- Weight: Varies between 30.5 & 39.7g (40mm) or 36.5 & 47.1g (44mm)
- Processor: S6
- RAM: 1GB
- Storage: 32GB
- Operating system: WatchOS 7
- Water resistance: 50 metres (5ATM)
- Sensors: Gyroscope, oHR sensor, ECG/EKG, blood oxygen, light, microphone, always-on altimeter, speaker, NFC, GPS/GNSS, compass
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5, wifi n now 5GHz, NFC, U1 Ultra-Wideband, 4G requires eSIM
Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE, Series 3
There are many trivial differences. Surprisingly the speed of each watch feels similar. However what stands out the most to me is the always-on screen of the Series 6, after a while the other models just start to irritate when I am required to tilt my wrist to turn on the screen.
Under the hood, it’s the superior optical heart rate sensor that will attract you most to the AW6. I would buy it for that reason alone plus combine it with the certainty that all of Apple’s new features over the next 2-3 years are much more likely to work on the AW6 than they are on the AW3.
Apple Watch 6 vs. Garmin
An Apple Watch will never work on an Android smartphone, so Garmin wins there and supports iPhones too. However, Garmin’s biggest win is their sporty analysis app for the phone called Garmin Connect and the extensive, pre-loaded sports functionality on their watches. Garmin’s sporty ecosystem easily beats what Apple offers out of the box. However, if you are a casual fitness participant then your Apple Watch plus your favourite app will almost certainly be an excellent choice for you. Even athletes can find good functionality in some apps for the Apple Watches…it’s just that those apps can be hard to find – like iSmoothRun and SwimSmooth.
Apple Watch 6 vs Fitbit
Just like Garmin, Fitbit will work on Android or iOS phones. However, now that Fitbit has been acquired by Google I just wouldn’t risk buying a Fitbit right now until their future is more understood and NO-ONE knows that future right now (Jul 2021).
The Fitbit Sense is probably the best Fitbit choice. It’s packed full of sensors and features that you probably won’t use! However, even the top-end Sense lacks a decent app store and I am not at all impressed by any of Fitbit’s health and fitness sensors. There seems little point in having lots of sensors if they don’t work accurately. Apple Watch is WAY more accurate.
Apple Watch vs Peloton
As of April 2021, the Apple and Peloton environments are becoming increasingly separated. Don’t bank on there being ANY Peloton functionality available on your Apple Watch as the months pass.
Battery Life & Performance
Apple retains the magnetic charging puck from previous versions but charging times are notably improved to about 80 minutes with a 2A USB-A adapter and 80% in under an hour with the improved rapid charge. Realistically it needs once-daily charging once you start incorporating music or sport into your daily routine, despite the headline 18-hour battery life (expect 1.5 days with conservative usage)
Tip: a pre-breakfast charge and another as you shower after sport might be enough to see you through every day.
To me, the AW6 and AW SE feel like they have highly similar performance characteristics and are also similar to my AW5. Once you have owned the always-on screen of the AW6, a move to an AW SE becomes quickly annoying, especially during sport.
Interesting fact: I used Apple workout to record a GPS bike workout that was over 8 hours long. The Apple Watch SE had 33% battery left at the end which is fairly impressive. Clearly, it can last 10 hours with GPS and the Apple Watch 6 is better. Other apps may consume more battery.
The AW6 claims 1000 charge cycles will reduce the battery to 80% capacity and that might still yield a full day’s usage. Apple quotes a 4-year battery life so you should consider selling your Apple Watches every 2-3 years, although Apple does offer a battery replacement service for about $100.
Apple is aware of its environmental responsibilities andApple Watch 6 ‘
WatchOS 7 is the latest and only software version for AW6, which adds several new peripheral features.
Of interest to me were the new watch faces and the ability to have multiple complications from the same app on a watch face. Further to that, you can share an entire watch face and that automatically shares links to the apps that customised it. Along with the standard band connecting mechanism, watch faces and straps are the main way that most people will personalise their Apple Watch.
I liked the convenience of receiving phone calls on the watch when the phone was nearby but what I don’t like is Siri. Having used Google Assistant a lot, Apple’s pretender isn’t anywhere near as good – either in terms of voice recognition or the quality of responses/results given.
The Super-tight integration with the iPhone means that notifications hit just the right level of intrusion. Better than any other device I’ve used.
Spotify can now stream over LTE/WiFi however, unlike Apple Music, Spotify cannot play offline music (edit: Jun 2021 – now it can!).
Apple Pay/Wallet is fantastic and superior to Google and Garmin’s efforts. It is quick to setup for any card provider and works perfectly.
watchOS 8 in the Apple Watch 6
WatchOS 8 is already announced and will work on the Apple Watch 6 (I’m using the beta version right now! Jul 2021). WatchOS 8 includes many updates – a more capable wallet (USA), picture watch faces, breathing rate, wider Find My support, new sports profiles, an expanded breathe app, a new focus mode, expanded Fitness+ music support, and more besides. It looks cool but you will get many of the new features even on older Series 3 models.
Apple Watch Sport, Fitness+ & Activity
For most people, the Apple workout app does a satisfactory job for logging activity with a half-decent amount of interaction.
Keener sportspeople can now benefit from many, existing high-quality sports apps. I immediately think of iSmoothRun which effectively turns your Apple Watch into a sports device with Garmin-like levels of sports functionality, including structured workout support and power meter support for bikes and STRYD. Then there’s some cool mapping on WorkoutDoors.
- Read More: Turn your Apple Watch 6/SE into an outdoors Garmin-like mini-adventure tool
- Read More on Better Sports Apps: iSmoothRun, RunGap, WorkoutDoors
- Read More on Sporting Watch Face Failures: Here, Apple vs. Garmin
The gym and class crowd might benefit from the new Apple Fitness+ subscription service giving you professionally-led workouts out at home on your iPad/TV/iPhone/Watch combo. This is free for 3 months but not worth paying for until Apple properly integrates sports metrics from the Apple Watch and gym equipment.
- Read More: Apple Fitness+ a critical insight
Update 27 Jan 2021: Apple adds Walking and podcasts to FITNESS+
Health & Sleep Monitoring
Millions of Apple Watch users have no need for Apple’s health screening features. Some people do…and it could save their lives.
If you have SpO2 below 95% you should see a doctor, if SpO2 and other sensor data detects Sleep Apnea you should see a doctor. If the EKG/ECG detects any kind of abnormality you should see a doctor…even if you are young (arrhythmia).
Apple only makes a token effort at sleep monitoring. It seems fairly accurate at determining sleep/bedtimes, although new sleep features ARE coming in 2021 like respiration rate. Unlike other vendors, Apple does not make inaccurate guesses at your sleep stages. All other vendors’ data in this area is just wrong.
Apple Watch 6 Review – Price, Availability, Options
Apple stock every option and sells at retail prices. The more common case/strap options are available on Amazon and elsewhere, although rarely with a discount. Moving forwards, AW6 will fall slightly in price with periodic sales until September 2021 (AW7), the AW3 will be discontinued and the AW SE will fall more notably in price toward the $200 mark before being superseded in 2022.
- Apple Watch Series 6 – from $399/£379, some variants are discounted
- Apple Watch SE – from $279/£269, some variants are discounted
- Apple Watch Series 3 – from $169/$179. Will be phased out.
Apple Watch 6 is the best SMART watch but it only works on iPhones. If you have an Android phone or want a better sports watch then consider these:
- If you want a true sports watch then buy either a cheaper Garmin Forerunner 245 + Music (review) or a high-end Garmin Fenix 6 Pro (review).
- If you want a smartwatch for Android then buy a Fossil Gen 5 (review) or a Suunto 7 (review)
- If you want a smartwatch for Samsung then buy Galaxy 3
- The best Fitbit is the Fitbit Sense, otherwise, the Versa 3 is the one you’ll get.
Best Smart Watch for iPhone
Price - 85%85%
Apparent Accuracy - 90%90%
Build Quality & Design - 95%95%
Features, Including App - 85%85%
Openness & Compatability - 80%80%
The Apple Watch Series 6 (AW6) is the best smartwatch for an iPhone. Simple.
AW6 is comfortable to wear; easy and intuitive to use. The integration with the iPhone is excellent and everything works ‘just so’. Your choice of 3rd party apps positively adds to the Apple Watch experience and that choice is immense, although the quality varies.
The Tsunami of ‘permission’ approvals spoils the usage for me and sometimes a setting in the Watch app, Health app, Fitness app or ‘General options’ is not always intuitively placed.
Health, sleep, fitness and sport tracking will be just fine for 95% of you and paying a little extra for the Apple experience is probably worth it. The only exception being those of you who just know you won’t charge your watch every day; the Apple Watch 6 needs notably more battery juice than a less pretty, but sporty Garmin.
- Q: Should you get an SE version or even the bargain AW3?
- A: Buy what you can afford. Clearly, the more expensive ones are at least a bit better, although really it was only the always-on screen of the AW6 that stood out for me.
AW6 isn’t a massive upgrade over a Series 5 or even over a Series 4 but the Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy right now.
- An excellent software package, aka ‘the experience’
- Excellent touchscreen
- Good health and activity tracking
- Apple Pay
- Apple Store
- Apple Music
- WR50 and fairly durable.
- Basic Sleep tracking
- Mostly useless SpO2 and EKG/ECG features