Apple Watch Series 6 review | still the best smartwatch
So slick, so smooth with the best fitness & health tracking out there but it only works with an iPhone; the sleep features need improvement and the blood oxygen monitor is useless for most of us. That’s the Apple Watch 6.
Apple’s high-end Watch Series 6 boasts a new heart rate sensor, 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 with an LTE option, and the base aluminium case variant starts at rrp$399/£379 which is the one I bought to go with my iPhone XR and to keep company with my Watch SE Nike Edition – I bought that myself too, no PR freebies here folks.
Apple remains the king of the smartwatch for one reason. The Experience. It’s not that pretty, the hardware specs are not that good and certainly not cutting-edge but it all works so smoothly and so well with virtually every detailed interaction with it proceeding how you might intuitively expect.
The new optical heart rate sensor is the most accurate yet. I produced the most detailed Apple Watch 6 accuracy report back in October (supporter-only content) and since then I have trebled my usage with the AW6/AW SE.
Fact: it’s more accurate than just about every athletically-focussed watch. 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 at all costs. My aluminium case feels & looks slightly cheaper than the stainless steel and other case materials that are available at higher price points.
Read More: Buy the best sport strap for your Apple Watch.
Full specifications of all models are here.
- 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
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. Realistically it needs once-daily charging once you start incorporating music or sport into your daily routine, despite the headline 1.5-day battery life.
Tip: a pre-breakfast charge and another quickie when 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 also similar to my AW5. Once you have had the always-on screen of the AW6, a move to an AW SE becomes quickly annoying, especially during sport.
The AW6 claims 1000 charge cycles will reduce the battery to 80% capacity and that might still yield a full-day’s usage. Realistically this means that many of us should consider selling our Apple Watches every 2-3 years, although Apple does offer a battery replacement service for about $100.
Watch OS7 is the latest and only software version for AW6, which adds several peripheral features.
Of interest to me were the new watch faces and 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. You need that always-on connection with your iPhone/LTE or WiFi.
Apple Pay/Wallet is fantastic and superior to Google and Garmin’s efforts. It requires uber-minimal setup interaction for any card provider and simply works.
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 supreme-quality sports apps that exist. I immediately think of iSmoothRun which effectively turns your Apple Watch in a sports device with Garmin-like levels of sports functionality, including structured workout support and power meter support for bike 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 yet, at least not until Apple properly integrates sports metrics from the Apple Watch and gym equipment.
- Read More: Apple Fitness+ a critical insight
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. Unlike other vendors, Apple does not want to make wild and inaccurate guesses at your sleep stages. All other vendors’ data in this area is just wrong. If you disagree…show me their peer-reviewed science and tell me who sponsored the papers.
Price, Availability, Options
Apple stock every option and sells at retail prices. The most common combos are available on Amazon and elsewhere, sometimes at a slight discount. Moving forwards, AW6 will fall slightly in price 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 replaced in 2021/22.
- 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 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%
Apparent Accuracy - 90%
Build Quality & Design - 95%
Features, Including App - 85%
Openness & Compatability - 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’. The choice of 3rd party apps positively adds to the AW 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: I think if you are asking that question then you are concerned about the price. So just 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