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Apple Watch 6 Review

Apple Watch 6 is the best smartwatch. Even if the upgrades are minimal.

Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 6 is far from a huge upgrade and I would say that if you’ve got a Series 5 (or even a Series 4) then there’s very little to entice an upgrade. But that really shouldn’t take anything away from the Apple Watch Series 6 as it’s an excellent product and still the best all-round smartwatch on the market. It’s got a wide range of fitness features for varying users, excellent notification support, an unmatched haptic engine and a great design.

Pros

  • Lovely new colours
  • Very accurate fitness tracking
  • Plenty of health features
  • The best smartwatch OS around

Cons

  • Sleep tracking lacks depth
  • No big improvements to battery
  • Minimal improvements over previous model

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £379
  • OLED display
  • 40 and 44mm sizes
  • WatchOS 7
  • ECG, blood oxygen sensor

Even though it’s not packed full of new features, the Apple Watch Series 6 only further cements the wearable as the ultimate smartwatch for iPhone users.

A year on from the Apple Watch Series 5, and with little ground-breaking tech surfacing in any competition, the Series 6 does what it needs to remain the best smartwatch around. It’s a credit to Apple that that biggest competition comes from itself, with the cheaper Apple Watch SE offering a more affordable watch for those willing to take a smaller feature list.

If you want the true flagship Apple Watch then this is the one to go for. 

Design and screen – New colour options add even more customisation

While I have often criticised Apple for sticking to the same design blueprint year-after-year (iPad, iMac etc) I think one of the best things about the Watch is how it has stayed the same. Not only is this quickly becoming an iconic design, but you’ve got years worth of straps that are all still supported.

Apple Watch 6 comes in two sizes (40mm and 44mm) and in a wide assortment of materials. If you want to pay more, there’s certainly an option here. New for the Series 6 is some different base colours: blue and red. The red is Product RED edition, with profits going to the charity and it’s deep and quite striking, Then there’s the blue, which likely gives a hint at one of the new colours coming with the iPhone 12.

I love the blue. It’s subtle enough to avoid looking cheap but noticeable enough to help it stand out against well-chosen straps. I’ve paired it with one of the new Braided Solo Loops in dark green and the combination is pretty special.

New colours aside, you wouldn’t be able to visually notice the difference between the 5 and 6. The Apple Watch Series 6 retains the squared-off looks, with rounded sides and a screen that stretches over much of the front. There’s a Digital Crown for smooth navigation and a secondary key for flipping through apps and quickly accessing Apple Pay. The straps swap in and out with the press of a tiny recessed button and the display is covered in tough Ion-X glass.

Related: iPhone 12 Pro

Apple Watch 6

The display itself is sharp, bright enough to be easily readable in strong daylight and has an even stronger always-on mode – not that it really needed it. All the watch faces are designed with an always-on option that kicks in when you’re not directly looking at the watch. These more discrete faces cover up info you wouldn’t want random folk glancing at, but keeps the time visible for those instances when you want to be a bit more subtle.

Fitness tracking and health – Just about the whole package

You shouldn’t dismiss the Apple Watch 6 if you’re not big into fitness tracking and I have found this to be an excellent way to keep active. There’s a good selection of features for both people who just want a basic fitness tool and those who want something a bit more feature-rich.

The big feature for the Series 6 is a new health sensor that can measure your blood oxygen levels. This is done through a new app on the watch and you can either initiate it manually or have it always checking in the background. To learn your blood oxygen level you go into the app, hit start and try and stay still for 15 seconds. You’ll then get a percentage reading back. A healthy blood oxygen level is said to be 95-100%, however the app doesn’t really give you any extra information and it should really only be used as a guide. It’s a nice to have feature, but I am not convinced as to how useful it really is. The app also won’t alert you if your level drops, something it does do if your heart rate suddenly drops.

My main issue with the sensor here is that it just seems hit-and-miss in terms of actually giving a result – sometimes it’ll work, other times it doesn’t even when register, despite the tracking environment being exactly the same. I’ve also had some results that will show a really low blood oxygen level and then I will do it again moments later and I will be at 100%.

Apple Watch 6

Apple Watch 6

Apple Watch 6

Another sensor is there for taking an ECG measurement, telling you whether your heart shows any signs of atrial fibrillation. Again, taking a measurement is very quick: open the relevant app, hold your finger on the crown and wait for the results. Having such a powerful tool on your wrist and always available remains an impressive feat and it could give you that all-important push to see a doctor if something doesn’t look right. I’m also still a huge fan of the fall detection alerts, a feature that really could save your life. 

Sleep tracking has long felt like the most obvious missing feature from the arsenal of tech here and it’s been a requested addition of mine for years. Thankfully it’s arrived now and rather than being exclusive to the new watch, it’s a software tweak.

It’s not the most fully-featured interpretation of sleep tracking I have used, however it’s still good for giving you a quick overview of your slumber and heart rate during those hours of sleep.

While I would class the above as ‘health’ features, there’s, of course, a bevvy of more fitness-focused stuff onboard too – all of which will be familiar to previous Apple Watch users.

There’s GPS for accurate run-tracking, a heart rate monitor, an altimeter (this is now on all the time, rather than just when you’re in a workout) and a waterproof body to allow for swim tracking. Each of these sensors is reliable and accurate. But really it’s the software that ties it all together that makes it such a good proposition.

There are separate apps for Activity and Workout, the latter of which is there to give you more granular controls over runs, swims and the like. Activity tracks all your steps, stairs climbed, calories burned and so on.

All the data is put into three rings that you’re encouraged to fill each day. It’s an addictive system and you can battle it out with friends if you need more encouragement. 

Software and performance – The Apple Watch 6 is still the king

The Apple Watch 6 runs watchOS 7, an update that’s also available for the past few iterations of the wearable. This update includes notable features like sleep tracking and a nifty hand washing timer, both of which aren’t exclusive to the new watch.

This is a very complete smartwatch OS, though of course you’ll need an iPhone to use it. You still can’t set up an Apple Watch on an iPad, though the new Family Setup feature does allow you to get your kids a watch even if they don’t have an iPhone.

The basic smartwatch functionality is ticked off with ease. You’ll get notifications of incoming messages with a satisfying tap on your wrist along with alerts for phone calls and anything else that would pop up on your phone. There’s far deeper functionality too, with a wide-ranging App Store, loads of customisable (but not downloadable) watch faces and more. Apple has honed this software over many years and now it’s barely missing any obvious features.

The new hand washing timer is a particularly clever feature that uses the movement of your hands and the sound of water and squelching hand lotion to start a countdown timer whenever you wash your hands. It’s clever and handy to have in current times, however it likes to trigger itself every time I do the washing up. I guess everyone who designs an Apple Watch has a dishwasher.

Watch faces are a huge part of the Apple Watch experience and there are a load to choose from now, many of which are highly customisable. There are ones packed with information in the form of handy complications and others that are far simpler, just displaying the time. The obvious missing trick here is a lack of third-party downloadable faces, something I assume Apple would have already allowed if it had any intention to.

Another notable skill is how well the Apple Watch works independently of your phone, If you have the cellular watch you download and stream music via Apple Music, but all users can download podcasts and audiobooks to the watch. Some apps, like Audible, also let you do this but Spotify does not.

Apple Watch 6

Battery life – The one area where improvements would have been nice

The big upgrade I was hoping for with the Series 6 was a notable increase in endurance. While I didn’t have too many issues with the need to charge the Series 5 daily, adding in sleep tracking had given the impression that the next version would go a couple of days between charges. Well, things didn’t turn out that way and really, we shouldn’t be all that surprised. Apple has traditionally kept battery life very much the same across generations of products (the iPad has rarely seen a huge jump) and once it finds a good level it tries to keep it at that.

Moving from Series 5 to Series 6, I haven’t noticed any dramatic change. Though, since the sleep tracking update, I have taken to wearing the watch overnight and then charging it first thing in the morning.

Related: Fitbit Sense review

Apple claims 18 hours on a single charge, and that number is pretty accurate. Of course, you can drain it a lot quicker. Lots of streaming of Apple Music over cellular with a connected pair of AirPods is a sure-fire way to quickly run it down, as is using the GPS for extended runs or gym sessions.

What remains more irritating, is that you can only charge the Apple Watch 6 with a dedicated charger, rather than any old wireless charger. Both Samsung and Huawei use Qi to charge its watches and it seems an omission that Apple doesn’t.

Should you buy the Apple Watch 6?

The Apple Watch Series 6 is far from a huge upgrade and I would say if you’ve got a Series 5 (or even a Series 4) then there’s very little to entice an upgrade.

But that really shouldn’t take anything away from the Apple Watch Series 6 as it’s an excellent product and still the best all-round smartwatch on the market. It’s got a wide range of fitness features for varying users, excellent notification support, an unmatched haptic engine and a great design.

Related: Best smartwatch

The biggest competition to the Apple Watch 6 is the Watch SE, which is cheaper and a little less feature-rich. If you’re happy to miss out on things like the ECG, SpO2 sensor, always-on display and natty colour options then you can save yourself some cash by plumping for that.

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