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Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Which is better?

Looking to get an Apple Watch but not sure whether to go for the super-premium Apple Watch 6, or a moderately cheaper Apple Watch 5?

You’re not alone, though the Apple Watch 6 is awesome, featuring a top end variable refresh screen, cool new health tracking and a wealth of other upgrades, it looks very similar to its predecessor.

Apple Watch 5 which we found to be the best smartwatch at the time also remains a very solid contender that would still meet most consumers, if you can find one – the Apple Watch 5 is no longer available to buy new, but you can still find it at some online retailers, like eBay.

Here to help you decide between the two we’ve created this guide detailing the biggest differences between the Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch 5. This includes their technical differences and our experiences using them. 

Apple Watch 6 on wrist
Apple Watch 6

Apple Watch 6 vs 5 specs and price

The first thing that most of us consider when buying a new smartwatch is the price. When we reviewed the Apple Watch 5, it cost £399. You can no longer buy this device directly from Apple, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely off the market. You can now find this device online for much less than its original price, especially if you’re willing to go for a refurbished model.

The Apple Watch 6 currently retails for £379 ($399). So, if budget is your main concern, then you may find yourself leaning more towards the Apple Watch 5.

Both watches come in different case sizes: 44mm and 40mm. If you’re buying the Apple Watch 6 then the larger size is, unsurprisingly, a little more expensive.

ModelPrice (£)Price ($)
Apple Watch 6 40mm£379$399
Apple Watch 6 44mm£409$429

If you want to spend a bit more and get the larger version, then this will also come with a larger battery and a longer battery life. However, if you have smaller wrists, then the 40mm version will feel more comfortable to wear based on experience with the watches.

Deal: Apple Watch 5 (Certified Refurbished) for just £249

Apple Watch 5
Apple Watch 5

The similarities

These are very similar watches with just a year between them. You get a lot of the Apple Watch 6 features on the Apple Watch 5 as a result. These are some of the main similarities:

A choice of 44mm or 40mm case sizes:

There’s not a huge difference between each of these sizes, but there is a difference in price between the two which you’ll need to remember to budget for.

OLED Always-On display:

The OLED (a kind of display that uses self-lighting pixels for a better, more vibrant display than LCD) Always-On display is bright and sharp, and in our testing, we found it easily readable in strong sunlight. In short, it looks great on both wearables.

Before the Apple Watch 5, if you wanted to see the display on the watch face, you had to flick your wrist up. When the Apple Watch 5 was released it included the Always-On technology, which meant you could check your watch with a glance. We loved this feature when it came out on the Apple Watch 5, and it’s still present on the Apple Watch 6

18-hour battery life:

We were disappointed that the newer version of the Apple Watch didn’t include a longer battery life, especially since some of the new features tend to use up the battery. Both watches struggle to last more than a day’s heavy use in our experience.

Fall detection alerts:

This isn’t just an exciting feature, but a potentially life-saving one. Luckily our reviewers didn’t have to use this feature for themselves, but our tests showed that it would work well for those that need it. The tech lets both watches throw an automatic alert to emergency contacts and services if the wearables detect their wearer taking a particularly nasty tumble.

Outside of these key features, other similarities include:

  • GPS tracking.
  • ECG
  • Heart rate monitoring.
  • Digital Crown for navigation.
  • Water-resistant to a range of 50m.
  • Cellular versions.

The big differences

Sure, there are plenty of similarities between these two watches, but the Apple Watch 6 does have a few new tricks up its sleeve. These are the main differences between the two smartwatches.

Sensor to measure blood oxygen levels:

The Apple Watch 6 has a custom functionality that lets you use a new app to check your blood oxygen levels. This is a big deal for those who want to keep a closer eye on their health. However, our reviewer found this app to be rather hit and miss. Apple claims that “your blood oxygen level is a key indicator of your overall wellness” but we’re not sure just how useful this new feature really is given the disparity in readings we repeatedly where given during testing.

New casing colors:

The Apple Watch 6 allows you to customize the casing of your smartwatch, making it stand out a little from older versions. We loved the blue casing, which paired well with the stylish different colored straps you can choose. It’s a nice touch for more fashion conscious buyers.

A new handwashing timer:

This update feels particularly relevant in our current world as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we found that this feature switched on whenever we did the washing up, so could become annoying unless you have a dishwasher.

Apple Watch 6 face
Apple Watch 6

Design 

With both watches, there are plenty of face customizations to choose from. However, with both watches, you still can’t download your own custom faces.

On the WatchOS 7 software, there are 42 faces to choose from, many of which can be customized, although some aren’t available in certain regions or on all models.

There is a huge range of straps for you to choose from, and if you have an old Apple Watch, you can use these straps on the Apple Watch 5 and 6.

Design-wise, there’s not a lot of difference between these two watches. Although the Apple Watch 6 has a stronger Always-On mode, our reviewers aren’t convinced that the watch really needed it.

Apple Watch 5
Apple Watch 5

Battery 

Both batteries are supposed to last for 18 hours, and take a couple of hours to charge.

We’ve been waiting for a while for improved battery life on this, and it looks like we’ll have to keep waiting. Maybe the upcoming Apple Watch 7 will answer our prayers? But until then we have to charge these watches daily.

With the Apple Watch 5, we found that the battery life varied dramatically when using features like GPS or Bluetooth. Things were similar with the Apple Watch 6, using GPS tends to wear the battery down faster.

With the newer model, our reviewer found that they wore the watch overnight to use the sleep tracking feature, and then had to charge the watch first thing in the morning. This could be annoying if you have to head out first thing. Another issue we found is that you can only charge the Apple Watch 6 with a dedicated charger, rather than any wireless charger, something that Apple’s competitors have already taken care of with their devices.

Deal: Apple Watch 5 (Certified Refurbished) for just £249

apple watch 6 blood oxygen interface
Apple Watch 6

Fitness Tracking 

Both Apple Watches encourage you to move around and will help you track your fitness levels. Both have apps for Activity and Workout, which will encourage you to exercise more. We found these to be quite addictive, which can only be a good thing in this context! These watches will track your activity however you like to exercise, be it swimming, running, hiking or yoga.

Both watches have an ECG built-in which keeps an eye on your heart rhythm and looks for signs of arrhythmia in your heartbeat. All the information is stored in an app which you can show your doctor in case you’re worried.

Where the Apple Watch 6 differs is the blood oxygen sensor, although we feel that this fits under health more than fitness.

applewatch5
Apple Watch 5

Verdict

What’s the difference between the Apple Watch 5 and 6? Not a lot. At first glance, you probably wouldn’t notice any visual difference between the Apple Watch 6 vs 5. If you’re really keen on being able to customize the battery case, track your health more closely than ever, and have all the latest updates, then the Apple Watch 6 is for you.

However, those who want to monitor their fitness and achieve their movement goals with a beautifully designed smartwatch can still get a great deal with the older model. If you choose the Apple Watch 5 over the 6, you’re not missing out on a huge amount. You can still get almost all the health and fitness benefits found in the Apple Watch 6, you just need to decide whether features like the blood oxygen monitoring sensors and sleep tracking are deal breakers for you.

Not sure you want an Apple smartwatch? There are plenty of other devices for you to choose from, check out our best smartwatches guide for a list of the top scoring competitor’s we’ve tested.

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