Apple Watch 6: a easy improve that is robust to overview
Two minute overview
The Apple Watch 6 (or Apple Watch Collection 6 if you wish to be all correct about it) is the most recent watch from, effectively, Apple (if you happen to do not depend the Apple Watch SE, launched at the same time).
Apple Watches are rising in popularity to the point there most will know that they’re small second screens that connect your iPhone to your wearable, and you might be wondering whether the new device offers anything massively alluring; if you’re thinking about upgrading from an older model you’ll be especially keen to learn what’s new here.
Well, here are the highlights: starting at $399 / £379 / AU$599 for the 40mm version, Apple’s new Watch has a blood oxygen sensor inside, new colors to delight (we’re into the red) and a more efficient S6 engine at its heart. It’s also supposed to have a brighter display in sunny conditions – we’ll come to that shortly.
Beyond that, the rest of the new features that arrive with the Watch 6, like sleep tracking, hand-wash tracking, and new buckle-less bands, will be made available to older Apple Watches.
On the outside, the Apple Watch 6 continues with the same design language used in previous models – a rounded, metal body with a square display that curves elegantly into the device itself.
The new colors and designs are interesting, with the new blue and red flavors, in particular, appealing on the wrist, the aluminum casing blending nicely with the more striking hues.
The display, using OLED technology, is as bright and clear as ever – we didn’t notice any extra brightness outside, despite the claims made by Apple, but equally we never struggled to read the display, thanks to the rich colors and good contrast ratios.
As it has been in recent years, fitness is the key focus of the new Apple Watch, and it’s more prominent than ever. A new sensor allows you to see how well-saturated your blood is with that ever-so-useful oxygen, and for the most part it works well.
However, Apple is clear that it’s not a medical tool, and should only be used for monitoring general fitness or wellness – so while it’s an interesting thing to check out from time to time, it doesn’t feel like a headline feature.
Of more interest is the new Fitness Plus service coming from Apple, which will let Watch users interact with fitness workouts wherever they are – and any new Apple Watch will come with three free months of workouts to try.
As an overall fitness tracker, the Apple Watch 6 feels like it’s got some incredible benefits – great activity tracking, good monitoring and motivation to stay active, a wide range of monitored activities – but there’s still no step up to a ‘pro mode’ for those who want to take their fitness to another level. There’s definitely potential Apple isn’t exploiting.
As ever, battery life on a new Apple Watch is strange. Once again, we regularly got far longer than the advertised 18 hours between charges, usually hitting around 28-30 hours before needing to reach for the charging cable.
The thing is, that’s still not long enough for what this Watch could do. With sleep tracking now on board, you’ve got another useful metric to help you keep on top of your health.
But you still need to work out when you’re going to find that 90-minute window each day to charge your Watch, if you’re not going to do it overnight, which is frustrating.
WatchOS 7 brings a few small upgrades – Apple’s not saying as much, but it’s clear that some are designed to help out in the current pandemic we’re facing: a hand-washing monitor just coincidentally appearing seems unlikely, and it’s a useful weapon in the fight against Covid, even if the monitoring is a little hard to please.
The new Apple Watch 6 is the best Apple has to offer in the wearable space, and if you’re worried about either your heart health or respiratory system, those extra features will bring you a welcome degree of reassurance.
However, for many consumers – especially those who aren’t bothered about having an always-on display – the Apple Watch SE offers nearly every feature that the Watch 6 is packing, and does it for far less of an outlay.
Apple Watch 6 release date and price
The Apple Watch 6 release date was Friday, September 18, and you’re now able to pick one up online or in store with (relative) ease.
In terms of the Apple Watch 6 price, you’re looking at $399 / £379 / AU$599 for the 40mm version, while the 44mm version starts at $429 / £409 / AU$649 (those prices are for the GPS-only version, without cellular connectivity).
If you want an LTE-ready watch, the 40mm starts at $499 / £479 / AU$749, and the 44mm at $529 / £509 / AU$799.
The most expensive model will still set you back $1,499 / £1,449 / AU$2,259 if you go for the most luxurious straps and finish – but Apple still believes that fashion has a large part to play in the allure of its Watch.
And remember: you can still plump for the Apple Watch 3 for $199 / £199 / AU$299, or try and find the similarly-specced Apple Watch 5 discounted at many retailers.
- Great new colors
- Identical design to recent years
- New Solo loops to choose from
The Apple Watch Series 6 design is the same as that of any recent Apple Watch (as in, from the Apple Watch 4 onwards).
Coming in 40mm and 44mm flavors for smaller or larger wrists respectively, you’ll see the same rounded edges that merge into the screen, the digital crown that spins through the interface with a simple flick of the finger, and the power button below that functions as a way to jump between apps.
On the rear of the Apple Watch 6 you’ve got a heart rate monitor that’s been upgraded time and again, and which here includes new features like blood oxygen sensing and the electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor, in addition to checking on your regular heart rate and alerting you if things get higher or lower than normal.
The Apple Watch 6 is also 5ATM certified, which means it can be used for swimming and pop down to a depth of 50m for 10 minutes if you so wish – but, in reality, it means that the Apple Watch is fully protected against ‘normal’ swimming.
The bigger story in terms of the Apple Watch 6 design is the new range of colors – and the shade that’s particularly caught our eye is red. It’s (PRODUCT) red, a color that Apple has used for a few years now to help promote the organization trying to rid the world of AIDS, and it’s by far the most striking color of the bunch – and, happily, the one we got to review.
The other colors, (gold, silver, graphite, space gray and blue), are also premium-looking, and fit nicely with the well-manufactured feel of the Apple Watch. The price is high, granted, but you’re getting a beautifully made device for your cash.
It’s lightweight too – at 36.5 grams (for the 44mm edition) we didn’t feel it weighing down our wrist very often, and it’s sometimes easy to forget you have it on.
As ever, you’re able to customize your Watch with different bands, and the new addition in 2020 is the Solo Loop, an (expensive) band that doesn’t have a buckle or velcro to clasp it together, and which is instead made of stretchy silicone or braided silicone that you pull over your hand onto your wrist.
Sadly, the Solo Loop we were sent for review purposes was too large – it hung like a bangle around the wrist – but we could see the promise of being able to just slip it over the wrist, and not have to mess around with clasps, or worry about it flopping around during the day.
- Good OLED technology
- Always-on display can be handy
- Finally dims at night when tracking sleep
The Apple Watch 6 display uses OLED technology, and it’s a fine-looking screen as a result. When you’re in darker places, it’s only the numbers, letters or whatever’s on the screen that you can see, as OLED technology enables incredible contrast between the black and white tones, which makes whatever is on the Apple Watch 6 look really striking.
Where older Apple Watch models (and the new Apple Watch SE) require you to raise your wrist to see what the time is or check a notification, the Watch 6 continues where the Watch 5 left off with an always-on display.
This means you don’t need to raise your wrist to see the time or an alert, and can just glance down to see what’s happening. Depending on the watch face you’ve got set up – and there are now many – you’ll also see updated info on news, health stats or battery life without needing to raise up the Apple Watch and fully wake your device (which will use more power).
However, while this is useful, we feel it’s still not well-implemented. The always-on display is helpful at times, but mostly we just want to see the time. The problem is that, even though the screen of the Apple Watch 6 dims when it’s not being looked at, it’s still rather bright.
So whenever things get darker, you either need to put it into theater / cinema mode (which is irritating to do, and then requires a button-press to display the time), begin sleep tracking to get the low-light monochrome version of the display or just accept that your watch will be glowing rather brightly.
We’d rather there was an option for just a very, very dimly-glowing set of numbers for the time – we don’t want to see the whole watch face, just a little view of the time that’s not distracting.
Blood oxygen monitor
- Interesting feature
- Not designed for medical use, so can it be trusted?
- Needs alerts embedded
The Apple Watch is clearly a wearable that’s designed for fitness, and the Apple Watch 6 is the pinnacle of the company’s health and fitness ambitions thus far.
Every year we get new fitness and wellness features, so let’s begin with the big one for the Watch 6: the blood oxygen monitor.
Firstly, let’s not forget that it’s been around as an option on other wearables like the Fitbit Charge 4 (and phones, including members of the Samsung Galaxy range) for a long time now.
So it’s not a new feature, but the question is how Apple is implementing it into the new watch, and whether it can be truly useful, especially when the world is facing a respiratory disease-based pandemic.
But before we get to that, let’s just remind ourselves what a blood oxygen (or SPO2) sensor actually does. Firing red and infra-red light under the skin, the diodes on the underside of the Apple Watch 6 can read the color of your blood, and work out from that how much oxygen you’re pumping around.
There are various opinions on what ‘good’ looks like for a percentage, but if you’re over 95% then generally you’re in a good place.
You can run a dedicated SPO2 test on the watch, sitting still for 15 minutes to test it, or you can have the Apple Watch 6 test throughout the day – we did both, and the results largely matched up, and for the most part we were above the 95% threshold.
But… for the most part. According to the Health app on the phone, which records this information, there was a moment when our SPO2 level fell to 88% – was that something to worry about? We assumed that, because it wasn’t repeated, it was just an outlier reading, but it was still a little disconcerting to see.
And therein lies the rub with the new SPO2 sensor on the Apple Watch. On the one hand, it can be comforting to see your blood oxygen level sitting nicely where it should be… but equally, Apple is saying the Apple Watch 6 is categorically not a medical device, and should only be used for your own information (which, it should be noted, most wearables on the market with an SPO2 sensor are stating as well).
What do you do with that info if Apple says it’s not designed for medical use? Should we trust it? Or should it be ignored if the results might vary with fit and motion from time to time?
Well, the simple answer is: it’s a nice thing to have to stay informed. If you’re seeing a drop in SPO2 often at the same time as feeling other ill effects, you can head to the doctor to put your mind at rest. If you’re at elevation, and suddenly the oxygen saturation level in your blood drops, you can make a decision.
But it feels odd that Apple isn’t giving you notifications that your SPO2 dropped randomly through the night – which can signify the sometimes-serious condition of sleep apnea – or, advising you, when your heart rate gets lower or higher than usual at rest, whether you need to do something about it right away.
We’re not sure why Apple isn’t offering those alerts, and it makes it hard to say whether the SPO2 meter is particularly useful as a result.
However, combined with the ability to take an ECG and monitor your heart’s regular output, it’s still a comfort, and those with heart conditions would probably still gravitate towards the Watch 6 as a result.
- New workout options
- Still needs a ‘pro’ fitness mode
- GPS can go slightly awry
With the new Apple Watch 6, there are so many ways to keep an eye on your general wellbeing, and being able to close your ‘Move Rings’, the metric Apple uses to let you know how active you’re being.
With each new Apple Watch release, the brand brings more ways to track your efforts so you truly know how active you are, and encourage you to try news things as well.
As regular readers of TechRadar will know, we’re really into running. Chucking on a Garmin or Apple Watch and going for a few miles’ jaunt is something we regularly enjoy, and the Apple Watch is getting better at monitoring that each year.
Running is now joined by more activities than ever, with dancing and ‘cooling down’ being added to the growing roster of fitness features.
But it’s not just about moving: the Watch helps with being mindful and meditating (the latter is made especially easy thanks to the onboard ‘Breathe’ app, which tickles your wrist with small vibrations to tell you when to breathe in or out).
With your Watch both monitoring these activities and monitoring your heart rate, you’re getting an accurate calorie burn, so you can see how well you’re doing if you’re on a fitness kick.
The Apple Watch 6 (and others in the Watch range) will also help you on your way to your goals of standing enough times, moving enough or getting enough exercise by prompting you at times through the day to get active when it thinks you have a moment to do it – it’s rather helpful.
However, the fitness tracking on the Apple Watch is also limited in a few ways too. We took the Watch 6, Watch SE, Watch 5 and Watch 4 out for a 15-mile run, and there are still a few things the Watch 6 hasn’t fixed.
This is the good bit of the job. pic.twitter.com/H4DnVAKcHFSeptember 20, 2020
Firstly, the operating a part of the Exercises app remains to be a bit restricted. Apple makes it in order that the GPS inside (which ought to be pretty correct, as you possibly can hook up with a number of satellites to seek out your location) does not must ‘lock’ earlier than you’ll want to begin operating, with a view to simply get you out and pounding the pavement.
It is good if you’re beginning out, however much less correct if you construct as much as longer distances. Evaluating the Watch vary to the Garmin, which does require a correct GPS lock earlier than beginning, there was a small disparity in our distance-run numbers, particularly when going by way of tree-covered environments.
It additionally diverse fairly a bit when doing the identical run again and again – when doing the identical 6.5-mile course with the Watch SE and the Watch 6, we noticed a 0.2-mile disparity, and fairly totally different mile splits all through – which doesn’t breed full confidence within the distance and pace monitoring.
Nevertheless, on different shorter runs the distances have been fairly comparable, so it will possibly very often simply rely on the terrain and the way strongly the GPS sign might be picked up.
There’s additionally the guts charge monitor on the rear – we frequently discover that this on-the-wrist pulse-monitoring expertise is much less correct than sporting a chest strap, and there have been occasions when the Apple Watch 6 clearly struggled to maintain a monitor on our coronary heart charge once we have been operating.
That should not delay potential Watch house owners who like the thought of a coronary heart charge monitor on their wrist – it was nearly as good as something we have examined of late, bar some actually high-end operating watches; it is simply that it nonetheless misplaced connection every now and then.
Inserting the Watch larger up our arm helped with the accuracy (because it’s simpler for the sensor to learn the heartbeat by way of the pores and skin right here), nevertheless it wasn’t snug and fell forwards finally.
The Apple Watch 6 nonetheless seems like a health wearable for everybody, interesting to the plenty somewhat than the health fiend. And that is the best manner spherical – those that need one thing extra devoted can simply discover it elsewhere.
We need to put on the Watch 6 for all the things, although, so it could be nice if Apple outfitted this machine with a option to arrange interval coaching, extra simply see laps if you’re attempting to beat a mile PB, or simply step up the Exercises app to encourage those that’ve been coaching with the Look ahead to years to go to the following stage.
Proper now health on the Apple Watch nonetheless feels a bit primary, and in any case these years we have been hoping to see a bit extra depth.
- Simply lasts a full 24 hours, and infrequently longer
- Quick charging is a godsend
- S6 inner chipset makes actions extra environment friendly
The Apple Watch 6 battery life is one other factor we want was improved this 12 months – it is a key factor that is holding again the Apple Watch vary from being an immediate advice.
We observed final 12 months that the addition of the always-on show had an actual impression on battery life, and whereas the brand new S6 chipset contained in the Watch 6 has undoubtedly improved the ability effectivity, it hasn’t solved some key points.
Let’s begin with one of many oddest issues Apple does: it continually under-represents the battery lifetime of its Watch vary. For the reason that very first mannequin of Watch, the claimed battery life has at all times been far too stingy – Apple calls it ‘all-day battery life’, and pegs the Watch 6 to final 18 hours typically use.
Properly, we at all times had it related to a cellphone or Wi-Fi all day, and we took it operating, managed music, used apps – and we nonetheless at all times bought over 24 hours of use earlier than needing to achieve for the charger.
Nevertheless, whereas which may sound like factor, in actuality 24 hours is not far more useful than 18, particularly if you issue sleep monitoring into the combo. Now that WatchOS 7 lets you monitor your slumber, you actually need a tool you could take to mattress at evening and could have an honest slug of battery remaining if you get up.
The Apple Watch 6 can nearly handle this, however you will have to cost it pretty quickly after waking – so if you are going to use this Watch to the fullest, and get your sleep-track on, then you definitely’ll want a day by day window the place you possibly can cost it.
On the plus aspect, the S6 chipset contained in the Apple Watch 6 is, certainly, essentially the most environment friendly processor Apple has ever put in a wearable. You’d count on the mixture of the always-on show and the SPO2 sensor can be way more of a battery-drain than on the Apple Watch SE, for example; however, over a 15-mile run, 110-minute run we discovered that the Watch 6 really used much less battery than the SE, as Apple has made the GPS monitoring extra environment friendly.
The identical is true for music playback, so these smartwatch options are much less of an issue, battery-wise, on Apple’s newest mannequin.
The Watch 6 additionally fees a lot sooner than earlier fashions – in a side-by-side comparability with the Watch SE, from 0% the Watch 6 was absolutely charged in 75 minutes, whereas the Watch SE, with the older S5 chip, took 100 minutes to refill.
In ‘regular’ use, that’s with the SPO2 sensor and always-on show firing, the Watch 6 will final 20% lower than the Watch SE in the identical utilization situations, though in fact you possibly can at all times flip these options off – you received’t be getting the identical performance, however it’s a option to get the perfect battery life on any Apple Watch.
With all of the settings turned off you’ll get comparable battery life to the Apple Watch SE, however with extra longevity throughout exercises or listening to music.
And don’t overlook: there’s no charging block within the field any extra (however you do get a charging cable). That mentioned, if you happen to’ve not bought a USB charging block mendacity round someplace, we surprise the place you’ve been for the final decade.
The Apple Watch 6 is the showcase for the most recent model of Apple’s wearable working system, however the traditional caveats apply: the identical options (blood oxygen monitoring excepted) are additionally coming to the brand new Apple Watch SE, and might be rolled out to each machine from the Watch three onwards.
Nevertheless, we’re concerned with testing how these new options carry out on the Watch 6, to see how well-optimized the machine is for them. There are some we’ve not delved into right here, corresponding to dancing and cool-down monitoring in health, new methods to personalize and share your Watch face with your personal issues, and mapping your bike rides on the go – yow will discover out all about these, and others, in our devoted WatchOS 7 hub.
The very first thing we wished to check out with the brand new Apple Watch was sleep monitoring, which has lastly turned up on a wearable from Apple.
It’s a very welcome characteristic for many who are already sporting their Watch in mattress, not least as a result of you possibly can set the time you’re going to sleep and the show turns into monochrome, and also you received’t be capable of wake it simply, as you’ll have to spin the digital crown to get again in – it’s a superb manner that will help you resist the temptation to verify that final notification if you’re alleged to be sinking into slumber.
The sleep monitoring itself may be very primary certainly, although. It’ll work out if you bought into mattress based mostly on if you put down your cellphone, and can then monitor how lengthy you’re asleep for. This knowledge is fed into the Well being app in your cellphone, so that you’ll be capable of see how your sleep time is rising or reducing over a interval.
There’s no info on whether or not you hung out in deep sleep, mild sleep or REM, nor any correlation with bedtimes, or how harassed you have been throughout the day – these are quick changing into customary options on different health wearables, so we anticipated extra from Apple right here.
The wake-up display screen is sweet, displaying you the quantity of battery left and the climate for the day – so whereas it’s a restricted characteristic, the weather it does have are effectively executed.
The hand-washing characteristic apparently wasn’t created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, however its presence on the Apple Watch 6 is beneficial for reminding you to scrub your palms for 20 seconds, offering a countdown as you accomplish that.
It’s a characteristic that began off being fairly erratic for us, however over the area of some days it turned extra correct.
We’ve been sporting each the Watch SE and the Watch 6 for the testing interval, and barely did they each fireplace on the identical time once we turned on a faucet and started scrubbing up – there was usually a five-second disparity.
The hand-washing characteristic can be somewhat laborious to please – if you happen to’ve not bought your palms close to a operating faucet, however are nonetheless washing them pretty vigorously, the Watch will pause the countdown timer. This feels unfair if you are really washing your palms, however the upshot is that you simply simply find yourself washing for longer to fulfill the Watchful gaze out of your wrist.
In equity, this have to be an extremely laborious characteristic to get to work effectively – the Watch has to hear for the precise sound of operating water similtaneously detecting a really particular hand movement, so it’s really fairly spectacular that it really works as usually because it does.
The ultimate characteristic we’ll nod to right here is the interpretation functionality of Siri – which, by the way in which, is fairly delicate on the Apple Watch 6, activating way more usually than it’s meant to, even if you’re not speaking to the Watch.
Nevertheless, say one thing like “Translate ‘I’ve bought a beautiful bunch of coconuts, there they’re all standing in a row, massive ones, small ones, some as massive as your head’ into French” and the voice assistant rapidly turns across the response – and performs it with the right accent too.
There are a variety of languages that Siri can translate into – Mandarin, French, German, Italian, and Spanish – however you possibly can’t have a dialog out of your wrist, because the Watch can’t translate again into English but.
Different options we used
As talked about, WatchOS 7 is constructed on a system that packs plenty of helpful (and a few not-so-useful) performance at its coronary heart. The principle one which we’ve been utilizing is elevating to talk to Siri – the place you don’t have to say ‘Hey Siri’ or maintain the button – simply elevate your wrist and begin talking.
When it really works, it’s sensible, enabling you to immediately set a timer, discover out what track is taking part in, name a good friend, or flip off a light-weight in your sensible dwelling.
You do have to get the gesture proper although, and too usually we discovered that Siri wasn’t actually listening, which turns you off from utilizing a voice assistant immediately, particularly if different folks can see you.
One factor we haven’t talked about is using mobile knowledge along with your Apple Watch. The quantity of occasions you’ll want it are restricted – being able to have Siri with you when your cellphone isn’t, or to make a name, or hearken to an Apple Music playlist is sweet, however the further value of the information plan is much less interesting.
Nevertheless, speaking of cellphone calling, we did take a few calls utilizing the Apple Watch when our iPhone was in one other room, and the speaker is obvious and crisp, with the microphone choosing up each phrase – it’s vital to understand simply how cool it’s to have the ability to do that.
One component we didn’t use a lot was Walkie-Talkie mode – within the final 12 months, we’ve discovered that the folks we might chat to (whereas hilariously saying ‘over’ on the finish of every sentence) utilizing this methodology has dropped to the purpose the place we now really feel like we’re simply going to be irritating by requesting a chat.
We did return to utilizing the characteristic to speak to 1 pal we used to frequently talk with – nevertheless it seems like one thing that it’s solely enjoyable to make use of in brief bursts every now and then, somewhat than an integral characteristic.
The ultimate factor we tried was the Watch App Retailer, to see if it had progressed within the final 12 months. In some methods it has, with there being extra Apple Watch apps accessible than ever – however the opening display screen of the App Retailer on the Watch makes you are feeling like there’s not a lot there.
There aren’t any classes to dig into, or lengthy lists of tailor-made suggestions, only a quick listing of seemingly-random choices, and whereas we like the thought of with the ability to seize a brand new app without having to achieve for our cellphone, it doesn’t actually really feel prefer it’s definitely worth the effort of doing so on the small display screen when the bigger iPhone can do the job a lot extra successfully.
Purchase it if…
You need to future-proof your self
If you understand you’re going to carry onto it for just a few years, you need to at all times go for essentially the most fashionable model of no matter Apple factor you’re going to purchase – it’ll be supported for longer with updates, it’ll supply longer battery life, and it’ll supply the widest vary of options.
You’re into the colour crimson
We all know it sounds shallow, however the crimson shade of the Apple Watch 6 actually is placing – it’s simply the favourite model we’ve strapped to our wrist.
You will have well being considerations
Caveat once more: Apple doesn’t need you to make use of the Watch 6 as a medical machine. However with the ability to take common ECGs, or having a background monitor of your blood oxygen, is beneficial if in case you have any situations the place these are points – and the guts charge alerts convey peace of thoughts too.
Don’t purchase it if…
You don’t thoughts elevating your wrist
The one actual purpose we will see why many individuals would need the brand new Watch 6 is that it’s now the one one you should buy from Apple with the always-on show. For those who’re okay with doing a ‘wrist flick’ to see the time, then go for the Watch three or SE and get monetary savings.
You’ve bought ‘into’ health
For those who’ve been utilizing an Apple Look ahead to some time, and are extra severe about health, the Watch 6 isn’t nice for issues like interval repeats, checking your lap pace or including in simple relaxation stops in a swim session. Apple wants a Watch Professional as quickly as attainable, in our opinion.
You need common sleep insights
Whereas it’s cool to have the ability to monitor how lengthy you’re sleeping every evening over time, it’s extra helpful to know the standard of that sleep – and the Watch 6 isn’t providing that natively. For those who want a separate app for it, you would possibly as effectively go for a devoted mannequin like a Whoop Strap or Fitbit Sense.
First reviewed: September 2020