Apple Watch Series 6 review: King of the hill
Apple Watches have come to a point where we’ve stopped talking about their sheer dominance in the wearable world and customers, existing and potential, have come to expect a level of buttery smoothness and slick performance, seamlessness and ease of use with every generation of Apple Watch. The question is – with an Apple Watch as mature and refined as the Series 5 from last year, how does Apple improve what was an undeniably strong showing and make the Apple Watch Series 6 continue to stay alluring to new owners and upgraders alike?
The answer, this generation around, lies in the details - a new pandemic-relevant SpO2 saturation sensor for convenient access to your blood oxygen levels, an always-on altimeter - and nips and tucks all around by way of a faster chip and a brighter always-on screen. There’s more, with a new U1 chip with ultra-wideband antennas that can detect its exact position relative to other devices in the same room and have many ecosystem benefits in the years to come, for instance unlocking cars with digital keys. Everything else, the svelte squircle shape, the Digital Crown, 40 and 44mm sizes, is exactly the same as the Series 5 it replaces, with the exception of new Series 6 exclusive blue and red body colors. Got cash to splurge? There are pricier stainless steel and titanium versions as well. It’s remains comfortable as ever to wear, and you now have the option of picking up the new sized bands (Solo Loop or Solo Braided Loop) sans a clasp or a buckle, which you stretch to pull onto your wrist like a wrist band.
Performance on the latest S6 chip is fast and super fluid, though the 20 percent on-paper speed bump over the Series 5’s S5 is hard to tell. The always-on screen is noticeably brighter, particularly when you’re indoors and not actively using it, and despite this, battery life is solid, with the Series 6 lasting me well into day and a half territory with the always-on display active, sleep tracking turned on and tons of notifications all day. Charging gets a big upgrade, with the watch charging to full in under 90 minutes, compared to the near 2 hours the Watch Series 5 took. And then there’s watchOS 7, which has recently rolled out to previous models as well. The new update brings in new watch faces, on-device dictation for messages and Siri control, sleep tracking and automatic hand washing detection, among others.
On top of the ECG and heart rate sensors that are now Apple Watch staples, this generation adds in an SpO2 sensor to measure the oxygen saturation level of your blood, similar to what we saw recently on the Samsung Galaxy Watch3. It shines a red LED under your skin on your blood vessels, and you have to keep your wrist rested and still for 15 seconds as it does its job which, for the most part, returns readings consistent with dedicated fingertip-based pulse oximeters. What the typically 95-100% reading tells you is how well oxygenated your lungs are and how well your lungs are working, and when it works in conjunction with the continuous altimeter, climbers and hikers can see elevation changes in real time and how your body is reacting to the change in altitude. The SpO2 sensor could theoretically help in diagnosing a number of sleep-related conditions, but this is where the sleep tracking gets a bit too basic and simplistic. Apple doesn’t use the SpO2 sensor data to suggest any medical outcomes, as it does via the ECG monitor, so it won’t tell you to get checked up for sleep apnea, for instance. I’d really like watchOS 8 to flesh out the sleep tracking capabilities and add in a lot more detail around sleep pattern (whether you’re in light, deep or REM sleep), sleep scoring and some smart alarms which wake you up at the ideal, lightest phase of your sleep cycle.
The fitness tracking elements are still top notch, with the activity rings so integral to the daily activity tracking that “closing my rings” is fast becoming a thing. All the same great routines and workout tracking you’ve come to expect from a device which also pushes you your emails, Slack messages and calls. For anyone with an iPhone, the Series 6 remains the obvious choice for the best smartwatch on the market. Baked in integration with the iPhone is unparalleled, third party support is rich, and Apple sweats the small details (watch faces, for instance) in a way no other smartwatch brand does, and it shows in the quality of the software. Health and fitness tracking are getting better with each version, adding in new sports and activities than we ever knew existed, and I feel sleep tracking could be the next big area of focus to close the door firmly on the competition. Is it significantly better than the Series 5 or 4 to compel folks to upgrade? Likely not.
Apple Watch Series 6
Pros: Gorgeous always-on screen, smooth fluid experience, excellent haptics, new sensors work as advertised, excellent activity tracking, new colors and bands
Cons: iPhone only, incremental upgrade in this version, sleep tracking
Price: Rs. 40,900 (40mm) onwards
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar