Apple Watch Series 6: Color us impressed [Review]

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Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch Series 6
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Almost all the reviews of the Apple Watch Series 6 say the same thing: Yeah, it’s great, but it’s an incremental upgrade, and if you already have a Series 5, skip the upgrade.

That’s sage advice, I guess, especially in the middle of a crushing pandemic that’s ruined the economy, left millions unemployed, and has lots of people thinking carefully about their expenses.

But I say stuff it!

If you have the money, run out and buy the latest Apple Watch. It’s frickin’ amazing! It blows my mind that you can have a mini-iPhone strapped to your wrist that can make phone calls, pay for groceries, give directions, monitor your blood and heart, and so, so much more. It’s a technological marvel, my favorite gadget — and it could possibly save my life.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

Apple Watch Series 6
The Apple Watch Series 6 is a stunner.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Compared to the Series 4-to-5 upgrade last year, the new Series 6 is actually a much bigger update.

Whereas last year’s Series 5 basically just got an always-on screen and a compass, this year’s Series 6 brings an even better, brighter screen, new system-on-a-chip, better Wi-Fi, a bigger battery, faster charging, an ultra-wideband U1 chip, an always-on altimeter and — last but not least — a blood oxygen sensor. That’s quite a package of upgrades.

Other staples from previous Apple Watches, like heart-rate monitoring and an ECG, carried over to the latest device. (However, Force Touch disappeared.)

Digging the design

Apple Watch Series 6
We tested two aluminum Series 6 Apple Watches: one blue, the other Space Grey.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

One thing that hasn’t changed is the outside casing. It looks identical to Apple Watch 4 and 5, and it remains compatible with all your existing bands. I’m not complaining; Apple Watch remains one of the prettiest wearables on the market.

Its slim form factor makes the device just as comfortable to wear as any other wristwatch, while its gorgeous, edge-to-edge screen ensures checking the time, reading notifications, and using apps is surprisingly comfortable — even in direct sunlight.

But, of course, you already know all this. Apple Watch is familiar to us all at this point, and Apple has perfected it to the point where it is now by far the biggest-selling watch (not just smartwatch) in the world. It’s hardly surprising, then, that Apple has yet to make drastic changes to the basic design.

New this year are new colors, including blue and Product (Red). I’ve been testing a pair of aluminum watches, one in Space Grey and the other blue. The blue looks great and is by far my favorite. It pairs nicely with my favorite watch strap: a Juuk Velo anodized aluminum band (which is available in Cosmic Gray from the Cult of Mac store).

The finish on the Product (Red), which my colleague Lewis bought, looks pretty intense. As he said on our podcast, The CultCast, it’s a “statement watch.” And that was before he jumped at the chance to pick one up on launch day. He loves the shiny, garnet-red aluminum case. And while he’s not crazy about the sport band it came with — it’s not as deep a red as the watch itself — he’s dying to try it with a Juuk Vitero Ruby Gray band. (That’s also available in the Cult of Mac Store, BTW.)

Oh you 2

Apple Watch Series 6
The Apple Watch Series 6 has a new heart/SpO2 sensor that features eight LEDs.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

The most important new addition is a blood oxygen sensor. It detects the oxygen saturation level in your blood, known as SpO2. The sensor works by shining red and green LEDs, plus infrared light, through your skin and analyzing what gets reflected back.

Blood oxygen monitoring is new to Apple, but has been available in rival fitness trackers for a couple of years — but Apple’s implementation has a big advantage. Unlike rival fitness trackers, the Series 6 can monitor your blood O2 throughout the day and also during your sleep.

This is potentially a big deal, and in the future, it may alert you to potential health problems. Apple teamed up with researchers to study how various physiological signals from the Watch can monitor and potentially control asthma, heart failure, influenza and even COVID-19. The hope is that the Watch might be able to signal early onset of these conditions.

More new stuff

Apple Watch Series 6
Although the Apple Watch Series 6 is tipped as a relatively minor upgrade, it actually features quite a lot of new tech.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

In addition to blood oxygen monitoring, Apple Watch Series 6 features an always-on altimeter that provides elevation data. This feeds into the Compass app (the new Watch has a digital compass like the previous model), and does a better job of tracking elevation during workouts. There are several nifty new watch faces that take advantage of the new sensors. A hiking watch face, for example, includes a widget that constantly provides elevation.

Apple Watch Series 6 ships with a bunch of new faces, but you’ll get these on earlier models, too, when you update to watchOS 7.

Fast charging at Ridgemont High

There are also some smaller improvements that aren’t so obvious this year. The Series 6 charges up to 40% faster than its predecessor, which allows for quicker top-ups. You should expect to get an 80% charge (from 0%) in about an hour, and 100% in around an hour and 30 minutes. Surprisingly, fast-charging is one of my favorite features. I wear my watch at night and charge it during the day at my desk at work. Now, my new watch charges before I get my second cup of coffee, instead of taking most of the morning.

The watch still gets about 18 hours on a single charge (depending on usage, of course). Practically, you still have to charge it at least once a day.

Speedy Gonzales

Apple Watch Series 6
The Apple Watch Series 6 handily renders complex graphics, like the new Memoji face.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Under the hood, Apple Watch Series 6 features a faster S6 processor that’s more than speedy enough for a computer you wear on your wrist. Everything you might do with the device, from tracking workouts to using your favorite watchOS apps, feels satisfyingly snappy.

The new chip also helps with the brighter “always-on” display, making it easier to see when the watch is not “active.” The non-active screen is 2.5x brighter, according to Apple, and it’s noticeably brighter in the real world. To my eyes, the non-active screen looks twice as bright as in Series 5.

The new Solo Loop

Apple Watch Series 6
The Solo Loop watch band is pretty meh.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

I’ve also been testing out the new Solo Loop, a one-piece band made of stretchy silicone rubber. The Solo Loop has no clasps or buckles. Instead, you slip it on and off your wrist. To get a snug fit, you have to order the exact size from Apple, using an online sizing tool or by going to the store and getting measured.

I was excited for the Solo Loop, but in practice, it’s kinda meh. Yeah, it’s comfortable, easy to get on and off, and pretty indestructible. It’s swim- and sweat-proof. But it’s so nondescript as to be almost invisible, which some people might like. Personally, I like metal bands, and the Juuk straps are hard to beat.

Pricing and availability

Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 for one of the entry-level aluminum models, and there are new blue and red color options to choose from for the first time this year.

Prices can increase to $1,250 for one of the fancy titanium options if you add LTE into the mix as well.

Apple Watch Series 6: Upgrade or not?

Apple is justly famous for making incremental improvements to its products, which over time can transform quite radically. Each year, the improvements may seem small, but they add up. The Apple Watch Series 6 is leaps and bounds ahead of the Series 0, and has become an amazing multipurpose computer with stunning connectivity and health-monitoring features.

The Series 6 is not a mandatory upgrade, but if you can afford it, it’s a great upgrade. And don’t forget the colors! The red and blue options are both stunning. You can have a different color watch for any outfit or occasion. Maybe it’s time to start a collection?