When it comes For smartwatches, it's Apple versus the world. It's not that there aren't many other products to choose from – it's that the company has dominated the space to the point that every other device is relegated to the “Apple” section See alternatives. "
The company has been successful in this area for the usual Apple reasons: premium hardware with deeply integrated software, third-party support, a great cross-device ecosystem game, and of course, simplicity. Overall, the watch works immediately.
Five years after it started, the line is pretty much mature. So it's not surprising that most of the recent updates have resulted in improvements. As with most updates, the watch has received a processor boost on the A14 processor, which the company claims is 20% faster than the previous version. Perhaps the biggest hardware upgrade, however, is the addition of a blood oxygen sensor. This is an important part of the company's quest to provide the most complete picture of the wearer's health from the wrist.
I wrote quite a long piece on the watch last week after wearing it for a few days. As I mentioned at the time, it was an odd kind of write-up, somewhere between hands-on and review. About a week later, however, I tend to call this a rating – even if not too many of my first impressions have changed much in the last few days. After all, a mature product largely means that most of the foundations will remain unchanged.
The Series 6 definitely looks like this. The watch is difficult to distinguish from other newer models – and also from the new and significantly cheaper SE. The biggest visual change is the addition of new colors. In addition to the standard gray and gold cases, Apple has added new cases for blue and (product) red. The latter seems to be the more ostentatious of the couple. The company sent me a blue model, and frankly, it's a lot more subtle than I expected. Actually, it's more of a deep blue hue that appears more than black most of the time.
It's hard to imagine the product radically revising the design language of the device at this point. We may see slight improvements, including a larger screen area in the future, but by and large, Apple is very committed to a form factor that worked very well for them. I'll probably always prefer Samsung's rotating bezel as a quick way to connect to the OS, but the crown does the job well and scrolling through menus even feels a little snappier this time around, perhaps due to the faster silicon.
The new solo loop bands had a bit of a hiccup. I've covered this in a little more detail here, but I suspect that much of the problem stems from the difficulty of selling a product of a certain size at a strange time in history when trying on in person isn't an option. In other words, just really bad timing on that front.
Personally, I really like the braided model. I use it as my daily band. It's nice and fits a lot better than the silicone model (I've never been a huge fan of Apple's silicone straps to be honest). But I have to mention that Apple sent me a couple of different sizes, which made it a lot easier to find the right fit. I can tell. Especially when the braided solo loop costs a pretty exorbitant $ 99. The silicone version is significantly cheaper at $ 49, but one way or another you can't get away with it cheaply. So you definitely want to make sure you are getting the right fit.
This is doubly important because the biggest innovation in the Series 6 – blood oxygen monitoring – relies heavily on getting you a good fit. The sensor uses a series of LEDs on the bottom of the watch to send infrared and red light through the wearer's skin and into their blood vessels. The color of the light reflected back gives the watch an image of the oxygen content in the blood. The whole thing takes about 15 seconds, but only works if your fit is right. Even with the proper solo loop, I had to repeat it a few times when I started wearing the watch.
In addition to on-demand measurements, the watch also measures measured values day and night, maps these trends over time and includes them in the sleep values. The totals give you a good picture of your numbers over time. Honestly, I feel like this is really just the tip of the iceberg of future functionality.
At the moment there really isn't any specific guidance – or context – as to what the numbers mean. Mine are usually between 90-100%. The Mayo Clinic tells me this is good, but obviously there are many different factors and variations that cannot be properly contextualized in a single paragraph or on a watch. And Apple certainly doesn't want to be accused of attempting to diagnose an illness or offer specific medical advice. This is becoming increasingly difficult for the company as these type of health tools become more serious.
If I had to guess, I'd say that the combination of sleep tracking in watchOS 7 and the built-in oximeter opens the door to something like sleep apnea tracking pretty well (again, more to irregularity warnings versus diagnosis aligned). We have seen a small handful of companies like Withings deal with this. Hence, it seems like a breeze for Apple until all of the regulatory requirements are met. There are all sorts of other conditions that blood oxygen levels could potentially alert the wearer to if not actually diagnosed.
Sleep was probably the biggest change with the latest version of watchOS. This was probably the biggest blind spot for the line when compared to the competition. At the moment, sleep tracking is admittedly pretty straightforward. Like much of the rest of the rest of on-board tracking, it is mainly compared to changes over time. The metrics include the time in bed versus bedtime and the inclusion of heart rate readings from the sensor's regular check-ins. More specific outages, including deep or light or REM sleep, have not yet arrived but will undoubtedly happen sooner rather than later.
The door is also wide open to Apple so that the mindfulness is really right. The company has had a mindfulness reminder built in for a while, but it's easy to see how adding different sensors like heart rate could really improve the picture and get the company to go all-in on meditation, et al. The company could partner with a big meditation name – or rather things interfere with its own offering. The upcoming Fitness + offering could also play an important role in the growth of this category.
The other problem that sleep brings is battery life. I have counted on the company to make great strides in the battery department. After all, a big part of sleep tracking is making sure you have enough charge to get through the night. Apple really only briefly touched on the battery – although a recent breakdown has seen some minor improvements in battery capacity (possibly due in part to the space freed by the Force Touch dropping).
Thanks to the new silicon, the company has also made some energy efficiency improvements. Official literature puts it on a "whole day" of Battery life up to 18 hours. I found that I could get through a full day on juice. That's fine, but the company still has something to do in that regard compared to, for example, the Fitbit Sense, which is able to charge for almost a week. I think at this point it's fair to keep wearables on a higher standard of battery life than cell phones, for example. More than once I have temporarily charged the device – 20 minutes here and 20 minutes there – so that there is enough juice left before going to bed.
If you can save more time, you should be able to get up to 80% in an hour or 100% in an hour and a half thanks to faster wireless charging. Overall, the company was able to cut the charging time significantly – a definite plus since you don't just leave it to charge overnight. The latest version of watchOS also lets you know in advance if you don't have enough charge to last a whole night.
Other updates include the addition of the always-on altimeter which, along with the brighter screen, doesn't seem to have a significant impact on the battery. Honestly, if I've been stuck in town for the past few months, I don't have much reason to need real-time elevation stats. Though feature is a nice move to take the watch a little more seriously as an outdoor accessory in an area largely dominated by Garmin.
Of course, the company now has three clocks on the market – including the Series 3, which keeps ticking, and the lower-cost SE. The latter keeps the design of the Series 6, but drops a number of key sensors, which should honestly be perfectly fine for many users – and $ 170 cheaper than the starting price of the 6 for $ 399 ($ 499 with Mobile phone).
Overall, the Series 6 isn't a big leap forward over the Series 5 – and not really worth the upgrade for those who already own this latest vintage. But there are consistently nice improvements, complemented by good upgrades to watchOS, that make the best-selling smartwatch so much better and at the same time lay the foundation for Apple watches of the future.