If you own an iPhone, the only smartwatches you should be looking at are the various Apple Watch models. This is just a fact. Even though you can use smartwatches from many other brands with an iPhone, none of them offer the same level of integration, in my opinion. Like clockwork, we got the Apple Watch Series 6 this year, and it features a new S6 SiP (System-in-Package) and a blood oxygen sensor, plus other small refinements. This year's refresh is yet another iterative one over the Apple Watch Series 5, which has been discontinued.
If you've been waiting to upgrade or are looking at getting an Apple Watch for the first time, should you buy the Series 6? Let's find out.
In India, the Apple Watch Series 6 is available in a total of 10 different colours across three materials for the case — aluminium, stainless steel, and titanium. Apple has introduced some new colours this year with the Series 6, including Blue and Red for the aluminium variants, and new shades of Gold and Graphite for the stainless steel ones.
Prices start from Rs. 40,900 for GPS-only models and Rs. 49,900 for the LTE-enabled variants with the 40mm case size. Each model with a 44mm case costs about Rs. 4,000 more than its 40mm equivalent. I'll be testing one of the more premium options, which has a 44mm graphite stainless steel case and LTE. It comes with a standard Sport Band, priced at a whopping Rs. 73,900. If you really want to go crazy, the 44mm titanium variant with LTE will cost you Rs. 83,900.
In India, there's a limited number of band types and colours that can be selected at the time of purchase, compared to the US. The Apple Watch Studio online platform isn't available here either, which lets you combine any watch case and strap to your liking, before checking out. Apple has a new Solo Loop band, which is a single piece of stretchy silicone that's worn like a wrist band. However, this will have to be purchased separately as the stainless steel variant can only be purchased with either a Sport Band or a Milanese Loop band in India.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is very expensive but it's also Apple's flagship line, so that's to be expected. Apple also has the Watch SE (a re-badged Series 4, minus the ECG function) as a more affordable option starting from Rs. 29,900, and the Series 3 is now an entry-level model at Rs. 20,900.
In terms of design, the new Apple Watch Series 6 looks more or less identical to the Apple Watch Series 5. We've had this curvy, rectangular design since the Apple Watch Series 4 now, and if rumours turn out to be true, a big redesign can be expected next year. For someone still hanging onto their Series 3 or older Apple Watch, the Series 6 would be a big upgrade.
The build quality of the Apple Watch Series 6 is fantastic, especially the stainless steel version that I have for review, but it's also a massive fingerprint magnet. The right side of the watch has the digital crown and a single button just below it. There's a cutout for a speaker on the left, and the health sensors are on the underside of the case. My watch came with a black sport band, which is made out of silicone and is one of the most practical bands to own since it's quick to dry and requires very little maintenance.
The OLED display on the Apple Watch Series 6 is one of the best you'll come across on a smartwatch. It measures about 1.73 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 368x448 pixels on the 44mm case models. Apple also uses a sapphire crystal glass cover on the stainless steel variants, and the brightness of the always-on display is now 500nits, compared to 200nits on the Series 5. The watch itself weighs 47.1g and is waterproof up to 50m, so you can swim with it.
In terms of hardware, the Apple Watch Series 6 introduces Apple's brand new S6 SiP. Apple claims it has been completely redesigned to make the most of the space inside the watch and is up to 20 percent faster and more energy efficient compared to last year's S5 chip. The Series 6 also gets 5GHz Wi-Fi band support and Apple's U1 ultra-wideband positioning chip which enables tasks such as keyless entry and ignition in supported cars.
We'll get to the new blood oxygen monitoring capability in the next section, but first let's quickly cover the rest of the new features and software on the Apple Watch Series 6. It now has an always-on altimeter which can give you a real-time reading of elevation directly on your watch face through a complication. There's a new wrist-down gesture, which I found super handy. It lets you access the notifications (swipe-down) or the Control Centre (swipe-up) directly from the always-on display, without having to lift your wrist up to wake it.
There are also plenty of new software features that have been introduced in watchOS 7. You can now track your sleep, create a Memoji and use it as a watch face, and set up a compatible Apple Watch for a family member that doesn't have an iPhone via Family Setup. Apple is also making a big push in the fitness domain, as it plans on launching its Apple Fitness+ service in some countries, not including India, in late 2020. This is said to offer workout video tutorials and coaching from leading fitness experts. A higher tier subscription to Apple One will also offer access to this service if or when it is introduced here.
The Apple Watch Series 6 still only works with an iPhone, so you'll need an iPhone 6s or later running iOS 14. The watch ships in the usual fancy packaging, but with this model onwards, you only get a magnetic charging cable in the box and not a power brick, as part of Apple's new environmental initiative. The Watch app on the iPhone makes setup a breeze. If you're using an Apple Watch with LTE, you'll be prompted to register it with a plan from a supported carrier.
Navigating watchOS 7 on the Apple Watch Series 6 is speedy and a relatively lag-free experience, something that Apple has always had an upper hand in compared to platforms such as Google's Wear OS. Touch response is very good and the haptic feedback for incoming calls, alarms, and reminders from apps such as the Breath app are very satisfying and unobtrusive. The sport band is comfortable enough to wear continuously, and I only ever took the watch off to charge it.
A quick press of the crown takes you to your app drawer, and you can rotate it to perform various functions such as zooming in/out and scrolling through menus. You can lift the watch to your face and wake Siri with a simple command. Watch-optimised versions of apps on your iPhone will be installed automatically. Some of them like Swiggy are simply companions apps, which perform specific tasks such as showing you the status of your food order, while others like Telegram let you see and reply to ongoing chats, but again, with limited functionality. In terms of third-party app support, Apple Watches are way ahead of the competition.
However, one little convenience feature I really wish Apple had added is a toggle in the Control Center for enabling or disabling the always-on display feature. Going through the Settings and digging through the menus just to flip a switch seems unnecessary. You can create a shortcut for it using the Shortcuts app on your iPhone and then use that as a complication on a watch face, but it's not as clean a solution as simply having a toggle button at your disposal.
Let's talk about the Apple Watch Series 6's blood oxygen sensor. When dealing with a pandemic that targets the respiratory system, having a blood oxygen or SpO2 monitoring tool right on your wrist could be handy. We recently saw this feature on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 too, although I didn't find the readings to be very accurate in my experience. The Apple Watch Series 6 is no replacement for a dedicated pulse oximeter, but the average readings I've gotten over the past few months have at least been way better than what the Galaxy Watch 3 managed.
Many of the readings dipped below the 94 percent threshold, which shouldn't be the case for anyone who's healthy, but the average range it managed to measure during the day was mostly between 90-100 percent, which is on the right track. The best part of having this feature is that the Apple Watch Series 6 will automatically take periodic readings during the day and when you sleep, so this isn't something you need to remember to do.
Another new feature in watchOS 7 is hand wash tracking, which automatically starts a 20s countdown when it detects that you're washing your hands. This worked every single time I washed my hands, but at times, it got triggered when doing the dishes too. The Health app shows your average time spent washing your hands and the number of washes done in a day, so you can take steps to improve your habits.
The Apple Watch Series 6 also has built-in sleep tracking, which is linked to the Bedtime feature in the Clock app. The app tracks your average time in bed and average sleep time, measures your heart rate, and presents this data as a bar graph, broken up by week or month. Light green markings indicates time in bed, while darker green indicates actual sleep time. In my experience, the data seems quite accurate, especially the start and end times that the watch records.
However, other than offering a general idea of your sleeping patterns, the app doesn't show any insightful details such as the states of sleep or even your REM cycles. Considering this is Apple's first crack at sleep tracking, the implementation on the Apple Watch Series 6 is very basic right now but it does have potential to improve with future updates.
Other health features from previous generations are present too, such as menstrual cycle tracking, ECG measurement, and environmental noise level tracking. The Apple Watch Series 6 will automatically log activities such as walking, cycling, running, etc, and you can set goals and begin workouts manually in the dedicated watch app.
Apple's smartwatches have generally had good track records when it comes to accurately measuring fitness stats in our experience, and it's no different with the Series 6. When manually counting 500 steps, the Apple Watch registered 504, which is pretty good. I didn't do our usual 1km distance measurement test considering limited mobility during the pandemic, but I did get accurate measurements on short walks and when cycling.
Before we get to battery life, let's talk a bit about LTE performance on the Apple Watch Series 6. If you move away from your phone or are not connected to Wi-Fi, the Series 6 will fall back on its eSIM for a 4G connection (provided you've set one up). LTE performance has been very reliable so far in my experience, so much so that I often intentionally left my phone at home when running errands. It's a good idea to have a pair of Bluetooth earphones with you though, in case you need to take or make a call.
The watch's built in microphone is quite good but you will need to hold the phone close to your face when talking. The speaker on the other hand isn't very loud when you're outdoors, and there were times when I had difficulty understanding what a caller was trying to say. This might have been affected by the strength of the LTE signal where I was at the time, so your experience may vary.
Apple promises up to 18 hours of battery life on one charge, and the Series 6 is said to be able to charge quicker than the Series 5. Without the always-on display, I was getting close to two full days on one charge, but when it was enabled, I was just about able to cross one full day. These times are still way better than Apple's claims. When using only LTE, I was averaging about a day and 15 hours, which I consider impressive. My usage time with the watch across all these scenarios was roughly the same, at about four and half hours.
Considering that the Apple Watch Series 6 periodically takes a bunch of measurements in the background per day for heart rate, SpO2 levels, sleep, elevation, noise, etc, a day and a half on average is a pretty good runtime in my opinion. It's clear that the always-on display is a massive battery hog, which is another reason that a shortcut to toggle this would have been so convenient.
The Apple Watch Series 6 charges to roughly 70 percent in an hour in my experience, which is decent. You'll need the magnetic charging cradle that comes with it in our order to charge it, as it won't work with just any Qi-compatible charger, including Apple's own MagSafe wireless charger. Older Apple Watch chargers work just fine too. You also get an alert on your iPhone now when your watch's battery is fully charged, which is a clever touch.
The Apple Watch Series 6 doesn't add a tonne of new features over the Series 5, but there are some notable ones such as blood oxygen monitoring, dual-band Wi-Fi, and the power-efficient S6 chip. A lot of the other features such as sleep tracking, hand washing, etc are available on the Apple Watch Series 5 too, after updating to watchOS 7. Upgrading from the Series 5 to the Series 6 doesn't make a whole lot of sense, and if you were thinking of doing this just for the blood oxygen monitoring, I'd suggest saving your money and buying an actual pulse oximeter instead.
If you have an Apple Watch Series 3 or older though, and have been holding out, the Apple Watch Series 6 will be a serious upgrade. However, it's also fairly expensive, especially if you get a stainless steel one. For those who want a basic yet powerful Apple Watch, there's also the new Apple Watch SE to consider. It has most of the important features of the current and previous Apple Watch models, at a more affordable price. Stay tuned for its review, coming soon.