As expected, Apple presented the new Apple Watch Series 6 in mid-September and, surprisingly, also the Apple Watch SE, whose price is intended to appeal primarily to beginners. We subjected the smartwatches to a comparison test.
Apple Watch Series 6 Review: Is new always better?
As in previous years, Apple has not reinvented the wheel with its new Series 6 smartwatch generation, but has improved an already very good device selectively. In the following I have listed and rated the most important innovations.
New sensor for measuring blood oxygen
The most important new feature of the Apple Watch Series 6 (at least for Apple marketing) is the sensor for measuring blood oxygen saturation (SpO2 sensor), which was not available in the predecessor. For this, the manufacturer has also rebuilt the sensor module on the back of the smartwatch. The new measuring probe consists of four LED clusters and four photodiodes and works together with an app to record the oxygen content in the blood. Light is radiated from the underside of the smartwatch onto the back of the wrist and the reflection is measured: namely, light blood contains more oxygen than dark blood.
The measurement usually ran smoothly in the test. Simply start the Blood Oxygen app on the Series 6, hold your hand still for 15 seconds and wait for the result. In addition, the smartwatch automatically measures the oxygen content in the background, even at night while sleeping. The values are saved in the Health app on the iPhone. Blood oxygen levels between 95 and 100 percent are normal. Lower values indicate possible physical problems.
For users who cannot find out enough about their body values, measuring blood oxygen is certainly interesting. However, the function has a few catches: I find out, for example, that my blood oxygen is 98 percent, but there is no classification. So I immediately have several questions: Is that a good value? How can I improve it? And how often a day should I measure the oxygen level? Unfortunately, watchOS does not (yet) fail to provide answers, an improvement can probably only be expected if the sensor is medically certified.
When it comes to accuracy, you have to rely on Apple engineers when measuring blood oxygen – after all, hardly anyone has a medically certified pulse oximeter ready for comparison measurement. Certainly for this reason too, Apple emphasizes that the measurement of blood oxygen with the Series 6 is only intended for “general fitness and wellness use” and not for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for a doctor’s visit.
Always active altimeter, better chip and new display
The Apple Watch Series 6 also has an improved altimeter that is now constantly active. By combining barometer, GPS data and WiFi information, the smartwatch continuously measures the altitude at the respective location, which can be read using a complication or the compass app. In a city like Hamburg (current location: 17 meters in altitude) such information is rather unimportant. However, if you go hiking in the mountains, you should be happy about the information that is always available.
The Series 6 has also changed in terms of performance. Inside is the S6 chip, which is based on the A14 Bionic from the iPad Air 4. According to Apple, the increase in performance means that apps should open 20 percent faster than with the previous S5 processor. As a satisfied owner of an Apple Watch Series 5, I only noticed the increase in speed in everyday life to a minimal extent.
Also new are 5 GHz WLAN and the U1 chip for ultra-broadband radio, which is already known from the iPhone 11 , but which apparently does not yet have a specific task in the Series 6. Most users will hardly notice these innovations in everyday life, but the U1 chip is likely to be interesting in the future in connection with Apple CarKey.
The improvements to the always-on display are more important to me. As is well known, Apple introduced a screen for its Smartwatches with the Series 5, which constantly displays information such as the time. In the Series 6, the screen is even better, the display should be two and a half times brighter outdoors. That sounds a bit abstract at first, but in practice it has been found that the information is actually easier to read on the Series 6 in direct sunlight. For users who travel a lot outside and want to catch the time with a cursory glance at the smartwatch, this is certainly a welcome improvement.
Same battery life, faster charging
The battery life of the Apple Watch Series 6 has not changed compared to its predecessor. Apple has compensated for the increased energy consumption due to the new always-on display and the additional sensors by dispensing with Force Touch, thus creating space for a slightly larger battery. According to the manufacturer, the smartwatch lasts up to 18 hours like its predecessor. However, Apple has improved the charging speed: To go from 0 to 100 percent, the Series 6 only needs to be on the power for about 1.5 hours and not 2.5 hours like the Series 5. For an 80 percent charge, it only takes an hour necessary.
New colors and bracelets
The new colors that Apple has on offer are also exciting for buyers of the Apple Watch. The Series 6 is also available with an aluminum housing in blue and the eye-catching red color Product (Red). The stainless steel version has the new colors graphite (instead of space black) and classic gold. On the other hand, Apple has deleted the ceramic version of the Smartwatch.
The most exciting addition to the bracelets is the so-called Solo Loop. The silicone bracelet, which is also available in a braided version, has no buckles and is particularly soft. The catch, however, is that you have to get the right size when buying. For this purpose, Apple provides a PDF document on its website to determine the size, which interested parties should print out before buying, a charmingly anachronistic idea for a high-tech company like Apple.
Apple Watch Series 6 Pros:
- + Faster than Series 5
- + New colors and bracelets
- + Brighter always-on display
- + Battery charges faster
Apple Watch Series 6 Cons:
- – Battery life could be even better
- – SpO2 feature can be expanded
- – Too few innovations for a switch from Series 5
Apple Watch SE: The Apple Watch for almost everyone
In addition to the Series 6 flagship, Apple presented another smartwatch in September that, with its lower price starting at 291 euros, should appeal to beginners in particular: the Apple Watch SE. Similar to the iPhone SE (2020), the Watch SE combines older and modern technology into a new middle class. Above all, it leaves out features of the Series 6 that many users can presumably do without.
The SE display is just as big as that of the Series 6, but does not offer its always-on function. The always active altimeter can also be found in the Watch SE, but not the new sensor for measuring the oxygen content in the blood. The EKG app of the Series 5 and 6 also fell victim to the red pen, the chip in the Apple Watch SE is the same as in the Series 5. Buyers have to do without the latest from the new, but the S5 processor delivers enough performance for every everyday use.
As a target group of the Watch SE, Apple should have new customers, children and seniors in its sights, certainly a clever move, especially in connection with the new family configuration. But more on that later.
Apple Watch SE Pros:
- + Inexpensive entry into the Apple Watch universe
- + Successful combination of Series 5 and 6
Apple Watch SE Cons:
- – Battery life could be even better
- – No always-on display
watchOS 7: The secret star
In the test of the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Watch SE it turned out that the new Smartwatches may not be the most important innovations this year, but rather the update to watchOS 7 and even owners of an Apple Watch Series benefit from this (in part) 3rd
With the software update, Apple is revamping its smartwatch and introducing sleep tracking, a function that users have wanted for years. Although Apple tracking is nowhere near as comprehensive as with third-party apps such as Sleep ++ and Pillow , sleep detection is typically deeply integrated into the system for the provider and extends over several apps and platforms.
The family configuration already mentioned is also new. With this feature, an iPhone is finally no longer necessary to use an Apple Watch. Up to five Apple Smartwatches can be paired with a single iPhone and each have their own phone number. This function is clearly aimed at children and seniors, who can own an Apple Watch without their own iPhone.
However, there are some catches: the family configuration only works with the cellular version of the Apple Watch. In addition, not all apps and functions are available, for example measuring oxygen saturation is not possible. Other notable innovations in watchOS 7 are the automatic 20-second countdown for hand washing, four new sports, seven new watch faces and additional complications.
Conclusion: Apple remains the smartwatch king
With the Apple Watch Series 6, the manufacturer has improved its already good predecessor again. The stronger chip, the better always-on display, the faster charging battery and the additional sensors can be highlighted. For iPhone owners, there is actually no reason to buy a smartwatch other than Apple’s. And thanks to the new family configuration, even people without an Apple smartphone have the opportunity to enter the Apple Watch universe and if they know someone with an iPhone.
For most users of an Apple Watch Series 5, switching to the Series 6 should not be worthwhile. The differences between the two generations are too small, and Series 5 owners also benefit from the many improvements in watchOS 7. If you own a Series 4 or even a Series 3, you should seriously consider switching to the Series 6.
Nobody is doing anything wrong by buying an Apple Watch SE. The watch is visually practically indistinguishable from the new Smartwatch flagship and cleverly combines technology from Series 5 and 6. The Apple Watch SE is particularly recommended for newcomers and customers looking for a cheap upgrade to their Series 3 or 4.