Another year, another Apple Watch. This incredibly humdrum statement doesn’t really say much, and perhaps that’s apt. While the new Apple Watch Series 6 is great, that’s not really because of anything fresh or exciting.
Don’t get me wrong. The Apple Watch was already excellent, in my opinion. But that’s also why the few new features kinda pale in comparison. The exercise tracking is great, and so are the notifications, apps and call ability. It also looks slick and has some excellent accessibility features.
But none of this is new. So let’s take a look at what is.
Apple Watch Series 6
WHAT IS IT?
Apple's latest flagship smart watch
Starts at $599
Cheaper, better battery life, faster charging, workouts
Apple Watch Blood Oxygen Tracking
The most significant new feature of the new Apple Watch Series 6 is blood oxygen measurement.
The watch uses green, red and infrared lights on the wrist to measure light reflected back from your blood. To put it simply, dark red blood means it’s less oxygenated and bright red blood means its more oxygenated.
The new blood oxygen app takes this measurement in 15 seconds, but you have to keep your wrist completely still. It also takes measurements in the background during the day and if you wear your Apple Watch to bed.
From physical and background tests my measurements were consistently between 94% and 100%. And apparently that’s good.
But here in lies the problem – this metric doesn’t mean a whole lot without context. During Apple’s September event it made reference to studies that link blood oxygen levels to heart disease, asthma and respiratory viruses.
That’s great, but at the moment the Apple Watch won’t actually tell you if your bloody oxygen is at a dangerous level. So this feature seems more like a first step in something more robust in the future.
While it may be useful for someone with related issues, they would need to know what their percentage generally meant and react accordingly.
Sleep tracking has also gotten an upgrade that also integrates with Apple’s own Bedtime features. This includes the ability to set a schedule and wind down time that locks the phone. To unlock you need to turn the digital crown, much like when you expel water.
So if you’re into utilising tech to, well, get away from tech before bed — this could be a good option for you.
Now, I gotta be honest – I don’t usually use sleep tracking. And this is for a few reasons.
Firstly, I charge my watch at night. And while the battery life has improved this year (we’ll get to that) I am still not at the point where I would feel comfortable not juicing at the end of each day.
The other reason is because I am one of those freaks who doesn’t have trouble sleeping. I fall asleep quickly and rarely wake up in the middle of the night.
In short, I just don’t have a need to monitor me metrics while I’m knocked out.
But for anyone who might find this useful or interesting, the data you get isn’t as robust as some other third party apps. The Sleep section of the Health app basically just tells you your average time in bed and average time asleep.
Apple Watch Battery
One thing I have found particularly useful is the improved battery life. Once the battery drain bug was fixed, anyway.
One of my favourite hobbies is hiking and I enjoy capturing it as a workout so I can close those rings. But hikes are long and having the Apple Watch track an exercise for hours on end (or entire days at a time, like when I hiked in Tasmania) would do a huge number on the batter of previous gens.
While I would still like to do more tests, the Apple Watch Series 6 does seem to be getting to the end of hikes with more juice left. I have also found it to have drained far less at the end of regular days where I am just working and maybe hitting the gym for 30 – 60 minutes.
Most days I’ll go to bed with 40 – 5o per cent left, which I’m super impressed with. I also like that speed bump on the Apple Watch Series 6. While previous generations took a few hours to fully charge, my tests were clocking the 6 at around the two hour mark, give or take.
While I do think there’s still a lot of room for improvement with Apple Watch batteries, it’s nice to have seen some more attention paid this year. As more features get added, which will inevitably need juice, it’s something Apple will need to continue prioritising.
There actually isn’t anything particularly new about workouts — though I am interested in seeing how they go once Apple Fitness+ launches. But I do want to take the opportunity to reiterate how much I like the extensive options.
Sure, I know that no fitness tracker will measure things perfectly, but I respect the attempt. And as my workout routine has evolved this year, I have been pleasantly surprised by how all my new activities are catered for in my Apple Watch.
While I expected things like ‘traditional weight training’ and ‘boxing’ I was genuinely surprised to find ‘climbing’, ‘core exercise’ and ‘functional strength training’. There’s even a separate workout option for cool downs.
Some other deeply specific workouts include badminton, barre, disc sports, fishing, fitness gaming, social dance and table tennis.
It’s great and I can’t wait to see more options, particularly ones that are even more inclusive.
Another tangentially fitness-related new feature is the always-on altimeter. While the Apple Watch could measure altitude previously, the new barometric altimeter is said to be more accurate thanks to the help of GPS and wi-fi networks. as well as GPS and Wi-Fi networks. This does indeed seem to be working well so far, and its a helpful inclusion for this little hiker.
Should you buy the new Apple Watch Series 6?
Having used the new Apple Watch Series 6 for over a month now, I’m left feeling more interested in another product entirely. I really want to know how the Apple Watch SE goes in the real world.
Because on paper it has all the specs I most value in Apple smart watches and starting at $429 it’s $170 cheaper than the flagship watch.
Considering how incremental the upgrades to the latest flagship Apple Watch are, the baby sibling might just be a winner.
But that being said, I do like the fact that the Apple Watch Series 6 RRP is $50 cheaper (starting at $599)than what the Series 5 came to market at in 2019. So that is definitely a plus in its favour, particularly if you’re upgrading from a much older model.
But if you have a Series 4 or 5 — stick with it for now. You’re really not missing much. All in all, the Apple Watch is still a winner. I just want to see it do even more in 2021.
Disclosure: the author owns 12 shares in Apple.