Yes, the Apple Watch Series 6 and SE are official, and we can now say we’ve been wearing the Series 6, the top-of-the-line smartwatch from Apple, for about a day. It’s not time for our full review, but here are our first impressions of the Apple Watch Series 6.
A familiar form with a new paint job, sensors and hardware
From the moment Apple showed off Series 6, we got a taste for a familiar design that spices things up in the color department. Like the Series 5 and Series 4 before that, the Series 6 features a display that’s stretched to the edges with a familiar rounded square watch design.
The new Blue Aluminum shade is quite simply stunning and might end up being a little underrated. Like Midnight Green on the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, it’s a bit darker by default, but light (direct or indirect) gives it a bit of a shimmer. Subdued but stylish for sure. If you want a pop of color, check out Product Red — it’s unabashedly bright.
Series 6 doesn’t introduce extra weight or thickness, either; it’s as comfortable as ever on your wrist. The Digital Crown and action button still live on the right side, with a speaker on the left.
We’ve been trying the larger 44mm variant (weighing in at 36.4 grams), and while the screen size is the same, Apple has upgraded the tech in the display itself. It’s a brighter always-on Retina Display that’s 2.5 times brighter than the Series 5, which measures in at 200 nits. It’s 500 nits on Series 6, and it’s noticeable — especially when the watch is not engaged and it’s in always-on mode.
We’re still really digging always-on. You no longer need to move your wrist to see the time, monitor metrics in an activity or see what notification just came through. It also doesn’t impact the battery any more than the Series 5. You see it’s still a low-temperature polysilicon and oxide (LTPO) OLED Retina Display. And it has an adaptive refresh rate, which essentially means it can adjust how many times in a second the screen can refresh itself. In always-on, it dials that back, but when you’re looking at it, it moves all the way back up.
There’s a larger battery inside the Series 6 as well, and we started out the day at about 60% once it was set up and hit 30% before we opted to recharge. We’ll need a few more days to really get a feel for the battery. Apple is promising up to 18 hours of battery life. Charge times are also faster via a minimum 5-watt adapter, giving you 80% charge in about 1.5 hours from 0% and 100% charge in about 2.5 hours from 0%.
We’re 100% impressed with the battery life so far, even with two resets, a restore from backup and a clean start. Aiding in that efficiency is the new Apple-made S5 64-bit dual-core processor. It really flies, and setup — either from a backup or as new — seems to be much faster. We were able to blaze through the setting choices in about four minutes, and it was about five minutes before we got into watchOS 7 itself. Opening and closing apps is fast, waking the display from always-on is zippy and engaging with Siri is quick. To be clear, Apple notes it’s 20% faster over the S5 in Series 5 and SE.
The expected sensors are all on board here as well: accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, compass and ambient light sensor. The always-on altimeter is new, and we’ll be testing that soon enough.
Blood oxygen monitoring is seriously impressive
Arguably the biggest feature of Series 6 is the ability to monitor oxygen saturation in your blood. It’s done in part through a new sensor, algorithms and the Blood Oxygen app. The result? You can get a blood oxygen (aka OX or SpO2) reading in just 15 seconds. It’s the first thing we tried, and it’s pretty awesome.
It’s also a vital indication for your overall well-being, and some physicians have indicated that low blood oxygen levels could be a sign of Covid-19. After opening the app, you’ll want to keep your arm still, ideally resting it on a table. You’ll see lines flow in a range of colors appearing on the screen (see video embedded above) and it will begin to measure. There’s a chance you might see the sensor in action with lights from the sides of your watch.
After 15 seconds, you’ll get a reading. A normal one falls between 95% and 99%. We also tested with a “ChoiceMMed” pulse OX finger sensor and found it to be the same or one digit above or below the Series 6. We’re going to keep testing it over the coming days, but we’re walking away seriously impressed after a day.
The Series 6 itself can even take measurements in the background, the same way it does for heart rate. You can monitor all of your readings in the Health app on your connected iOS device. How does the Series 6 take a reading? Well, in the same crystal sensor array on the back there are four clusters of LEDs that shine green, red and infrared light onto your wrist. There are also four photodiodes in between them that capture the light reflected back up. The Blood Oxygen app takes this information and determines the oxygen level via the color of your blood. It’s pretty awesome and all happens super fast.
Similarly, measuring heart rate or taking an ECG right from your wrist happens quite quickly. It’s marginally faster, at least for traditional heart rate readings, than the Series 5 and much faster than a Series 3.
The new blood oxygen monitoring and legacy heart rate features don’t sit alone. The Apple Watch Series 6 also monitors noise levels, gives low cardio fitness alerts and tracks your sleep, menstrual cycles and even hand-washing times. It’s really a terrific health tool.
We’ll be putting all these features through the paces and will report back in our full review.
A lot to like
On paper, the Series 6 might seem like an all-around average update for the Apple Watch, but the new sensors, internal hardware and paint jobs make for a compelling new wearable. Heck, the blood oxygen monitoring might have sold you along with longer battery life and fun colors.
For $399 or $429 for 40mm or 42mm, respectively, there’s a lot to unpack with the Apple Watch Series 6. Those looking for heath features will likely be sold as is, but we’re going to spend the next few days putting it through the paces. Seeing how fast that S6 chip is, how long the battery lasts and what it’s like with everyday use. We’ll also be putting the more affordable and nearly as feature-filled Apple Watch SE to the test.