Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Biggest upgrades you'll get

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5
(Image credit: Future)

This Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5 face-off tells you what you need to know about how two generations of one of the best smartwatches shapes up against each other. 

When it first came out, the Apple Watch Series 5 was an excellent wearable with an always-on display, fall detection and a built-in compass. Now, the Apple Watch Series 6 offers all that and then some. It has SpO2 monitoring, a brighter display and new S6 chip for faster performance.

While our Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE face-off can let you know which of the newer models might be better for you, read on to find out whether you'd want to upgrade your Series 5 to a Series 6.

It's a close matchup between the two options, especially because watchOS 7 works on both. But based on our experience with both models, here's how the Apple Watch 6 and Apple Watch 5 stack up.

Keep in mind that the Apple Watch 7 is launching soon with watchOS 8. Both the Series 6 and Series 5 are eligible for the upcoming software update, but it's possible the new smartwatch will have exclusive features.

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Price and availability

The Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 for the entry-level aluminum 40-millimeter model with GPS. For an extra $100, you can splurge on a LTE-enabled watch. This also requires a monthly data plan from your wireless carrier for an additional cost. For the larger 44-mm version, you’re looking at paying $429 or $520 with LTE before any of the best Apple Watch deals.

Apple has relied on this pricing structure for several years now. This is how much you'd have to pay for an Apple Watch 5, although this model is no longer available. You might be able to find it refurbished, however.

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Design

Apple Watch Series 6

(Image credit: Apple)

The look of the Apple Watch hasn’t changed in over 5 years, and it's not changing now. You wouldn't be able to tell the Apple Watch 6 from an Apple Watch 5 — unless you're eyeing the new blue or Product Red color options, of course.

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Battery life and specs

When Apple announced the Series 5’s 18-hour battery life, we were a little disappointed it didn’t receive a significant stamina boost over the Apple Watch Series 4. It might have an always-on display, which saves users from exaggerated raise-to-wake movements, but we’ve been wishing for an Apple Watch that can go more than 24 hours without a charge for some time.

The Apple Watch 6, sadly, did not fulfill those desires. We hoped the S6 chipset could offer enough improvements to power efficiency to extend the watch's stamina, much like the iPhone's new chip provides each year.

On the bright side, literally, the Apple Watch's always-on display is two-and-a-half times brighter and the performance is 20% faster. We welcomed these enhancements in our hands-on testing.

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Fitness and wellness features

Because of its affordable price, the Apple Watch Series 3 is considered one of the best fitness trackers you can buy, but the Series 5 is the better choice if you’re looking for an activity smartwatch that will last you years to come. The Series 5 also packs an ECG sensor, which is useful for identifying early signs of atrial fibrillation.

The hardware upgrade you’re going to get with the Series 6 is a pulse oximeter, or blood oxygen detection (SpO2) sensor. SpO2 measures the oxygen saturation level of your blood for insight on your quality of exercise or sleep, and could help diagnose things such as sleep apnea.

All the new fitness and wellness features coming to the Apple Watch 6, including sleep tracking, mobility metrics and Dance workout presets, is supported by watchOS 7. In other words, the Apple Watch 5 should gain all the same tools.

Apple Watch 6 vs Apple Watch 5: Should you upgrade?

Apple’s annual watch upgrades are almost too incremental, but when it comes to making a buying decision you’ll rest easy knowing you’re not missing out on game-changing upgrades. The fact that the Apple Watch 3 is still for sale and still excellent by category standards stands as proof. 

You shouldn't feel pressure to upgrade your Series 5 yet. You’ll still get a few good years out of it thanks to support for over-the-air watchOS upgrades. But if you're in the market for a new watch and are interested by the Apple Watch 6's SpO2 monitoring and brighter display, pay no mind to the Series 5. 

Whichever you ultimately decide to pick up, be sure to check out our complete Apple Watch guide for getting the most out of your smartwatch.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.