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Apple Watch Series 6 review

The Apple Watch Series 6 offers blood oxygen monitoring, a brighter display and faster chip for the same price.

Apple Watch Series 6 review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 6 may seem like an incremental upgrade, but the introduction of blood oxygen monitoring is a game-changer. And the brighter always-on display is welcome.

For

  • Blood oxygen (SpO2) app
  • New colorful casings
  • Brighter always-on display
  • Faster charging

Against

  • Same 18-hour battery life
Apple Watch 6 quick specs

Starting price: $399 (GPS), $499 (GPS + Cellular)
Sizes: 40mm, 44mm
Battery life: 18 hours
Water resistance: Up to 50 meters
Music storage: 36GB
Sensors: ECG, SpO2, heart rate, altimeter

The Apple Watch 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy. It spoils users with buttery smooth performance, velvety haptics and trouble-free setup. Everything about the Apple Watch experience is almost obnoxiously seamless, and that’s a big reason why it owns about half the market.

The Apple Watch 6 offers blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring for the first time, a brighter always-on display, an always-on altimeter and a faster chip. Rival smartwatch manufacturers seem to be taking larger leaps forward with their products, while Apple sticks to its incremental process (and it’s 18-hour battery life).

The watchOS 7 software update bought some useful tools, too, including Apple Watch sleep tracking. With the newer watchOS 8, users get a Mindfulness app and other clever upgrades. So long as you’re jumping to the Apple Watch 6 from the Series 4 or older, the combination of refreshed hardware, software and accessories supplies a more significant upgrade. 

This Apple Watch 6 review explains how Apple continues to keep its edge, and justify the $399 starting price — as well as a 2021 Tom's Guide Award for Health and Fitness. We named it the best smartwatch overall.

However, if you're thinking about buying an Apple Watch 6, you may want to hold off; Apple announced its successor, the Apple Watch 7, in the Apple Event on September 14, 2021. The Apple Watch 7 promises to be the best Apple Watch yet, with a brighter screen and faster charging. Here's how to preorder the Apple Watch 7 ahead of full availability on October 15.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 7: Should you wait?

Unless you find one of the best Apple Watch deals on the Series 6, we recommend waiting until the Series 7 makes it debut before picking up new wrist candy. It's highly possible the Apple Watch 6 will be discontinued and replaced by the Apple Watch 7. 

The Apple Watch 7 is rumored for a major redesign, complete with flat edges, a flat display and larger screen sizes. While we expect the Apple Watch 7 price and health features to remain the same, the Apple Watch 7 battery life could see a significant boost. 

See our full Apple Watch 7 vs. Apple Watch 6 guide for more on the expected differences.

Apple Watch 6 review: What I like

  • Blood Oxygen app: I’m happy to report both that I received 99% blood oxygen levels readings (above 95% is considered normal, although my father, a former EMT, says he wouldn’t want to see me below 98%), and that the Blood Oxygen app is pretty thorough. It offers a brief blood oxygen synopsis and walks users through taking on-demand readings.
  • Brighter always-on display: Indoors, it’s obvious that the Apple Watch 6’s display is brighter than the Apple Watch 5’s, as advertised. Outside, in direct sunlight, the difference is less noticeable. However, when I looked back at some side-by-side images it seemed the Apple Watch 6’s screen in fact shined brighter.
  • New watch faces and third-party complications: Apple launched all-new watch faces that will actually make you ditch Infographic. I’m a fan of the Typograph face’s bold design, although the Stripes, Memoji and Artist options are great for showing off your personality, too. The good ‘old modular faces are better than ever thanks to added support for third-party complications, though.

Apple Watch 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch 6 review: What I don't like 

  • Same battery life: The Apple Watch 6 is rated for 18 hours, just like the Apple Watch 5, and Apple Watch 4, and Apple Watch 3. Maybe we’ll get to ditch the daily charge on the Series 7?
  • Solo Loop band: The stretchy, clasp-less band sounded like a great replacement for the traditional sport band, but I ended up returning to the classic strap quickly. I think I might have the wrong Solo Loop size (you need a printable measuring tape to find yours), but I still don’t enjoy pulling it over my hand. And it seems like I'm not the only person having problems.

Apple Watch 6 price and availability

The Apple Watch 6 starts at $399 for the GPS-only model and $499 for the GPS + Cellular variation. The larger 44mm model, meanwhile, will start at $429.

One thing to note, the Apple Watch 6 will not ship with a power adapter as part of the company's new sustainability initiatives.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch 6 review: Design and always-on display

The Apple Watch 6 looks like the last few Apple Watch models, squircle shape, Digital Crown and all. It looks as svelte as we've come to expect — there are still few competing smartwatches that sit as flush to your wrist as an Apple Watch. 

(Image credit: Future)

As for finishes, the Apple Watch 6 comes in exclusive blue and Product Red casings. I’m a big fan of the Apple Watch entering the colorful tech realm, although the silver, gold and space gray are still sleek.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

A rumor switch from OLED to microLED displays didn't materialize, although the screen once again offers an always-on setting that lets you catch the time at a glance. Apple says the always-on setting is over twice as bright this time, and it holds up from my visual observations. It’s not worth trying to quantify, but it certainly looks sharper than the Series 5 in side-by-side comparisons.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch 6 review: Blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring

Blood oxygen sensors can measure the oxygen saturation level of your blood. As a form of pulse oximetry, SpO2 monitoring in the Apple Watch 6 will let users know their blood oxygen concentrations with 15-second on-demand readings, as well as periodic background checks.

Apple says a measurement of 95%-100% is considered ideal. Below-normal levels of blood oxygen concentrations are often indicative of underlying health issues such as sleep apnea. It can also be a symptom of silent hypoxia, a life-threatening condition that can escalate the effects of respiratory illness.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

When I told my dad, a former EMT, about the Apple Watch’s Blood Oxygen app, he acknowledged the importance of pulse oximetry. He says it’s the first reading he’d take while responding to a call because it’s less subjective than pulse or blood pressure stats.

Apple is by no means the first company to integrate SpO2 monitoring into its health features, but you can bet if it's ready to release its own implementation, the company believes it got it right. I recorded 99% or 100% blood oxygen levels, which matched the readings I received from a traditional, finger-based pulse oximeter. 

See how to use the Apple Watch 6 Blood Oxygen app.

Apple Watch 6 review: Sleep tracking

No longer will you need one of the best Apple Watch apps for sleep tracking. I’ve spent several weeks with Apple Watch sleep tracking. It's not as insightful as Fitbit's snooze-monitoring software, but it successfully emphasizes the benefit of setting sleep goals and establishing a bedtime routine. If you’re the kind of person who loves closing your activity rings, you’ll appreciate the challenge that comes with achieving 7 hours of sleep. 

As I’m sure you, reader, can relate, spending most of my time at home the past months has sabotaged my sleep schedule in ways I never thought possible. But Apple Watch sleep tracking reminds me to wind down for bed at the same time every night, and I’m finding I get more restful zzzs.

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch 6 review: Other watchOS 7 features and Apple Fitness Plus

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

Where Apple is gaining an edge over the best fitness trackers is in its preset workout library. The watchOS 7 update adds Dance, Functional Strength Training, Core Training and Cool Down activity tracking to the Apple Watch arsenal.

It also supports Apple Fitness Plus, which become available to Apple Watch customers towards the end of 2020. The workout subscription service offers 10 types of classes taught by real instructors. Apple Fitness Plus costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year, although Apple Watch 6 purchasers will get 3 months free. See how to set up Apple Fitness Plus.

A hand-washing timer, mobility metrics and watch face sharing are among the other notable watchOS 7 upgrades. I don’t find that the hand-washing timer performs well. The mobility metrics are excellent for helping older users keep tabs on things like walking speed, stride length and step asymmetry. Watch face sharing is neat, although I’m not getting close enough to anyone these days to see (and steal) their screen setup. 

Apple Watch 6 review: Battery life

Apple Watch Series 6 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch 6 is rated for the same 18-hour battery life as the Apple Watch Series 5, Series 4 and Series 3 before it. Although, as expected, I didn’t even get a full 18-hours on days I did GPS-guided workouts. We really would have liked to see some improvement in this area, but for now the daily change is still needed. 

On the bright side, the Apple Watch 6 can be charged to full in 90 minutes. It takes my Apple Watch 5 closer to 2 hours to fully charge.

Apple Watch 6 review: Verdict

Yes, there’s not much different from the Apple Watch 5 to the Apple Watch 6, but the SpO2 monitor is a tool you might find worthwhile, especially with the growing emphasis on personal health.

Thanks to its clean software, slim design and seamless ecosystem integration, Apple continues to get away with gradual Apple Watch upgrades. Users don't seem to care if Apple isn't first to every feature, so long as the convenience is there. 

The competition is more convincing than ever, though. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 and Fitbit Sense are just a few of the recent Apple Watch alternatives with SpO2 and ECG worth your consideration. Even the $279 Apple Watch SE — a somewhat stripped down version of the Apple Watch 6 — is attractive, though you’ll miss out on many of the marquee sensors.

Check out our breakdown of Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch SE for more, as well as our Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 5 and Apple Watch 6 vs. Apple Watch 3 face-offs for upgrade advice. 

Our smartwatch buying guide can help you assess your needs to determine which of this year's wearables is right for you, too. 

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.