Apple Watch Series 6 long-term review -- Was it worth upgrading?

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in Apple Watch
It's been almost six months since the Apple Watch Series 6 was released. Halfway to the next model, how does Apple's latest wearable hold up and compare to the Apple Watch Series 5 after months of daily use?

Aluminum Apple Watch Series 6
Aluminum Apple Watch Series 6


I'll freely admit that I'm not your average Apple Watch user. Beyond being an Apple-primary user, I work at AppleInsider, so it was a foregone conclusion that I'd upgrade my Apple Watch when a new model was released.

At launch, I wasn't overly excited by many of the Apple Watch Series 6 features, and I still had a preference for the stainless steel. That made it a more costly decision than it otherwise would be getting a new aluminum model.





In the end, for my personal watch, I opted to go with the graphite stainless steel Apple Watch Series 6 in the larger 44mm size.

What Apple Watch Series 6 had to offer

There's no need to entirely rehash what's new on the Apple Watch Series 6. As a high-level overview, the Apple Watch Series 6 features the S6 SiP that Apple says is 20 percent faster than the prior generation, a brighter display, three new color choices, a new blood oxygenation measurement, an always-on altimeter, faster charging, and the U1 chip.

At the same time we also got watchOS 7 and a bevy of new Apple Watch bands.

Was the Apple Watch Series 6 worth the upgrade?

I don't particularly notice a performance increase on the new Apple Watch with my typical tasks. Perhaps Siri is slightly snappier but hard to tell without having two models side-by-side. I never use the blood oxygen app, though I'll admit I may not be the target audience.

Measure your blood oxygen levels with Apple Watch Series 6
Measure your blood oxygen levels with Apple Watch Series 6


Apple did include the U1 chip here, but it remains a table-setting for the future. In the future, it will be used for things like unlocking and starting your vehicle, finding Apple Tags, and other new experiences -- but none of that is today.

If I planned to keep this watch for a couple of years, I'd inevitably get some use out of the U1, but it may not ever come into play if I plan to upgrade again in late-2021.

The screen improvements have been helpful, though. I'm outside quite a bit, working on the house, hiking, and taking pictures. On the Apple Watch Series 5, the always-on display was hard to read while in direct sunlight. The new brightness is noticeable, obvious, and welcomed.

Faster charging is welcomed
Faster charging is welcomed


The faster charging battery is perhaps the most obvious improvement of the bunch. It only takes an hour and a half to charge the Apple Watch Series 6 in its entirety and is more important now due to sleep tracking.

It charges fast enough that I can toss my watch on the charger while I get ready for the day in the morning and a bit while I'm in the shower at night. That's all I need to make it through the day without issue, and it would be harder to pull off with slower charging.

Black stainless steel lugs don't match graphite Apple Watch Series 6
Black stainless steel lugs don't match graphite Apple Watch Series 6


On the other hand, the graphite color means that any black stainless steel lugs I had in the past no longer match. Graphite looks good on its own, but it is a bit too close to the silver, and to date, no one is producing graphite lugs -- not even Apple offers them other than the updated graphite Milanese loop.

Cumulatively, these features don't add up to a massive new experience for users from the previous generation. It is a massive jump from the Apple Watch Series 4, though.

It's less about the watch itself

It's not always about the specs of the hardware. Apple's watchOS 7 and the new Apple Watch bands change things up -- both of which apply to recent models of Apple Watch and not just the Apple Watch Series 6.

braided Solo loop
Braided Solo loop


I'm still not a fan of the death of Force Touch. While the new watch omitted the gasket hardware necessary for the feature, watchOS 7 killed the feature on any Apple Watch that included the hardware. They probably did this for a consistent user interface across all generations

The lack still makes so many aspects of interacting with the Apple Watch worse than what it was. I want this feature to return desperately, but I'm under no illusion that this will ever happen.

On the positive side, watchOS 7 has been a considerable upgrade that has been one of the most transformative. Native sleep tracking, while it has a way to go, has been great, and I've used it nearly every day.

I also love the changes to watch faces. Finding curated ones online is fun the ability to change them based on the time of day via Shortcuts is clutch. It's convenient to have one face during the day that shows my calendar and meetings. Then, at 5 PM, it automatically switches to another that highlights my activity progress-- all without my interaction.

I love the new Leather Link bands
I love the new Leather Link bands


Then we have the new Apple Watch bands. The Leather Link is perhaps my favorite Apple Watch band of all time. It is comfortable to wear, it's easy to adjust, and it is perfect for sleeping in.

Do I regret upgrading?

When it all boils down, the question that presents itself is whether or not I regret upgrading my Apple Watch this time around. It's a question I've thought a lot about, and in the end, I don't -- but I am disappointed. I was disappointed in how much of a daily difference the Apple Watch Series 6 improvements have made. I'd likely be almost as happy if I still had the Series 5 with the Leather Link band and watchOS 7.

Apple Watch Series 6 is fantastic, but not a huge daily difference from the Series 5
Apple Watch Series 6 is fantastic, but not a huge daily difference from the Series 5


That isn't to say that the Apple Watch Series 6 is a bad Apple Watch. This is absolutely the best Apple Watch to date, and its improvements are significant. Apple's is adding narrower, more focused health features, which means they won't always appeal to everyone.

Other aspects are about making the watch more beneficial long-term. The U1 chip we still haven't seen come into play, and its speed will be vital to ensure it can run new versions of watchOS in several years.

My disappointment in the year-over-year hardware changes makes it clear that in the future, the software is going to be even more critical than ever in the success of Apple Watch.
muthuk_vanalingam

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 17
    Glad I updated from series 5 to 6. Of all my Apple devices it is the one that I use constantly all day long because it’s on my wrist. I am amazed at all the different things that I use it for.
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 2 of 17
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 1,901member
    I’m not an every generation upgrader for anything—it seems odd to me to expect the year to year change to blow us away _every_ year!  
    My third generation watch was working just fine when I pulled the trigger for a AW6. LOL!  If you want to be blown away just let it go a few years!! 

    NumNutsStrangeDaysselleringtonwatto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 3 of 17
    auxioauxio Posts: 2,236member
    bageljoey said:
    My third generation watch was working just fine when I pulled the trigger for a AW6. LOL!  If you want to be blown away just let it go a few years!! 
    I went from a Series 2 to the 6.  Talk about a mind-blowing difference!
    qwerty52watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 4 of 17
    I have upgraded my Stainless Steel Apple Watch every year since the first Apple Watch 0 ... except this year.  I get the stainless steel because it can be polished and can continue to look band new through its lifetime.  I always hand my watches down to family or spouse... someone always needs an upgrade; so I never feel like I am wasting $$ upgrading yearly if someone else continues to use it.  I did have a 6 on order, but for me the big feature would have been the SpO2 sensor.  However, when I heard numerous reviews that the Blood Oxygen Sensor was so un-reliable, and had to be sitting on your wrist "just right" to get an accurate reading I cancelled my order.  I was hoping your review would touch on this, as there are very few 6 month followup reviews like this.  I've had no issues with my 5, so I don't regret skipping the 6 at all.  I haven't heard anything about WatchOS updates improving the accuracy, so I guess I'll wait and see what the 7 has to offer.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 17
    My disappointment in the year-over-year hardware changes makes it clear that in the future, the software is going to be even more critical than ever in the success of Apple Watch.
    As products mature, the iterations become smaller. I don't know any non-enthusiasts who consider upgrading their AW each and every year. I mean if that's your bag, sure, go for it. But not normal upgrade cycle.
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 6 of 17

    proto732 said:
    I have upgraded my Stainless Steel Apple Watch every year since the first Apple Watch 0 ... except this year.  I get the stainless steel because it can be polished and can continue to look band new through its lifetime.  I always hand my watches down to family or spouse... someone always needs an upgrade; so I never feel like I am wasting $$ upgrading yearly if someone else continues to use it.  I did have a 6 on order, but for me the big feature would have been the SpO2 sensor.  However, when I heard numerous reviews that the Blood Oxygen Sensor was so un-reliable, and had to be sitting on your wrist "just right" to get an accurate reading I cancelled my order.  I was hoping your review would touch on this, as there are very few 6 month followup reviews like this.  I've had no issues with my 5, so I don't regret skipping the 6 at all.  I haven't heard anything about WatchOS updates improving the accuracy, so I guess I'll wait and see what the 7 has to offer.  
    Have not heard this. Per Apple, the Watch just has to be worn snugly, not loosely. Some people like the loose watch, I've always warn mine snug.

    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211027


    edited February 25 qwerty52watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 7 of 17
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,883member
    My disappointment in the year-over-year hardware changes makes it clear that in the future, the software is going to be even more critical than ever in the success of Apple Watch.
    As products mature, the iterations become smaller. I don't know any non-enthusiasts who consider upgrading their AW each and every year. I mean if that's your bag, sure, go for it. But not normal upgrade cycle.
    This. It's been true with the iPhone as well. A single year upgrade is rarely worth it for anyone except technophiles and bloggers whose job it is to have the latest device. 

    I'm still on my series 3 that's serving me well. A larger screen might be nice, and it would be really nice to have the display on while it's charging so I can use it as a clock on my nightstand, but in the end spending $450 for a new watch with a few features that I don't really miss right now just doesn't make sense.




    proto732 said:
    I have upgraded my Stainless Steel Apple Watch every year since the first Apple Watch 0 ... except this year.  I get the stainless steel because it can be polished and can continue to look band new through its lifetime.  I always hand my watches down to family or spouse... someone always needs an upgrade; so I never feel like I am wasting $$ upgrading yearly if someone else continues to use it.  I did have a 6 on order, but for me the big feature would have been the SpO2 sensor.  However, when I heard numerous reviews that the Blood Oxygen Sensor was so un-reliable, and had to be sitting on your wrist "just right" to get an accurate reading I cancelled my order.  I was hoping your review would touch on this, as there are very few 6 month followup reviews like this.  I've had no issues with my 5, so I don't regret skipping the 6 at all.  I haven't heard anything about WatchOS updates improving the accuracy, so I guess I'll wait and see what the 7 has to offer.  
    Have not heard this. Per Apple, the Watch just has to be worn snugly, not loosely. Some people like the loose watch, I've always warn mine snug.

    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211027
    I haven't heard it either but it's not terribly surprising. spO2 sensors work by measuring the relative absorption and/or reflection of different wavelengths of light and in general have trouble with motion artifact. Having the watch loose on your wrist would make the measurement very difficult. 
    edited February 25 Dogpersonwatto_cobralolliverlarrya
  • Reply 8 of 17
    Have six Apple devices and no watch as yet, because of the display. OLED is a expensive, but limited technology and will only get weaker as it ages. I'm waiting for the MicroLED display to evaluate. The brighter image in sunlight, the lower energy requirements and much greater consistent quality display might justify me getting one. With a small form factor it is even more important to have sharp and bright viewing. Want it to last long enough to make the investment worthwhile.
  • Reply 9 of 17
    Great video review!  I have a use case for watch that I love.  I own two, and buy a new one every two or three versions.  I sleep with the watch so I can track via Autosleep, a detailed sleep tracker.  Every morning I switch the watch so never need to worry about battery life.   Currently I have the 4 and 6, and one is aluminum.  I also have just one on cellular, and don’t seem to miss it on the off days.  So, two watches, two bands ... I find the swap routine to be fun in addition to being very functional for sleep tracking.  And I love both watches, so this allows me to get 2 years or more from each. 
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 10 of 17
    Have six Apple devices and no watch as yet, because of the display. OLED is a expensive, but limited technology and will only get weaker as it ages. I'm waiting for the MicroLED display to evaluate. The brighter image in sunlight, the lower energy requirements and much greater consistent quality display might justify me getting one. With a small form factor it is even more important to have sharp and bright viewing. Want it to last long enough to make the investment worthwhile.
    How long do you need  Watch to last to make it worthwhile? I'm typing this on my 2011 MacBook Air which is by far my oldest Apple device which is coming up to 10 years old. I am currently on my third  Watch Series 5 s/s having upgraded from the original to Series 3 before this.
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 11 of 17
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,883member
    Have six Apple devices and no watch as yet, because of the display. OLED is a expensive, but limited technology and will only get weaker as it ages. I'm waiting for the MicroLED display to evaluate. The brighter image in sunlight, the lower energy requirements and much greater consistent quality display might justify me getting one. With a small form factor it is even more important to have sharp and bright viewing. Want it to last long enough to make the investment worthwhile.
    How long do you need  Watch to last to make it worthwhile? I'm typing this on my 2011 MacBook Air which is by far my oldest Apple device which is coming up to 10 years old. I am currently on my third  Watch Series 5 s/s having upgraded from the original to Series 3 before this.
    That was my thought, too. My series 3 is working just fine after 3 years, and I’ve never had an issue seeing it in sunlight. Unless it suddenly becomes unusable in the next the year the concerns about OLED longevity are misguided at best. As far as the cost goes, micro LED will certainly be expensive, too. More expensive than OLED, I’d bet. 

    Essentially, David is saying it’s not worth getting the benefit of an Apple Watch for 4+ years simply because he thinks a better display might come along. Doesn’t really make sense. 
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobralolliverselleringtonlarrya
  • Reply 12 of 17
    auxio said:
    bageljoey said:
    My third generation watch was working just fine when I pulled the trigger for a AW6. LOL!  If you want to be blown away just let it go a few years!! 
    I went from a Series 2 to the 6.  Talk about a mind-blowing difference!

    For me, going from a Series 1 to a Series 4 LTE was a mind blowing difference -- it has, in many ways, replaced my iPhone.

    But, the dirth of major new features in the 6th generation is typical of a maturing product.   We see the same in the iPhone:  while each is improved over the prior models the major improvements are simply more sporadic and less dramatic -- and people are switching from bi-annual replacements to 3-5 years.

    While the Apple Watch has not matured to that extent, it is definitely maturing and its rate of significant upgrades is slowing and becoming more sporadic.

    But, that said, as Andrew pointed out, the fast charging could be significant for those of use who wear it through the night and charge in the morning.   It takes well over an hour for my Series 4 to fully charge in the morning.   And, I feel kind of naked without it.
    tjweadockjr
  • Reply 13 of 17
    This is the year for Apple change for my wife and I. She went from 15 year old iBook to a MacBook Air M1 (which I share. My 10 year old iMac is on its last legs). She went from iPhone SE (1st generation to SE 2020) but hasn’t upgraded her iPad. 
    I went from iPhone 8 to iPhone mini 12 and have spent a week going between Verizon and Apple to get it activated and to pair with my hearing aids. 
    I’m still using my iPad Air 2 to type this. 
    I have an iWatch 2nd generation, but after reading this article I think I’ll stick with it. It tells time and I can see the face. I really wanted it for my last watch and the health apps, but I’ll pass. 
    I love Apple and have had their products from their launch. 
    At ages 80 and 78 I’ll wait to see what iWatch 7 has to offer (maybe longevity?)!
    Keep up the good work Apple and reviewers keep up your excellent work!


    GeorgeBMacselleringtonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 17
    This is the year for Apple change for my wife and I. She went from 15 year old iBook to a MacBook Air M1 (which I share. My 10 year old iMac is on its last legs). She went from iPhone SE (1st generation to SE 2020) but hasn’t upgraded her iPad. 
    I went from iPhone 8 to iPhone mini 12 and have spent a week going between Verizon and Apple to get it activated and to pair with my hearing aids. 
    I’m still using my iPad Air 2 to type this. 
    I have an iWatch 2nd generation, but after reading this article I think I’ll stick with it. It tells time and I can see the face. I really wanted it for my last watch and the health apps, but I’ll pass. 
    I love Apple and have had their products from their launch. 
    At ages 80 and 78 I’ll wait to see what iWatch 7 has to offer (maybe longevity?)!
    Keep up the good work Apple and reviewers keep up your excellent work!



    Being a nurse, I recommend a newer Apple Watch with LTE for older folks (like us) because:  it has both a built in phone and fall detection.   So, it works as one of those "I've fallen and I can't get up" things -- except its better.   I seldom saw people wear those things in the shower or when they got up at night (2 of the most dangerous times) but, being waterproof you can wear the watch everywhere (mine is only off to charge it).   And, the fall detection works!  (I tripped on a rock while out in the woods and woke up face down with my watch tapping me on my wrist asking if I had fallen and if it should call 911 for me.

    Best of luck with all your new purchases though!
    selleringtonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 17
    For what is worth: I have (mild) asthma and some lung issues. Measured watch O2 against pro grade medical equipment twice. 
    - measurement error is below 1% (when done right)
    - one “fake” reading (around 89) during an spirometry. Re-did it. In line with medical equipment

    My take is that if you (more or less) know how your breath is going, the measurement is good enough as to not justify buying a separate device. And yes, sometimes you waste time measuring  and the measure can be wrong once in a while.  

    Just my 2c

    proto732 said:
    I have upgraded my Stainless Steel Apple Watch every year since the first Apple Watch 0 ... except this year.  I get the stainless steel because it can be polished and can continue to look band new through its lifetime.  I always hand my watches down to family or spouse... someone always needs an upgrade; so I never feel like I am wasting $$ upgrading yearly if someone else continues to use it.  I did have a 6 on order, but for me the big feature would have been the SpO2 sensor.  However, when I heard numerous reviews that the Blood Oxygen Sensor was so un-reliable, and had to be sitting on your wrist "just right" to get an accurate reading I cancelled my order.  I was hoping your review would touch on this, as there are very few 6 month followup reviews like this.  I've had no issues with my 5, so I don't regret skipping the 6 at all.  I haven't heard anything about WatchOS updates improving the accuracy, so I guess I'll wait and see what the 7 has to offer.  

    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 16 of 17
    I have a Series 5 Gold SS which I like. I did buy a Blue Series 6 but after trying it couldn’t tell that much difference between the two and returned it. There is talk of the Series 7 having the ability to monitor glucose. If that happens then I will be buying it for that reason since I'm Type2 diabetic. If it doesn’t then there’s going to have to be a REALLY compelling reason to buy it. 
    sellerington
  • Reply 17 of 17
    bageljoey said:
    I’m not an every generation upgrader for anything—it seems odd to me to expect the year to year change to blow us away _every_ year!  
    My third generation watch was working just fine when I pulled the trigger for a AW6. LOL!  If you want to be blown away just let it go a few years!! 

    I was happy with my Series 3 aluminium cellular until I saw the Series 5 s/s on sale for half price. I like it but I wouldn’t normally pay the price premium for s/s. I’m tempted by the leather straps with magnetic fastenings but I wonder if they might feel loose compared to the Nike Sport band I wear now? Also do the magnets lose strength over time?
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