Apple Watch Series 6 review: More features on a feature-rich wearable

Mala Bhargava | Updated on: Nov 03, 2020

Wash your hands, check your oxygen level and workout with this iPhone health companion

This September, the Apple Watch has moved on to Series 6 and comes with iterative updates to what is already quite an evolved smartwatch. If it weren’t for brand new straps and watch faces, I might not immediately have noticed I was wearing a new watch because Series 6 doesn’t come with any major physical design changes. And nor were any seriously expected.

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It isn’t really Apple’s way to go redoing designs for the sake of a new look. You can see that with the new iPhone 12 series too. And so, the new watch comes in a familiar form factor and I soon begin to feel like the old watch never left. Like me, many Watch users will feel comfortable with that because a disruption to a design that works and looks good isn’t welcome.

I unboxed the watch and had a moment of confusion looking for the charger when I remembered Apple wasn’t any longer including one in the box. Although this is supposed to be a way of reducing e-waste, no one quite buys that story and sees it as a an extremely rich company trying to extract more money. It’s certainly an inconvenience for those who are totally new to this watch. Original adaptors aren’t cheap. But this is how it’s going to be and other companies will probably follow suit.

New finishes and bands

But moving on to what’s new on the Series 6, first of all there are some new finishes and bands that are always attractive. There’s a brilliant Product Red with a band to match which looks great except that it might limit your outfit matching. There’s also a dark blue model which looks sophisticated. This time’s new band style is called the Solo Loop and it just snaps on if you’ve measured for the right size. My unit is in stainless steel and goes quite beautifully with a steely Milanese Loop.

An immediately visible change is that the always-on display of the Series 6 is now brighter and nicely responsive to the watch being raised up for a glance. It also has a bunch of new watch faces which always come as icing on the cake. There’s a Memoji watch face which people are bound to play with, several that have big typographic numbers, a face with colourful adjustable stripes, and an Artist watch face that keeps changing the image every time you look at it.

Blood Oxygen

One of the most talked-about new additions to the Series 6 is exclusive to it and that’s the SpO2 reading. You can bet I immediately and repeatedly tried this out and wondered whether to be alarmed at my readings in these times. Unless you wear the watch correctly and sit unmoving with your arm in a good position you can end up either getting a measurement failure or readings that are too variable.

I learnt the hard way to be careful and now get consistent readings that are different from the pulse oximeter by a one or two percentage points. The watch uses infra-red imaging to gauge the colour and hemoglobin level. You can take spot readings but the watch also measures oxygen in the background including during sleep.

Unlike the ECG sensor, the SpO2 sensor doesn’t have medical clearance and Apple’s official stand on this is that it isn’t meant for medical diagnosis. That’s why no low oxygen alerts will go out either. Of course, it can be used as a rough measure during this time of the pandemic but it’s best to remember that a random low reading shouldn’t be cause for alarm.

Athletes, specially hikers, will find the oxygen measurement useful, specially when they look at the trends and correlate that with activities. For everyone else, it’s really good to have, specially right now. You can see your broader Sp02 trends in the Health App on the iPhone. There’s also an always-on altimeter sensor on the new watch.

Updated OS

Some of the features that come to the Series 6 are thanks to the upgrade also of the operating system WatchOS 7, which also works on other recent Apple Watch versions. One of these is a 20-second timer that triggers itself when the watch hears and senses you washing your hands. I found you have to move quite vigorously for it to kick off and I’ve sometimes walked away after washing my hands and no sign of the watch noticing.

Another feature that comes with WatchOS 7 is sleep tracking, but there are two problems with this. The tracking is far too basic and you don’t get as detailed information as you would with third party apps. The other is that not many people like wearing a solid watch to sleep. That itself might interfere with my sleep, actually. It also means that you give up on night charging. You need 30% charge on the watch to track sleep in the first place.

There are many smaller improvements to the watch and OS including more workouts to track and credit to workouts that are difficult to track such as dancing. There are improvements to Siri and shortcuts, and recording memos. There’s a new family mode which lets you use more than one watch with an iPhone. And yes, remember that the Apple Watch only works with an iPhone. Anyone on recent Apple Watch variants don’t really need to upgrade, unless they very much want a specific feature. Minus the advanced health sensors, there’s also the Apple Watch SE to consider for new or additional users.

Price: Starting ₹40,900

Pros : Added Sp02 sensor, improvements to speed, performance, battery and display, better and more workout tracking, new styles and accessories

Cons : Expensive, tied into ecosystem, sleep tracking too basic, cost of ownership can be high if one factors in optional accessories

Published on October 20, 2020
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