Apple Watch Series 6: The Best Smartwatch You Can Buy
PC Magazine|November 2020
The Apple Watch has been our longstanding Editors’ Choice for its excellent performance, unparalleled app selection, and ample health- and fitness-tracking features. With the Series 6, Apple builds upon its flagship smartwatch with the addition of a blood oxygen saturation sensor that calculates your SpO2 level on demand and captures periodic background measurements when you’re sleeping and inactive. Putting this technology in a consumer wearable has never been more important given the global COVID-19 pandemic, as it indicates how well your circulatory and respiratory systems are delivering oxygenated blood to your body and can help you gauge whether a hospital visit is necessary.

Beyond this, Apple’s changes include a faster processor, an always-on altimeter that lets you see your elevation in real time, and a bump in screen brightness when your wrist is down. These improvements, plus many new additions in watchOS 7, including a 20-second hand-washing timer and sleep-tracking capabilities, make the Apple Watch Series 6 the company’s best smartwatch yet and our new Editors’ Choice.

PRICING

Apple introduced two new smartwatches this year, the flagship Series 6 and the more affordable Watch SE. The Series 6 starts at $399 for the GPS-only model and $100 more for the GPS and cellular version.

The Watch SE, which shares design elements with the Series 6 along with key health and safety features like fall detection, starts at $279 for the GPS-only model or $329 for the GPS and cellular version. It lacks an always-on display, as well as blood oxygen saturation and electrocardiogram (ECG) readings.

The GPS-only Series 3 remains on sale for just $199 as another budget-friendly option. All models require a paired iPhone, so Android users are out of luck.

The Series 6 comes in 40mm and 44mm case sizes and three different case materials: 100 percent recycled aluminum, polished stainless steel, or brushed titanium. Apple is also giving you some new jewel-toned colors to choose from this year. The aluminum Series 6 is available in new navy-blue and red, as well as gold, silver, and space-gray. The stainless steel model comes in a new classic yellow-gold tone, a grayish-black called Graphite, and silver. The titanium model comes in Natural Titanium and Space Black.

Apple Watch Series 6

PROS

Measures blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) on demand. Always-on altimeter for real-time elevation tracking. Improved wrist-down screen brightness. WatchOS 7 adds handwashing countdown timer and sleep tracking. Fast new processor. Best third-party app selection. Attractive new watch colors and band options.

CONS

Expensive. Offers only a slight battery life improvement

BOTTOM LINE

With an unrivaled user experience, fantastic apps, and potentially lifesaving health and fitness features, the Apple Watch Series 6 is the best smartwatch you can buy.

Swapping out the strap is a big part of the Apple Watch experience for a lot of people, and this year Apple debuted some nice options, including the $49 Solo Loop (which you can choose to get with the watch instead of the default Sport Loop) and the $99 Braided Solo Loop. Both feature no clasps, buckles, or overlapping parts and are available in a range of colors. They stretch over your wrist and come in nine different sizes to ensure a good fit. The Solo Loop is made of liquid silicone rubber, and the Braided version is made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled yarn that is braided around a thin silicone thread.

For this review, I tested a 40mm GPS and cellular Series 6 with a blue aluminum case and a deep navy Sport Loop. Apple also sent a matching Atlantic Blue Braided Solo Loop band in size 4, which fits perfectly on my wrist. It looks chic, yet understated and casual. It feels secure and is easy to get on and off, but its $99 price is hard to swallow. For the sake of comparison, the fancy Milanese Loop is also $99.

Apple includes a charging cable in the watch’s box, but you don’t get a USB power adapter. The company says it made this decision to help the environment, and it will have the same impact as eliminating 50,000 cars from the roads.

DESIGN

Like it or not, the Series 6 has the distinctive squarish design with rounded corners the Apple Watch is known for. The 40mm model measures 1.56 by 1.35 by 0.42 inches (HWD), while the 44mm model is a touch taller and wider but the same thickness, at 1.73 by 1.48 by 0.42 inches.

Looking at the Series 6 next to the Series 5, it’s hard to see a difference aside from the case color and band. Indeed, Apple hasn’t made any changes to the size or resolution of the display. To that end, the 40mm model has a 1.57-inch display with 394 by 324 pixels, while the 44mm Series 6 has a 1.73-inch display with 448 by 368 pixels.

The Series 6 is light and comfortable on my wrist, even when I wear it to bed. The 40mm and 44mm aluminum models weigh 1.07 ounces and 1.28 ounces, respectively, without the strap. The stainless steel models are the heaviest at 1.40 ounces and 1.66 ounces, and the titanium models weigh 1.22 ounces and 1.45 ounces.

The Series 6 is water-resistant to 165 feet. Apple says it’s safe for shallow-water activities such as swimming (in a pool or the ocean). You can also wear it in the shower and hot tub. You shouldn’t, however, wear it while scuba diving, waterskiing, or “other activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth,” Apple says.

SETUP AND INTERFACE

The Series 6 comes partially charged. As soon as you take it out of the box and turn it on, a screen appears on your iPhone asking if you want to set the watch up for yourself or someone else using Apple’s new Family Setup service. It then instructs you to put on the watch, hold it up to your phone’s camera, and align the watch face with the viewfinder on screen to pair it. As soon as I did this, it said the Apple Watch was paired and asked me if I wanted to restore from a backup or set it up as a new watch. I regularly use the Series 5, so I chose to restore from that device.

You have the option to enable the Blood Oxygen app during the setup process, which lets you check your blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) levels and measure them throughout the day; you can also turn this feature on later. Next, you have the option to enable automatic updates; if you do, you’ll receive a notification before an update is installed. It then asks if you want to set up Apple Pay.

Next, it goes over the Emergency SOS and fall-detection features. To call emergency services, press and hold the side button. Doing so will also send a message to your emergency contacts. With fall detection enabled, the watch will call emergency services when it detects that you took a hard fall. You can disable this feature in the Apple Watch app.

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