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Apple Watch Series 6

$399 AT APPLE

PROS

  • 2.5 x Brighter screen is always-on and easy to read even when dimmed
  • New blood-oxygen-level monitoring
  • Battery life management features let you run without your iPhone with plenty to spare

CONS

  • The data from the SpO2 monitor can be confusing for some
  • If you want to utilize the sleep tracking capabilities you will need to recharge it

In this article, we are taking a look at the upgraded Series 6 Apple Watch model. We have drawn on some of the info from a comparison Vanessa Hand Orellana shared on cnet. In her opinion, a lot of the features from the previous-gen model have been perfected or expanded upon. 

So what’s changed? The display now has an always-on mode and is generally much brighter. The processing chip has seen a complete overhaul. It now fully charges in less time and the color options aren’t as limited. Of course, the feature that everyone is talking about is the new SpO2 sensor that Vanessa couldn’t wait to try. It is equipped to take readings of oxygen saturation in the blood with nothing but a simple screen tap. 

Vanessa was pretty candid with readers. She divulged that with the recent pandemic she had purchased a pulse oximeter to check her levels regularly. So the addition of the SpO2 meter in a watch she could wear at all times was pretty interesting and gave her comfort.

It should be mentioned that the SpO2 is an early-stage release. This means that it hasn’t been fully tried and tested. The existing Apple Watch ECG feature has been cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The ECG (electrocardiogram) feature first made an appearance on the Series 4 Watch. It alerts users to irregular heart rhythm rather than oxygen saturation. As it is not yet perfected the SpO2 data can be tough to interpret unless you are a medical professional, at least that is how Vanessa felt about it.

The Series 6 is now the only Apple Watch available with the ECG feature, as the S5 has been discontinued. 

APPLE S6

SpO2 Isn’t Fool-Proof

With the fears of COVID-19 lurking and cases steadily rising, having some sense of your blood-oxygen levels could help give peace of mind. It isn’t a sure-fire sign you have COVID but it is listed as a major symptom. 

With that in mind, as we mentioned Vanessa had already gotten her hands on an FDA-cleared pulse oximeter. This was initially to calm her worries after hearing some of the horror stories reported about levels dipping. Having something to give her a reference eased her mind. Especially if she experienced any shortness of breath another symptom of the virus.  Pandemic fears aside, it gave her the means to uniquely compare the new SpO2 meter capabilities.

Apple themselves state that their new feature doesn’t make the watch a medical device and should be used purely for wellness purposes. You should always check with a physician if you have any health concerns.

The pulse oximeter was like a standard hospital device, made to be placed on a fingertip. It shines a light through to calculate your oxygen levels based on the darkness of your blood.

The Apple Watch S6 functions similarly. It harbors a brand new sensor that reflects red and infrared light through the blood vessels of your wrist instead of your fingertip.

Activating the SpO2 tracking is an option during the setup process that can be disabled afterward if you prefer. It is pretty simple to do, you strap the watch on and open the Blood Oxygen app. It works best if you have a flat surface to rest your arm on during readings. The reading takes 15 seconds and has a visual countdown.

Generally speaking the higher the better, with anything above 90% being healthy. Vanessa tested it while staying sedentary and had an average reading of 95%.

The percentage wavered ever so slightly a point or two each way as the testing was repeated. When compared at the same time as wearing her finger-tip monitor the Apple was off by a margin of 1-2 points on a few occasions.

Skin temperature and positioning can factor in and be held accountable for any discrepancies. On the whole, Vannessa was satisfied that it was accurate enough.  

Health App Blood Oxygen Data Collection

Much more impressive was the fact that the SpO2 collects your data over long periods. It stores it for reading in the Health App. This gives it an edge over the competition. The Galaxy Watch 3 for example has a similar oxygen level meter but is only capable of one-off spot checks. For Vanessa, it was a big advantage and something her pulse oximeter couldn’t keep an automatic track of either.

Image credit: itrew.ru

With the SpO2 activated the Apple Watch can take background measurements day and night. You can check your data measurements in a graph format via the dashboards Respiratory option. The graph can display the data using daily, weekly or monthly filters. You can even get specific views. You can compare data at certain times of the day or by selecting different blood-oxygen levels by percentage. But as Vanessa said interpreting what it means for you is tricky without a professional opinion.

During her six days of use, Vannesa found she had readings that were typically between 95% and 100%. The lower readings were usually taken overnight when breathing rate generally reduces anyway. 

On two occasions she had levels that dropped as low as 92%, which is low-end healthy reading. These dips can sometimes be an indicator of sleep-related conditions or respiratory issues. So naturally, it sent Vannessa’s mind whirling. 

Truthfully, you can’t expect the Apple Watch SpO2 data to diagnose any underlying condition. But, by examining long-term data you could probably detect any big changes. Vanessa suggested that an alert system similar to the ECG irregular rhythm tech could be a help. It would be ideal to warn you if your saturation levels were suddenly unusual for your history.

So what of the future? Apple is working hard on mastering the technology to bring users a more comprehensive service. They have launched 3 separate SpO2-related studies. They are aiming to analyze data that is specific to asthma sufferers and other respiratory illnesses.

 2 x Brighter Display

The Apple Watch Series 6 doesn’t look much different at first glance from the Series 5 model but has a few changes worth a look at. Most notable, the sensors on its back.

The shape is essentially the same as it was and the display retains its always-on status. That said, if you compare them side by side like Vanessa did then you notice the brightness has changed considerably. Apple has made it two-and-a-half times brighter to ensure it remains visible to the wearer even when it dims during inactive use. 

Apple has also updated the model with a new facelift. The series 6 models now sport a trendier metallic-inspired finish. They are available in traditional silver, space gray, and gold finishes.

Vanessa chose a red aluminum frame that can be blue instead should you wish. Alternatively, you can opt for a stainless steel framed version that has a new gold finish as standard. 

New Claspless Bands and Watch Face Designs 

Apple’s new Solo Loop concept does away with pesky clasps for good making it far easier to slip on. It is made with a new type of silicone similar to a sports band and has no overlapping parts whatsoever.

It is stretchy, smooth, and convenient but you will need to make sure you get your wrist measurement right before you fork out on your purchase. Vanessa explains that it felt secure but that she thought a size smaller would have been far too tight. Likewise, a size up would have been too big. 

The black size 4 strap she ordered was perfect for her. Though it felt tight initially, it stretched a little. She mentioned that it was soon very comfortable, much more than her S5 strap had been. She did however state that she wonders if it might stretch a little more with long-term use but that is yet to be seen. 

As the band itself retails from Apple at $49 alone like their other silicone sports bands it is a pricy investment not to get right. So, make sure you have a measuring tape available and use it correctly to be on the safe side. 

Image credit: appleinsider.com

Despite her worries about it overstretching she did think it was a far comfier option for children. Given its flexibility and lack of fiddly clasp. This has likely driven some of the design changes. Apple is more child-orientated these days with their Family Setup enabled products becoming increasingly popular.

If you don’t know much about the Family Setup feature it enables you to hook up a secondary Apple watch without the need for another iPhone.

This gives parents control over several useful features, including setting limits for when it can be used. This can be done manually or via the handy School Time Mode. You can also decide which of your iPhones contacts the watch user has access to and program location alerts so you know where they are. This is also useful if the watch gets left somewhere or misplaced.

The watch face itself is now customizable. Apple has updated it with a range of sweet Animoji and Memoji display themes. They can be created within the watch settings itself and will probably be a real hit with the youngsters. Being an adult, Vanessa wasn’t entirely sold on how long she would keep one but had fun testing the feature out.

Changes to the Processing Speed and Battery Life

Another big upgrade is the Apple Watch Series 6 processor. Based on the iPhone 11/11Pro’s  A13 Bionic chip it allows the watch to function effectively and is much faster than the series 5 model. It might not be a visible change but it is a game-changer. 

Apps load with ease, stats are given in real-time and messages don’t have any delay. Vanessa didn’t feel that her Series 5 was any slower but agrees that the faster processing upgrade has other great benefits. Namely the processing capabilities to run the company’s new U1 chip. It supports ultrawide-band use improving spatial awareness between multiple devices. 

This essentially paves the way for Apple’s up and coming features like CarKey that is developed to turn your device into a key fob.

This faster processor requires a little extra power so as a result the battery life hasn’t been upgraded very much. The Series 5 gave out around 6 hours between charges and the Series 6 offers little more. 

Vanessa found this a little disappointing especially considering the Apple Watches new sleep tracking capabilities. If users want to benefit from this they will likely want to run it almost 24/7. She did however find that some of the built-in battery life management options adapted to specific types of workouts allow it to run for up to 18 hours as Apple has boasted.

A GPS-only run without her iPhone for example allowed her 30 minutes and she still had around 70% battery left. With a 30% top-up, she could track her sleep all night for 7-8 hours and still have a little left for a couple of hours when she woke. 

Unlike previous models, the always-on display mode can be easily disabled on the S6 if you want to buy yourself a little extra use between charges.

Charging on the new model takes 1.5 hours compared to the 2hrs of the S5.  This gives you less of a wait but if you’re very active like Vanessa you might find you haven’t got the time to wait, leaving you charging it in partial bursts. It is also important to note that the Apple S6 only comes with a cable and magnetic pluck so you will have to source a wall charger separately.

Force Touch is a Now a Thing of the Past 

Although it still provides the haptic feedback that  Force Touch gave you the latest version of WatchOS has axed Force Touch altogether across all devices.

Instead, a long-press is required to perform different actions. It might take a little getting used to if you are previously accustomed. Vanessa found switching from grid view to list view for your app screen and other actions somehow less satisfying. You can use the long-press to rearrange or delete as you would on your iPhone but changing to list view is now done via  Settings. 

Real-Time Alerts for Cardio, Elevation, and Fitness

The WatchOS 7update gives all watches the Fitness features. You can track different activities such as dancing and core training. However, the Series 6 and Apple Watch SE models support an always-on altimeter. This means they give the users elevation readings in real-time. Perfect for outdoor workouts.

You can monitor your cardio fitness with its integrated Vo2 max reading. It helps to keep track of another important health indicator by projecting your maximum oxygen consumption on the go. Apple is working on a notification feature to run alongside it which should be ready to launch next year.

New Fitness Plus Service Tailored to the Apple Watch

Another future feature Apple is excited will improve user experience is the Fitness Plus subscription service. It will let wearers select from a wide range of streamable content straight to your device. So you can watch and workout. 

It will reportedly have an auto-start feature and display your stats in pictures. Instructors will soon be able to use the Apple Watch as a tool to train or motivate you and adapt workouts according to the data.

Unfortunately, as it won’t be launched until later in the year Vanessa couldn’t test this one out. A yearly subscription to Fitness Plus will retail at $80 (£80, AU$120) but there will also be an option to pay monthly at $9.99 (£9.99, AU$14.99) a month.

SmartWatch Competition and Selling Points

The S6 is hands-down one of the best SmartWatch options, the only choice if you want an always-on display as well as the ECG alert app. 

However, Apple is competing against itself with the Apple Watch SE model. As it undercuts the S6 by more than a hundred bucks the big question is will the SpO2 monitor sway the jury?

Vanessa had a lot of praise for its Data Collection via the Health App and also thought the brighter screen upgrade was a huge selling point. She said going back to the S5 would be disappointing after trying the new mode out.

With studies and trials underway perhaps the blood-oxygen saturation monitor will become the next must-have and blow the rest of the competition out of the water.

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