I skipped the Series 5* but got the Series 6. Is it worth it?
tl:dr: Getting the newest Apple Watch is not like upgrading your iPad or MacBook. Changes — like a brighter always-on display — are much more subtle.
So subtle, that the average consumer probably won’t notice any difference between the Series 5 or Series 6. And many may not see anything different from the Series 3 or 4.
There are differences, however. After upgrading from the Series 4 and using the Series 6 for almost a week, here’s what I notice:
(Note: this is not an exhaustive review but meant as a quick-read review covering the highlights.)
—Always-on display / brighter on Series 6: always-on is the biggest noticeable difference from the Series 4 and anything earlier. Suffice to say, if you have an always-on-display, you never want to go back to a dark screen. And it’s much more responsive — in switching to bright mode — when you move your wrist to look at your watch.
And there’s even a difference here with the Series 5: Series 6 is up to 2.5 times brighter than Apple Watch Series 5 outdoors when the user’s wrist is down, “making it much easier to see a watch face in bright sunlight,” Apple says.
—Faster MacBook unlock: I use my watch to unlock my MacBook Pro. It seems to unlock faster with the Series 6. The Series 4 occasionally wouldn’t unlock my MacBook and there was often a slight delay. The Series 6 so far doesn’t have any of those shortcomings and is instantaneous.
—Altimeter: this is big for me because I do a lot of hiking in the mountains. I now have an always-on altimeter complication on my watch face.
—Blood oxygen sensor (but no blood pressure): I’m guessing blood oxygen level is big for a lot people and very welcome. I do wish Apple had a blood pressure** sensor. The latter I would use more than blood oxygen.
—ECG: Like the Series 5 Watch, the Series 6 has an electrical heart sensor to take electrocardiograms (ECG).
—New colors: blue and red.
—Bigger battery: the Series 6 has a bigger battery, according to iFixit. I’m seeing battery life similar to the Series 4 watch, which is good because the Series 4 didn’t have an always-on display. I can typically squeeze 1.5 to 2 days from the watch.
—S6 processor = faster processor. The S6 processor is based on the A13 Bionic in the iPhone 11 and is up to 20 percent faster than the chip in the Series 5, allowing apps to launch 20 percent faster while maintaining the same “all-day” 18-hour battery life.
—Phone calls from your wrist sans iPhone…not new but: this has been around since the beginning but a feature I still appreciate. Especially when I don’t have my iPhone with me (e.g., often when I’m hiking or shopping) and am using just the watch with the cellular connection.
Truth be told, many won’t notice the difference between generations of the Apple Watch. That’s actually good because it means you can hold on to an Apple Watch for years and not worry about upgrading. Besides, the Watch has become a health and fitness device more than anything and the biggest upgrades are purely software and don’t require a new watch.
That said, I waited two years for the Series 6 and I’m glad I upgraded because of the always-on display and always-on altimeter.
*I have had every series of Apple Watch except the Series 5.
**As of 2020, the Apple Watch by itself cannot take a blood pressure reading. You need to connect it to a blood pressure monitor and it involves wrapping a blood pressure cuff around your wrist. However, the ability to monitor blood pressure with just the watch itself may be coming in future versions.