The Apple Watch Series 6 brings a handful of notable improvements this year, including a new blood oxygen sensor and improved performance. For Apple Watch Series 5 users, however, the question of whether or not to upgrade can be tricky. Read on as we walk through the Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 6.
Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 6
This year, Apple has once again focused on health features as the differentiating category between the Apple Watch Series 5 and the new Apple Watch Series 6. There are a few other things worth noting as well, including a brighter display, faster charging times, and more.
In terms of design, the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6 are virtually identical. They are both available in 40mm and 44mm sizes with slim bezels, rounded corners, and compatibility with Apple’s entire lineup of watch bands.
But while the overall design is the same, Apple has once again switched up the colors and materials for the Apple Watch Series 6. Whereas the Apple Watch Series 5 was available in aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic, the Apple Watch Series 6 is available in aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium.
The ceramic Apple Watch has once again been discontinued this year after making its return last year with the Series 5. The Apple Watch was also available in ceramic with the Series 2 and Series 3, but not the Series 4. It could return with the Apple Watch Series 7 next year, but for now, there is no ceramic option for new Apple Watch shoppers.
The Apple Watch Series 6 is also available in two new aluminum color options: (PRODUCT)RED and blue. For stainless steel buyers, there is a new gold finish as well as a new graphite finish alongside the traditional silver finish, but the space black finish has been discontinued, except for one 40mm Hermès option.
Rounding out the color changes, the Apple Watch Series 6 is available in the same two titanium color finishes as the Series 5: space black and silver.
Display: Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 6
The Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6 feature the same always-on display with a resolution of 368 х 448.
The overall brightness of the Series 6 is the same as the Series 5 at 1000 nits. What’s changed is that when the Apple Watch display is in its “always-on” mode, you’ll notice up to 2.5 times higher brightness — which Apple says is particularly noticeable and applicable outdoors.
In fact, early reviews have indicated that the brighter always-on display of the Apple Watch Series 6 is one of the most notable real-world changes. The brighter always-on display makes it easier to see things like the time and workout data without having to turn your wrist all the way around.
Performance and battery life
The Apple Watch Series 6 is powered by Apple’s newest dual-core S6 processor, which the company says is up to 20% faster than the S5 processor found in the Apple Watch Series 5. In fact, Apple says that the new Apple Silicon S6 processor is based on the A13 Bionic processor used in the iPhone 11 and iPhone SE.
In terms of battery life, the Apple Watch Series 6 is rated for the same 18-hour battery life as the Apple Watch Series 5, but improvements to power efficiency means you might see extended battery life when doing specific things on the Apple Watch Series 6, including indoor and outdoor runs and walks. We’ll have to wait and do some more testing here to confirm Apple’s generalized claims.
Apple also says that the Apple Watch Series 6 can charge 20% faster than the Apple Watch Series 5, allowing it go from completely dead to fully charged in under 1.5 hours. This is a notable change, especially in conjunction with native sleep-tracking features in watchOS 7.
Best Apple Watch charging docks:
The star of the show with the Apple Watch Series 6 is the new blood oxygen sensor, which allows you to monitor your oxygen saturation directly with your Apple Watch. Oxygen saturation, or SpO2, represents the percentage of oxygen being carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, and indicates how well this oxygenated blood is being delivered throughout the body.
The Apple Watch Series 6 includes a blood oxygen sensor with four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDs, along with the four photodiodes on the back. Through the blood oxygen app, you can measure blood oxygen between 70% and 100%. You can manually take a reading in just 15 seconds, and periodic background measurements occur when they are inactive, including during sleep.
The Apple Watch Series 6 also features the same ECG functionality as the Apple Watch Series 5, as well as fall detection, Emergency SOS, international emergency calling, and noise monitoring.
A few other tidbits worth noting include that the Apple Watch Series 6 includes 5GHz Wi-Fi support, which should provide faster and more reliable performance when your Apple Watch is connected to Wi-Fi. The Apple Watch Series 5 is limited to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks.
The Apple Watch Series 6 also features an always-on altimeter, which provides real-time elevation all day long by using a new, more power-efficient barometric altimeter, along with GPS and nearby Wi-Fi networks. The Apple Watch Series 5 only periodically takes elevation readings.
Finally, the Apple Watch Series 6 also includes Apple’s U1 Ultra Wideband chip inside. This is the first year that the Apple Watch has added the U1 chip, and while its use cases are limited thus far, the Ultra Wideband chip could eventually be used for things like Car Key and integration with Apple’s AirTag item trackers.
Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Series 6: The verdict
For many Apple Watch Series 5 users, the Apple Watch Series 6 isn’t necessarily a “must-have” upgrade. Unless you’re tempted by one of the new colors, the visual design this year is virtually identical, and if you currently use a ceramic Apple Watch Series 5, there actually isn’t even a direct upgrade path available.
The Apple Watch Series 6’s new S6 processor will provide significantly more headroom for future software features, but the Apple Watch Series 5 will continue to be supported for several more years. Plus, watchOS 7 even brings new watch faces to the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5, and Appel has released a new Solo Loop band style that also works with the Series 4 and Series 5.
The tow key features that are likely to be most enticing to Apple Watch Series 5 users is the new blood oxygen sensor, as well as the brighter always-on display. If either of these features are likely to dramatically change how you use the Apple Watch every day, then perhaps you should consider upgrading this year.
Looking ahead, reports have already suggested that the Apple Watch Series 7 might feature a more radical visual redesign. For most Apple Watch Series 5 users, we’d recommend holding off this year and waiting to see what Apple has in store for 2021.