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Apple Watch Series 6 Review: The Benchmark Smartwatch Now Also Gets Blood Oxygen Tracking

Apple Watch Series 6 Review: The Benchmark Smartwatch Now Also Gets Blood Oxygen Tracking

A set of updates and upgrades all come together nicely to give the Apple Watch the continued dominance it has always had. It is a combination of the hardware and the new watchOS 7. The Apple Watch Series 6 prices start Rs 40,900.

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Vishal Mathur

The abject failure of Google with Wear OS and the Wear OS watch makers themselves has meant that Apple pretty much resets the benchmark when it comes to smartwatches. Every year, even the most incremental of updates takes the Apple Watch even further ahead in what is already an unassailable lead. This year, the Apple Watch, now the Apple Watch Series 6 keeps a lot of things as they were with the Apple Watch Series 5 but crucially, takes the capabilities a notch higher. The headline changes—blood oxygen monitor, sleep tracking, always-on display and the news watchOS 7. Yet as always, the Apple Watch Series 6 remains exclusively for Apple iPhone users, but to a much lesser extent than before. If you use the Family Setup feature, you can even have someone at home use an Apple Watch without an iPhone. Let us look at the extensive Apple Watch Series 6 line-up that has gone on sale in India. There are five major umbrellas under which the Apple Watch Series 6 can be easily categorized to help you pick the one you want.

First, the Aluminium Case options. These are available in Silver, Gold, Space Grey as well as the new Blue and (PRODUCT)RED colour options. Each watch gets the corresponding colorway for the sport band. These are all priced from Rs 40,900 for the 40mm size and Rs 43,900 for the 44mm size. Second, there is the Apple Watch Series 6 line-up with the Nike sport bands—your options are the Silver Aluminum case with the Pure Platinum and Black sport band or the Space Grey Aluminum with the Anthracite and Black sport band—these are also priced at Rs 40,900 for the 40mm size and Rs 43,900 for the 44mm size. Third, the Stainless Steel case options with Sport Band. These are available in Silver, Gold and Graphite colours, with corresponding sport bands—here, Gold gets the Cyprus Green sport band. Prices start Rs 69,900 for the 40mm and Rs 73,900 for the 44mm Apple Watch Series 6. Fourth, the Stainless Steel case with the gorgeous Milanese Loop. These are priced upwards of Rs 73,900 for the 40mm and Rs 77,900 for the 44mm. And finally, there is the Apple Watch Edition Series 6 which sees the Titanium Case paired with a Charcoal Sport Loop priced at Rs 79,900 for the 40mm and Rs 83,900 for the 44mm, as well as a Space Black Titanium Case with the Inverness Green sport loop option.

That is a lot of options that you can choose from, and that’s before you even get to the ever-larger selection of Sport Bands, the Sport Loop, the Solo Loop, the Braided Solo Loop, Leather and the Milanese Loop. The fact that we now have the Apple India Online Store means you will be able to see the complete range, in all colour and finish options, without having to leave the comfort of your home.

It Is All Very Familiar, In New Colours

As far as the design goes, the Apple Watch Series 6 remains pretty much the same to look at, as the Apple Watch Series 5. That is, unless you have the new blue or red colour options. These two add a real dash of colour on the wrist. You still get this in the 40mm and 44mm sizes, in all the different finish options I have tried to simplify above. Between the Apple Watch Series 6, the Apple Watch Series 5 and indeed even the Apple Watch Series 4 for most intents and purposes, you won’t find any visible differences at first glance. Unless you have the Blue or (PRODUCT)RED colour options, which is when your friends will know you’ve got the newest Apple Watch. Keeping the design same has its significant advantages. Such as the existing line-up of straps you may have will work seamlessly. But that is where the similarities end.

Health And Wellness Tracking Gets Another Set Of Upgrades

The Apple Watch Series 6 has a new blood oxygen sensor and an altimeter, as far as the headline feature upgrades are concerned. The blood oxygen sensor does a 15 second calculation to give you a reading. At this point, the Apple Watch Series 6 uses the sensor that is combination of four LED sensors and four photodiodes as well as a redesigned crystal to calculate the amount of light that is reflected back. The data is then run through complex algorithms to calculate the colour of the blood which is indicative of the oxygen level in the blood at the time.

Your arm needs to be resting at the time of the reading and the Apple Watch Series 6 has to be worn snugly. This, Apple has clarified time and again, is a wellness feature and not for full-grade medical diagnostics. This will not alert you the way the heart rate monitor in the Apple Watch does, if it detects an anomaly. This is also not meant for any early warning systems, but it must be noted that these readings can be handy in case you aren’t feeling well suddenly. In the era when COVID most certainly dictates our lives, these readings can and will be more accurate than those ultra-cheap and often dodgy bloody oxygen monitors. Till your doctor can make a professional diagnosis.

In my experience, based on my usage, the readings for the blood oxygen (SpO2) ranged between 97 and 100. The former the most common reading range when taking the readings after wearing a face mask for a prolonged period of time, and the latter usually the range when at home and not having worn a mask. The readings that you get from the Apple Watch Series 6 SpO2) sensor will depend a lot on your health and there will be variations, and you only need to worry if this goes below 93 percent.

You need to be careful about the placement of the hand. The reading will be incomplete, and the Apple Watch Series 6 will show an error in case there is hand movement, or the hand is isn’t placed at one place. Always keep it stable on a table or support it with your hand near the elbow if there is no other surface available at the time. The Apple Watch Series 6 will also take background readings periodically.

The rest of the health tracking is fantastic, as always. The watchOS 7 update plays its role in that. The coolest new addition is the automatic hand washing detection and the timer that insist you properly wash your hands for 20 seconds. Apple is calling this Automatic Hand Washing Detection. This is a great habit to inculcate if you haven’t already, perhaps with the COVID scare a very real thing—after all, studies over time have suggested that we must wash our hands properly for at least 20 seconds to be able to wash away all the germs, virus and bacteria that may cause illness. The Apple Watch Series 6 uses the motion sensors, microphone, and on-device machine learning to automatically detect handwashing motions and sounds. For me, it effortlessly detected the hand washing activity, after about 3 seconds of starting to wash hands under running water. At this point, the Watch then initiates a 20-second countdown timer which you can see on the screen. If you finish washing your hands too soon, you’ll get a pop-up that urges you to keep washing. If you do the hand washing well, you’ll be congratulated for a job well done.

The Electrocardiogram, or ECG capabilities continue to be as robust and useful as before. This is still the single-lead ECG that needs you to touch the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch Series 6 to complete the link and log 30 seconds worth of waveform. The ECG app will warn you if it detects any irregular heart rhythm, also known as atrial fibrillation, which may be the first hint at potential larger problems later.

The Apple Watch Series 6 also has sleep tracking. If you are comfortable wearing a smartwatch around your wrist all night, you will get the complete stats on how long you slept, the sleep quality, duration of deep sleep and more.

More Power Under The Hood

In terms of the usability, experience and the performance of the apps, the Apple Watch Series 6 gets its power from the new S6 SiP chip. This is a dual core 64-bit chip that is up top 20% faster than the S5 chip on the Apple Watch Series 5. In the real world, that as near as makes no difference for two reasons. First, the S5 in the Apple Watch Series 5 was no slouch, and secondly, the Watch apps anyway are streamlined that they are as frugal as possible on the system resources. The Apple Watch Series 6 also has the W3 Apple wireless chip and the U1 ultra-wideband chip that will allow slicker handoff, for music for instance with other devices that also have the same chip. Such as the new HomePod Mini.

The detailed fitness tracking, workout customization and goals, cycle tracking and your wellness stats to go with that, continue to be extensive. There are predefined workouts or open goals, totally your wish. If you use the Apple Watch for the regular workout routine, you will have detailed metrics complete with trend guidance as well as tips on what you may be missing on. On that front, the experiential upgrade is that the Always-On Retina display is now 2.5 times brighter than before. This will be great for outdoor exercise routines, when the sunlight may be bright, and you want to quickly glance at the Apple Watch to see how well you are doing in comparison with your target. The big hardware addition is the new altimeter that will track elevation changes, be it a flight of stairs or a trek on the hills.

Battery life remains the same as before. Depending on how much you use the Apple Watch Series 6 for fitness tracking with location and more, the battery will last you anywhere between a day and two days on a single charge.

The Last Word: Time Hasn’t Changed A Thing, Still The Smartwatch Benchmark

The Apple Watch Series 6 isn’t making any changes to how you know or already use an Apple Watch. What Apple is doing instead is adding newer capabilities on to what was already there. The blood oxygen calculations, the brighter always-on display, sleep tracking and the altimeter all make sense for the fitness enthusiasts who will really be able to use these, particularly the latter two features, to the fullest. Having said that, if you don’t, and already have an Apple Watch Series 5 for instance, the upgrades will be incremental. You may not have to rush out immediately to buy a new one. Unless you really want sleep tracking. Then it’s all cool!


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