This might be getting a bit repetitive but the Apple Watch is still proving to be a pain for competitors and refuses to give up its perch at the top. This may sound like a spoiler, but what else were you expecting?
Over the last five generations, Apple has been chipping away at the rough edges and the Watch, along with WatchOS gets more polished, more refined and as expected, faster. The Series 6 is no different in terms of aesthetics or dimensions and while I would’ve like to see a slimmer chassis, what I do appreciate more is Apple has used the familiar design to really expand on its band of...er...bands. The backward compatibility of the design across generations means that even older generations can be spruced up with the ever-increasing selection of watch straps that are the last word in comfort and durability. But let’s talk about the core first, shall we?
Next in the franchise
Almost identical to the Series 5 both in terms of dimensions and styling, besides the new finishes, it would be hard to tell the S6 apart. Our review sample arrived in Blue, which is one of the two new aluminium cases, the other being a Product Red hue. These are the only way to announce your Series 6 purchase since the graphite and gold stainless steel are other options but only slightly tweaked versions of previously seen finishes. It’s only under the hood (and the undercarriage) where most of the new innovations lie, like the blood oxygen sensor, S6 SiP, new WiFi and UWB antennas and a U1 chip that should work well with future Apple products and even cars that support the digital key feature. The dials too, 44mm and 40mm versions get brighter screens which actually aid in the wrist-down mode, where they actually have gained more than twice the brightness; 500nits compared to 200nits in case you’re into numbers. Also, both notifications and the control centre can now be accessed even in the resting wrist mode, although I still haven’t understood its logic. After having tried it, it just seems more like a neck and wrist coordination exercise in not waking up the display, which would just be more convenient to access information anyway.
What I do appreciate is the faster charging time of 90mins from 0-100% which has a big impact on the charging window during the day. It’s easier to find pockets of downtime and keep the Watch juiced up even to track your sleep if you need to, which by the way is also one of the new additions to WatchOS 7. Coupled with slightly longer battery life too, it extends the useable (and wearable) time of the Watch comfortably into the day. There’s also an always-on altimeter that could even help you through the day if you prefer the stairs over the elevator and of course if you’re the outdoorsy kind. What is instantly apparent in WatchOS 7 is the new complication selection menu that lists all the available complications from A-Z and along with a ton of new additions, it truly makes the new watch faces come alive with information too.
Fit get fitter
The Apple Watch still is primarily bought by most for its fitness and health chops and the Series 6 doesn’t disappoint. The headlining new sensor that measures blood oxygen is surprisingly accurate if a little bit erratic based on the situation. Repeated readings yielded similar results but the steadiness and position of the hand are critical in completing the measurement successfully. It’s a clever technique of using LED clusters that throw light on to the blood vessels in your wrist and photodiodes to measure how much of it is reflected back. Together with the app and complex algorithms, it gives a decent picture of how much oxygen is being absorbed and circulated through your bloodstream. Compared to a medical-grade pulse oximeter, the results were off on the Apple Watch by 3% but still in the same range, indicating that it may not be a replacement for a proper medical tool, but good enough for everyday use in a device that also makes calls for you! It takes 15 seconds, which is also faster than the Galaxy Watch 3 and in typical Apple fashion, keeps you entertained with a whimsical graphic that is bait enough to keep checking your health! Along with ECG functionality, the Apple Watch really does impress with its engineering prowess given its ultra-compact and comfortable dimensions. What could do with some TLC is the Watch app store which has been languishing at the bottom of the pile in the Apple to-do list. Sure, it has every kind of third-party fitness app but nothing that you would really need over and above what is native to WatchOS now. Although the one thing I’m glad Apple has resisted is opening the OS to third-party watch faces because after my recent tryst with the Galaxy Watch 3, I realised its a wormhole of mediocrity that will easily swallow an entire afternoon, without pleasing results. The Apple Watch face collection on the other hand has been slowly but steadily growing and with this edition, it feels like there is something for everyone finally, whether you want playful, informative or artistic. Once you find the perfect combination of information, complications and design, you can now even share it with a fellow Watch user and show off your OCD!
But regardless of whether you own a Watch S4, S5 or S6, the experience is hugely improved with the WatchOS 7. Particularly, the inclusion of Siri Shortcuts as a watch complication, things such as automated lights, tracking Swiggy orders, turning on connected ACs just becomes as easy as asking Siri on the watch. Topical additions include the Handwashing app that automatically detects when you’re washing your hands, based on gyro sensors and starts a 20sec countdown to ensure you conform to WHO guidelines. Just make sure you also confirm with BMC guidelines if there’s a water shortage in the area!
Fitness gets a bump with a louder built-in speaker that infuses new life in voice-prompt based coaching and also the kinds of workouts you can now engage in are truly baffling. I found sports I’d never even heard of getting their own program now and with a newfound zeal for being healthy during the lockdown, the three rings and their closure has become addictive for me too. Over a period of time, it builds a habit that forces you to be consistent not because of the Watch itself, but because the Watch is great at creating patterns and feeding you with meaningful information that encourages you to accomplish your daily goals. The USP of the Apple Watch has always been the clarity with which it presents a plethora of information on a small screen.
With newer complications and even more info, Apple hasn’t taken its eye off that ball and is one of the primary reasons why every other wearable feel tiresome after a few days. It’s a delicate balance of soaking in as much info as you can in a quick glance and I’ve yet to meet another wearable that does it with as much elegance as the Apple Watch. Watch OS7 also has become more accomplished with tasks that it can handle and watch faces can entirely be added and customised with great detail without ever going back to the iPhone app. Throw in some of the new solo loop bands and it becomes a device that you wear and forget about very quickly. The solo loop bands are extremely comfortable and their ease of use is beyond elegant, it’s like slipping on a friendship band. Just remember to order a size smaller to what you actually measure if you’re ordering online since the woven fabric on the braided solo loop is super-stretchy and will fit snug if it’s a size smaller. Order the wrong size and it’ll keep dangling on your wrist, defeating the purpose of all the advanced sensors on the back.
For anyone with an extended Apple ecosystem, it’s hard not to recommend the Apple Watch. Its versatility goes beyond just fitness routines and health metrics. It can be used as a remote for an Apple TV on the same network, as a volume control for any wireless headphone, as an automatic password gateway into your MacBook or iMac, as a translation or speech-to-text messaging device while driving, remote viewfinder for your iPhone’s camera...the use cases are endless if you really want to explore. I would’ve loved to see India on the list of countries to get the Fitness+ on-demand workouts that allows you to stream workouts with coaches on your Apple device while the Watch keeps track of your calorie burn and heart-rate. But it may be a matter of time and hopefully not as long as Apple Pay is taking to make its way into India! But even without some of these key features, the Apple Watch S6 is still the world’s best wearable and it would be a disservice to call it any less. Sure, if you already own the Series 5 or even the S4, I don’t see any reason beyond vanity for upgrading but if you own any of the older generation watches, the S6 will feel tangibly faster, louder and packed with features you will use every day. If only Android users could experience its charms now…