Apple has released the Apple Watch Series 6. In most ways it is similar to its predecessor.
It looks similar unless you pick the new blue aluminium version. Most of the features you’ll use day-to-day are the same, like its GPS, its touchscreen and rotary control.
There are major changes, however. The Apple Watch Series 6 has a blood oxygen sensor on its back that relays the SpO2 level of your blood.
It’s not a metric the average healthy 25-year-old needs to worry about. But it is important.
This, and a few other new Apple Watch Series 6 features, bring up questions you should consider before buying.
Will the blood oxygen sensor get cleared by the FDA?
The Apple Watch Series 6 is a wearable with a quite a medical bent. It has an ECG sensor to monitor your heart rhythm and a blood oxygen sensor.
However, there is no word about whether the new oxygen sensor is currently in-line for FDA clearance. This is a form of certification, a quality mark of sorts, that shows it works within certain parameters.
The wording of the Apple Store website shows a disclaimer required of devices without clearance.
“Blood Oxygen app measurements are not intended for medical use, including self-diagnosis or consultation with a doctor, and are only designed for general fitness and wellness purposes,” the Apple Watch Series 6 page reads.
The FDA does not require pulse oximeter devices to be cleared for them to be sold or used in the US, but they have to be labelled as “not for medical use”, as the Apple Watch Series 6 is.
This kind of disclaimer seems a sensible addition even if the blood oxygen sensor were cleared as a Class II medical device. However, for this hardware to be taken as seriously as Apple clearly takes it, you should want to see it cleared.
I’ve asked Apple for clarification on this.
How much will the brighter screen affect battery life?
A brighter always-on screen is one of the Apple Watch Series 6’s quality of life upgrades. The raw stats of the display haven’t changed: Apple says it taps out at 1000 nits like Apple Watch Series 5.
But it also says the watch will look 2.5x brighter when displaying the Always On face. The obvious question: won’t this affect battery life significantly?
My take is this is a feature people have asked about, or that the Apple team itself thought was a good upgrade after wearing the Series 5 for the best part of a year. It’s highly likely that 2.5x screen brightness boost will only apply when it’s very bright outside.
When you’re out on a hike or run and just want to be able to see the time, that brightness boost will be worth a slight battery hit.
Is Fitness+ going to be worth $9.99?
Apple Fitness+ is the Apple Watch Series 6 feature I find most interesting, as someone who writes about fitness tech.
It’s a virtual gym class platform that costs $9.99 a month. You get real instructors, 10 types of classes, and will see your health stats on-screen as you work out. This is much cheaper than the $39 Peloton subscription. But that’s not the real comparison.
Peloton’s digital membership, which grants class access for $12.99 a month, is much closer in cost.
If you’re thinking of buying an Apple Watch for Fitness+, it might be worth waiting to see how many classes end up on there. And the frequency with which new ones appear.
I have no doubts about the quality of class Apple will put up, but if you’re going to quit the gym and switch to Fitness+, you want to make sure it’s a service with legs.
Let’s hope Peloton, not Apple TV+, is the model here. There’s just not enough content to satisfy on Apple TV+, and an everyday fitness platform needs constant new content to keep the at-home exerciser motivated.
Should you buy the Watch SE instead?
Apple announced the Watch SE alongside the Watch Series 6, and it’s a great deal. It starts at $279, to the Series 6’s $399.
There are parts missing, of course, but the cheaper watch has almost everything I would use day-to-day. There’s GPS and Apple’s excellent heart rate sensor. And while the processor isn’t as fast as the Series 6’s, it’s the same chip as the Series 5’s. It’s not slow.
What is missing? The blood oxygen sensor and ECG sensors are missing, but this should not necessarily turn off younger, healthy people. You have to manually use the ECG — it doesn’t “scan” your heart automatically — and blood oxygen readings may actually seem rather dull. And if they aren’t, it means you have a problem you should talk to a medical professional about.
The blood oxygen and ECG sensors are great “health” tools, but I’d still use the traditional optical heart rate sensor and its resting rate readings over these for a guide on general fitness improvements over the weeks and months.
An “always on” screen mode will more of a difference to how these watches feel day-to-day. The Series 6 has the feature, the SE does not. It lets the display show the time all day long, making the Apple Watch Series 6 a much better watch.
For more on this comparison, be sure to read David Phelan’s Watch SE versus Watch Series 6 article.