Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Apple Watch Series 5: Is it worth the upgrade?

The Apple Watch Series 5 is a genuine work of art and far ahead of the competition. But there were still features that Apple left off the table in terms of functionality for the smartwatch. The release of Apple Watch Series 6 mopped up most of these, placing a number of high-profile fitness and design elements into the new version. The new model looks identical to its predecessor, but a few against-the-wrist upgrades lurk within that enhance what was considered the best product in its genre.

Here’s how the new Apple Watch Series 6 compares to the Apple Watch Series 5.

Specs

Apple Watch Series 6
Apple Watch Series 5
Display size 40mm: 1.57 inches

44mm: 1.78 inches

40mm: 1.57 inches

44mm: 1.78 inches

Body size 40mm: 40 x 34 x 10.7mm

44mm: 44 x 38 x 10.7mm

40mm: 40 x 34 x 10.7mm

44mm: 44 x 38 x 10.7mm

Resolution 40mm: 324 x 394 pixels

44mm: 368 x 448 pixels

40mm: 324 x 394 pixels

44mm: 368 x 448 pixels

Touchscreen  

40mm: 1.57-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

44mm: 1.78-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

 

40mm: 1.57-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

44mm: 1.78-inch LTPO OLED Retina display w/ Force Touch

Storage 32GB 32GB
Wireless interface Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, LTE Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, LTE
Depth 10.7mm 10.7mm
Blood oxygen Sensor
Yes No
Accelerometer Yes Yes
Gyroscope Yes Yes
Ambient light sensor Yes Yes
Heart rate sensor Yes Yes
Barometer Yes Yes
GPS Yes Yes
Compass Yes Yes
Water-resistant Yes Yes
Battery life Up to 18 hours Up to 18 hours
Price From $400 From $400
Availability Apple Best Buy, Target
DT review 4.5 out of 5 stars  

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

Design and display

apple-watch-series-6
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch wouldn’t be an Apple Watch without new design elements, and buyers now have a head-spinning number of choices available. There’s a stunning deep blue color alongside the silver, Space Gray, and gold aluminum cases and a Product (RED) Apple Watch with a matching red band. The stainless steel cases now come in graphite in a shiny gray-black paired with yellow gold. The Apple Watch Edition is still with us in a natural and Space Black titanium.

Three new strap styles provide a more comfortable fit without clasps or buckles. The Solo Loop debuts a stretchy design in soft silicone. The Braided Solo Loop features precision braiding that interweaves recycled polyester yarn filaments with silicone threads, giving a stylish, comfortable look and feel. A new sizing system offers nine lengths for the Solo Loop styles. A new Leather Link wraps around the wrist, attaching on the other side with flexible molded magnets. The Apple Watch Hermès has updated the Hermès Attelage Single Tour and slimmer Attelage Double Tour bands in new colors and styles.

Alongside WatchOS 7 comes seven new watch faces — Stripes, Chronograph Pro, GMT, and Artist — with the ability to choose and share new configurations with friends, family, and colleagues.

Otherwise, the measurements and design of the Series 6 are identical to the Series 5. The headline feature was the addition of an always-on display that lets the Apple Watch show the time constantly, like a regular watch, without having to tap the display or raise your wrist. With the Apple Watch Series 6, an enhanced always-on Retina display is advertised as 2.5 times brighter than the Apple Watch Series 5 outdoors, making it easier to see in bright sunlight, an improvement our review has confirmed. When your wrist is down, you can now access Notification Center, Control Center, and complications, plus change faces without having to wake the screen.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 6

Fitness and health-tracking features

Apple Watch 6 fitness

Both Apple Watch models offer excellent fitness and health tracking. But the Apple Watch 6 leaps into the future with a headlining new capability: A blood oxygen sensor that measures your blood’s oxygen saturation, or SpO2. This monitors the percentage of oxygen transported by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body and is a key indicator of health and wellness. Measurements are derived from four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDs alongside four photodiodes on the back of the watch face to measure light that’s reflected from blood and works in conjunction with the Blood Oxygen app. All data is visible in the Health app. But that’s not all. You can now get measurements for low-range VO2 max (maximum amount of oxygen you can use during exercise), sleep tracking, automatic handwashing detection, and new workout types. That said, while valuable in some circumstances, our reviewer determined that the ECG and SpO2 measurements have limited real-world use.

The Apple Watch 5 and 6 models automatically recognize many exercises and have workout plans for everything from yoga to hiking. All data is beautifully presented in the Health app on your iPhone. Both Apple Watch models also offer activity reminders to spur you into action if you’ve been sedentary too long. They’ll also encourage you to breathe and take a minute if you’re stressed. Built-in heart rate tracking and the option to conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG) are available on both models. WatchOS 6 brought a period-tracking app called Cycle, a Noise app to measure the decibel level of your environment, and a dedicated App Store so you can find the best Apple Watch apps on your wrist, but additions to these features are valuable.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 6

Family Setup

Apple Watch 6 Family Setup
Here’s something brand new that comes with WatchOS 7 and works on the new and older Apple Watches. With Family Setup, kids, older family members, and those without an iPhone can benefit from the connectivity, safety, and fitness features of the Apple Watch. Kids can leverage communications, access Emergency SOS, stay active with Activity rings, and access the new Schooltime mode, which can help them focus on their studies. Older adults benefit from simplified processes, extra-large watch faces, and a new Health Checklist in the iPhone’s Health app.

Winner: Tie

Special features

Apple Watch 6 special features

With the Apple Watch 6 comes a new dual-core processor based on the A13 Bionic in the iPhone 11. Apple says the S6 SiP runs up to 20% faster for swift app launching, alongside the same 18-hour battery life present in Series 5. The new U1 chip and Ultra-Wideband antennas will facilitate short-range wireless location to support features like compatible digital car keys. The new model also features faster charging of under 1.5 hours and improved battery life for tracking workouts. The always-on altimeter provides real-time elevation using a new, more power-efficient barometric altimeter, along with GPS and Wi-Fi. Maps now include cycling directions, and Siri offers language translation.

Winner: Apple Watch Series 6

Price and availability

The Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 for the GPS aluminum model and goes up from there. It starts at $499 if you add cellular connectivity. Apple is no longer selling the Series 5, but it will continue to be available for a while via various channels at various configurations and price points.

Take a look at some of the best Apple Watch deals going on right now if you’re looking to buy before Black Friday sales arrive.

Overall winner: Apple Watch Series 6

apple-watch-series-6-gmt-face
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Come on — it’s a no-brainer. Of course, the new model will outpace the year-old one, but in this case, there are some excellent reasons to update your watch if you’re still rocking a Series 3 or Series 4 model. There’s the valuable new fitness features, comfy new bands, and exquisite color options. If you already have an Apple Watch Series 3, 4, or 5, and you’re not hyped up about the new fitness features, you can still hang on to a watch that we considered almost perfect just a year ago. If you’re a first-time smartwatch customer, the Apple Watch 6 has everything you could ever want or need. If you’re not meticulous about super high-end fitness and health features, consider the new Apple Watch SE, which may just hit the sweet spot for both features and price.

Editors' Recommendations