I revisited the Apple Watch Series 6 last week, something I’ve done various times since its release, in-between periods of wearing other smartwatches and fitness trackers. Each time I put it on, I’m taken aback by the way it looks, feels on my wrist, and operates when compared to other wearables.
It’s just so boring. Where is the hand-in-a-tiger’s-mouth excitement, and the same level of surprise you would get by finding a grenade with the pin out, I get from other wearables? Even six months into the Series 6’s life, Apple hasn’t added any of the eccentricities that make other smartwatches so unpredictable to own, preferring to keep the Apple Watch Series 6 running like a, um, well-oiled Swiss watch. What is it thinking?
A week of wearing the Series 6 has highlighted where Apple has chosen and steadfastly maintained a completely different direction to its rivals. Let’s start with notifications. When notifications arrive on my iPhone 12 Pro, they also arrive on my Apple Watch. Not sometimes, but all the time. I can’t believe how neatly formatted they are, and how other languages show up without a problem either.
They’re accompanied by a very obvious, yet extremely tactile vibration alert each and every time, and when I turn my wrist to see the screen, it immediately shows the message. I can glance at it and see everything I need, or scroll the screen to read more if my hands are free. I can even interact with many without the need to install other apps, mostly because the Watch did that for me when I first set it up.
How dull is that? Where’s the excitement of looking at my phone to see what’s new, because there’s every chance my smartwatch hasn’t shown at least a few of the incoming notifications? I crave that feeling of the unknown from my gadgets, especially when they can cost $300 or more. I love the way I have to really raise my arm to get the screen to activate with some other models, or that I have to do it more than once. It’s great exercise! The boring convenience of the Apple Watch Series 6 has none of these thrills.
I also get notifications from some apps which include photos. The Apple Watch Series 6 actually shows them on the screen when the notification comes through, as if I want to see them. What’s more, the screen is so colorful, crisp, and vibrant that they look great. Sometimes, I set photos as the Watch’s wallpaper and they always look fantastic. No odd cropping or poor integration with the time display. It’d be way better if the Apple Watch refused to activate the feature at all, like many other smartwatches.
Third-party apps are plentiful and they all seem to work well. YouTube Music shows all my Liked songs, downloads, and playlists (with pretty cover pictures), lets me control playback, and even has a Chromecast button in the Watch app so I can connect the iPhone to another device and play my music. It’s also incredibly smooth and fast. Honestly Google, I’ve used Wear OS so I know how you usually approach software on wearables, and this practicality just doesn’t seem acceptable.
The hand wash timer on the Apple Watch Series 6 is, get this, automatic. It works when you start washing your hands! No reckless abandon at all, which is unfortunate as I always looked forward to swiping the screen and selecting options with my dirty fingers to start a timer on other wearables. Or, just forgetting about it completely until the watch reminded me to wash my hands at some random time, like when I’m driving.
What about workout tracking? This is also much too convenient. I usually remember to start the workout, but if the Apple Watch sees I’m more active than usual, it always asks if I’m working out. Leave me alone, Apple. If I decide to listen to its nagging and start the workout, it even backtracks to include most of the minutes I’ve been active, ensuring my stats are more reliable than my memory.
Mostly though, I forget to stop the activity. The way other smartwatches and fitness trackers just keep going is always good, because it makes it look like I worked out for two or three times longer than I really did. The Apple Watch shows a reminder on the screen when it sees that I’m not moving with the same intensity as before, so I can end the workout when I’ve actually finished exercising. There goes my streak, and chance to show off my great, but artificially inflated, stats.
Charging is another pain. I often charge the Watch in another room where I can’t keep an eye on when the battery is full. The Apple Watch app on my iPhone goes to the trouble of showing me a notification when it’s fully topped up, so I can get it and put it back on. These are just a few of the little things that make the Apple Watch feel like a seamless, well-designed, completely integrated companion device, with none of the exciting what-will-it-do-next randomness embraced by many other wearables.
There are times I don’t even know the Apple Watch is on my wrist, making me wonder why I spent so much on it. The shape means it never digs into my wrist to say, “don’t forget me,” and the ceramic case back is warm but never sweaty. It’s the aluminum version, so it’s very light, and the Sport Loop band I chose is completely adjustable so it’s never too loose, or too tight. Many other smartwatches are bigger and heavier with unyielding straps, and I always really liked getting to about 10 p.m. and feeling it’s about time to take the smartwatch off because I’ve had enough of it on my wrist. This hasn’t happened with the Apple Watch at all.
Although the sleep tracking is basic, the barely-noticeable Apple Watch is even comfortable enough to wear overnight, if I felt the need. Having the option to do so, rather than not wanting to because the watch is too big, too pointy, or too heavy to consider takes away the joyous frustration of not using a feature due to the product design.
It’s the same with the battery life. I regularly end the day with more than 50% remaining, even with the ambient screen active, heart rate monitoring, and all those pesky notifications flooding in. Sleep tracking takes just a few percent, allowing me to wear the Apple Watch Series 6 for two days if I don’t track much exercise, use the GPS, take Electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, stream music, download apps from the store, or make calls if I own the Cellular model.
It can do all these things and more. They’re all features that work, are obvious to control, and require little to no setup before using. Do you know see the extent of the problems I’ve been having?
Apple hasn’t learned anything over the past few years, because none of this is really any different to any Apple Watch since the Series 4. It’s like it got the formula almost exactly right with the Apple Watch Series 4, then refined it to perfection for the Series 5, and decided to just upgrade it a little bit more for the Series 6. A crazy approach when you look at how other companies are just killing it with wearables.
Six months in, should you still buy the Apple Watch Series 6? I suppose if you like superbly made, utterly reliable, feature-packed, extremely convenient products that work alongside your smartphone without interruption or annoyance, then sure, buy it right now. You could even buy the Apple Watch SE, because it’s just as boring, but insults you even more by costing less. If you’re really crazy, the Apple Watch Series 5 has all the same “merits,” if you can find one and grab a good deal.
But really, who needs all this? Live dangerously and buy a non-Apple smartwatch for your iPhone, and experience the wonder of not knowing if it’ll work very well, or even at all.
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