This year’s Apple Watch, like last year’s Series 5, is not very different from its predecessor, but offers enough new features that can make it a candidate for upgrade, perhaps only to people who do not have last year’s model. And Apple’s two new Solo Loop straps are classless straps that are attractive and comfortable, if you get the right size.
Apple Watch gets a bump
I can not help but think that I have repeated myself over the years when I reviewed the Apple Watch. In reviews for the Series 3, Series 4 and Series 5 Apple Watch models, I pointed out how not much had changed in the device, and that if you had a model from last year, you should probably not consider upgrading. The tent covers in these models were the addition of mobile access in series 3; the increased size of the Series 4; and it always on the display added to the Series 5. All of these were small, incremental upgrades to the device, making it difficult to justify getting a new one if yours was new.
The same goes for the Series 6 Apple Watch: the changes are limited, and my advice is still that if you bought last year’s model, you probably will not need the new one. But if the Apple Watch is two or three years old, it’s worth considering the upgrade.
New features: a brighter screen, pulse oximeter and new colors
The most obvious change to the Apple Watch this year is a lighter always on the screen that is noticeably brighter outdoors in sunlight, and also when the wrist is not raised. Outdoors I was very impressed with how visible the screen is; with Series 5, I sometimes had to hold my hand over the screen to mask the ambient light to read it. And the passive screen – when the wrist is not raised – is now bright enough to see if you exercise and can not lift the wrist. As I write these words, I can look at my wrist and see the time, read alerts and more.
As part of Apple’s health press, the company has added a pulse oximeter to the Apple Watch. This reads the level of oxygen in your blood, which according to Apple “is a key indicator of your overall well-being.” I can not help but think that this is an exaggeration, and adding this type of sensors is full of problems. First, it is not FDA approved, nor does it have “FDA approval”, as the ECG built into the watch. And as has been pointed out, it is “unreliable and misleading.”
In the tests, I tried a dozen times to read just to see this:
Finally I found a position on the wrist where I could read, and in three attempts I got 91%, 93% and 92%. Testing my oxygen in the blood with a standard fingertip device showed that my level was 97-98%.
Not many people need this type of device, and if they need accurate oxygen levels in the blood, it is better to have a dedicated device approved for this type of text.
When it comes to the aesthetics of this year’s model, Apple has added new colors to the aluminum lineup: red and blue. These are absolute statement colors, and call for matching bands, although I can see them working with complementary colors.
The stainless steel models come in silver, gold, graphite and medium black; and titanium Apple Watch in room black, and in “titanium” color, which is a muted off-silver tone.
This year I got a stainless steel model in gold; not what I had ordered, but it’s a bit of a long story. (If you listen to this week’s Intego Mac Podcast, you’ll hear me tell the story.) This is the first time I’ve had a stainless steel Apple Watch, and I like it a lot more than I expected. The finish is glossy, and the sapphire crystal is noticeably better than the Ion-X glass display on the aluminum models.
In my review of the Series 3 model, I said, “In three years of owning Apple Watches, I have never scratched a glass crystal,” but I have found a number of small scratches on my Series 5. They are only visible in bright light, but this is the first time I have had scratches, so I wonder if the glass display of that model is not as good as before.
New Apple Watch SE
In addition to the Series 6, Apple maintains the simpler Series 3 model, with a smaller screen, wider frames and no mobile options. But they also released a new Apple Watch SE, which is very similar to last year’s Series 5, at a low price. (Here is a comparison of the three current models.)
Series 3 starts at $ 199; It is a great watch for people who just want to try the device, or use it to record your workout. The SE starts at $ 279, with a mobile option costing an additional $ 50. This is almost the standard Apple Watch for most people; Much like the current iPhone SE, which offers the features most people need on an iPhone from $ 399.
The Apple Watch SE is also the perfect watch to use with Apple’s new Family Setup feature, where you can connect multiple watches – such as your children – with a single iPhone.
New Solo Loop Band
In addition to new watch models, Apple introduced two new Solo Loop straps, one in “liquid silicone rubber”, and the other made of braided recycled yarn, with silicone threads. These are the first completely classless Apple Watch bands, and they stretch to go over your hand and then cling to your wrist. Because of this, they must be dimensioned just exactly: too loose, and the clock will flop around; too tight and they will dig into your wrist.
Many people have had trouble dimensioning these bands, especially in the time of Covid, when it is more difficult to try them out in person. It’s hard enough to get the right size because of the way you measure your wrist, and Apple could have made this easier. I first ordered one online and it was too small. When I went to an Apple Store to pick up the watch, I used their measuring instrument, which showed size 11. I tried both sizes 11 and 12, and while 11 felt right for the Solo Loop, I needed 12 for the Braided Solo Loop. Others have said that they find that there is a size difference between the two models that suits them.
Solo Loop feels like a big rubber band, and it can be potentially uncomfortable when you sweat, but Braided Solo Loop is the most comfortable band I’ve ever had on an Apple Watch. Apple says that these bands will extend over time, and there is a possibility that they may not fit perfectly for a long time. I highly recommend anyone who wants to buy these bands, to try them out personally if possible; if not, order maybe two different sizes and return the one that does not fit.
This year, there is an Apple Watch for every budget, with new colors and ribbons to redecorate your wrist. If you have a Series 4 or 5 Apple Watch, you may want to put this out, but if not, this is a solid upgrade.
About Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about Mac, iPod, iTunes, books, music and more on his blog Kirkville. He co-hosts Intego Mac Podcast and PhotoActive, and is a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS and several other websites and publications. Kirk has authored more than twenty books, including Take Control books on iTunes, LaunchBar, and Scrivener. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →