Apple's newest flagship smartwatch, the Apple Watch Series 6, doesn't stray too far from the path of the tried-and-true. It has pretty much the same design and feature list as last year's Series 5. It's also the same price, with the GPS-only model starting at $399 and the cellular model starting at $499.
I've spent most of the past year with the Series 5 and after wearing the Series 6 for the past few days, I can say that there isn't much difference between the two smartwatches; they look, feel and work quite similarly.
The Series 6 is definitely the best Apple Watch that Apple has ever made, but it might be a hard-sell for people who already have a Series 5 (and even a Series 4 if you don't care about the always-on display).
The blood oxygen sensor is terrific, but niche.
On the Series 6, getting your blood oxygen reading is really easily — just open the Blood Oxygen app and select "Start." It takes 15 seconds and records you measurements in the Health app. You can also set the Series 6 up so that it takes your blood oxygen throughout the day without you having to initiate the test, and you can then check your results any time you want.
Apple contextualizes the the blood oxygen sensor as a "wellness" feature and not a "health" feature. It's an important distinction nowadays considering blood oxygen levels are a biometric that can potentially serve as an early indicator of COVID-19 infection. But neither you nor your Apple Watch are a doctor, or particularly qualified to draw concrete health conclusions from your biometrics.
Instead, the Series 6 and Apple's Health app treat your blood oxygen level as something of an approximation of your general aerobic fitness. For that, it's certainly satisfying to have another metric at your fingertips.
With more affordable models, there are fewer reasons to go with the flagship Series 6.
Apple did a few things to its 2020 Apple Watch lineup to broaden the appeal. It abandoned some of the more expensive models, like the ceramic finish, and went all-in on affordability with the Series 3 ($199+) and SE ($279+) that are significantly cheaper than Series 6 ($399+).
The reason why Apple is going all-in an affordable Apple Watch models is pretty obvious: it wants more people to use Fitness Plus, its new fitness subscription plan (something of a Peloton rival) that gives subscribers access to various different workouts — including strength, HIIT, yoga, cycling and treadmill modalities — that don't require more than dumbbells or simple bodyweight to do. The catch is you really need an Apple Watch to get the most out of those classes, as it can track your fitness metrics and give you realtime feedback and guidance. The more people with Apple Watches, the more likely it is that they subscribe to Fitness Plus. Also, if you buy any new Apple Watch, you get a three month subscription to Fitness Plus for free.
But with so many options, there are actually fewer reasons to get the Series 6. The new Apple Watch SE is over $100 cheaper and shares the same design and many of the same capabilities of the Series. The big tradeoffs are that the SE doesn't have an always-on display, it doesn't have a blood oxygen sensor, and it doesn't have an electrical heart sensor and is not capable of taking an ECG. But ultimately the Series 6 and SE are more similar than they are different, and unless you are particularly gung-ho about the advanced wellness features, there's little reason you shouldn't opt for the more affordable option.
The best new thing isn't exclusive to the Series 6.
One of the biggest new things with this year's Apple Watch lineup is the new Solo Loop watch straps. Unlike previous years where you had to get watch strap that had a buckle, clasp or velcro link, this year Apple is giving people the option of turning the Apple Watch into more of slip-on, slip-off bracelet.
I mainly used the silicone Solo Loop but there's also the Braided Solo Loop for people who want a fabric option. I found that not having to adjust the clasp or velcro was actually pretty nice. The thing is these new Solo Loop straps aren't exactly exclusive to the Series 6. Apple sells them individually for $49 (silicone) and $99 (braided) and they can fit any 40mm or 44mm model, meaning they'll work with the Series 4 (discontinued), Series 5 (discontinued), Series 6 and the SE.
A thing to note about the Solo Loop watch straps is that there are 12 different sizes to choose from, so you'll want to make sure you get the correct one. Also, the three smallest sizes only work with the 40mm models, and the three largest sizes only work with the 44mm models. Apple has a sizing guide on the website and when Apple Stores start opening up, you'll presumably be able to try the different sizes out to get the perfect fit, if you can.