Apple Watch Series 6 first look: New colors, blood oxygen sensor, and improved internals

Last week Apple debuted the new Apple Watch Series 6 and since I continue my search for the holy grail of wea

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Last week Apple debuted the new Apple Watch Series 6 and since I continue my search for the holy grail of wearables I placed an order for a new (PRODUCT)RED Apple Watch Series 6. At first glance it doesn't seem much different than the Apple Watch Series 5, but there's more than meets the eye.

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Regular readers know I'm a sucker for buying colorful watches and phones so when I saw the new navy blue and red aluminum watch offerings I knew one of them had to be mine. While blue is one of my favorite colors, I couldn't find one readily available and since I already purchased a (PRODUCT)RED Apple iPhone SE, I selected the red Apple Watch Series 6. These new colors are attractive and the one visually distinguishing difference between the Series 5 and Series 6.

Also: Apple Watch Series 5 review: This is the watch I've been waiting for

Turn on the display of the Apple Watch Series 6 and you may also note the always-on retina display is 2.5 times brighter than the Series 5. At first I thought the full watch face was lit, but it was just the always-on display. Inside the new watch has the Apple S6 chip that Apple claims is 20% faster than the S5 and is more energy efficient. We'll have to see how the watch does over time to gauge the battery life.

Speaking of battery life, one software improvement is the support for an official Apple sleep application. We've seen third party solutions in the past, but Apple now officially supports sleep tracking and it is well integrated with the alarm on the watch. The Apple Watch Series 6 also reportedly charges up faster than the Series 5 so after a night of sleep you can slap the watch on the charger and top it off before heading out to work.

Setup of sleep also includes a note that Apple will warn you if there is not adequate remaining battery to track your sleep. Last night was my first sleeping with the Apple Watch Series 6 and I had the new Fitbit Sense strapped to the other arm as a comparison. The Fitbit Sense and Fitbit ecosystem provides far more detail on the data captured during sleep, making the Apple Watch pretty useless for sleep data. After seeing just the time and a basic graph of the data from the Apple Watch, it's better to just charge it up at night than use it for sleep until Apple enhances the sleep analysis area of Apple Health. 

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Sleep is buried down in the data too so it looks like Apple rushed the functionality to market. I expected to see a dedicated Apple Sleep app for the iPhone that would show you REM sleep, deep sleep, blood oxygen levels, resting heart rate, and more, but none of that is readily apparent.

Also: Best smartwatches in 2020: Apple and Samsung battle for a spot on your wrist

Health and wellness is important for wearable makers today as the world deals with the global coronavirus pandemic. We have seen pulse oximeters, aka blood oxygen or SpO2 sensors, on wearables for years from companies like Garmin, Fitbit, and Coros. In the beginning the measure was focused on tracking conditions of athletes in high altitude situations and then evolved to tracking at night while someone is sleeping. Today, Garmin and Apple blood oxygen sensors can measure this information all day long.

I tested the Apple Watch Series 6 against the Garmin Forerunner 745 and saw results within 2% of each other. Last night I wore the Apple Watch Series 6 and Fitbit Sense with blood oxygen levels also within 2% of each other.

In typical Apple fashion, the blood oxygen sensing app is very well done on the Apple Watch. Cool animations and a large number countdown help ensure you stay still while measuring your blood oxygen levels with easy-to-read results. In Apple's press release for the new Apple Watch Series 6 it states that is is working closely with various medical facilities to continue to study and understand how blood oxygen measurements can help with health management. The key is tracking the trends and understanding that none of these watches are medical devices.

Also: Fitbit Sense review: Advanced health and wellness tracking, GPS, and coaching

To begin testing the GPS sports watch capability of the Apple Watch, I ran with it this morning to see how the new always-on altimeter performed. The watch can now detect small elevation changes, up to as small as 1 foot. It can be shown as a workout metric or watch face complication.

As expected, the Apple Watch performed well as a GPS watch, but I'll need to use another app if I am going to run with it since the Apple Workout app is very basic and doesn't provide the glanceable information I want to see while running. I'll have to spend more time with this app and then also explore the Strava app as a possible replacement.

Other health features of watchOS 7 include VO2 Max as a more visible metric (was hidden in Apple Health), handwashing detection, and new workout types. These new workouts include Core Training, Dance, Functional Strength Training, and Cooldown.

I've only had one day and one night with the new Apple Watch Series 6 so I'll be running, biking, hiking, sleeping, and more over the next couple of weeks before posting the in-depth review. I'll be checking out watchOS 7 in detail, tracking my blood oxygen levels, seeing how sleep tracking stacks up with the Fitbit Sense, and more. If you have any specific questions or things you want me to test out, please leave a comment below or send me a message on Twitter.
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