The key to success in the smartwatch space has often involved finding the balance between style and substance. Apple probably understands this better than any other brand. It’s why the Apple Watch, now in its sixth generation is not just ahead in the sales charts but also in terms of the overall ecosystem with tonnes of Apps and unique experiences. The style quotient has been the key driver for many users to give up their heirloom Swiss watches or fashion watches. Apple and other brands offer a plethora of strap options to accessorise and also heaps of watch faces to match your mood for the day.
The ‘substance’ element has evolved over the last couple of years. While initially it was more about bringing more apps and functionality to your wrist, the smartwatch has also become a serious wellness companion. The Apple Watch 6 comes with its share of talking points. The question is no longer whether the Apple Watch is the best option for iPhone. That’s a given now. Each year we find ourselves asking the same question – did the newest Apple Watch take a substantial leap over its predecessor from the previous year. The short answer in 2020 might well be ‘yes’.
Let’s start with the hardware improvements over last year’s Apple Watch 5. These are the changes that you only notice if you use the watch for a few days. The new S6 SIP (system in package) that uses a dual-core processor based on the A13 Bionic in iPhone 11, runs up to 20% faster. I noticed the impact on battery life (vis-à-vis the Apple Watch 5) especially when tracking my outdoor workout with GPS and the standalone LTE mode on. It also charges much faster (0 to 100% in 1.5 hours). The improved battery life is significant because the always-on display (500 nits) is 2.5 times brighter than the Apple Watch 5. However, you will still need to charge your watch frequently, especially if you use it to track workouts and sporting routines that also lean on the GPS feature.
The Apple Watch follows up on its ECG feature with Blood Oxygen monitoring, probably the headline feature of this year’s edition. While Apple is not the first brand to introduce SpO2 (that measures the oxygen saturation levels in your bloodstream) tracking, it’s the Apple Watch that has increased the buzz around this feature. Blood Oxygen levels have also become a key indicator in COVID-times. SpO2, represents the percentage of oxygen being carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, and indicates how well this oxygenated blood is being delivered throughout the body.Apple has been quick to point out that this feature is more about measuring your overall wellness. You will notice a new set of sensors on the back of the watch – four LED clusters and 4 photodiodes, to measure light reflected back from blood.
The Watch 6 offers on-demand SpO2 readings and it worked quite effectively in our tests. You need to place your hand on a flat surface like a table and keep still for this sensor to work effectively. The other new addition is an altimeter that combines both GPS coordinates and barometric pressure to give you real-time updates on your altitude. This is particularly handy when it combines with the Blood oxygen sensor if you’re trekking in high altitudes with thin oxygen levels. Not all the changes are under the hood. Watch OS 7 (also available for certain editions of the Apple Watch) brings a whole new set of user experiences including some cool watch faces and a useful handwashing timer. This handy feature (especially in a post-COVID world) automatically detects when you’re washing your hands and sets off a 20-second timer.
Apple has added a new watch band – probably our favourite thus far, the Solo Loop, a unique stretchable band that comes in two materials: soft silicone and braided yarn. The Apple Watch 6 widens the gap with the competition especially on the user experience front with a bunch of hardware enhancements and UI tweaks. It’s easily the best option for iPhone users and worth the upgrade if you currently own an Apple 4 or earlier gen Apple watch.
The Apple Watch 6 starts at Rs 40,900 and comes in an array of variants. The new solo loop bands cost Rs 3,900 while the braided solo loop bands cost Rs 7,900