Today’s the official launch date for the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE, both of which Apple announced on Tuesday. We picked up a couple of the new models and thought we’d give them a quick look for MacRumors readers thinking of ordering a new watch.
When it comes to design, both the $399 Series 6 and the $279 SE look just like the Apple Watch Series 5 with the larger, thinner display introduced with the Series 4 and 40 and 44mm size options, so there are no surprises there.
We couldn’t get one of the new colors delivered on Friday, but the Series 6 aluminum models come in new blue and (PRODUCT)RED aluminum shades along with the standard silver, space gray, and gold options. You can’t get those new colors with the Apple Watch SE because it only comes in silver, space gray, and gold. The SE also isn’t available in stainless steel or titanium like the Series 6.
Neither of Apple’s new watches comes with a 5W power adapter for charging, so hopefully you have a few already on hand. You do still get the 1m charging cable, though. Apple said when introducing the watches that the power adapter was removed for environmental reasons, and we’re also expecting to see the power adapter nixed from the iPhone 12 boxes too, based on rumors.
The new Apple Watches look like the Series 5, but there are some differences between them. The Apple Watch Series 6 has the same Always-On display that was in the Series 5, but it’s brighter outside. We had a hard time telling a difference, but it may be more obvious in some conditions.
The Always-On display in the Series 6 also lets you use Control Center and check notifications without having to raise your wrist. The Apple Watch SE has no Always-On display at all, so it’s the same old blank screen when your wrist is down that you may be used to from prior Apple Watches.
Both watches have new Always-On altimeters for hiking, skiing, and other activities that involve elevation changes. You’ll see the altimeter in real-time on the Series 6 thanks to that Always-On display.
There’s a faster A6 chip in the Series 6 while the SE has the same S5 chip that was in the Series 5, and there’s a noticeable jump in performance when using the Series 6. It feels faster and more powerful when navigating through the watchOS operating system.
If you flip the two watches over, there’s a difference when it comes to sensors. The Series 6 is equipped with green, red, and infrared LEDs to support the new blood oxygen monitoring feature which is the big new health change. Blood oxygen monitoring and ECG are Series 6-exclusive features.
The LEDs and infrared light in the Series 6 shine light onto your wrist and photodiodes detect the color of your blood to determine the oxygen percentage. Bright red blood is well oxygenated, while darker blood has less oxygen. The Apple Watch reads all of that information and provides an oxygen level reading between 70 and 100 percent.
It can be a little tricky to get a blood oxygen reading because you need to make sure to hold still. You can get readings on demand or the Apple Watch will occasionally take measurements in the background. It’s neat to have the option, but it’s not really clear what we’re supposed to do with blood oxygen levels.
Healthy people are going to have a SpO2 level that ranges from 95 to 100% and rarely fluctuates, so like ECGs, this may be a feature that most people aren’t going to take much advantage of. For those who don’t feel the need to have the specific ECG and blood oxygen monitoring capabilities, the Apple Watch SE does just about everything else the Series 6 does at a more affordable price point, which makes it a good value.
You still get key health features like the optical heart rate sensor, fall detection, noise level monitoring, and emergency SOS, and it has the same general health and fitness functionality outside of the blood oxygen detection and ECG.
Apple also introduced new Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop bands with the Series 6 and SE, and we picked up a Solo Loop. These bands have no clasps or buckles and are meant to stretch to slide over your hand. Apple sells them in nine sizes, and you have to measure to make sure you get the right fit. MacRumors videographer Dan ordered a size 10 which ended up fitting his wrist well, and he said it’s “incredibly comfortable.” The rubber of the band stretches quite a bit, which makes it easy to get on and off.
All in all, if you have a Series 5, there may be no need to upgrade unless you really want the blood oxygen monitoring capabilities and the faster S6 chip, and if you have an older watch and don’t need ECG or blood oxygen monitoring, the SE may be the better choice for you.
We’ll be doing some more in-depth videos on the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE next week, so make sure to stay tuned to MacRumors.com and subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel.