Early in September, Apple kicked off its first of two late-2020 announcements with the company’s Time Flies event. The online-only stream lasted about two hours, but by the end of it, there were quite a few changes to Apple’s 2020 and 2021 product lineup.
- Does The Apple Watch Series 6 Come With a Charger?
- Does My Apple Watch Support watchOS 7?
- Time Flies Recap: Everything Apple Announced in September 2020
- How to Change Activity Goals on Your iPhone and Apple Watch
- How to Find Your Size With the Apple Watch Braided Solo Loop Band
In addition to the updated iPad and redesigned iPad Air, we also learned more about the Apple Watch Series 6 and Watch SE. On paper, there may not be very many differences between these new options and the older ones, but if you already own one, how does the Apple Watch 5 vs 6 compare?
Apple Watch 5 vs 6: Do you need to upgrade?
One of the biggest questions, whenever a new device comes out, is whether you should upgrade. The same question can be posed for the Apple Watch 5 vs 6, as Apple has pushed a few new features to this new smartwatch that should be considered. But before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a look at how these stack up spec-wise.
If you were to place the Space Gray Series 5 next to the same color as the Series 6, you may not notice any differences at all. But the real story comes from what Apple has done “under the hood” which differentiates these two flagship smartwatches. So let’s dive deeper to determine which is the right option for you.
What are the similarities between Apple Watch 5 vs 6?
Both Apple Watches are available in either 40mm or 44mm sizes, with the same Retina OLED display. As you would expect, there are both Wi-Fi and LTE versions available for both the Watch 5 and Watch 6, so you can add one of these to your existing phone plan. Battery life is rated at 18 hours, which should last you through the day and night, before needing to top off the next morning.
As for materials, Apple brings back the Aluminum, Stainless Steel, and Titanium for the material options. And while the Solo Loops were unveiled, these will work with your Series 5 if you already have one, or pick one up now that they are on sale.
Since a big focus of the Apple Watch is to help keep track of your health, both the Series 5 and Series 6 have many of the same sensors. The ECG sensor returns with the Series 6, along with the notifications for your heart rate and if an irregular heartbeat is detected. Fall Detection is also available on both of these wearables, which is surprisingly accurate, even if you “fall down” on purpose.
Finally, the Water Resistance rating comes in at 50m for both of these, so you can still feel comfortable taking your new Series 6 for a swim. The water ejection tool is available in the event that water ends up getting inside the speakers.
How is Series 6 different?
With a product as important to Apple has the Apple Watch, it would be inconceivable to think that this wouldn’t be much more than an iterative release. The Series 6 features the new Apple S6 chipset, which the company claims to be about 20% faster than the S5 chip in the Series 5 and Watch SE.
Although the display and case sizes are the same, and both the Series 5 and 6 sport an Always-On Display, the Series 6 has a trick up its sleeve. This display is 2.5x brighter when the AoD is active, making it easier to glance at your wrist and tell the time while you’re outside. We’ll have to see how this plays out in the battery life game, but Apple provided a bit of a surprise in that department.
While the Series 5 vs 6 are both rated for 18-hours of battery life, a recent teardown by iFixit revealed that the Series 6’s battery is just slightly larger (1.17 Wh vs 1.129 Wh). This is likely how Apple was able to keep the same battery life as the Series 5, while increasing the brightness for the Always-on Display. There’s another benefit to the Series 6, as a full-charge from 0% to 100% will take just 1.5-hours, whereas the Series 5 recharges in about two hours.
Antennas and sensors
Moving onto the antennas, the first big difference is the addition of a 5GHz antenna in Series 6. This will provide faster download speeds when connected to your home network, and can be really helpful down the road when new software updates are released.
The U1 & Ultra-Wideband antennas have also been added to the Apple Watch Series 6. These are designed to work with the recently-launched Apple CarKey, along with the AirTags once those are officially launched. Being able to tap your wrist on the car to unlock the door is some next-level stuff, and it will be interesting to see how the integration with AirTags will be.
For those more concerned with the health benefits will enjoy the new Blood Oxygen monitoring (SpO2) with the Series 6. Take 15 seconds, place your hand on a desk or table, and see where your SpO2 levels are at. The Series 6 will also take periodic readings throughout the day, and let you know if you should reach out to your doctor. And while the Series 5 has an altimeter built-in, it only takes periodic readings, whereas the Series 6 sports an always-on Barometric Altimeter.
Finally, the last difference is minor (or it might be a big deal to you), but there are two new color options available — Blue and (PRODUCT)RED. These ship with similarly-colored bands, but can also be shipped with any of the current watchbands offered by Apple. That includes those sweet-looking new Braided Solo Loops, which are a first from Apple.
Apple Watch 5 vs 6: Final Verdict
So you’ve made it this far and are still on the fence about upgrading the Watch 5 vs 6. Well, it’s a pretty cut and dry upgrade from a few different standpoints, but here’s a quick breakdown.
Why you should upgrade:
- If you want the latest and greatest from Apple
- Blood Oxygen (SpO2) monitoring
- The (PRODUCT)RED and Blue color options
- Access to the U1 / Ultra-Wideband antennas
- Faster Wi-Fi speeds
- Faster charging speeds
- Brighter Always-on Display
Why you shouldn’t:
- Battery life is the same
- New watch bands work with older Apple Watch models
- Don’t want to spend the same money on an incremental upgrade
- Have no plans to get a car with U1 capabilities or AirTags
As someone who loves having the latest and greatest products from Apple, the Series 6 was an easy upgrade. Apple does offer trade-in programs to help offset some of the cost, or you could go through a site like Swappa to get a few more dollars. The only pain point is the fact that the Series 6 has the same battery life as its predecessor. We would have liked to see an Apple Watch with at least 20 hours of battery, but I’m still holding out for 24-hours of battery life.
Andrew is a freelance writer based on the East Coast of the US.
He has written for a variety of sites over the years, including iMore, Android Central, Phandroid, and a few others. Now, he spends his days working for an HVAC company, while moonlighting as a freelance writer at night.