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Apple Watch Series 6: A cheat sheet

Apple's Watch Series 6 comes with blood-oxygen monitoring, a faster processor than the Series 5 and many other features. Get the specs, pricing and more details about Apple's latest smartwatch.

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Apple Watch Series 6

Image: Apple

Apple rolled out its Apple Watch Series 6 on September 15, 2020 during its Time Flies event with a new health sensor that enables blood-oxygen monitoring and is "the most colorful lineup ever," Apple COO Jeff Williams said. The health sensor shines red and infrared lights to calculate the color of a person's blood, which indicates blood-oxygen level, in 15 seconds. It also captures periodic background readings and stores them while you sleep, Williams said.

This Apple Watch Series 6 cheat sheet includes details about additional features in the smartwatch, specs, pricing information and much more. This article will be updated if there is new information from Apple about the Watch Series 6.

SEE: Apple Watch Series 6: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is the Apple Watch Series 6?

The Apple Watch Series 6 is the successor to 2019's high-end Series 5 Watch with a faster processor and enhanced health and design features. It comes with hardware improvements, including a faster S6 System in Package (SiP), watchOS 7, and next-generation always-on altimeter. There are also several options for Apple Watch finishes and bands.

The bulk of the core features and specs are the same as Apple Watch Series 5, but there are some notable changes. For specifics, read TechRepublic's comparison of the Apple Watch Series 5 and the Watch Series 6.

SEE: Mobile device security policy (TechRepublic Premium)

What are the key features of the Apple Watch Series 6?

The most notable feature of the Apple Watch Series 6 is the blood-oxygen sensor. This is a particularly timely feature because pulse oximeters have been in high demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The watch's operating system, watchOS 7, is powered with Apple's new S6 silicon chip, and it has a dual-core processor that touts up to 20% faster performance. Apple reports that the Watch Series 6 maintains its 18-hour battery life.

The Apple Watch Series 6 offers a number of other health and fitness features including sleep tracking, automatic hand-washing detection, new workout types, and an overall focus on customers' well-being.

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Apple Watch Series 6

Image: Apple

Users can take on-demand measurements when they are still, and the watch will also do periodic background measurements while they are inactive, including during sleep. All data will be visible in the health app, Apple said; for instance, a user will be able to track trends over time to see how their blood-oxygen level changes.

The Apple Watch Series 6 has an always-on altimeter setting so a user can see elevation changes on a hike, for example, in real time. Users can measure their blood-oxygen saturation, which represents how much oxygen is carried by red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, from the watch wherever they are. The Apple Watch Series 6 also features an ECG app that the company said can generate an ECG similar to an electrocardiogram. 

Apple is partnering with health networks and research universities to perform various studies, including testing to determine if someone has been infected with COVID-19 and to understand how blood-oxygen levels and other metrics can help manage heart failure.

At its WWDC 2021 keynote, Apple announced watchOS 8, and with it, several new features including greater access with Wallet, more capabilities with the Home app, new workout types and an updated Breathe app. When describing the new watchOS, Kevin Lynch, Apple's vice president of Technology said, "With watchOS 8, we're bringing more convenient access to places users live, work and visit with significant updates to Home and Wallet, expanding support for both physical and mental well-being and enabling richer personal connections with the new Portraits face and updates to Messages."

With watchOS 8, Wallet brings more contact-free ways for users to access the places and things they care about seamlessly and securely. First announced at WWDC 2020, Ultra Wideband support is now available for digital car keys on Apple Watch Series 6. Apple Watch users can securely unlock their car from a distance and start it from the driver's seat.

In fall 2021, users will also be able to add keys for their home, office and hotel to Wallet and use their Apple Watch to unlock. Later in 2021, in participating U.S. states, users can add their driver's license or state ID to Wallet—select TSA checkpoints will be the first place users can begin using their digital ID, according to Apple.

Apple also redesigned the Home App in watchOS 8. The app now offers "more convenient access to accessories and scenes needed in a particular moment, and the ability to control accessories by room," said Apple. Users with a HomeKit-enabled camera can now see who's at the door from their wrist. Apple Watch users can also use the Intercom feature to broadcast a message throughout the home or to individual rooms via HomePod, HomePod mini or other personal devices.

New workout types, like Tai Chi and Pilates, are available on watchOS 8. According to Apple, "These workouts are supported by powerful, validated custom-built heart rate and motion algorithms to provide users with accurate metrics."

Apple took a new approach to mindfulness with its latest update to watchOS—the Breathe app becomes the Mindfulness app in watchOS 8. Features include an enhanced Breathe experience and Reflect—a new session type that can help with focusing on mindful intention for as little as one minute and can be done anywhere, at any time. The Breathe and Reflect experiences also offer tips to help users get more from each session and feature animations, said Apple.

Other notable updates to watchOS 8 include:

  • Sleeping respiratory rate: Now, the Apple Watch Series 6 with watchOS 8 will monitor users' time asleep, heart rate, blood oxygen and sleeping respiratory rate, which is the number of breaths per minute, using a built-in accelerometer. Users can view this information, along with trends over time, in the Health app on iPhone.
  • Portraits Watch Face and Photos: watchOS 8 introduces new ways to view and engage with users' favorite photos right from their wrist. Apple's new Portraits watch face brings portrait photos shot on iPhone to Apple Watch with "an immersive, multilayered effect, intelligently recognizing faces in photos and cropping in to highlight the subject," explained Apple. The Photos app has also been redesigned, offering users new ways to view and navigate collections, Memories and Featured Photos via Apple Watch. Photos can also be shared through Messages and Mail with the new Share Sheet feature.
  • Messages and Contacts: watchOS 8 offers new tools in Messages—users can combine the use of Scribble, dictation, emoji or select from hundreds of trending GIFs, all within the same message. For dictated messages, users also have the option to edit presented text. watchOS 8 also brings the Contacts app to Apple Watch, so users can easily browse, add, edit and share contacts directly from the app.
  • Focus: The Focus feature is a "powerful set of tools available in iOS 15 to help users reduce distraction and be in the moment," according to Apple; now, Focus is available on watchOS 8. Apple Watch Series 6 will automatically align with Focus on iOS, so notifications from people and apps are filtered based on the user's current activity.
  • Multiple timers: Apple Watch Series 6 can now set multiple timers and be given a specific label using Siri (e.g., "Laundry Timer" or "Cooking Timer").
  • Always-On display: In watchOS 8, more Apple Watch apps support Always-On display, including Maps, Mindfulness, Now Playing, Phone, Podcasts, Stopwatch, Timers, Voice Memos and more. watchOS 8 also enables developers to keep their apps timely and relevant with a new Always-On API for third-party apps.
  • AssistiveTouch: Designed to support Apple Watch users with upper-body limb differences, this feature enables one-arm usage of Apple Watch by sensing simple hand gestures to allow interaction, without touching the display. With built-in motion sensors, users can answer incoming calls, control an onscreen motion pointer and surface an action menu that can access Notification Center, Control Center and more.
  • Find Items/Find Devices: On Apple Watch Series 6, users can locate tagged items using Find My network. The new Find Devices app helps users locate lost Apple devices that are signed in using the same Apple ID.
  • Music: The Music app has been redesigned and now allows users to share songs, albums and playlists through Messages and Mail. Users can also enjoy music and radio all in one place.
  • Weather: The app now supports Severe Weather notifications—displaying government alerts about certain severe weather events. The app also features Next Hour precipitation alerts and updated complications.
  • Apple Fitness+: The fitness service expands its offering in watchOS 8 with Picture in Picture support and new filtering options. With watchOS 8, users can now stop and start an in-progress workout on any device. 

What is Family Setup?
Apple debuted a new Family Setup feature so parents can set up managed Apple watches for children and other family members who don't have iPhones. Parents can also manage which contacts their kids can communicate with and set up location alerts, as well as a do-not-disturb mode when they are in school.

In addition, watchOS 7 offers features for older adults, such as a simplified on-boarding and configuration process and an extra-large watch face to display the time. 

At WWDC 2021, Apple announced that Family Setup will now include the ability to add transit cards from Hong Kong, Japan and select China mainland and U.S. cities. Calendar and Mail also now include the option to add a Google account.

SEE: BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Specs for the Apple Watch Series 6

  • Processor: S6 chip System in Package (SiP), a 64-bit dual-core processor based on the A13 Bionic chip
  • Design: U1 chip and Ultra Wideband antennas
  • Operating system: watchOS 7 or higher
  • Sizes: 40mm, 44mm
  • Battery life: 18 hours
  • Water resistance: Up to 50 meters
  • Music storage: 36 GB
  • Sensors: ECG, SpO2, heart rate, altimeter

What are the color, bands, and display options for the Apple Watch Series 6?

The Apple Watch Series 6 is offered in Space Gray, Silver, Blue, Gold and Apple Watch Product Red aluminum case options.

Apple offers a waterproof "Solo Loop" strap that is made from a stretchable, continuous piece of silicone that can be slipped on and off without any buckles or adjustments. It is available in a range of styles and seven colors. The watch also comes in a braided Solo Loop strap made from yarn and is available in five colors.

Another option is a new leather link strap with flexible molded magnets.

Numerals can be displayed in three ways. The Apple Watch Series 6 also comes with seven new watch face options, including Stripes, Chronograph Pro, GMT, and Artist. For instance, users could select from emoji faces that move and react to touch; or, the striped faces could be matched to what someone is wearing or to represent a favorite team. There are also watch faces for people interested in various activities such as surfing and photography. There is a watch face that displays multiple time zones at the same time.

With the release of watchOS 8 comes Apple's new Portraits watch face. This feature brings immersive, multilayered portrait photos shot on iPhone to Apple Watch Series 6.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

Is the Apple Watch Series 6 eco-friendly?

During its Time Flies event, Apple employees discussed how eco-friendly both the company and the watch are not just in terms of energy usage but in the materials that are used. The Apple Watch Series 6 is made with 100% recycled tungsten and does not contain these harmful chemicals: BFR, PVB, beryllium or mercury. Also, the Apple Watch Series 6 is made with arsenic-free glass.

One significant change is that Apple is removing the USB power adapter from the Apple Watch, according to Lisa Jackson, Apple's VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives.  

The Apple Watch Series 6 has an energy-efficient design so when someone is outdoors the display can be read even in the sun. Plus, it is 2.5 times brighter than the Apple Watch Series 5.

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Details about how Apple and the Watch Series 6 are environmentally friendly (slide is from Apple's Sept. 2020 event).

Image: Screenshot by Mary Weilage/TechRepublic

What is Apple One?

The company is bundling some of its services under a new plan called Apple One. There are three tiers for the subscription service: 

  • An individual plan comes with iCloud, Apple Music, Apple Arcade, and Apple TV+ and starts at $14.95 per month;
  • a family plan costs $19.99 per month and can be shared with up to five family members; and
  • the premier subscription service costs $29.95 per month and includes these services plus news and fitness subscriptions and increases storage to 2 TB.

The new service is available this fall on a 30-days free trial basis. For more details, read sister site CNET's article on 3 big questions that need to be answered about the Apple One subscription bundle.

What is Apple's Fitness+ service?

Apple will roll out a new subscription-based service called Fitness+ later this year for use with the Apple Watch. Fitness+ offers 10 types of virtual workouts, music, and improved fitness tracking features. Many of the workouts require dumbbells or no equipment at all. Each week a new, wide variety of workouts will be delivered. 

The fitness service expands its offering in watchOS 8 with Picture in Picture support and new filtering options. With watchOS 8, users can now stop and start an in-progress workout on any device.

The service was "designed with privacy in mind," and nothing is stored, the company said. 

Fitness+ is $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. The first three months are free.

SEE: 5 Apple Watch apps to simplify your workday (TechRepublic)

What is the price for an Apple Watch Series 6? 

The Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 (GPS) and $499 (GPS + Cellular). 

In tandem with the Apple Watch Series 6 announcement, Apple said it has also created the Apple Watch SE model, which comes with the same features as last year's Watch Series 5 and retails for a more affordable price that starts at $279.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is still available for $199.

For more details, read this comparison of the Apple Watch Series 6 vs. Watch Series 3 and Watch SE.

When and where can I buy an Apple Watch Series 6?

Apple Watch Series 6 (GPS) is available to preorder now from Apple.com, in the Apple Store app, and from retail stores, including Best BuyTargetAmazon and B&H. It will be available to purchase beginning September 18, 2020 in the U.S., Puerto Rico and 27 other countries and regions.

The cellular version (GPS + Cellular) of the Apple Watch Series 6 is available to order now from Apple.com and in the Apple Store app, with availability beginning September 18, 2020 in the U.S., Puerto Rico and 21 other countries and regions. For carrier availability and details about which countries and regions it's available, visit apple.com/watch/cellular.

If you have an older Apple Watch model and plan to upgrade to the Series 6, learn about options for selling, trading in, donating, or recycling your current Apple Watch.

What are the top alternatives to the Apple Watch Series 6?

If you don't want to be tied to Apple's smartwatch ecosystem and don't need to read iMessages from your wrist, there are other options. Here are three alternatives to the Apple Watch Series 6.

One high-end option is the Fitbit Sense, which retails for $329. The Fitbit Sense comes with tools for stress management, heart health, SpO2, skin temperature, among others. Fitbit was the original fitness- and activity-tracking smart band company, launching its first product in 2009.

Another Apple Watch alternative is the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3. Its features include sleep tracking, advanced workout tracking, an above-average battery life, and an ECG sensor to diagnose atrial fibrillation. The Galaxy Watch 3 costs $399.

The Garmin vivomove HR, which starts at $199.99, offers wellness monitoring tools, such as all-day stress tracking and a relaxation timer. The watch also includes advanced sleep monitoring with REM sleep. The vivomove HR also displays steps, calories, distance, heart rate, intensity minutes, and VO2 max.

Editor's note: This article was updated by Kristen Lotze to reflect the watchOS 8 announcement and updates. 

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