The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

Apple Watch Series 6 Review

Sleek and low profile, this beautifully crisp watch offers excellent ease of use and functionality to track health and wellness data
Apple Watch Series 6
Photo: Amazon
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Price:  $399 List | $329.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Excellent and numerous features, integrates across software platforms easily, easy to set up and use, sleek and low profile, quick updates
Cons:  Poor battery life (both smartwatch and GPS settings), inconsistent GPS accuracy, difficult to find some features, can only be used with an iPhone
Manufacturer:   Apple
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 18, 2021
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66
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#9 of 12
  • Features - 20% 8
  • Battery Life - 20% 3
  • Ease of Use - 20% 8
  • Accuracy - 20% 5
  • Design - 20% 9

Our Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 6 boasts plentiful features that focus on health tracking and wellness. While it's an exceptional fitness tracker that comes with hundreds of app options to optimize your needs, it's not ideal for GPS tracking as its accuracy isn't as good in covered areas. Additionally, many of the touted features are not available in the absence of wifi or cellular data. While the smart features are unmatched, we didn't love the poor battery life that had us charging it almost every day. If you're in the market for a watch that is head over shoulders the best for iPhone integrations, that can also track a workout with GPS, this is one to consider.

This watch, though not our top performer for GPS-specific devices, wins top marks in the Smartwatch review on our sister site, TechGearLab.

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Pros Excellent and numerous features, integrates across software platforms easily, easy to set up and use, sleek and low profile, quick updatesLightweight and thin profile, intuitive, fully featured, very accurateExcellent quality, accurate, simple design, astounding value, very easy to use, great feature set, very long battery lifeLow profile design, exceptional battery life, very accurate, low costLightweight and compact design, storage for 500 songs, great features, easy to use
Cons Poor battery life (both smartwatch and GPS settings), inconsistent GPS accuracy, difficult to find some features, can only be used with an iPhoneExpensive, hidden features that take time to set-up and get to know, blood oxygen sensor has questionable accuracyBacklight isn't bright, heart rate monitor accuracy is a little offNo mountain sports or navigational featuresShort battery life with music, long uploads for music, bluetooth connection with headphones is subpar
Bottom Line Sleek and low profile, this beautifully crisp watch offers excellent ease of use and functionality to track health and wellness dataThis elite watch stands out for its high-end features that boast exceptional accuracy and performance in a low profile designA well-constructed and accurate watch with a minimalistic design, excellent battery life, and all the right featuresA fully functional and incredibly light GPS sports watch boasting out of this world battery lifeThis lightweight contender packs in extensive features including music storage and touchless payment
Rating Categories Apple Watch Series 6 Garmin Forerunner 945 Coros Apex Coros Pace 2 Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
Features (20%)
8
9
6
5
8
Battery Life (20%)
3
9
9
8
6
Ease Of Use (20%)
8
8
9
9
8
Accuracy (20%)
5
8
9
9
9
Design (20%)
9
9
9
9
8
Specs Apple Watch Series 6 Garmin Forerunner... Coros Apex Coros Pace 2 Garmin Forerunner...
Model Tested Blue aluminum case, deep navy sport band N/A Standard N/A Music
Watch Face Material Ion-X glass (aluminum models) and sapphire glass (stainless steel & titanium models) Corning Gorilla Glass DX Sapphire glass Corning glass Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Bezel No bezel Fiber-reinforced polymer Stainless steel bezel Fiber reinforced polymer Stainless steel
Case Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium options Fiber-reinforced polymer Alumnium Fiber reinforced polymer Polymer
Strap Material Silicone or silicone woven options Silicon Silicon or nylon Silicon or nylon Silicone
Tools Required to Change Band? No Yes No No No
Size Tested 40mm One size only 44 mm One size only One size only
Measured Main Body Size (diameter or W x H) 31 x 36 mm 46mm 44mm 43mm 42mm
Measured Thickness 10mm 13mm 13mm 11mm 12mm
Measured Screen Width 30mm 30mm 33mm 32mm 29mm
Measured Weight 2 oz 1.7 oz 1.7 oz 1.2 oz 1.5 oz
Measured Charging Time 70 min 75 min 70 min 80 min 75 min
Battery Type Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion Rechargable lithium ion
Measured Battery Life With GPS On 5.5 hours 46 hours 31 hours 38 hours 12 hours
Manufacturer-Reported Battery Life 18 hours of Smartwatch Use
GPS: 7 hours
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 14 days
GPS mode w/ Music: 10 hours
GPS without music: 36 hours
Smartwatch Mode: 25 days
25 hours Hours in Full GPS Mode
80 hours in UltraMax GPS Mode
Smartwatch Mode: 20 days
GPS: 30 hours
Ultramax Mode: 60 hours
Smartwatch Mode: Up to 7 days
GPS mode with music: Up to 5 hours
GPS mode without music: Up to 14 hours
Navigation Built In? No - can be added with apps Yes Yes No Yes
Satellite Networks Used GNSS (includes GPS, BEIDOU, GALILEO, GLONASS, IRNSS, NAVIC, QZSS, ect) GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, QZSS, GLONASS, BEIDOU GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO
Maps? Yes - only with app addition Yes, detailed Yes - basic No Yes - basic
Back to Start Navigation? No Yes Yes No Yes
Water Resistance (max depth) 50m 50m 100m 50m 50m
Music Control? Yes Yes No No Yes
Music Storage? No Yes - 1000 songs No No Yes - 500 songs
Daily Fitness Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Touchless Payment? Yes Yes No No Yes
Sleep Tracking? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Blood Oxygen? Yes Yes No No No
Compass? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Barometric Altimeter? No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Temperature Sensor? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Main Software App Apple Fitness Garmin Connect, widgets for other features Coros App Coros Garmin Connect, widgets for other features
Can Software Cross Over to Different Software Ecosystems? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Apple Watch 6 is ideal for the everyday user that needs a watch to stay connected and track health data and GPS activities for five hours or less. As a GPS watch, it's less than average, but as a fitness tracker, the features and modularization are hard to beat. To get the most out of its features, you must be in areas that have wifi or cellular service and offers limited functionality without either of those.

Performance Comparison


We like this watch for all its features. It's one we choose to wear...
We like this watch for all its features. It's one we choose to wear every day but isn't our first choice for GPS tracking.
Photo: Amber King

Features


This is the creme de la creme of fitness trackers to help you monitor your health. It's loaded with hundreds of features and the ability to optimize for whatever your needs may be. Add any app as you would on your iPhone for flawless functionality. It primarily works with Apple Fitness and the Apple Watch app. You can also use any app from the Apple Store that's compatible, which is a huge plus. Google Pay, music control, Google Maps…it seems to have it all. You can even activate a cellular plan to use the watch's apps without having a Bluetooth connection to your smartphone. That said, while its features are plentiful, in areas with a lack of service or wifi connections, many of the apps don't work and it becomes more basic in its functionality.

Similar to your iPhone, you can download apps from the Apple Store...
Similar to your iPhone, you can download apps from the Apple Store and add them to your watch.
Photo: Amber King

The Apple Watch Series 6 has a host of health features, including a heart rate sensor, blood oxygen sensor, and electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements. There are literally hundreds of options for apps that you can add or remove from the watch face. There are several integrations that you can use to help improve and monitor health, such as sleep tracking, workouts, and more. All are through the App Store provided by Apple. It also comes with three months free of Apple Fitness+, which offers access to different workouts and coaches.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The Apple Watch features GPS tracking for fitness. One caveat is it doesn't say when the GPS is ready to go or if it's even working, which gave us pause about accuracy and had us questioning if this was, in fact, a GPS watch. However, after finishing our activity, we were able to see all the data, including a track of our run/hike/ride in the fitness app (but not on the watch face). This GPS feature works without the use of a cell phone but requires a cellular signal for navigation.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Communication is unlike any other watch we tested. Using cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connections, you can actually take calls through your watch (which we did when we couldn't find our iPhone), as well as text and talk via a Walkie Talkie to other Apple Watch users that you're connected to. You can also connect to other users to share fitness data and compete in various fitness-driven competitions. In general, this watch is very similar to having your iPhone on your wrist and great for folks that need something to help them stay accountable.

Notable Features:

  • Touch screen and scrolling wheel design
  • ECG sensor (no other watch tested has this)
  • Blood oxygen sensor
  • Music control (no music storage) and streaming
  • No-touch payment (via Apple Pay)
  • Map integrated navigation (turn-by-turn)
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Tens of activities to choose from for any sport, including water sports
  • Water-resistant up to 50 m
  • Many watch face options and designs
  • Daily steps, distance, calories
  • Hourly stand reminders
  • Sleep tracking
  • Integration with hundreds of apps

Battery Life


The Apple Watch 6 offers better battery life than it ever has in the past. However, compared to other GPS watches on the market, it is still not up to par and is insufficient for longer activities without a charge in between. Apple reports a battery life of 18 hours in smartwatch mode (which most will always keep on) and a GPS watch life outdoors of 7 hours.

During our tests, we used this watch daily and while tracking activities like cross country skiing, backcountry skiing, and trail running. To start, while this device is geared towards health and home or gym fitness, it's not designed as much around outdoor objectives. The first illuminating evidence of this is the short GPS life. If you like marathons or ultra distance, don't expect this to perform for long. During our timed GPS tests, we got about 5 hours and 45 minutes of GPS activity while biking, walking, and hanging out around town. For regular smartwatch use, we typically needed to charge the watch daily or every other day, especially if we added activity for an hour or more to the mix.

While this may seem okay to some, in the GPS watch world, this is one of the worst battery life performances that we've seen. Super cheap watches last longer for daily use and don't require the need to recharge every day. Plus, if you intend on tracking night and day activities, the battery life isn't long enough to do both well. One plus is that charging takes only 70 minutes. That said, other watches in this review charge for 70 minutes and last upwards of 30 days with many of the same features.

Ease of Use


The Apple Watch is incredibly easy to use if you're already used to using an iPhone. The main screen is set up similarly to any iPhone face, and you can simply touch the app you need to access and start using. We were able to get our watch going in less than five minutes out of the box. The biggest caveat here is that you need an iPhone or cellular service to use this watch, and without the phone, this device becomes far less attractive. Also, if you're an Android user, pass and move on, because it works strictly with Apple products.

We appreciate the touch screen which is reactive and easy to use.
We appreciate the touch screen which is reactive and easy to use.
Photo: Amber King

While most iPhone users will find this a breeze to figure out as the apps look the same, and integrations with the iPhone technology are seemingly flawless, all of the options and features can feel a little overwhelming. With literally 100s of app options to choose from, this takes away from its ease of use. Plus, you have to take the time to learn how to use each one. If you were to leave it in the factory settings, though, most features are easy to find and figure out without having to consult the internet.

A simple touchscreen design with two buttons. The dial works as both...
A simple touchscreen design with two buttons. The dial works as both a button and to utilize scrolling features.
Photo: Amber King

In terms of the ease of use with the watch itself, we appreciate the simplistic design that utilizes a touch screen and one roller button on the right. The touch screen is very sensitive and reacts immediately without any lag time in between. On most days outdoors, even bright ones, we could easily see our data without concern.

Accuracy


We tested GPS accuracy and heart rate data using a few different tests. To test the GPS, we ran and hiked through open and treed trails of known distances to compare the data gathered. We also look at GPS tracks to see how close each stayed to the trail or road traveled. For heart rate testing, we manually tested our rate while exercising, standing still, and performing other activities to see how the actuals compared to the data on the watch.

A look at the heart rate monitor and blood oxygen sensor.
A look at the heart rate monitor and blood oxygen sensor.
Photo: Amber King

Our results for GPS accuracy were mixed. On many of the watches, we would start these tests when we saw that satellites were engaged and the signal was strong. On the Apple Watch, the activity just begins; satellite strength is not apparent. For our results, during a 12 mile known distance, we had the measured distance at 11.4 miles, which is not as accurate as we'd hoped. We think this is because we started our run in a forested area, and perhaps the GPS signal was not picked up until later. Other known run distances were within 0.3 - 0.5 miles when hiking, walking, running, and biking. For some activities that we measured, we did not get a map after the activity, which led us to believe that nothing was captured GPS-wise (for example, while cross-country skiing).

Heart rate data seemed to be accurate during some activities but not all. We found that when we started to sweat, the watch wiggled more on the wrist, which could attribute to a lack of heart data. This watch differed from the supplementally measured data between 2 bpm and 15 bpm during our measured accuracy tests.

Design


The design of the Apple Watch 6 is beautiful. It's light, low profile, and hardly feels like it's on your wrist. When you get it out of the package, you attach the straps to the face, and they can easily be replaced — many other strap designs are offered through both Apple and third-party sources. The touch screen is crisp and clear, altering brightness without adjustment to accommodate different amounts of sunlight. It measures 31mm (width) by 36mm (height), with a 10mm thickness. The screen goes almost all the way out to the edges with a width of 30mm. It is also very light, weighing only 2 oz. It earns top marks in this metric and is our preferred watch to wear every day for fitness and lifestyle tracking.

A simple and sleek design. The body of the watch easily releases...
A simple and sleek design. The body of the watch easily releases from the straps for a simple change out if you want to change colors or materials.
Photo: Amber King

Value


This is a great everyday watch for those that like to track fitness or use it for shorter activities no longer than 4 - 5 hours. Since its Achilles heel is battery life, it's not ideal for ultra-distance athletes or serious multi sporters. While the price is high, the functionality can't be matched when it comes to smart features and modularity. You can optimize it to fit your lifestyle perfectly. That said, for its GPS and battery functionality, it's below average and not worth spending the money if you mainly need a high-performing GPS watch. You may see the value, however, if you're looking for an everyday watch that boasts plentiful features to keep you connected and accountable.

Conclusion


The Apple Watch Series 6 offers a myriad of features that we love. If you're an iPhone user looking for an everyday watch that'll also measure shorter activities with excellent features, this low profile design is one of our favorites to consider. For the serious distance athlete, though, the GPS accuracy and performance simply aren't up to snuff.

While the Apple Watch didn't last us on this long adventure into the...
While the Apple Watch didn't last us on this long adventure into the mountains, it's a great option for everyday use.
Photo: Amber King

Amber King