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Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5: What's the difference and should you upgrade

Apple Watch Series 6 Blue
Apple Watch Series 6 Blue (Image credit: Apple)

Just like with last year's Series 4 to Series 5 upgrade, Apple's latest smart watch is not quite a massive leap forward for the wrist. The biggest change is the addition of Blood Oxygen sensing, which is compelling when combined with all of the other health features built-in to the Apple Watch. Plus, if you are getting bored of the same old Apple Watch colors, the blue and (PRODUCT) RED finishes look really sweet.

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5: The same, but different

If you are intrigued by the prospect, but are not quite sure if the Apple Watch Series 6 upgrade is really worth it, then there are a few factors to consider. Do you just want the basics like all-day battery life, speed, and notifications or do you value health sensor capabilities, materials, and colors? Here's a breakdown of all of the key specs.

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch Series 5
Starting price$399$399
Sizes40, 44mm40, 44mm
FinishesSilver, Space Gray, Gold, Blue, (PRODUCT) RED, Graphite, Space BlackSilver, Gold, Space Gray, Stainless Steel, White, Space Black
Case materialsAluminum, Stainless Steel, TitaniumAluminum, Stainless Steel, Titanium, Ceramic
Wireless ConnectivityWi-Fi, Cellular LTE UMTSWi-Fi, Cellular LTE UMTS
GPSYesYes
Bluetooth5.05.0
Battery lifeUp to 18 hoursUp to 18 hours
Screen materialIon-X glass (Aluminum), Sapphire Crystal (Stainless Steel, Titanium)Ion-X glass (Aluminum), Sapphire Crystal (Stainless Steel, Titanium, Ceramic)
DisplayLTPO OLEDLTPO OLED
Always on displayYesYes
Peak brightness1,000 nits1,000 nits
ProcessorS6 with 64-bit dual-core processorS5 with 64-bit dual-core processor
Wireless chipsetW3, U1 Ultra WidebandW3
Water resistance50 meters50 meters
Storage32GB32GB
Family setupYes, cellular modelsYes, cellular models
ECG appYesYes
Blood Oxygen appYesNo
Fall DetectionYesYes
CompassYesYes
AltimeterYes, always onYes
Optical Heart SensorYes, 2nd genYes
Electrical Heart SensorYesYes
AccelerometerYesYes
GyroscopeYesYes
Ambient Light SensorYesYes

As you can see, the underlying technologies of the Series 5 and Series 6 are really quite similar. The case materials, display sizes, battery life, peak brightness, and wireless radios all remain the same. Essentially it all boils down to Blood Oxygen, colors, and processor.

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5: Looking at the new blood oxygen sensor

Apple Watch Series 6 Sensors

Apple Watch Series 6 Sensors (Image credit: Apple)

Blood oxygen sensing capabilities in the Series 6 uses a series of LEDs on the back to measure oxygen saturation (SpO2) on-demand and in the background. On-demand measurements take just 15 seconds, and results are displayed immediately on the watch and within the Health app on the iPhone.

While blood oxygen sensing is new to the Apple Watch in Series 6, the metric is important to understanding how we deliver oxygen from the lungs throughout our body. Lower oxygen saturation levels can indicate potential illness or underlying health risks.

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5: Comparing the flashy finishes

Apple Watch Series 6 Red

Apple Watch Series 6 Red (Image credit: Apple)

Even though the Series 6 sports the same familiar Apple Watch design, it does add a few new colors into the mix. For the aluminum models, Apple has added a sleek dark blue option, along with a stunning (PRODUCT) RED finish. The stainless steel model has gained a new yellow-gold option, which harkens back to the original Apple Watch Edition line.

Speaking of Apple Watch Edition, for Series 6, Apple has dropped the ceramic model from the line up. So if love the crisp white color of the Series 5 Edition, then you may want to sit out on this year's upgrade.

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5: The latest chips

Also new in the Series 6 is the S6 processor and U1 chips. The S6 is a 64-bit, dual-core CPU that is based on the same processor used in the iPhone 11. The S6 is 20% faster than the previous S5 chip, which Apple states can be seen in app launch times.

While more speed is always welcome, the S4 and S5 chips made navigating the watch fluid, and launching apps is no longer painful like it was when the Apple Watch first hit the scene.

Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5: Should you upgrade?

Personally, I would say that there just isn't enough there to justify an upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 6. Apple's Series 5 watch, and even the Series 4 that came before it, are fast enough and plenty capable for most needs. If you already have one of these, then I suggest waiting to see what Apple brings to the table next year, as it may come with a completely new design.

If you just have to have a new color, want the blood oxygen sensor, and don't mind shelling out for the latest, then the Series 6 may be worth the upgrade. Regardless of which route you choose, both the Series 5 and the Series 6 are excellent smart watches that will be around for years to come.

Christopher spends most of his time writing and dreaming about all things HomeKit. If you wish to join him on his quest to automate everything, you can follow him on Twitter at @itschrisclose.