This Is the Apple Watch Series 6 and This Is Its New Friend, the Apple Watch SE

Illustration for article titled This Is the Apple Watch Series 6 and This Is Its New Friend, the Apple Watch SE
Image: Apple, Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

We knew it was coming, but the Apple Watch Series 6 is finally here. It has a little friend, too: the Apple Watch SE, a more affordable mid-tier option that’s slightly more advanced than the Series 3.

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The big story here is the Series 6 adds the ability to monitor blood oxygen levels. The new sensor shines both red and infrared light onto your wrist, and then the new app lets you take a measurement in 15 seconds. It can also run in the background for when you sleep. Under the hood, the Series 6 also gets a new S6 processor which is up to 20% faster than the previous generation. The screen is also supposed to be 2.5 times brighter when outdoors and packs an always-on altimeter as well. Apple’s also upgraded the ECG feature. Previously on the Series 4 and 5, heart rates between 100 and 125 could result in inconclusive readings. As for the battery, the Series 6 still keeps that same-old 18-hour battery life—though it does add fast charging. You’ll now be able to charge the Series 6 from zero to 100% in 1.5 hours.

The addition of sleep tracking wasn’t a surprise if you tuned into WWDC—it’s finally a native feature on watchOS 7. In our preview, we found it to be a bit basic compared to sleep tracking on other smartwatches out there, but given that blood oxygen monitoring can run in the background, it definitely opens the door for Apple to do something more advanced down the line. Just like last year, Apple is launching three new studies with medical institutions. The first is with the University of California, Irvine, and Anthem to see how blood oxygen levels might be useful in managing asthma. The second involves the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre at the University Health Network to see how this metric might help those suffering from heart failure. Lastly, the third study is with the Seattle Flu Study and the University of Washington School of Medicine to see how heart rate and blood oxygen may help identify respiratory illnesses like influenza and covid-19.

There is some new software coming with watchOS 7. We got a preview of what was coming with the Series 6 back at WWDC when Apple presented all the changes coming, like sleep-tracking and a handwashing timer. One new feature introduced today, however, was a lower range of VO2 Max, along with a new notification if oxygen levels drop.

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There are also some new design changes. A big one is that the Series 6 will also offer blue and red as watch case color options. As for watch faces, there’s a GMT face that shows multiple timezones at once. You can also pick one that tracks elapsed time and a tachymeter. There’s also a typograph face that lets you pick between different fonts. There’s also a cursed memoji watch face, a Pride face, and Stripes face that, you guessed it, lets you add some colorful stripes.

Surprisingly, Apple also busted out a new type of a strap called the Solo Loop, which comes in 7 different colors and also offers a braided option with 5 colors. There’s also a new leather option with no clasp, as well as more perforated strap monstrosities. If you’re super-rich, there’s also a new Hermes band that also includes a double-wrap strap.

A big new change is the Family Setup. Previously, you needed an iPhone to pair an Apple Watch. The Family Setup lets children and elderly relatives use the watch without needing their own phone. Think of it as sort of an Apple Watch with stronger parental controls.

The Apple Watch SE represents a new mid-level wearable from Apple.
The Apple Watch SE represents a new mid-level wearable from Apple.
Image: Apple
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Somewhat of a surprise is the new Apple Watch SE. Rumors about a lower-end Apple Watch began circulating last week, which made sense as the Series 3's hardware has begun to age out of usefulness. That said, the Series 3 will support watchOS 7 so this wasn’t necessarily a given. However, today’s announcement revealed the Watch SE does in fact exist.

The Watch SE has the S5 chip (which is two times faster than the chip in the Series 3), a display that’s 30% larger than the Series 3, as well as cellular capability. It has the same sensors as the Series 6, accelerometer, gyroscope, altimeter, and compass. It also supports fall detection, noise level monitoring, Emergency SOS, and international emergency calling. And although it wasn’t mentioned in the presentation itself, the SE does come with built-in GPS.

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Because the Watch SE also supports WatchOS 7, you also get the new handwashing features, sleep tracking, and Family Setup. The Watch SE will also support the new watch faces announced today, along with the Solo Loop, the Braided Solo Loop, and the Leather Link. But let’s get down to business: the Apple Watch SE is relatively affordable at $280.

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While we were all speculating that the Series 3 would bite the dust, Apple showed it had some more surprises up its sleeve. Instead of positioning the Apple Watch SE as the budget, entry-level option, it’s more of a mid-tier watch for people who want better hardware than the Series 3 but aren’t interesting in shelling out top dollar.

On top of all of this, Apple also introduced a new Fitness+ service. While it’s mostly on-demand workout content that’s reminiscent of Peloton’s platform, the Apple Watch itself ties into the service as well. Namely, you can view your metrics as an overlay on the video itself—and if you’re doing something like an interval workout, you can also get a special countdown timer.

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Both the Apple Watch Series 6 and Watch SE are available for order today and start shipping starting Friday.

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Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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DISCUSSION

Does Family Setup work with ALL Apple Watches?  Or just Series 6 and SE?