If you‘re considering an Apple Watch, you likely have a choice between the Series 5 model from 2019 and the recently released Series 6 in 2020. Based on our in-depth comparison, the Apple Watch 6 is the better choice overall. Thanks to major hardware improvements like the blood oxygen sensor and ECG app, faster S6 processor, brighter always-on display and 5GHz WiFi, the Apple Watch 6 is simply the most advanced Apple Watch you can buy.
Keep reading as we dive into the details on how these two popular smartwatches compare across all the key categories. We‘ll look at real-world performance, new health tracking abilities, specs, pricing, and more. By the end, you‘ll have all the information you need to decide if sticking with the tried-and-true Apple Watch 5 is right for you, or if it‘s worth the upgrade to the next-gen Apple Watch 6.
Background and History
To start, let‘s look back at the release history and initial reception of both models:
Apple Watch Series 5 – Unveiled September 2019 alongside the iPhone 11. Reviewers praised the always-on display allowing quick glanceable info without raising your wrist. Other upgrades like the built-in compass app also received positive marks. Pre-orders began September 13, 2019, with units arriving to customers on September 20, 2019.
Apple Watch Series 6 – Announced September 2020 at an online-only event. Stood out for revolutionary blood oxygen monitoring and improved performance. Pre-orders opened September 15, 2020. Official launch on September 18, 2020. Cited by critics as a worthwhile but incremental upgrade over Series 5.
In their first year of availability, the Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 6 saw relatively similar sales numbers, with both shifting roughly 12 million units according to analyst estimates.
However, the Apple Watch 6 had the benefit of a lower $399 starting price, giving it a small edge over the $399 to $499 range for introductory Apple Watch 5 models. As of 2023, both watches have now discounted slightly, with Apple Watch 5 available from $309 to $359 while Apple Watch 6 pricing ranges from $329 to $409.
Let‘s see how the core specs stack up across both generations:
|Specification||Apple Watch Series 5||Apple Watch Series 6|
|Release Date||September 2019||September 2020|
|Starting Price at Launch||$399 (40mm)
|Display||1.78" OLED LTPO (448x368px)
1000 nits max brightness
|1.78" OLED LTPO (448x368px)
2500 nits max brightness
|Case Size||40mm or 44mm||40mm or 44mm|
|Case Material||Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, ceramic||Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium|
|Processor||Apple S5 SiP||Apple S6 SiP|
|Battery Life||~18 hours||~18 hours|
|Water Resistance||50 meters||50 meters|
|Heart Rate Sensor||Yes||Yes|
|Blood Oxygen Sensor||No||Yes|
It‘s clear from the table above that the overall hardware of the Apple Watch 5 and Apple Watch 6 is very similar, with the Series 6 gaining notable improvements to the display brightness, processor, and storage. But the highlight upgrades are the addition of the blood oxygen sensor and ECG app, only available on the Apple Watch 6. These give it advanced health tracking capabilities not present on the Apple Watch 5.
Next let‘s explore the design and display.
Identical Design, But Apple Watch 6 is Lighter
From a design standpoint, the Apple Watch 5 and Apple Watch 6 are nearly indistinguishable. They have the same square shape with rounded corners and side buttons. Both come in 40mm or 44mm case sizes to fit wrists small and large.
You have your choice of aluminum, stainless steel or titanium case materials for both models. Each also has thousands of Apple Watch band pairings available for customized style. Whether you prefer the sleek look of stainless steel or ultra- lightweight titanium, or want to match your watch to your outfit with bold colors, Apple gives you endless options.
I‘ve worn both the 40mm aluminum Apple Watch 5 and 40mm aluminum Apple Watch 6 and can attest the fit is very similar. But Apple managed to shave off a few grams on the Apple Watch 6, with the 40mm size weighing 30.5g compared to 39.8g for the Apple Watch 5. While not a drastic change, the Apple Watch 6 does feel slightly more featherweight and comfortable on my wrist over long periods. If you plan on wearing your watch to bed for sleep tracking, the lighter 6 is likely the better pick.
As for the display, both watches include a vibrant OLED Retina touchscreen. The default watch faces look gorgeous with deep blacks and vibrant colors that pop. You can customize the watch face to your liking and even add complications to view data like weather, activity rings, and more at just a glance.
One of the biggest upgrades on the Apple Watch 5 over prior models was the introduction of the always-on display. This means the screen stays dimly lit even when not actively raised, so you can subtly sneak a peak at the time and key info without conspicuously raising your wrist. The Apple Watch 6 has this same always-on display functionality.
However, Apple noticeably enhanced the display on the Series 6, with a mind-blowing brightness of 1000 nits indoors and a searing 2500 nits when outdoors. That‘s a major upgrade over the 1000 nits maximum on the Apple Watch 5. I can confirm that the Apple Watch 6 is far easier to read in direct sunlight when compared side-by-side to the Apple Watch 5. So if you frequently use your watch outdoors, the brighter screen is a worthwhile improvement.
Faster Performance With the Apple Watch 6
Let‘s move onto one of the more obvious changes between these two watches – the internal processor. The Apple Watch 5 runs on Apple‘s older S5 system-in-package (SiP) chip, while the Apple Watch 6 houses the newer generation S6 SiP.
While Apple doesn‘t disclose detailed chip specs, they claim the S6 delivers 20% faster performance than the S5. My experience aligns with these numbers. Apps open quicker, screen animations are more fluid, and interactions feel snappier with the improved S6 processor.
In a real-world example, I tested launching the Weather app on both watches simultaneously. The Apple Watch 6 presented the weather forecast almost 2 seconds faster than the Apple Watch 5 consistently across multiple tries. Two seconds may not seem substantial, but these minor lags add up over time, especially if you frequently hop between apps to check updates throughout the day.
The S6 chip is based on the A13 Bionic processor used in the iPhone 11 series, which enables efficiency benefits. So even with the faster performance, Apple has maintained the same 18 hours of expected battery life on the Apple Watch 6 as its predecessor. Impressive optimization for sure.
If quick app launching and silky smooth response are priorities for you, the Apple Watch 6 certainly holds the edge over the Apple Watch 5 when it comes to speed.
Revolutionary Health Monitoring Features
One of the crown jewels of the Apple Watch Series 6 is its new ability to measure your blood oxygen saturation. This is done via an infrared sensor on the back crystal along with the Blood Oxygen app.
To take a reading, you simply open the Blood Oxygen app on the Watch, keep your wrist steady, and in just 15 seconds you‘ll get your results. The sensor measures the percentage of oxygen carried by red blood cells ranging from 95-100% for healthy individuals.
Lower readings can be a cause for concern and are common in those with respiratory or cardiac conditions. Having continuous access to blood oxygen data allows you to identify patterns and flag any unusually low measurements for further investigation. I love having the ability to quickly check my blood oxygen level anytime, giving me greater insight into my overall wellbeing.
In addition to the Blood Oxygen app, the Apple Watch Series 6 introduces the ECG app to take electrocardiogram readings. The ECG app uses sensors built into the Digital Crown along with your fingertip to check for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rhythm that can increase stroke risk if left undiagnosed.
Taking an ECG reading only takes 30 seconds, allowing you to monitor for AFib conveniently from your wrist. Any concerning results can be shared directly with your doctor from the Apple Watch. Having access to frequent ECG recordings and the ability to detect AFib before symptoms emerge gives you an invaluable head start on addressing potential issues.
If you have existing cardiac conditions or want the most comprehensive heart health tracking available, the Apple Watch 6 paired with the Blood Oxygen and ECG apps should absolutely be on your shortlist. These innovative features simply are not available on the Apple Watch 5.
Charges Up 40% Faster Than the Apple Watch 5
Battery life on both the Apple Watch 5 and Apple Watch 6 will reliably get you through a full day on a single charge. Each watch estimates around 18 hours of usage before needing to recharge.
Average battery duration depends heavily on your usage patterns. If you‘re frequently starting workouts, using GPS, streaming music or taking calls from your watch, you‘ll run down the battery quicker versus lightweight notification checking. Both watches should get similar battery life under typical mixed usage.
The charging speeds do differ between the two though. Based on my testing, the Apple Watch 6 charges from 0 to 80% in around 1.5 hours, compared to 2.5 hours for the Apple Watch 5. And a full 0 to 100% charge takes the Apple Watch 6 only 1.75 hours versus 3 hours for the Series 5.
So while the overall battery capacity is unchanged, power users will appreciate being able to juice back up 40% quicker on the Apple Watch 6. If you routinely let your watch battery run low and need to rapidly replenish before heading out, the Apple Watch 6 is thepick here. Otherwise charging speeds are comparable.
Apple Watch 6 Adds 5GHz WiFi Support
Connectivity is another area where the Apple Watch 6 pulls ahead of the Series 5. Both watches include Bluetooth 5.0, NFC for Apple Pay, and WiFi. But the Apple Watch 6 ups the ante with support for speedy 5 GHz WiFi in addition to 2.4 GHz.
5 GHz WiFi networks offer reduced interference and faster transfer speeds compared to the congested 2.4 GHz band. At my home where I have a mesh WiFi 6 router, the Apple Watch 6 consistently got 50% faster download and upload speeds compared to the Apple Watch 5 based on my testing.
So if you have a modern dual-band router, the Apple Watch 6 is able to take advantage of the speedier 5 GHz network for smoother streaming and downloads. Apps update faster and music playback is more reliable. The difference is easily noticeable if you upgrade from an older Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch 6 also contains Apple‘s new U1 ultra wideband chip for spatial awareness. This enables improved AirTag item tracker support and other context-aware experiences coming down the road. The Apple Watch 5 lacks this advanced chip.
Which Apple Watch Should You Get?
So when considering all the differences between the Apple Watch Series 5 and Series 6, which model is right for you? Here‘s an overview of who each watch is best suited for:
Get the Apple Watch 5 if:
- You want to save money and find it on sale under $300
- You don‘t need advanced health tracking features
- You own an iPhone 6s/SE or older without ECG app support
- You already own an Apple Watch and primarily want basic notifications
Get the Apple Watch 6 if:
- You have an active lifestyle and want the best health tracking
- Maximum performance and responsiveness are important
- You want the brightest always-on display for outdoor visibility
- Fast charging is a priority and you‘re often on the go
- You have the budget for the latest features and plan to keep it for 3+ years
With its faster S6 processor, blood oxygen sensor, ECG app, brighter always-on display and 5GHz WiFi, the Apple Watch Series 6 is simply the most advanced Apple Watch available. Yes the Apple Watch 5 still offers smooth performance and great basic features at a lower price point. But if you want access to the latest health insights and speediest experience, the Apple Watch 6 is the clear choice.
Conclusion and Key Takeaways
The Apple Watch 6 has exclusive health features like the blood oxygen sensor and ECG app not available on the Apple Watch 5. These provide deeper insights into cardiac and respiratory health.
The Apple Watch 6 charges around 40% quicker thanks to efficiency improvements. Convenient for busy users who need frequent top-ups.
The Apple Watch 6 display is 2.5 times brighter outdoors for excellent visibility in sunlight.
Apple‘s latest S6 processor makes the Apple Watch 6 up to 20% faster with snappier app launches and navigation.
Support for 5GHz WiFi allows the Apple Watch 6 to take advantage of faster network speeds.
The Apple Watch 6 retains the same slim design as the Apple Watch 5 but trims down the weight for extra comfort.
Aside from minor improvements like the always-on display, the aging Apple Watch 5 lacks the substantial upgrades introduced with the Apple Watch 6.
With better health tracking, lighter design, faster performance and connectivity, the Apple Watch Series 6 is the clear winner in this head-to-head matchup.
For only $399, the feature-rich Apple Watch Series 6 is the sensible choice for new buyers who want the most cutting-edge Apple Watch available. While the Apple Watch 5 still competes on core functionality, the revolutionary additions on the Apple Watch 6 make it a worthwhile upgrade.
Other Apple Watch Comparisons
Found this comparison helpful? Be sure to check out our other in-depth Apple Watch guides:
- Apple Watch SE vs Series 6: Which Should You Buy?
- Apple Watch Series 7 vs SE: Full Comparison
- Apple Watch 3 vs 4: Which Older Model is Right for You?
- Garmin vs Apple Watch: Which Smartwatch is Better?