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

There aren't a lot of differences here.
By
December 13, 2021
Charging Apple Watch Series 6 displays Nightstand mode on a bedside table
Kaitlyn Cimino / Android Authority

Apple Watches are expensive, but are some of the best smartwatches around — if you have an iPhone, that is. The Apple Watch Series 6, Apple’s 2020 release, remains an excellent option for anyone that doesn’t want to splurge on the Series 7. It’s also a decent upgrade over its predecessor, but should you upgrade if you already have the Series 5? Here’s a look at the Apple Watch Series 6 vs Series 5.

Our verdict: Apple Watch Series 5 review | Apple Watch Series 6 review


Apple Watch Series 6 vs Apple Watch Series 5


Specs

Apple Watch Series 6Apple Watch Series 5
Display
Apple Watch Series 6
LTPO OLED Retina
368 x 448 pixels
Always-on display
Apple Watch Series 5
LTPO OLED Retina
368 x 448 pixels
Always-on display
Dimensions and weight
Apple Watch Series 6
44mm:
44 x 38 x 10.7mm
Aluminum: 36.5g
Stainless steel: 47.1g
Titanium: 41.3g

40mm:
40 x 34 x 10.7mm
Aluminum: 30.5g
Stainless steel: 39.7g
Titanium: 34.6g
Apple Watch Series 5
44mm:
44 x 38 x 10.74mm
Aluminum: 36.5g
Stainless steel: 47.8g
Titanium: 41.7g
Ceramic: 46.7g

40mm:
40 x 34 x 10.74mm
Aluminum: 30.8g
Stainless steel: 40.6g
Titanium: 35.1g
Ceramic: 39.7g
Durability
Apple Watch Series 6
WR50

Apple Watch Series 5
WR50

SoC
Apple Watch Series 6
Apple S6 with 64-bit dual-core processor
Apple W3
Apple U1
Apple Watch Series 5
Apple S5 with 64-bit dual-core processor
Apple W3
RAM
Apple Watch Series 6
1GB
Apple Watch Series 5
1GB
Storage
Apple Watch Series 6
32GB
Apple Watch Series 5
32GB
Battery
Apple Watch Series 6
18 hours

USB-C magnetic charging cable
Apple Watch Series 5
18 hours

USB-C magnetic charging cable
Software
Apple Watch Series 6
WatchOS 8.1
Apple Watch Series 5
WatchOS 8.1
Case materials and colors
Apple Watch Series 6
Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium

Aluminum: Silver, Space Gray, Gold, Blue, Product Red

Stainless steel: Silver, Graphite, Gold

Titanium: Titanium, Space Black
Apple Watch Series 5
Aluminum, stainless steel, titanium, ceramic

Aluminum: Silver, Space Gray, Gold

Stainless steel: Silver, Graphite, Gold

Titanium: Titanium, Space Black

Ceramic: White
Connectivity
Apple Watch Series 6
GPS/GNSS
GLONASS
Galileo
QZSS
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Bluetooth 5.0
Apple Watch Series 5
GPS/GNSS
GLONASS
Galileo
QZSS
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Bluetooth 5.0
Sensors
Apple Watch Series 6
Always-on altimeter
Third-generation optical heart sensor
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Ambient light sensor
Blood oxygen sensor
ECG
Apple Watch Series 5
Altimeter
Second-generation optical heart sensor
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Ambient light sensor
ECG
Compatibility
Apple Watch Series 6
iOS 14 or later
Apple Watch Series 5
iOS 13 or later

Features

Apple’s last significant re-design happened with the Apple Watch Series 4, but things have primarily stayed the same since. You’d have to glance at the spec sheet to see any physical differences between the Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 5. The Series 6 is slightly thinner and lighter than its predecessor, but not enough to make a noticeable difference. The good news? You can use the same accessories, like cases, with both.

The only differences are in build and colorways, but even most of that is the same. Aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium bodies are available for both, while the Series 5 has a ceramic option. There are plenty of familiar colorways, like Silver, Space Gray, and Gold. The Series 6 brings Blue and Product Red to the mix, while you can get a white Apple Watch Series 5 if you get the ceramic version. You can swap out bands with both as well.

Accessorize your Apple Watch: The best Apple Watch bands | The best Apple Watch cases

You’ll have to dive into the hardware to find any fundamental differences between the two. The Series 6 comes with a newer processing package that is, unsurprisingly, more powerful and 20% faster than the Series 5’s processor. Other internals stay the same, with 1GB of RAM and 32GB of storage rounding out the specs. Battery life is also about the same, with Apple saying that you can get up to 18 hours of battery life with both the Series 5 and Series 6.

Apple Watch Series 6 review blood oxygen results spo2
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

Most of the upgrades with the Series 6 are with the sensors and on the software side. A welcome addition for fitness enthusiasts is a pulse oximeter to keep track of blood oxygen levels. It’s not FDA-approved and likely not as accurate as medical SpO2 trackers, but it is good enough for keeping an eye on your heart health throughout the day. The Series 6 also upgrades the altimeter to an always-on altimeter. And that’s about it as far as differences go.

The Series 6 retains all the fitness and health tracking features from its predecessor, including all-day heart rate monitoring, an ECG sensor, automatic and manual workout tracking, and sleep tracking. Apple introduced the Apple Fitness Plus service, with workouts led by expert trainers and more, with the Series 6, but you won’t have an issue using the service with the Series 5 either. You can get three months of Apple Fitness Plus for free when you buy a new Apple Watch (Series 3 and newer), and it’s included in some Apple One plans.

Both watches are now running WatchOS 8.1, so the software experience is also identical. You can take advantage of Apple’s unmatched app library and third-party support, get help from Siri, use Apple Pay, control your smart home devices, answer calls and reply to messages, and much, much more.


Price

Apple Watch Series 6 review always on display 1
Jimmy Westenberg / Android Authority

With the launch of the Apple Watch Series 7, Apple no longer directly sells the Series 6 or Series 5 anymore, but you can find them from retailers like Amazon. The Apple Watch Series 6 starts at $399 for the 40mm Bluetooth-only model and $499 for the LTE model. However, you can usually find it on sale around the holidays.

Apple Watch Series 6 press image
Apple Watch Series 6
Last-gen Apple Watch at a fair price
The Apple Watch Series 6 adds a pulse oximeter, a brighter always-on display, and two new colors. This was Apple's highest-end smartwatch in 2020 and may be a solid alternative to the pricier Series 7.

It doesn’t really make sense to buy the Series 5 now if you are in the market for a new Apple Watch. If you’re hoping for a cheaper version, you might want to consider the Apple Watch SE. It’s essentially the same as the Series 5, but without features like an always-on-display and an ECG sensor.

Apple Watch Series 5 44mm press render
Apple Watch Series 5
The Apple Watch Series 5 is a little older at this point, but it's still a capable smartwatch with plenty of advanced features. You can use the built-in ECG to keep track of your heart health. The always-on screen means you're always aware of the time. The Series 5 can even sense if you've fallen by accident and notify emergency services.
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Apple Watch Series 6 vs Series 5: Should you upgrade?

The Apple Watch consistently tops our ranks of the best smartwatches around. If you already have an Apple Watch Series 5, you might want to look at getting the Series 7 instead, or the Watch SE if you’re on a budget.

The Series 6 has a faster processing package and adds new features like blood oxygen monitoring, but the experience is otherwise identical. Except for the pulse oximeter, you’ll get the same sensors with both, and the two are equally capable on the software side of things. It’s ultimately quite an iterative update, and you should be able to hold on to the Series 5 for a while longer unless SpO2 tracking is an absolute must-have.