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Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch 6: marginal gains for Apple’s flagship smartwatch

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch 6
Apple Watch 7 (left) vs Apple Watch 6 (Image credit: Apple / TechRadar)
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Apple’s latest smartwatch, the Apple Watch 7, is in stores now. Our reviewer summed it up as “the Apple Watch 6 with a slightly larger screen,” but is the update really as simple as that?

While we’re firing out questions, are there any other points of difference that might make the newer device a better device? Or is last year’s model the smarter pick?

Ultimately, with Apple ruling the wearable roost, we’re seeking to establish nothing less than the finest smartwatch on the market. Let the sibling rivalry commence.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch 6: price and availability 

The Apple Watch 7 went on sale on October 15, 2021. Prices start at $399 / £369 / AU$599 for the non-cellular 41mm model, rising to $429 / £399 / AU$649 for the 45mm model.

As for the 41mm cellular version, that’ll cost you $499 / £469 / AU$749, while the cellular 45mm model costs $529 / £499 / AU$799 – not counting the price of a data plan, of course.

The Apple Watch 6 came out on September 18, 2020. Prices started at $399 / £379 / AU$599 for the GPS-only 40mm version, while the 44mm version started at $429 / £409 / AU$649. The 40mm cellular model started at $499 / £479 / AU$749, and the 44mm at $529 / £509 / AU$799.

We say ‘started’ because Apple has removed the Apple Watch 6 from sale after just a year. The Apple Watch 7 has straight-up booted it from the line-up, though you’ll still be able to pick up a good deal from third-party retailers.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch 6: design and display

Even for a series of devices that hasn’t changed that much over its lifespan, the Apple Watch 7 design really is very similar to the Apple Watch 6.

There isn’t much difference between the style of the two at all, with both sporting that same iconic rounded square look. The chief difference here is the display, which is 20% larger on the Apple Watch 7. Despite this, a corresponding reduction in bezel size means that the Apple Watch 7 has a very similar body size to its predecessor. 

The practical ramifications for the screen size boost is a noticeable increase in usable information on the screen at any one time. It also enables the inclusion of an on-screen keyboard (though we can’t say we were crying out for such a feature).

Apple has gone to great pains to emphasize how the Watch 7 display curves away more than before. The new Contour watch face makes good use of this, making the numbers visible from the side.

Apple Event September 2021

The Apple Watch 7 in a range of shades (Image credit: Apple)

Both screens get equally bright to the tune of 1,000 nits, though the Apple Watch 7 gets 70% brighter in ‘dimmed’ mode. And if that sentence didn’t melt your brain just a little, you probably didn’t read it right.

Apple has made the always-on display brighter on the Watch 7 too, to the point where we’d say that it’s now as good as a normal, non-smartwatch in terms of visibility.

While it’s not readily apparent, the Apple Watch 7 is more robust than the Apple Watch 6, with a hardened display and an IP6X rating that makes it effectively dust and waterproof. There’s been a millimeter added to both base strap sizes, too.

Apple has introduced five new colors with the Apple Watch 7: Starlight (gray), Midnight (black), Blue (er, blue), Green (you get the picture), and Product Red. They’re more muted than previous Apple Watch colors and to our mind more appealing as a result. The Apple Watch 6 comes in gold, silver, graphite, space gray, blue, and Product Red.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch 6: fitness and features

The Apple Watch 7’s more robust hardware shows how Apple’s looking to appeal more to fitness fans. Feature-wise, the core set is nigh-on identical to the Apple Watch Series 6.

It’s still not what we’d call a great fitness tracker. It lacks fairly basic features like interval sessions and heart rate alerts. That’s a fault with both these watches. The 6 and 7 have the same array of sensors, including a blood oxygen sensor, an electrical heart sensor, a third-generation optical heart sensor, GPS, and a barometric altimeter.

Apple Watch 6

The Apple Watch 6 is almost as good for fitness (Image credit: Future)

With both devices, GPS and heart-rate monitoring are competitive against some decent dedicated fitness trackers – though only when you wear them further up the arm in the case of heart-rate monitoring. It’s a little awkward, to say the least.

Electrocardiogram (ECG) and blood oxygen (SPO2) monitoring are of limited value on both watches too, as they’re not medical grade.

While we’re complaining, we’re a little disappointed to see that there have been no improvements to sleep tracking in the Apple Watch 7. It’s just as basic as it was in the Apple Watch 6.

The Apple Fitness+ service is a big selling point here, but again, that’s the case across the Apple Watch 6 and 7 series.

Apple Watch 7 vs Apple Watch 6: OS, power and battery

The Apple Watch 7 is powered by an S7 chip, which might well sound like a generational advancement on the S6 chip that powers the Apple Watch 6, but it really isn’t.

In a slightly deceptive move, the S7 is essentially the same chip as the S6, just remodeled to fit in the new case. Of course, the Apple Watch 6 was already much smoother and faster than any rival smartwatch, so this isn’t a major criticism.

Most of the new and improved features of the Apple Watch 7 are really new and improved features of the accompanying WatchOS 8 software update, which is available across the current range.

Apple Event September 2021

The Apple Watch 7 charges fast (Image credit: Apple)

New features such as the Portrait Mode photos watch face, handwashing notifications, and Assistive Touch are great but available to users of both devices.

As mentioned, there are a few new watch faces to choose from, with the Modular Duo face in particular standing out as ‘not available’ before the Apple Watch 7. We’re a little unsure as to the reason why not, as the larger widget could still work on the smaller face of the Apple Watch 6.

Apple claims the same 18-hour battery life for the Apple Watch 7 as it did with the Apple Watch 6. In our experience, the two watches do indeed have the same stamina. If anything, Apple is underselling that stamina, with both watches lasting closer to 24 hours on a single charge.

Where the Apple Watch 7 improves slightly is in the speed of that recharging process. Thanks to the use of faster coils and a speedier USB-C charging cable, Apple claims that the Watch 7 charges 33% faster than the Watch 6.

In our experience, the Apple Watch 6 charges from 0% to 100% in 75 minutes, while the Apple Watch 7 does so in 64 minutes.

Apple Event September 2021

The Apple Watch 7 looks like the obvious choice (Image credit: Apple)

Takeaway

The Apple Watch 7 is the best all-round smartwatch on the market, without question. However, it’s also the most disappointingly minor upgrade we’ve yet seen in the series.

Essentially, the Apple Watch 7 is the Apple Watch 6 with a slightly larger screen and slightly faster charging. It runs on the same chip (deceptive name change aside), benefits from the same all-day battery life, and looks largely the same.

Yes, it’s more robust, so if you’re a serious fitness fanatic it’s the better choice. But the Apple Watch 6 is hardly flimsy, and there are even tougher and more capable fitness trackers out there if that’s your priority.

With the Apple Watch 6 removed from sale after just one year, it’s quite clear that Apple recognizes how similar these two smartwatch generations are. This means that if you can find the Watch 6 for significantly less from a third-party retailer, it’s probably the better buy.

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