This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

A new app that measures blood oxygen levels, an FDA-cleared ECG app, a family mode to keep track of loved ones and cardio fitness alerts: The Apple Watch continues to evolve as a personal health hub on your wrist with the new Series 6, announced Tuesday at Apple’s September event.

But as the smartwatch landscape becomes saturated with competitors like Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 and the new Fitbit Sense, which also promise health features like an ECG, plus a cheaper Apple Watch SE in the mix, the $399 (£379, AU$599) Series 6 faces more competition than ever. Here’s how it stacks up.

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Blood oxygen levels while you sleep, or on-demand 

The biggest upgrade to the Series 6 is a new Blood Oxygen app that measures oxygen saturation in the blood, aka SpO2. It uses new red and infrared sensors to measure the color of your blood and determine the percentage of oxygen in it. This is done either on demand through an app, or measured intermittently in the background and logged throughout the day (or night). It will then automatically appear in the Health app on your iPhone

Oxygen saturation has become a key metric to monitor during the COVID-19 pandemic as low blood oxygen levels are one of the most dangerous symptoms of the virus. Samsung also introduced an SpO2 feature in the Galaxy Watch 3, which is measured on demand rather than automatically, while Fitbit and Garmin also have some form of SpO2 tracking.

Apple also mentioned in Tuesday’s keynote that it currently has three different SpO2-related studies underway, including one related to asthma and another for detecting early signs of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.

As of now, with the Series 5 discontinued, the Series 6 is also the only watch you can get from Apple with the electrocardiogram feature, which Apple calls ECG, that debuted on the Series 4 in 2018.

Faster processor, but only slightly better battery 

The other key upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 6 is the faster processor: Apple’s S6 chip is based on the A13 Bionic chip found in the iPhone 11. Aside from being faster to launch apps, the new processor makes the Watch more efficient at extending battery life during runs. It still has the same 18-hour battery life as the Series 5, but can now get a full charge in an hour and a half. You’ll need at least a 30% charge at the end of the day for the new sleep-tracking feature launching with WatchOS 7

Real-time elevation and cardio fitness alerts 

The entire Apple Watch line will get new fitness features with WatchOS 7, such as dance tracking and core training, but the Series 6 is the only one that will have real-time elevation monitoring that you can see on a hike. 

The Apple Watch also uses the Vo2 max reading (maximum oxygen consumption during exercise) to monitor cardio fitness levels and lets you know when they’re too low. According to Apple, this metric can be an important indicator of overall health.

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New colors, same design

The Apple Watch Series 6 keeps the same square design as its predecessors, but the display is now brighter than before. Apple added new colors, including blue and red, to the existing lineup. The aluminum version will now come in blue and Product Red, while the stainless steel will get a new gold finish. The always-on display is also twice as bright in broad daylight as the previous Series 5. 

Clasp-less bands and Memoji watch faces 

Apple also announced a new type of band that just slides on your wrist like a hair tie, with no clasps or buckles. The Solo Loop comes in a braided or traditional silicone option, with seven different colors to choose from.

And there are more ways to customize the watch face with a new Memoji option that you can create directly on the watch. 

Family Setup, no iPhone needed 

The new Family Setup feature allows you to set up a second Apple Watch that doesn’t need its own iPhone. You can program location alerts from the parent’s iPhone, designate what contacts they can communicate with and limit use during certain hours with the School Time mode.

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Fitness Plus with the Apple Watch at its core

Apple’s new subscription Fitness Plus service brings guided workouts to the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. You can choose from a variety of different programs to stream on your device of choice and sync with the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch will automatically start the correct workout for you and display your stats on the screen, so you can follow along without having to glance at your phone. Instructors will use the Apple Watch as a training tool to push you during a workout. 

The Service will launch at the end of the year and will cost $9.99 (£9.99, AU$14.99) per month, or $80 (£80, AU$120) per year. 


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