Here's a first look at the new high-end Apple Watch and what you need to know about it

Key Points
  • Apple announced two new Apple Watch models this week — the high-end Series 6, which starts at $399, and the midrange Apple Watch SE, which starts at $279.
  • Apple will also continue to sell the Apple Watch Series 3 for $199.
  • That gives Apple a wider market, since billions of people have smartphones.
  • But one analytics firm expects a smartwatch market of just 150 million in 2020.
Apple Watch Series 6 in blue
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There's now an Apple Watch for all price ranges.

Apple unveiled two new models this week — the high-end Series 6, which starts at $399, and the midrange Apple Watch SE, which starts at $279.

Apple will continue to sell the Apple Watch Series 3 for $199.

The new lineup gives Apple a wider market since billions of people have smartphones, but Canalys expects just 150 million will have smartwatches in 2020. That's a lot, but shows there are still tons of untapped buyers. It's just up to smartwatch makers like Apple, Huawei, Garmin, Fitbit and Samsung to reach them with compelling offerings.

I have the Apple Watch Series 6 here, so I'll show you a bit of what it's like and explain how it stands out against the other models.

But, real quick, if you think about the new family of Apple Watches in terms of features available, it's easy to think of it like this: The Series 3 at $199 is good. The Series SE at $279 is better. The $399 model is best. What actually might be best for you depends what you want out of the watch, and how much you're willing to spend.

Here's what you need to know about the new Apple Watches and a first look at the Series 6, which launches on Friday along with the SE.

The Series 6 has it all

The Series 6 has all the fun new stuff you might want in an Apple Watch. It looks great, pretty much identical to last year's Series 5 and the Apple Watch SE.

Apple Watch Series 6 in blue
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple says a new processor makes the Series 6 20% faster than the Series 5, which never felt slow to me in the first place. It has a newer always-on display that's brighter. That means you can always see the watch face, even in bright sunlight, which I've already noticed works well. And "always-on" means it doesn't turn off automatically as it does on other Apple Watches. 

Apple Watch Series 6
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Series 6 also has Apple's most advanced sensors. You can run the ECG app for an electrocardiogram, for example, a feature that's not on the Apple Watch SE or Series 3. It's also the only model with the new blood-oxygen app. I tried that and it told me my blood oxygen was 96%, which seems good.

Trying the blood oximeter.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

But Apple is careful to explain that this isn't a medical device. You can use it if you're curious about your blood oxygen when you're hiking at high altitudes, but Apple isn't making any promises about detecting low oxygen should you fall ill with coronavirus.

Finally, the Series 6 is available in several new colors, including blue aluminum (the model I have), red, graphite steel and a polished gold steel. I love the new blue color. It's an option along with red in the $399 price range.

Apple Watch Series 6 in blue
Todd Haselton | CNBC

This is the new braided solo loop band. It's stretchy so you can pop your hand in and out without having to undo any straps.

This new band doesn't have any clasps, just slide it over your wrist.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You have to buy the Series 6 if you want steel with the harder sapphire screen, since that isn't an option on the two other models. I recommend sapphire if you scratch up watches as easily as I do.

Apple Watch Series 6, the new Memoji face looks like me.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Alright, on to the other models. As a quick point, all of the features in the watches I'm about to talk about are also in the Apple Watch Series 6.

The Apple Watch SE

The Apple Watch SE is seen on a laptop computer during a virtual product launch in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

I don't have this model yet, but I think the Apple Watch SE is probably going to be a hot seller along with the $199 Series 3 given the price.

It has the same-size screen as the Series 6, though it isn't always on, so you need to lift your wrist to see it. It has fall detection, which can tell if you've accidentally fallen and even automatically dial 911 or your local emergency number. It has last year's processor, which I've always found to be plenty fast for running applications, a new always-on altimeter so you can track your altitude as you hike or bike or just walk up stairs. And it has a new improved speaker and microphone for when you talk to Siri or place phone calls through your wrist.

Like the Series 6, it supports Family Setup, so a family member, such as a child, can use an Apple Watch without an iPhone.

So big differences here: It can't do the ECG, doesn't have the blood-oxygen monitor, doesn't have an always-on display and is only available in aluminum models. For $279, that's still a pretty good deal.

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3
Nina Raja | CNBC

The Series 3 is similar to the Apple Watch Series 3 that launched in 2017 for $329. It's still a great watch but has a slightly smaller screen than the Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Series 6. It's still water resistant and "swimproof," just like the other models, so you can shower or surf or whatever without worrying too much about damaging it.

It doesn't have fall detection, a blood-oxygen app or an ECG app, but it can still detect your heart rate and alert you if it goes too high or too low, and detect irregular heart rhythms. It doesn't have a compass or an always-on altimeter, but it still has a regular altimeter if you want to manually check it.

It has the same S3 chip that first launched in the Series 3. I haven't used the latest software on one of these older models, but it probably runs a bit slower than it does on the Apple Watch SE and certainly on the Apple Watch Series 6. Finally, there's no cellular model available in the regular Series 3, so you can't leave your phone behind and still place calls or receive text messages.

WatchOS 7

watchOS 7 includes sleep tracking support.

The good news is the same software powers most of the experiences across the Apple Watches. It's part of what makes them so compelling in the first place.

So, no matter what model you choose, you'll still get some of the compelling new features introduced this year, like sleep tracking. All of the Apple Watch models work for mobile payments, too, so you can just tap your watch at a checkout counter when you're buying something instead of taking out a card. I find that pretty convenient and important during the pandemic.

You'll also get thousands of third-party apps and popular ones made by Apple, like automatic workout detection, a fitness app that encourages you to close rings by being more active, messages and more. They'll work with Apple's new Fitness+ subscription service launching later this year, which will show workout videos on your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV with overlays of stats from your Apple Watch, like your heart rate.

Apple introduces new watches, apps and iPads during September product event
Apple introduces new watches, apps and iPads during September product event

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

Correction: The Apple Watch Series 3 does not support family setup.