Apple Watch Series 5 Review
Apple has finally updated the flagship Watch to the Apple Watch Series 5, upgrading some of its features and yet still maintaining the same iconic design. One thing is for sure, it is still miles ahead of the competition.
The iconic design
One thing stands out when you first grab the watch and that is, the Apple Watch Series 5’s design is, design-wise, the same compared to the Series 4. It comes in either a 44mm case size or a slightly smaller 40mm for those who have slimmer wrists, just as with the series 4 version. The body is still a thin 10.7mm, and the 44mm model weighs a tiny 36 grams. In actual fact, It feels barely noticeable on the wrist, you can wear it under a shirt without any problems (especially if using cufflinks) and the curvy casing is classy and ergonomic.
It does feel like the team who designed it actually knows something about watches. And it really shows in the overall quality of the smartwatch. The apple watch has improved so much from earlier designs that it has undeniably become an iconic timepiece. Yes, it would be nice to see a round shape apple watch but the current design has become a classic. As expected, the build quality and the presentation, when you finally get your hands on the box it comes in, are second to none. The design of the Apple Watch Series 5 hasn’t changed because, in all fairness, there is simply no need to change it.
A word of advice, stick with the aluminium apple smartwatch. It is 100% recycled and it is better for the environment than the stainless steel, titanium, or ceramic versions. I would spend the rest of your hard-earned cash on building a collection of alternative straps instead which would give you more of a distinctive look as there isn’t a noticeable difference in texture or build quality between the different models they sell.
The design of the Apple Watch Series 5 hasn’t changed, so the only progression, technology-wise, is to try and make the case even slimmer and the bezels smaller. Until that happens we are left with the series 5 which is, for all effects, fabulous.
An always-on display
This the big upgrade for the Series 5 from the 4, the always-on display. Groundbreaking as they might want you to believe it is, this means it always shows the time. It sort of sounds a bit childish, but this is the first time it is an option on an Apple smartwatch. Not that it was a big problem to start with, as the response time was very fast when you raised your wrist, but it buries those who complained about not being able to quickly glance to see the time. Some might think of this as ground shaking, others will call it a mehhhh! upgrade.
However, where this does become an issue is during fitness tracking, and here many will appreciate this upgrade. In any previous models, if you wanted to check the watch in the middle of a work out to see your data without pausing, it was virtually impossible. Workouts are now displayed on the always-on display (finally!!), and this is super helpful, making sure you are able to check your metrics with a quick glance.
In order to do this Apple had to overcome battery life issues to make it work. The Series 5’s always-on display is not just a gimmick.
The Series 5’s always-on display is more than just a skeleton-style ambient mode. Choose the right watch face, and it’s an almost identical copy of the usual version. There is a selection of new watch faces, pretty much all of them customizable and “always-on” if you choose that setting. Naturally, you need to consider battery consumption in all of this.
The always-on display is really useful, and we quickly got used to glancing at the Watch to see the time. It’s actually a little too bright, as in dark conditions it glows rather alarmingly – so we found ourselves turning off the always-on feature regularly.
In terms of OS, WatchOS 6 comes installed on all Series 5 and it is now also available for previous generations too. There are some fun new additions like the little tap on your wrist to mark the hour. The coolest thing is that with all things apple, things just work, straight off the roadblocks.
The Noise app is a cool and interesting follow up of Apple’s focus on health and wellbeing. It is simple in its principle, it will give you a warning when you are in a loud environment, and how persistent exposure to that sound and volume could damage your hearing. We think this is really helpful and to test it we took it to a pub and it measured around 74 decibels. It will provide a warning when sound levels reach 100db which is well over what you would call comfortable, for long periods of time. It’s one of those features that doesn’t you don’t think much of at the beginning but over time provides an additional level of self-awareness regarding your surroundings.
In fact, the Apple Watch Series 5 and WatchOS 6 work so well together that to some extent, it puts most if not all other wearable platforms to shame. It is not only practical and well thought out but also fun to use. We loved the haptic feedback and using the Digital Crown to zoom in and out of the app screen still looks great even though it is an old classic. It all feels so coherent and smart, all inside a compact and functional body.
The tricky thing for smartwatch manufacturers is to make a display that can alter this dynamically, switching refresh rate seamlessly depending on the situation – and Apple’s managed that well. Going from ‘dim‘ to ‘full’ mode is instantaneous, and the raise-to-wake functionality is as fluid as ever. However, there is one issue: this always-on functionality isn’t available with every app. Every watch face will brighten and dim accordingly, and during a workout using Apple’s dedicated app the Watch 5 won’t turn off – which is brilliant when you’re running fast or trying to do a plank or press-up.
And yet, it is not perfect though, there are still problems. Such as when the watch face sleeps over a viewed notification or an app, the background blurs out and the time is shown in the top right-hand corner. It is still annoying. The only time the software is a little slow is when waking the watch and performing your first task as you need to pause for a second before interacting with the screen after tapping the display. It does demand a little bit of patience, so there is still room for improvement. But these are just small niggling problems, not real issues at all and definitely not something it would put us off from using the smartwatch.
The setup process is quick and easy, taking all-around 10 minutes to complete. It’s so, so easy. There are no issues during pairing, no spinning graphics while you wait for “updates” either, the whole process is refreshingly efficient. It works the first time, every time.
Being able to download apps straight into the Watch is neat. For the most effective searches, you will want to use your voice, rather than drawing the letters one by one using the Scribble input option which can be a real pain, however cool the app is. Downloads are fairly quick, although you will need to have your iPhone nearby to log in to your Apple ID, unless, again, you want to draw every letter with your finger.
Scrolling through the available apps is fun for a moment, but you’ll soon come to the realisation that this is something you’d rather do on your phone instead. Except… you can’t. The App Store is now locked to the Apple Watch itself, and it can’t be accessed on your phone’s larger screen. Annoying, isn’t it? On top of that, some apps will need the main app installed on the phone itself in order to work, so having the App Store on the small Watch screen doesn’t actually seem all that useful.
Fitness and health tracking
Unless you are a pro athlete or part of that rare breed of hyper-focused on one particular sport, such as marathons, triathlons or any other form of high-intensity training where you need very specific metrics, the Apple Watch is likely to be the only fitness and health tracker you will ever need. And this is a very frank comparison., If you need high-end sports and metrics the apple watch cannot compete with the likes of sportwatches such as Suunto or Garmin. However, if you are part of the 95% of the population, the Apple Watch Series 5 will do perfectly.
it’s still a terrific health tracker: the heart rate monitor is accurate, an ECG feature offers further heart health monitoring, and the onboard GPS is pretty accurate. It takes care of steps, calories, hourly movement, relaxation, VO2 Max data, hours spent standing, and workout tracking for everything including swimming and biking, and more unusual activities like yoga and elliptical training. The whole spectrum.
All this is naturally available with pretty much every other smartwatch in the market, but where Apple stands out from the competition is the far-reaching picture it builds up of your health over time. All of this additional tracking that has actually saved lives already. The longer you wear the Apple Watch Series 5, the more information and data are gathered about you and your activity, and consequently, the more accurate picture about your health is formed, helping you change your lifestyle for the better if need be.
There is now a new trends tab in the Activity app on your iPhone. Mind you though, it requires 180 days of activity data to start displaying these trends, but it provides a whole new meaning “activity level” over time.
Unfortunately, the Series 5 Apple Watch did not add sleep tracking. Whether you think this is a turn off depends on that is relevant to you at all. There are apps that can monitor sleep using the Apple Watch, but these apps require you to wear the watch in bed. This means you will have to charge your watch at a different time rather than overnight. All in all, is it worth it? Probably yes but battery life would need to be carefully considered.
Data is captured and stored in the Activity app on your iPhone, and when it notices you’ve been dropping the ball, it gives you suggestions to improve and get back on track. There are no lacking motivational tools too. Closing the rings, a reference to meeting your activity goals turns out to be quite addictive. Missing a target one day will get you frustrated and motivated to avoid that from happening again. The simplicity of the physiology behind means you keep motivated at all times.
Introduced in WatchOS 5 and on the Series 4 Apple Watch, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring is now available for most people, after an initial early U.S.-only launch. It is easy to use but it is a feature only designed if you feel an irregularity in your heart rate. It falls into that category of apps, something you won’t know it exists until you need it, like the Watch’s fall detection mode. Having the app on the smartwatch will provide you with the peace of mind that you need in case you have any concerns over an irregular heartbeat, as it will send a warning notification if it is detected.
The Watch’s data is displayed in a way that is simple to understand. There’s an incredible range of statistical data and information gathered on your daily activity. Even after just a handful of days of wearing the Apple Watch Series 5, it will tell you or suggests you what improvements you can make. Every aspect and app is easy to use, the menus are big, clear and easily laid out, and the apps on the iPhone are both informative and attractive, not just to use but to look at. Without a doubt, there is no other fitness tracking smartwatch that is as well presented, accessible, inspirational and that encourages you to be or stay active as the Apple Watch.
Battery and performance
A fair thing to ask yourself when looking at the new features is whether the always-on screen has had an impact on battery life. The answer is no. It is possible to get a full day (about 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.) from the apple watch and still have juice left for half the next day, and this out of a single charge. Re-charging takes just about an hour, and with a top-up halfway through the day, it would easily see it last for the remainder of the second day of use. This very much depends on whether you are a light or a heavy user, so expect battery life to decrease if you use the call features on a cellular Apple Watch or an extended period of fitness tracking with GPS and heart rate monitoring. This is not rocket science and should be expected, it happens with every other smartwatch in the market. Despite this, a day should still be possible even for hardcore users. This is also the case with the smaller 40mm Apple Watch Series 5.
It is disappointing the series 5 hasn’t managed to stretch the battery out to two days with regular use. While it is natural to charge a smartwatch each day, and there are new features putting extra pressure on the battery in the Series 5, increasing the use-time like this would also make the addition of sleep monitoring more likely.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is smooth, fast, and always a pleasure to use. The S5 chip inside the smartwatch doesn’t offer noticeable performance gains from series 4 but instead it focuses on efficiency. What’s neat is you can use apps on the Watch if you want, and at setup, the iPhone will automatically add the Watch version of apps already installed on your phone. You don’t have to install the iOS version of an app on your iPhone if you don’t want to because the App Store is now available on the Watch itself, courtesy of WatchOS 6.
What else can the Apple Watch do? It works with Apple Pay, you can store music on it locally (or use Spotify/Apple Music). You can pair Bluetooth headphones with it, make phone calls and leave your phone at home if you have the cellular model. You can even chat with Siri after long-pressing the Digital Crown, reply to messages and email, check the weather, use it as a remote camera shutter button, and practice mindfulness with the Breathe feature. The list is endless. We don’t think we exaggerate when we call the Apple Watch Series 5 the most fully-rounded, feature-packed, everyday-usable smartwatch in the market today.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is the best smartwatch you can wear right now. No other smartwatch out there comes close to offering the same level of performance, fitness tracking, metrics and convenience.
Apple Watch Series 4 owners don’t really need to upgrade as the only main feature added is the “always-on”, but those who didn’t buy the last Apple Watch should jump on this one. You will not be disappointed.
You should only consider another smartwatch if you have an Android phone and want a WearOS device for better integration. The only thing that you need to be aware if is that WearOS is lightyears behind WatchOS. And that is a fact. The Apple Watch Series 5 will give you at least 3 years of life, which is a good return on investment.
Should you buy one?
Yes. Absolutely, completely, 100% yes.
If you use an iPhone, the Apple Watch remains the best smartwatch by some margin. It’s not cheap, and there are more advanced fitness-focused wearables on the market, but it works beautifully within Apple’s ecosystem and (save for downloading music) does everything you want it to with minimal fuss. The question is, does the Watch S5 do enough to justify an upgrade? If you bought an S4 and have no major issues with wrist-flicking, then probably not. The S5’s always-on display is a welcome addition, but it’s hardly essential, and unless you’re lost in the woods, neither is a compass. Most of the Watch’s best new features come from watchOS 6, and they work on the older model too.