The Apple Watch is a great smartwatch, consistently enjoyable to use, through every version.
And Apple Watch Series 5 is the culmination of Apple’s journey towards a smart, capable timepiece that’s useful, accurate and a joy to wear.
Apple Watch Series 5. Space Black Stainless Steel, Space Black Titanium, Ceramic (L to R)
Though some have felt this was an iterative upgrade, there’s a lot more that’s changed than you might think.
My watch of choice has been the Apple Watch since the first version appeared back in Spring 2015. Since then, successive Watches have added speed, direct cellular connectivity and more.
Then, last year, everything changed, as the Watch added a much bigger display in a barely-bigger case. I’ve been using the new Apple Watch Series 5 since literally minutes after it was announced. Here’s all you need to know.
Apple Watch Series 5 in ceramic finish.
The new Apple Watch looks identical to last year’s model. Is this a disappointment? A surprise? Hardly. Series 4 (which is no longer available) was Apple Watch re-designed, with that bigger display, not to mention its ECG capability and Fall Detection. So to continue the Series 4 design was both expected and desirable: it’s a great-looking Watch.
Apple Watch Series 4 also pulled off a clever trick: although the case size was different, it didn’t feel any bigger. And it was an encouragement to upgrade not least because all older straps, dating way back to 2015, still fitted perfectly, despite the increase in size.
The display may look the same, but the tech that powers it is entirely new, as we’ll see below. And although the case looks mostly similar, there are extra new-look options.
Three of the four different case finishes for Apple Watch Series 5.
More cases than ever before
Last year, you could choose from aluminum cases in various colors, plus stainless-steel Watches in three different finishes: silver, Space Black and gold. All those options are available in Series 5 but now there are two new case finishes. First, there’s an entirely new metal, titanium in an Apple Watch that’s very classy. It’s slightly more expensive and slightly lighter than the stainless steel models and it comes in two colors, titanium and Space Black stainless steel. Both are matte-finish, brushed metal. Both look fantastic.
Then there’s ceramic, the material used in Apple Watch Series 2 and Series 3 but not available in Series 4. It comes in the bright, unmissable white finish that is just beautiful to look at. The gray ceramic that was such a success in Series 3 has not returned. Never mind. Take one look at the gleaming white ceramic and it’s hard to choose anything else (although, if you ask me, Space Black in stainless steel is the perfect balance between show-stopping and understated).
Essentially, there is now an Apple Watch for every price point and every desire, especially when you add in the fact that Series 3 is still available and at a sticker price ($199 and up) that beats frankly every rival smartwatch into the dust.
Apple Watch Series 5 in ceramic finish.
Though much of Series 4, including the processor, is carried through to Series 5, there is new hardware to be found in Series 5. Most importantly, a whole new display technology. It’s called LTPO, which stands for low-temperature poly-silicon and oxide. All of which means, the display can stay on all the time without destroying battery life.
Here are a couple of examples of why this is a complete game-changer.
I am learning Spanish. My teacher is fantastic and I love every hour I spend with her but sometimes, just sometimes, my brain is beginning to sag under the weight of learning new vocabulary. When it is, I want to reassure myself about how far we have progressed through the lesson. Until now, that required a wholly visible movement, such as swinging my wrist up towards my face to wake the display.
Now, I can glance down and, even if my Watch is at an obscure angle, I can see the time.
Similarly, I love yoga, but sometimes I need to check the time, or to make sure that I really did start the Workout timer going to earn credit for my Baby Dragonfly and Warrior Two exertions. Again, it was mostly just too obvious a movement if I checked before. Now, it’s a breeze.
I worried at first that having a lit display would be distracting, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. First, because the display dims so that it’s not eye-catching. Second, because as well as dimming the brightness, Apple cleverly optimizes the look to draw less power, so bright white elements are changed for less power-hungry ones, for instance.
Although it is a different display technology, apart from being on all the time, it looks identical to last year’s Apple Watch Series 4 screen.
Incidentally, you can turn the always-on feature off so the display only lights when you raise your wrist or touch the display as before.
The Compass app on the Apple Watch Series 5.
This is the other new bit of hardware in the Watch. At first, the addition of a compass seems only likely to appeal to ramblers and explorers. Well, that may be justification enough. But, just as the addition of a compass to the iPhone
3G ushered in clever app capabilities, so it could be quietly transformative here.
For instance, when you’re searching for a restaurant on Yelp and you know you’re in the area, looking at the app on the Watch will show a small direction needle. As you turn from left to right, the needle points to show you which way to go. It’s pretty neat.
Expect other app developers to make the most of this capability.
The telltale Digital Crown styling showing Apple Watch with cellular connectivity.
This is an important thing: Apple has said that battery life remains a full 18 hours even if you have the screen set to always-on. I think this is true, 18 hours and more are still easily attainable.
But I’d add that on the Apple Watch Series 4, I regularly took it off at night and found it had almost 50% charge left. Now, it’s closer to 30%. In other words there is unsurprisingly an impact on battery life but it’s still regularly a full day and more.
With Series 4 I once or twice accidentally didn’t charge the Watch overnight. I only noticed this the following day when the Watch announced it was down to 10% power. Even so, it didn’t actually switch off until about 9PM on the second day. I don’t believe it would last as long as that now.
I have tried turning off the always-on display and the go-to-bed residual charge was much higher.
Even so, as battery life is more than sufficient with the always-on screen activated, I switched back to that as soon as I could.
Teardowns, by the way, have revealed that there’s a bigger battery on board this time.
In every way, the Series 5 is a big step forward and the always-on display is tremendous, something I now don’t want to manage without.
It’s noticeable that for the first time, Apple hasn’t upgraded the processor in this new Watch. I think that’s because the emphasis has been largely been on the new display, itself a major hardware update. And perhaps the focus has been on matching the new display with the current, already-powerful chip that powers it.
Apple, I suspect, would say that in the real world, people aren’t concerned with whether there’s a new chip or not as long as it’s the most efficient for what’s needed now.
And, to be fair, this Watch never feels laggy or slow, so maybe Apple’s right.
The addition of titanium finish and the return of the beautiful ceramic are both very welcome, though there’s certainly life in the other finishes, too. Space Black Stainless Steel remains the perfect balance of glamorous and discreet, and aluminum is even better value now.
Talking of value, for many people, the Apple Watch Series 3 is now going to be more than enough, especially if it’s their first Watch. At prices from $199, it’s more keenly priced than rival smartwatches and it certainly beats every other smartwatch for looks and capability.
Apart, that is, from the Apple Watch Series 5 which is, by leaps and bounds, the best smartwatch you can buy.