Compared: Apple Watch Series 5 versus Apple Watch Series 4

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited October 8
The Apple Watch Series 5 introduces an always-on display to the wearable device and a slightly larger battery, but are the changes enough to warrant an upgrade for existing owners of the Apple Watch Series 4? AppleInsider mulls it over.

Apple Watch Series 5 in ceramic
Apple Watch Series 5 in ceramic


The launch of new Apple products usually prompts a wave of upgrades from existing owners of the product line to the latest version. This is especially the case when changes to the device add major new features some users absolutely need to be able to use as soon as possible.

For the Apple Watch, the shift from the Series 3 to Series 4 brought with it many different changes, including a new external design, bigger OLED displays, and the key addition of the ECG function, which slowly rolled out in markets as it gained regulatory approval for use. Even for Series 3 users, the changes made it a compelling reason to upgrade to the newest model at the time.

For Series 4 to Series 5, there are also refinements, but arguably it doesn't make as much of a leap forward as seen with the launch of the Series 4. While it is likely Series 3 and earlier model owners may look at the Series 5 as a potential upgrade due to the vast number of alterations made by Apple over the years, it is questionable whether Series 4 owners see it in the same way.




External Appearances

There are many areas in the Series 5 that are the same as the Series 4, with the obvious being the styling. Apple hasn't made any real changes to the outside at all, with the design of the outside being effectively identical to the Series 4 without a closer examination.

One of the more obvious tell-tale signs an Apple Watch is a Series 5 is the case material, if the owner opts for a titanium or ceramic casing instead of the established aluminum or stainless steel options. Sure, there could be some who need to have a titanium Apple Watch, but the number of people who fall into that "must-have" category is quite small.

Even the front glass is the same sapphire crystal on both models, with the exception of aluminum in both cases, which uses Ion X glass.

The Display

Behind that front glass, the Series 5 uses a low temperature poly-silicon and oxide (LTPO) OLED Retina display, offering a resolution of 324 by 394 or 368 by 448 pixels in the 40mm and 44mm models respectively. This is the same screen and specifications as with the Series 4, including its Force Touch capabilities and 1,000 nits of brightness.

What has changed is how the display functions. While the old model relied on a flick of the wrist or a screen tap to turn on the display when it was needed, the new model instead boasts an always-on display.

Silver titanium Apple Watch Series 5
Silver titanium Apple Watch Series 5


To accomplish this, Apple altered the pixel architecture used for the display panel to allow it to refresh at a rate of 1Hz when not in use, down from the usual rate of 60Hz. Combined with a low-power driver, new power management, and an updated ambient light sensor, the screen uses far less power in this low refresh rate mode than it would updating at the usual rate, with the power savings enabling it to stay on without harming the battery life.

All Apple Watch models pre-dating the Series 5 carried a high propensity for a social faux pax that has existed for ages. Since the only way to activate the display was to touch it or lift your wrist, the latter always appears rather rude when in social settings.

Series 5's always-on display wouldn't completely alleviate this issue but it certainly will improve it. While working out or in a meeting, the watch can be glanced at without having to lift the wrist. Anyone who uses their watch in professional settings or who frequent the gym may see this alone as a big enough feature to upgrade for.




Storage Capacity

The Apple Watch Series 4 has 16 gigabytes of capacity, which gives it more than enough storage for most of the applications a person will want to use on their wrist, as well as a healthy amount of music to move along to, if an iPhone isn't in range. The Series 5 doubles the onboard capacity to 32 gigabytes.

Generally speaking, the more capacity, the better for most electronic devices. This is especially true considering the upcoming launch of an Apple Watch-specific App Store, where users will be able to acquire and download apps to their wearable devices directly, making storage an even more valuable resource.

The question for Series 4 users is whether or not it is worth doubling capacity for this new ability. It won't be possible to determine until the App Store has been around for a while at least, making it a fair gamble for users.

One way this could make a difference is if users store a lot of music for offline playback on their watch. This too is a small subset of users, but something they exist and doubling the storage could be highly beneficial.

Compass and Processing

For the first time in an Apple Watch, Apple is building in a compass, allowing the device to know which way North is, along with other directions. This is accomplished without needing GPS at all, which means it can be used when the sky is obscured or indoors.

Generally speaking, most users won't really care too much about whether or not the Apple Watch can tell its orientation in relation to North with or without the assistance of GPS. Outside of a few use cases such as hiking, camping, or for applications to navigate within a large building, there are very few people who really need compass capabilities in an Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Series 5
Apple Watch Series 5


One situation this may be useful for is anyone who navigates using Apple Maps on their Apple Watch. Now Maps is able to determine orientation. Especially when walking through city blocks, knowing which way you face by a glance on your wrist is a godsend.

Another minor change is the as-expected upgrade to the S5 64-bit dual-core processor, up from the S4 chip. This does offer more processing capacity than in earlier variants, certainly, but given we're talking about a smart watch processor which is unlikely to face major processing workloads - even with the existence of a dedicated App Store - it's a nice addition but not major enough on its own to warrant an upgrade.

Worth Upgrading?

While the Series 5 is a better device than the Series 4, there aren't as many changes as seen moving from the Series 3 to the Series 4. You're still getting the entire functionality offered by the Series 4 model in the Series 5, including the same claimed 18-hour battery life despite the always-on display, the ECG, the second-generation optical heart sensor, water resistance to 50 meters, fall detection, and options for a cellular model.

For existing Series 4 owners, unless the prospect of an always-on display and more storage capacity is worth the difference between the trade-in value of the Series 4 and the Series 5, there is not much of an incentive to go for the latest model.

On the positive side, with Apple killing off the Series 4, resale rates remain high. Had Apple kept the Series 4 around and dropped the price, prices on the second-hand market would similarly fall. As that isn't the case, it may be a good opportunity for users to upgrade while their watch still holds some substantial value.

Other than the second-hand market, some users may buy an Apple Watch Series 5 so a family member could enjoy the benefits of the Series 4. This is also a good plan as the Series 4 is very capable in its own right.

Where to buy

Shoppers can already save up to $50 on the Apple Watch 5 on Amazon and B&H at press time. For the latest deals and product availability across Apple Resellers, be sure to visit our Apple Watch Series 5 Price Guide.

Those willing to forego the always-on display and are looking for the steepest discount on an Apple Watch period can also save up to $100 on closeout Apple Watch Series 4 devices, per our Apple Watch Price Guide.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    I'm still on the original Series 0 (Zero). I'm continuing to hold out until blood pressure monitoring becomes available. This could be a sea change in healthcare. Didn't Apple patent something on this?
    airnerdjahblade
  • Reply 2 of 38
    Does it have a setting where I can enable the old behavior of the watch display? Quite frankly, don't need always on and it'd be annoying.
    edited September 16 SnickersMagoocornchiphodarneo-techmacplusplusairnerdjahbladecy_starkman
  • Reply 3 of 38
    It should say....Barely always-on...because if you don't raise your wrist, the display is only dimly lit.....besides the compass, there are no other different features between 4 and 5...as far as the exotic materials (Ceramic or Titanium) ....does it make sense to invest in those materials when the watch will be obsolete in 5 years? I'll keep my Series 4 for a little while longer...
    cornchiphodarjahblade
  • Reply 4 of 38
    jkdsteve said:
    Does it have a setting where I can enable the old behavior of the watch display? Quite frankly, don't need always on and it'd be annoying.
    I'm also curious about that. In any case, I upgraded from my 4. I'll like the always on for most things, but really would like to have the option.
    hodar
  • Reply 5 of 38
    One thing was interesting in the keynote - very short mention, almost unnoticed. They said the GPS can now work underwater.... That was always my issue - with both my series 2 and series 4 - when outdoor swimming in the lake, i swim 200 meter, i get my swim style stated, i get my calories measured, but watch says i swim 10 meters... So I hope series 5 really handles it.
    cornchiphodarneo-techStrangeDaysberndogJWSCmatrix077
  • Reply 6 of 38
    The Series 4 cost me over $800 now a year later they want to give me $110 for a trade in value no thanks.
    and I don't understand keeping the Series 3 and not the 4 for sale by Apple.
     
    Metriacanthosaurus
  • Reply 7 of 38
    Keeping my 4 w lte....works great 👍🏽 
    hodarjahblade
  • Reply 8 of 38
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,424member
    the watch will be obsolete in 5 years?

    Unsupported maybe, but my gen0 still works fine.
    hodargilly33sphericjahblade
  • Reply 9 of 38
    Whether it's a Series 5 or any other series, Sleeping with an Apple Watch is impossible because when I move my Watch-hand onto my pillow in front of my face, the screen comes on bright and it's like a laser beam shining through my eyelids. I wonder if anyone at Apple has tested the Watch and considered fixing this problem? For a million bucks a year I would be happy to go work for Apple and tell them what their other product's problems are.
  • Reply 10 of 38
    hodarhodar Posts: 280member
    The Always On display is Good/Bad. I'd prefer the option to sacrifice some hours of battery life, for always on during the daytime, as it would be annoying at night, (in the theater, driving in the dark, etc). How about the option to have it turn constant on during some time period - and work like a conventional Apple watch outside of that time period - and thus give more than 18 hours of battery life?
    cy_starkman
  • Reply 11 of 38
    macguimacgui Posts: 1,527member
    Caneman88 said:
    I don't understand keeping the Series 3 and not the 4 for sale by Apple.
    Makes good business sense for Apple. As had been mentioned ad nauseam, the 4 is very close to the 5 for many people. Keeping the 4 would have cut into the 5's sales. People with a 3 might not be inclined to buy the 5 and get the 4 instead. So Apple dropped the 4. I'll be getting a 5.
    gilly33spheric
  • Reply 12 of 38
    Whether it's a Series 5 or any other series, Sleeping with an Apple Watch is impossible because when I move my Watch-hand onto my pillow in front of my face, the screen comes on bright and it's like a laser beam shining through my eyelids. I wonder if anyone at Apple has tested the Watch and considered fixing this problem? For a million bucks a year I would be happy to go work for Apple and tell them what their other product's problems are.
    Use ' Cinema Mode' = swipe up from the bottom and click the 'two face masks' .... now it only comes on with a tap.
    neo-techShapeshiftingFishking editor the grateStrangeDaysmontrosemacsDeelrongilly33sphericjahblade
  • Reply 13 of 38
    Caneman88 said:
    The Series 4 cost me over $800 now a year later they want to give me $110 for a trade in value no thanks.
    and I don't understand keeping the Series 3 and not the 4 for sale by Apple.
     
    I saw this too and it is a giant slap in the face. When the same model could be sold on eBay for roughly $500, this is a joke from Apple.
  • Reply 14 of 38
    I'm stoked that Apple Watch finally has an always-on mode for the display. But I'm not going to upgrade for it. I'll upgrade from my series 4 to a series 6 or 7, and be glad for always on display at that time.
    MplsPjahblade
  • Reply 15 of 38
    hodar said:
    The Always On display is Good/Bad. I'd prefer the option to sacrifice some hours of battery life, for always on during the daytime, as it would be annoying at night, (in the theater, driving in the dark, etc). How about the option to have it turn constant on during some time period - and work like a conventional Apple watch outside of that time period - and thus give more than 18 hours of battery life?
    Why do you assume it would result in increased battery life?

    The always on display dramatically drops the brightness and refresh rate to the point where it is barely consuming any power. There is no gain to be traded for. And no one needs more than 18 hours of battery life. You charge it at night, wear it during the day. It really is that simple, and doesn't need to be more than that. 
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 16 of 38
    neilmneilm Posts: 658member
    As with an iPhone, I'd think it almost never worthwhile to upgrade from the immediately previous Apple Watch model.

    The exception might be when the new model introduces one or more key new features, for instance LTE connectivity in the Series 3, that are important to the potential upgrader. There's a bunch of nice-to-have stuff in the S5 that may now make it even more attractive, but I can hardly imagine being impelled to replace an S4.

    Of course there are serial early adopters who simply must have the latest and greatest, but otherwise I'd think that the Apple Watch's natural replacement cycle would be longer than that of phones, 3-5 years rather than 2-3.
    StrangeDayscy_starkman
  • Reply 17 of 38
    I will be finally moving from FitBit to Apple Watch, just preordered at Amazon (with a $15 discount for 44mm silver model on top...). The core functionality between FB and AW was not that different, the price was much higher and I was somehow never very happy with the look of a large, black, faceless monolith on one’s hand (even when the case color is not black). I have actually placed, then cancelled, an order for a series 4 about a month ago, going with a gut feeling, although I was not sure I would be actually getting an AW. Glad I waited, and the always on display was what tipped the scale.
  • Reply 18 of 38

    The always on display dramatically drops the brightness and refresh rate to the point where it is barely consuming any power. There is no gain to be traded for. And no one needs more than 18 hours of battery life. You charge it at night, wear it during the day. It really is that simple, and doesn't need to be more than that. 
    It's amazing to me how some people know what absolutely everyone else on the planet wants or needs.  Truly astounding...
    applesnorangesMplsPdewme
  • Reply 19 of 38
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,382member
    riverko said:
    One thing was interesting in the keynote - very short mention, almost unnoticed. They said the GPS can now work underwater.... That was always my issue - with both my series 2 and series 4 - when outdoor swimming in the lake, i swim 200 meter, i get my swim style stated, i get my calories measured, but watch says i swim 10 meters... So I hope series 5 really handles it.
    I've had the same issue, albeit with an opposite result, at one pool that I like to swim laps in. They have a 50 yard pool, which I set accordingly, but it always counts it as having gone 100 yards. There are tall cement walls pretty close to the edge, as well as buildings, so I assume that's the issue. I have no issue at any other pool, and those having nothing blocking the signal.

    Despite all that, none of that will push me into the Series 5 Watch since it's easy enough to count laps to figure out how many miles I've swam.
    edited September 16
  • Reply 20 of 38
    Whether it's a Series 5 or any other series, Sleeping with an Apple Watch is impossible because when I move my Watch-hand onto my pillow in front of my face, the screen comes on bright and it's like a laser beam shining through my eyelids. I wonder if anyone at Apple has tested the Watch and considered fixing this problem? For a million bucks a year I would be happy to go work for Apple and tell them what their other product's problems are.
    Just activate “Theater Mode”, problem solved.
    StrangeDaysspheric
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