Review: The Apple Watch Series 5 leaves the competition in the dust

Posted:
in Apple Watch edited September 26
The 2018 Apple Watch Series 4 brought a lot to the table, and the Apple Watch Series 5 hasn't added a lot. But, Apple has added where it counts, and importantly, kept the same price point.

Apple Watch Series 5
Apple Watch Series 5


Prior to the Apple Event on Sept. 10, nobody was sure if there was going to be an Apple Watch Series 5. We had indications of new materials about two weeks prior -- but in 2018 we knew about the larger case and screen sizes several months in advance of the event.

But, there it was. Series 5. Apple didn't say a lot about the hardware at the event, other than it has the new always-on display and S5 chip. But, there's more to it, and a lot to like.






We're reviewing the Apple Watch Series 5 in aluminum here. The review pertains to the technology of the device more than the materials used in the construction, which we have already started to break out in detail.

Like 2018, the Apple Watch comes in 40 millimeter and 44 millimeter sizes. And, they start at the same price as 2018 -- $399.

First-time buyer?

Apple says that three-quarters of Apple Watch buyers are getting into it for the first time. So, for those folks, there's a bit to go over in regards to what the Apple Watch can do and does. If you're an AppleInsider regular, scroll down a few paragraphs. It'll be clear where to stop.

Apple Watch Series 5 comes in several finishes
Apple Watch Series 5 comes in several finishes


Here's the big takeaway: The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch on the market. Period.

In summary, the Apple Watch connects primarily to your iPhone. With the basic Wi-Fi version, you can use it to start phone calls on your iPhone, play back content stored on your iPhone or Apple Watch through the tiny internal speaker or to AirPods or similar wireless audio devices, monitor your heart rate, and keep track of your workouts.

Apple Watch Series 5 comes in a cellular configuration
Apple Watch Series 5 comes in a cellular configuration


There is also an LTE version. You'll still need an iPhone for most tasks -- at least this year. But, when you aren't in range of your iPhone, you can use wireless connectivity to stream that same audio content.

And you can do it all day. When the Apple Watch is off your wrist, it charges wirelessly on a puck that Apple includes or any one of a number of Apple Watch stands.

This is all controlled by either a 326 dpi display at resolutions of 324 x 394 pixels or 368 x 448 pixels, on the 40mm and 44mm versions, respectively. That is combined with a Digital Crown knob. When the Apple Watch needs to tell you something, it uses the same Haptic Engine technology that is in the iPhone to tap your wrist, or simulate mechanical clicks in the Digital Crown as you turn it.

Practically, the utility of the Apple Watch depends on how crucial the iPhone is to your daily life. It is an obvious device for an iPhone-centric user, in the same way that AirPods are. It is slightly less so if your Mac is your primary device.

Those are the basics. Here's what's different this year.

Always on

Like 2018, the Apple Watch display uses a low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) OLED display, allowing for a thinner unit overall than the Apple Watch Series 3. Besides that, a LTPO OLED screen requires a bit less power to run than the previous generation panels.

Apple Watch Series 5 is dimmed, but always on
Apple Watch Series 5 is dimmed when not active, but always on


This year, they amped up the use of the technology, and have turned the Apple Watch into an always-on device. Where the Series 4 and earlier would wake on a wrist-raise. the new Apple Watch Series 5 is always on, updating as slowly as once per second.

Workouts lose partial seconds and other non-crucial data when non-active
Workouts lose partial seconds and other non-crucial data when non-active


If this bothers you, though, you can turn it off in the settings for the device. And, if you're worried about showing sensitive information to the world while it is always on, you can hide those complications too, unless it's actively in front of your face.

App developers still aren't fully onboard with the larger display that arrived with the Apple Watch Series 4, though. With the advent of the new App Store for the Apple Watch, we're hoping to see that change.

S5 with 32GB

Apple breezed right by the significance -- or lack thereof -- of the S5 system-in-package (SIP) in the Apple Watch Series 5. It remains a 64-nit processor, and has been upgraded to 32GB of storage, versus the 16GB that was in the Series 4 Apple Watch.

But that appears to be it. There is no speed difference, no improvement in loading times, or anything else we could measure. Connectivity is still 802.11n which will have a small impact on nascent Wi-Fi 6 networks, and Bluetooth 5 is still included.

That 32GB is nice for the casual user, though. It's excellent for users who decided to not get the LTE version, allowing for much more audio to be jammed on the watch for a run or other use outside the range of the connected iPhone.

App Store of watchOS 6
App Store of watchOS 6


In regards to that music stored? Assuming you fill 20GB of the 32GB of storage, that will give you around 4,000 four-minute songs downloaded from Apple Music natively stored on-device. That's a long run. It also gets eaten up by the now-native apps of watchOS 6.

Compass is nice, but extra

Apple made a big deal about the compass. While we're pretty sure that anybody who needs a compass has one that doesn't require a battery charge, this is still a nice addition.

In theory, like any compass, a magnet in close proximity may interfere with the detection. This was met with some befuddlement when the Apple support document noted it -- for what reason, we don't know, as by definition, a compass that doesn't rely on satellite measurements orients itself according to the Earth's magnetic field.

The compass allows for easier navigating in Maps
The compass allows for easier navigating in Maps


In practice, Apple's bands with magnets don't have any real impact. And, if you're worried about it, use something with a hook and loop fastener like a Nike band, or something with a traditional fastener. "Problem" solved.

Other than the compass addition, the sensors are the same. The gyroscope-accelerometer is still capable of measuring up to 32G and is crucial to the fall detection. The heart rate sensor is still excellent, as is the ECG sensor embedded in the crown.

Battery life

Battery life is the same as the Apple Watch Series 4, and it will go at least all day without needing a charge. It's as simple as that. Apple's addition of the always-on LPTO display hasn't impacted the life of that battery to any measurable extent.

Put it on, wear and use it all day. If you want to use the sleep tracking, charge it during dinner time, and wear it overnight. Charge it while you're getting ready for work, and you'll be good to go all day.

Stick with the Series 4 if you have one

Apple catches a lot of heat for iteration, and year-over-year, upgrades certainly can feel like that. But, that isn't exclusive to Apple -- every smartphone, smartwatch, and computer vendor has the same issues. How do you keep a product fresh year after year?

Titanium versus stainess steel Apple Watches
Titanium versus stainess steel Apple Watches


Well, you can't. Not anymore. The days of 50% or more gain per year in processors is behind us not just in computers, but in mobile as well.

And, like the iPhone, Apple acknowledges that this is the case in the Apple Watch. Also like the iPhone, the Apple Watch is on a multi-year cycle, where a one-year gap most of the time has relatively minor changes, but a two-year gap is a big deal.

As a case in point, look at the Apple Watch Series 3 which Apple has retained in the product lineup for $199. Smaller screens, far slower processor, no ECG sensor, no fall sensor. For $200 more, though, is a two-year newer model with all of these features, and a few more we haven't singled out here.

Ceramic Apple Watch Series 5
Ceramic Apple Watch Series 5


But, that leaves the question of what to do if you have a Apple Watch Series 4. We here at AppleInsider suggest that if you do, and don't absolutely have to have that titanium or ceramic enclosure, to sit pat. Go another year, and see what Apple has in store for the Series 6.

Otherwise, if that original Apple watch through the Series 3 is looking a little dated, the Apple Watch Series 5 is absolutely worth the upgrade money. And, if the fall detection summons help for you, or the better heart rate monitor technology in the newer model tells you to call your doctor, it may even help to save your life.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

The only thing it needs is just a bit more battery life to make it all day and all night, and it will be ideal.

Where to buy

Those in the market for the Apple Watch Series 5 can already save up to $50 on the new devices. For the latest prices and product availability across top Apple resellers, be sure to check out our Apple Watch Series 5 Price Guide.

Apple Watch Series 5 deals (GPS Only) Apple Watch Series 5 deals (GPS + Cellular)
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 42
    I’m strongly considering making the jump now. These new Watches are very impressive. And when I was in the Apple Store yesterday I saw at least 4-5 people buying new ones.
    edited September 25 lolliverAppleExposedstompycoolfactoralbegarcwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 42
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,454member
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko? Apple completely, totally owns the premium smartwatch market and I chuckle every time I think about the initial release of the Watch and the naysayer’s reaction to it. But then that’s always the reaction to ANY product Apple releases or is even rumored to be working on.

    And what is the typical complaint from the typical naysayer? "It doesn’t have a round face so I won’t buy it.” How sweet.
    edited September 25 StrangeDaysDeelronlolliverAppleExposedp-dogviclauyycjahbladecharlesgreschiaalbegarc
  • Reply 3 of 42
    I just upgraded from a 44mm Series 1 to a 44mm Series 4 -- because I could get a new one for $130 off from a third party vendor trying to clear stock.   Yeh, the always on display of the Series 5 is a very nice feature -- particularly in meetings where you need to sneak a peek to get the time and doing a dramatic wrist raise is not in good taste.   But, being retired, that feature is no big deal to me.

     But, this was a major upgrade from my Series 1 (which was running really well).  To be honest, I noticed an improvement in speed, but surprisingly nothing dramatic because the Series 1 was already pretty quick.

    But four things that are making a big difference for me:
    1)  The increased size of the icons make it a lot easier for my fat fingers to maneuver the home screen.
    2)  The increased font sizes make it a LOT easier to read while running (that's really nice).
    3)  Having a phone on my wrist means I no longer have to carry a phone around for safety in case I need to call for help.
    4)  The fall detection already kicked in:   While running on a trail yesterday I tripped over a rock buried under some leaves and went down hard (partly because I was already moving at 6-7mph).   And, it gently asked me if it should call for help -- which was doubly nice since I was out there alone and did not have my phone with me.

    So, this Series 4 with LTE is already pretty sweet.  And the Series 5 is obviously even better -- especially if your boss is lecturing you over something as it comes time for your bus to arrive.
    viclauyycright_said_fredmuthuk_vanalingamravnorodomneilmchristopher126docno42
  • Reply 4 of 42
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,360member
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko? Apple completely, totally owns the premium smartwatch market and I chuckle every time I think about the initial release of the Watch and the naysayer’s reaction to it. But then that’s always the reaction to ANY product Apple releases or is even rumored to be working on.

    And what is the typical complaint from the typical naysayer? "It doesn’t have a round face so I won’t buy it.” How sweet.
    Did he want compatibility with Android smartphones or for Apple to license watchOS to other HW vendors? I can see the Watch being compatible with Android and being smartphone agnostic in the future.

    The potential for increasing Watch sales on one end and then getting Android device users to convert to the iPhone after experiencing the Watch are revenue streams worth considering.
    muthuk_vanalingamchiaphilboogieraoulduke42watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 42
    It's crazy to think this watch, more powerful than even the first iPhone and has six times more storage that the original iPod.
    edited September 25 lolliverrazorpitAppleExposedp-dogviclauyycDeelronCarnagechiaGeorgeBMacneilm
  • Reply 6 of 42
    Yes, I still remember the first time Apple Watch announced, it was received by so much negativities I had to switch off my internet for a while. Although to be fair half of the naysayers are about the Edition version. Moving forward 5 years later, Apple Watch is the best smartwatch which is not only good for fitness but also looks good for daily use or even casual party. The convenience it offers make you wish you would never live without it. small little things like tapping your wrist when someone call you on silence phone, complete with the person name on screen and options to hang up. Or when you started doing exercise it switch automatically to workout mode depending on what you do, such as rowing mode when you row, by sensing your arms movement. Small things, but make a lot of differences.
    edited September 25 GeorgeBMaclkruppalbegarcwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 42
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko? Apple completely, totally owns the premium smartwatch market and I chuckle every time I think about the initial release of the Watch and the naysayer’s reaction to it. But then that’s always the reaction to ANY product Apple releases or is even rumored to be working on.

    And what is the typical complaint from the typical naysayer? "It doesn’t have a round face so I won’t buy it.” How sweet.
    I’m a regular listener myself. Andy is usually on with stuff but when he’s wrong he’s wrong. There is no way Apple is going to open the watch up to Android. There is absolutely no reason for them to do so. The small number of sales they might get are far out weighed by the number of people that currently go all in and switch from Android.
    lolliverGeorgeBMacchristopher126wlymdocno42watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 42
    Upgraded from series 0. Need I say more?
    AppleExposedStrangeDayslolliverright_said_fredrazorpitwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 42
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,726member
    "Apple catches a lot of heat for iteration, and year-over-year, upgrades certainly can feel like that. But, that isn't exclusive to Apple -- every smartphone, smartwatch, and computer vendor has the same issues."

    This has been the case for close to a decade now - except for the technophiles, it virtually never makes sense to upgrade every year. Apple releases new products simply because stuff would start to seem really dated if they did it 
    every other year, and every other manufacturer releases new phones each year, so even though the incremental improvements often don't make much difference from a user standpoint, they do keep iPhone competitive for those shopping for a new phone.

    I would disagree that users of Series 3 watches would need to upgrade, however. Part of the value of Apple products is that they age well, staying usable and functional longer. My series 3 watch is still working perfectly. A larger screen and the always on feature would be nice, but is it worth ditching a perfectly good watch and paying another $400+ for? absolutely not. 
    albegarcwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 42
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,677unconfirmed, member
    Time has proven that if you make a knockoff of Apples inventions (Android, FitBit) you'll have hope. When you compete with Apple with your own ideas, you lose. This is why Android Wear watches are losing. Fitbit has ripped off Apple to the point where you can easily mistake them as Apple Watches.

    razorpit said:
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko? Apple completely, totally owns the premium smartwatch market and I chuckle every time I think about the initial release of the Watch and the naysayer’s reaction to it. But then that’s always the reaction to ANY product Apple releases or is even rumored to be working on.

    And what is the typical complaint from the typical naysayer? "It doesn’t have a round face so I won’t buy it.” How sweet.
    I’m a regular listener myself. Andy is usually on with stuff but when he’s wrong he’s wrong. There is no way Apple is going to open the watch up to Android. There is absolutely no reason for them to do so. The small number of sales they might get are far out weighed by the number of people that currently go all in and switch from Android.

    Sales will rise as people will PRETEND they own an iPhone but have their Watch connected to a Samsung iWannabe. In the end Apple Watch is doing well all by itself and probably best to be an Apple exclusive feature. I don't wanna make Android users happy.


    Soli said:
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko? Apple completely, totally owns the premium smartwatch market and I chuckle every time I think about the initial release of the Watch and the naysayer’s reaction to it. But then that’s always the reaction to ANY product Apple releases or is even rumored to be working on.

    And what is the typical complaint from the typical naysayer? "It doesn’t have a round face so I won’t buy it.” How sweet.
    Did he want compatibility with Android smartphones or for Apple to license watchOS to other HW vendors? I can see the Watch being compatible with Android and being smartphone agnostic in the future.

    The potential for increasing Watch sales on one end and then getting Android device users to convert to the iPhone after experiencing the Watch are revenue streams worth considering.


    The problem is Android has ripped off almost every feature Apple created. So most of them think knockoffs are "the same thing". Completely disregarding the fact those features they enjoy were created by Apple.
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 42
    I presume Series 6 will ship with 5G?
  • Reply 12 of 42
    MplsP said:
    "Apple catches a lot of heat for iteration, and year-over-year, upgrades certainly can feel like that. But, that isn't exclusive to Apple -- every smartphone, smartwatch, and computer vendor has the same issues."

    This has been the case for close to a decade now - except for the technophiles, it virtually never makes sense to upgrade every year. Apple releases new products simply because stuff would start to seem really dated if they did it every other year, and every other manufacturer releases new phones each year, so even though the incremental improvements often don't make much difference from a user standpoint, they do keep iPhone competitive for those shopping for a new phone.

    I would disagree that users of Series 3 watches would need to upgrade, however. Part of the value of Apple products is that they age well, staying usable and functional longer. My series 3 watch is still working perfectly. A larger screen and the always on feature would be nice, but is it worth ditching a perfectly good watch and paying another $400+ for? absolutely not. 
    Agreed on the iterative product development lifecycle. This is how Apple rolls, and it’s been this way for a long time. The only people giving grief over it are people who don’t understand how Apple builds products. The start minimal and polish over time, often using an annual increment period. Cars have done this for ages. 

    As for upgrading your AW — don’t forget resale value. I got good money for my old AW, my old AirPods, old iPhone, etc... Takes a big dent off the price or buying another, effectively lowering the price.
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 42
    thttht Posts: 3,312member
    Ugh, the ceramic is so very nice looking. Wish I could afford it. All my dollars are being saved for a big iPad, so maybe 2 years down the road. 
    lolliverGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 42
    I’m strongly considering making the jump now. These new Watches are very impressive. And when I was in the Apple Store yesterday I saw at least 4-5 people buying new ones.

    You'll be blown away by how awesome the experience is when paired with your phone.

    I'm really curious if Android or Samsung watches offer even close to the same cross-device integration that Apple Watch does? A lot of people think it's just a "small iPhone", but it's totally not. It's an extension of the phone, and the phone is an extension of the watch. They complement each other more than being competitors.
    edited September 25 lolliverStrangeDayschiawatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 42

    tht said:
    Ugh, the ceramic is so very nice looking. Wish I could afford it. All my dollars are being saved for a big iPad, so maybe 2 years down the road. 

    Get the Watch and the cheapest iPad. Then in two years, replace the iPad with the bigger one.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 42
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko?
    Don’t you think the iPod is a more apt comparison?

    I’d bet money on an Apple Watch that can be fully untethered (no need for an iPhone, independent syncing) next year, and an Android app by 2021. 
  • Reply 17 of 42
    Eric_WVGG said:
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko?
    Don’t you think the iPod is a more apt comparison?

    I’d bet money on an Apple Watch that can be fully untethered (no need for an iPhone, independent syncing) next year, and an Android app by 2021. 
    I would agree with that if the Watch wasn't part of a much broader ecosystem than the iPod. Compared to the iPod the Watch serves far more functions and many of them are an extension/enhancement of the iPhone. 

    The watch brings a lot of the key functions of the iPhone to a convenient location on your wrist. Access to iMessages, Apple Music, Maps, Notifications etc... These are all things that would have equivalent options when paired with a different phone but would detract from the experience. 

    The watch also adds functionality the the ecosystem that can also benefit the iPhone. Health functions would be the main one with the Health app and other fitness focused apps available on the iPhone benefiting from the data generated by the watch.

    Sure a lot of this could still work when paired with a different phone but the experience and ease of use wouldn't be the same.

    Of course Apple may still open the Watch up for other phones. After all you can now get Apple TV services on smart TV's from other manufacturers, I just wouldn't put money on this happening as it would detract from the integration of the ecosystem which is one of the main benefits of the Watch.
    kevin keewatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 42
    I was thinking I might get a series 5 but I've learned to always get the best processor you can and given that they didn't beef it up this year, I'm thinking that means that next year is going to be a good year to buy. For now I'll keep rocking my series 1 that is still in pretty good shape. As far as people thinking they should make the watch work with Android, I could see them allowing the cellular models to work agnostic of the phone, I think the non-cellular watches will probably always require an iPhone. They might then make a version of the Health App for Android, though they might not want to put that data on Android devices given how easy it is to swipe information from those. I know Linus of Linus Tech Tips has actually stated he's going to try switching back to an iPhone as one of his phones so he can get a new Apple Watch. It's funny, the other day somebody asked me what I use my Watch for and I was like, "Well it's a fitness tracker, not that I use it for that much. But I use it to do things like turn off lights, switch music tracks, get notifications, mostly I just don't have to pull out my phone as often."
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 42
    Soli said:
    lkrupp said:
    In this week's MacBreak Weekly podcast Andy Ihnatko (who prefers Android to iOS and is vocal about it) took time to completely trash the Android Wear watch platform as a hopeless mess compared to the Watch. He went as far as to hope that Apple releases a cross-platform version of watchOS next year. Like that’s going to happen, Andy! Remember the Mac clones, Mr. Ihnatko? Apple completely, totally owns the premium smartwatch market and I chuckle every time I think about the initial release of the Watch and the naysayer’s reaction to it. But then that’s always the reaction to ANY product Apple releases or is even rumored to be working on.

    And what is the typical complaint from the typical naysayer? "It doesn’t have a round face so I won’t buy it.” How sweet.
    Did he want compatibility with Android smartphones or for Apple to license watchOS to other HW vendors? I can see the Watch being compatible with Android and being smartphone agnostic in the future.

    The potential for increasing Watch sales on one end and then getting Android device users to convert to the iPhone after experiencing the Watch are revenue streams worth considering.


    When introducing this, Tim Cook can paraphrase Jobs and say that this was akin to giving a glass of ice water to someone in hell!

    docno42watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 42
    I see this as the update to finally convince series 3 and earlier watch wearers to update.
    However it does seem largely similar to the series 4 - at this stage I don't feel it's a rational upgrade for those wearers, as it seems the device has reached the tick-tock style of updates that are familiar with mature Apple products. (Also because the series 4 update was such a significant improvement over the series 3.)
    watto_cobra
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