Apple Watch Series 5 review round-up: Always-on, but not much else

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member

When we covered the unveiling of the Series 5, the always-on display was what we thought was its most exciting feature. Most reviewers concur with some saying it's "now the world's best watch. Period." The Verge said:

"Compared to the Series 4, the Series 5 has only a few minor updates. Chief among them is a new always-on screen. Compared to the rest of the smartwatch market, the Apple Watch Series 5 is in a completely different league.

"The big update this year: an always-on screen. I feel like a lot of users have been asking for this since the very first Apple Watch was announced five years ago alongside the iPhone 6 and Apple Pay.

"[Apple says] it was able to do so because of some slick new screen technology that mitigates the usual battery trade-offs. Specifically, Apple says it can dynamically change the screen's refresh rate from as fast as 60Hz to as slow as 1Hz, updating just once per second."

Apple claimed that with the new always-on screen, the watch would still maintain the usual 18 hours of battery life. USA Today said it had some battery trouble that was fixed by a replacement.

"While Apple claims about 18 hours of battery life with Series 5, same as prior models, the battery on the first cellular watch the company supplied for testing died mid-afternoon after getting a full charge overnight. The battery on a replacement unit Apple swapped out fared far better; it had 10% of juice remaining at 11:20 p.m. after also being charged the night before, suggesting something more line with what Apple is saying. As always, battery results vary depending on how you use the watch. It's also entirely possible that I got the odd bum unit. I'm raising a red flag just the same."

Other outlets reported having no trouble with the battery and getting similar longevity as the Series 4. One concern about an always-on screen on a smartwatch — and one that Apple didn't talk about in its keynote — is privacy. If you can see the screen, so can others.

Cupertino seems to have addressed that issue, according to iMore.

"If you're worried about someone seeing a potentially sensitive notification, don't be. Notifications don't animate in in low power mode. All you get is the tap or the tone and, if you want to see the banner, you have to wake the watch first.

"If you're worried about someone seeing sensitive health or personal information in a complication, don't be. You can go into settings, display & brightness, and hide sensitive complications too. Then, instead of dimming in always on mode, they disappear completely."

While always-on stole the show, the Series 5 Apple Watch did have a few other new features worth commenting on, such as the built-in compass.


Image via The Verge

From TechCrunch:

"The other big update on the hardware side is the addition of a built-in compass. Like LTE and the speaker before it, the feature represents another case of bringing more smartphone features over to the watch. At present, there are only a handful of Watch applications that utilize the new feature, the most prominent being Apple's own Maps. The addition of the compass makes it much easier to navigate directly from the wearable itself.

"It's a handy offering on that front. If you don't mind the smaller screen size, it's great being able to find your way around a new area without pulling out your phone. There's also Apple's own Compass app, which could prove handy when going for a hike, and also includes a new elevation reading taken from a combination of Wi-Fi, GPS, map data and barometric pressure to determine your positioning relative to sea level."

Another feature that Apple touted in its keynote was international emergency calling. However, reviewers were not keen on testing this out for obvious reasons.


Image via TechCrunch

The rest of the newness of the Series 5 came from the upgraded watchOS 6 software. Wired found these new additions useful, but not ground-breaking...

"There are other new features on the Series 5 watch I'm wearing, but most are due to an operating system update, called WatchOS 6. And some of these features will also come to older Apple Watches.

"Enhancements include Voice Memos on the watch, which, as a journalist, I like; I can tap record on my watch, and it will save audio files to the cloud. A new Noise app makes you aware of the decibel levels of the noises around you. According to the Noise app, the nearby streets of San Francisco are unlikely to damage my hearing. There's also a new calculator app, an app for audiobooks, and an app for tracking your menstrual cycle. Frustratingly, you still can't use your voice to dictate text Notes on the Apple Watch. The Reminders app, more of a checklist for your daily tasks, can serve as a kind of proxy for this."

Of course, as you might guess, not everyone loved this iteration of the Apple Watch. TechRadar had a more critical take on the Series 5:

"The Apple Watch 5 is a premium smartwatch, but one that doesn't offer a huge upgrade over the Watch 4, apart from the very welcome always-on display. It hasn't risen in price, and there's more storage on offer – but many will find the cheaper Apple Watch 3 a more attractive device.

"On paper, the Apple Watch 5 is one of the most underwhelming upgrades Apple has ever unveiled. It's essentially the Watch 4 – one of our best smartwatches, admittedly – with a compass, more cellular bands to call emergency services worldwide (a noble achievement, if not something people will rip it off the shelves for) and not much more."

While I really love the thought of an always-on display, I think TechRadar is on the right track. I will not be trading in my Series 4 for Apple's latest offering.

The Series 5 Apple Watch seems to be targeting those with older iterations (Series 3 and earlier) or those who have never owned one. If you fall into this category, the Series 5 is a solid choice for a smartwatch. Otherwise… When is the Series 6 coming out?

Apple Watch Series 5 launches on Friday, September 20.

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Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
LOL .... so typical of apple, an over priced gimmick that does nothing more than line their pockets with more cash ..... the worm in the apple is getting fatter!
 
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p51d007

TS Evangelist
I don't need an "always on" display. I just tap the screen twice and it's on. I disabled the flip your wrist to wake it up feature, because I do mechanical work during the day with a screwdriver. By turning that feature off, even with a lot of use, I get 3-4 days battery life from my watch. I'd rather have that, than an always on display.
 
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PEnnn

TS Addict
Am I the only one who thinks those watches are worthless fads? If you have a smartphone, why does one need a smart watch (aside form the "cool" factor??

Please enlighten me, seriously, why does one need it??
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
Am I the only one who thinks those watches are worthless fads? If you have a smartphone, why does one need a smart watch (aside form the "cool" factor??

Please enlighten me, seriously, why does one need it??
Oh hell no! I don't even own a mobile phone..

In fact, I'm so backwards I still use a half dozen DSLRs to take pictures.
 

ruddevil

TS Rookie
Am I the only one who thinks those watches are worthless fads? If you have a smartphone, why does one need a smart watch (aside form the "cool" factor??

Please enlighten me, seriously, why does one need it??
I believe the ECG feature is the reason people should buy those watches. Not everyone would need it, but those with certain conditions would find it life-saving.
 
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GregonMaui

TS Booster
I would love to know what conditions the folks from USA Today and there's "tested" the battery life. Perhaps extreme usage cases? I have a series 3, my wife has a series 4. I charge mine every 2 days after normal (for me) use. That includes recording walks of 10 miles/day, sleeping with it on to monitor my heart rate and alert me for too low and too high rates. waking my Mac, walking and driving directions.

It seems these "reviewers" are creating a bit of a false narrative about short battery life. They are not using typical use patterns, but extreme conditions.
 

GregonMaui

TS Booster
I don't need an "always on" display. I just tap the screen twice and it's on. I disabled the flip your wrist to wake it up feature, because I do mechanical work during the day with a screwdriver. By turning that feature off, even with a lot of use, I get 3-4 days battery life from my watch. I'd rather have that, than an always on display.
but even with an always on display feature, you could turn it off to the same settings you are using now
 

GregonMaui

TS Booster
Am I the only one who thinks those watches are worthless fads? If you have a smartphone, why does one need a smart watch (aside form the "cool" factor??

Please enlighten me, seriously, why does one need it??
Probably. or maybe you are lumping everyone in to your narrow view use case - because you might not need one, does not mean anything about anyone else. For example, I have mine with LTE so I don't need to bring my phone with me, or if I can't get to it, I can still make emergency calls if I need to (you know, like I have a condition). The ECG feature would be nice, but I use an external monitor, because I only have a Series 3. As far as exercise tracking and heart rate monitoring, yah I pretty much need that. Turn by turn directions, unlocking my Mac, ApplePay in cabs, grocery stores, well almost everywhere, is nice, but true, I could do without.

Sleep tracking - now that's a gimmick! I know when I go to bed, know when I wake up. done!
 

Cubi Dorf

TS Booster
It is nice accessory, but not worth the monies for many peoples. Nobody need, but can be good to have if having monies not needed.I would buy if having more monies for trade.
 

GregonMaui

TS Booster
It is nice accessory, but not worth the monies for many peoples. Nobody need, but can be good to have if having monies not needed.I would buy if having more monies for trade.
That is true of most consumer goods. If you don't have the money, you certainly don't need it.
 

netman

TS Evangelist
Always-on feature is a 2012 technology! The 18-hour battery life is pathetic and is seven times less than competition!
 

GregonMaui

TS Booster
Always-on feature is a 2012 technology! The 18-hour battery life is pathetic and is seven times less than competition!
You really need to research a bit first. The Apple Watch uses a color OLED screening GPS (unlike Fitbit which is BW, no GPS and gets 3-5 days battery) which has advantages and of course disadvantages, one of which is power consumption. The 18 hour battery life is not a real measure of use (I easily get 2 full days on my Series 3 while it is tacking activity for 10 miles/day and heart rate 24 hours/day, and everything else). I guess no one uses a watch 100% capacity for 18 hours.

I suppose one could always get a lot more life out of a battery by doing a lot less, or doing it with lower power features. Everything engineered is a tradeoff, some things are good, but they also have drawbacks (no free lunch, have you heard of that expression?).

Try to avoid the name-calling, there is no need
 

Boilerhog146

TS Evangelist
Tracking menstrual cycle.um,can ya track cramps.pms.
I think that would have been useful years ago.maybe you younger guys would like to keep track to.um.you know! Lol.[shakes head]
I mean ,be nice to know when there is a monster in the room.great watch.imo.
 

Boilerhog146

TS Evangelist
Always-on feature is a 2012 technology! The 18-hour battery life is pathetic and is seven times less than competition!
You really need to research a bit first. The Apple Watch uses a color OLED screening GPS (unlike Fitbit which is BW, no GPS and gets 3-5 days battery) which has advantages and of course disadvantages, one of which is power consumption. The 18 hour battery life is not a real measure of use (I easily get 2 full days on my Series 3 while it is tacking activity for 10 miles/day and heart rate 24 hours/day, and everything else). I guess no one uses a watch 100% capacity for 18 hours.

I suppose one could always get a lot more life out of a battery by doing a lot less, or doing it with lower power features. Everything engineered is a tradeoff, some things are good, but they also have drawbacks (no free lunch, have you heard of that expression?).

Try to avoid the name-calling, there is no need
.

What name.?at least you will know when you're about to give yourself a heart attack.hope the watch is fast calling emergency.and can give directions as you lay there.
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
....[ ]....What name.?....[ ]....
Mr. Maul was upset with Mr. Netman because he called the Apple watch a name, ("patheric" & "2012 tech").

Mr.maul has apparently took it upon himself to lower the bar for "ad hominem" attacks to the point where you can't call a product a name, specifically an overpriced crApple watch.

Maybe we've just seen a new category of epithet emerge, "ad homiiwatch". One expects a similar category for forbidden Apple product name calling to arise, "ad homi-iPhone".

You know what I always say though, "you can call my mother anything you want, but don't even think about insulting my Timex"...:mad:
 
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captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
Tracking menstrual cycle.um,can ya track cramps.pms.
I think that would have been useful years ago.maybe you younger guys would like to keep track to.um.you know! Lol.[shakes head]..[ ]....
It seems nowadays, keeping track of menstrual cycles doesn't carry the gravity it did, once upon a time.

The young guys seem more interested in one another, hence no danger of unwanted pregnancy.

Sorry, I don't know what gets into me sometimes, saying things like that.
 
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