Why it matters: The Apple Watch Series 5 is set to hit stores this Friday. With the embargo lifted, early reviewers have begun posting their thoughts. Most have had positive things to say. Unfortunately, it seems the hub-bub is all about the display.
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
"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.