Watches are no longer the staple of the modern day, thanks to phones, but the Apple Watch Series 5 could return your dependence to your wrist, less to your phone.
Glance upon the wrists of today, and you’ll either find something slick with a darkened screen, or even nothing at all. While the wristwatch was once a requirement for maintaining knowledge of the time all of the time, these days, your phone is handling that duty, and so the wearable is only needed for folks who still love a watch, or who want to track their health.
The last one is a major part of living these days, however, and it’s something even health insurers have joined in on stating the importance of, because if you know your health, you can do a better job of maintaining and improving it.
But almost all wearables that can track health share the darkened screen, something that doesn’t affect the electronic analogue-style watches, but does tend to make a mark on those that are almost entirely a screen. Whether you have a Fitbit or something else, chances are that when you glance down, your device is switched off until you raise that hand and it wakes up momentarily.
Apple’s latest wearable, the Series 5 Apple Watch, aims to give you a face to always be able to glance to, and a little bit more. At a starting price of $649, is the new Apple Watch worth your wrist?
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What is it?
If you need a definition of what the Apple Watch Series 5 is, it’s pretty much all in the name: it’s a smartwatch made by Apple, and it’s the fifth generation of the product.
Initially launched in 2015, it’s a product that has seen five years of development, and is possibly one of the most popular smartwatches around, supporting numerous watch faces, customisable bands, and basically creating yet another Apple gadget for folks to fall in love with.
What does it do?
In the fifth generation of the Apple Watch, the company that brought you the iPhone is really getting the hang of the smartwatch, applying refinements to its formula to push the Watch beyond something you might casually want to something that plays an active role in your life.
The Apple Watch Series 5 isn’t just an internet-connected time piece, but a health tracker and health monitor. It gets your messages and allows you to speak through it, and tells you mapping directions when you ask it, and can get Siri to conduct searches, and is generally like having a compact version of your phone mounted to your wrist, which is to a degree what it is.
However it’s also a good looking take on that with customisation options not only applied to the faces, but to the bands, too. While many other watches adopt the standard pin-pull of watch bands, a process that can be fiddling, Apple’s approach to a magnetic watch band is cute and handy, and means you can jump from sports to fashion to luxury in mere seconds, changing out the band while keeping the Watch firmly in play.
The same goes for that watch face, because if you normally use a more sporty chronograph face when you’re working out with extra information about your heart rate you may not need while you’re working or on a night out, you can flip that time piece in software and move to something else.
Much of this has been standard for the Apple Watch over the past few years, as is water resistance and GPS, both of which are included by default now on the Series 5 Apple Watch. If you feel the need to spend a little more, an Apple Watch can come with mobile connectivity thanks to eSIM support, adding cellular connectivity to the Apple Watch and a red accent to dial to let you know which model you have.
However the new aspects to the Apple Watch Series 5 are more about it being always-on and more health-friendly. As such, the screen uses an energy-saving OLED screen made with Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Silicone or “LTPS”, which drives either the 40mm or 44mm screen (depending on the size you choose) at a lower temperature to keep it on for longer without hurting the battery life as much.
Helping this are improvements to the ambient sensor, while extra inclusions mean a magnetometer can add a compass and the chip powering it is now more power efficient, too, among other benefits.
Does it do the job?
Wearing the Apple Watch, you’ll find one of the nicest and most aesthetically pleasing of the wearables, with a design that doesn’t try to be a standard circular watch, but invents itself as something slick and modern.
Whilst we were initially on the fence about the softened square design, over the past few years, we’ve found we’ve warmed to it, and the attention to materials helps to complete the package. Whether you choose the aluminium entry-level or sporty option, the premium stainless steel, or the more expensive titanium variant, the models all look remarkably schmick and sleek, and the glass shines beautifully.
The Apple Watch is a wonderfully pretty smartwatch, and one that serves your life, too.
You’ll need to use an iPhone to incorporate it in your life, and you’ll need to stay in the iPhone ecosystem (more on that shortly), but if you do, notifications sync up to the Apple Watch easily, health can be tracked, and while you might normally find yourself pulling out your phone to hear a phantom ring in your head, the Apple Watch gives you direct confirmation if someone has messaged or called, and often relays that message.
In 2019, the always-on capability of the Series 5 Apple Watch means you can have the screen always show a clock face if you so choose, though it’s not a requirement. Essentially, the Apple Watch can still be as effective as an actual watch, but you can also talk to people through the Apple Watch too, handy if your phone is just out of reach.
The health side of things is particularly handy, too. While Australia is yet to have its support for the Series 4’s electrocardiograph (ECG) switched on, you can still track your heart rate, providing notifications if your heart rate is getting too low or too high. Depending on your health, this feature is enormously helpful, and something we’ve yet to see on other wearables. Heart-rate tracking is normal, but heart rate notifications made from observations about whether something is heightened, that is markedly less so.
Add to all this the fact that the Apple Watch is water resistant, and can be brought in the pool or the shower, and you have something you won’t want to take off your wrist, except to charge it.
And that’s where you hit a slight problem.
What does it need?
Much of what the Apple Watch Series 5 does, however, is deliver a slightly refined and performance improved take on last year’s Series 4, which is no longer available. As per how Apple typically recycles its Watch releases, you can find the model just before the previous one as its entry-level model — now the Series 3 — while the Sereis 5 is top dog. We suspect when the Series 6 Apple Watch is released likely in September 2020, the Series 4 will become the entry level at that point, too.
And that will likely mean that outside of the always-on screen, there won’t be a dramatic difference between this model and what will likely eventually be the entry model later in 2020, as much of the hardware and experience is the same.
While the Series 4 did not have that always-on screen, it did deliver the changes to the screen size and the heart sensor technology thanks to use of an electrocardiograph, though that has yet to be enabled in Australia. The device could detect falls, too, and the vibrating haptic engine extended to the dial on the side, as well as including Apple’s at the time new W3 wireless chip.
In the Series 5 Apple Watch, the major change isn’t much more than the always-on screen technology, making it a slight improvement rather than a full change like the Series 4 had been. And yet while the always-on screen could have brought major improvement to the battery life, it’s still one of the areas that is lacking.
There’s little doubting that the Apple Watch is one of the prettiest smartwatches around, and as much as we love Samsung’s Galaxy Watch, it doesn’t feel as complete as Apple’s take on the category. It’s good, but Apple’s is better.
Yet there’s one thing the Samsung Galaxy Watch does better, and that’s battery life.
If you turn on Apple’s always-on watch face support, you’ll be charging the Apple Watch Series 5 nightly, as we found in our review. Switch that off, and the battery life on the Series 5 roughly goes back to where it was on the Series 4, with a charge after two days of use.
That’s not exactly a huge win in our books, and the Samsung Galaxy Watch seems to fare much better, lasting a work week in our tests.
One of the problems with hitting a better battery life in the Apple Watch might be because the watch is just so darn pretty, and you’ll want to be looking at it more often than not. The thing is that’s not the be-all or end-all for saving it, and even if you just use the Series 5 Apple Watch, as long as you’re keeping it connected or getting notifications, you’ll find the battery life doesn’t really handle more than two days.
Not helping this is the fact that the Apple Watch uses a wireless charging method that is not compatible with the standard of wireless charging Apple uses on its phones and AirPods, Qi wireless charging. While Qi is the standard, the Apple Watch is stuck on its magnetic charger, and won’t budge without it.
We’d love it if Apple would just switch its Apple Watch to something more of a standard, which would at least make it easier to keep the Watch topped up when you’re out and about. Alternatively, if it supported Qi, Apple could switch on reverse wireless charging for its phones, and you could charge an Apple Watch directly from the back of an iPhone. You can’t do that yet, which means if you want to keep an Apple Watch charged and usable, you’ll need to bring with that proprietary charger it ships with.
You’ll also still need an iPhone to make the Apple Watch to work, what is continuing to be a bugbear with Apple’s wearable. Outside of a way of locking you into the system, it is immensely frustrating that Apple’s wearable is the only one that locks you into using a specific operating system, which is something neither Samsung, Fitbit, nor Google’s own WearOS environments ask of you.
While the current crop of iPhones are pretty great, a watch is one of those items that shouldn’t force you to use a specific phone, and so until this is remedied, this is one of those sticking points that will always be lamented. Basically, if you want an Apple Watch, you’ll need to use an iPhone. That’s all there is to it.
Is it worth your money?
But while the battery life has a giant question mark looming over the top, we still think the Series 5 Apple Watch is a lovely device, and worth your money if you’re someone who wants a wearable to work with your iPhone.
Without doubt, the Apple Watch is one of the more expensive wearables out today, with a starting price for the Series 5 Apple Watch hitting around the $649 mark in Australia, and going up not only based on the size you’re after, but the materials being used. The more premium stainless steel Series 5 Apple Watch starts at $1099, a Hermes variant of that stainless steel with custom faces and bands starts at $1999, while a titanium Apple Watch Series 5 model starts from $1259 and stretches all the way to $2159.
If you don’t need the always-on screen, much of the same functionality including the GPS is in the Series 3 variant from $319, making it a fairly hefty premium for the new model, a good $300 for what is in Australia basically a screen change and a compass, since the ECG has yet to be switched on locally.
As such, we’re not sure if the Series 5 Apple Watch is necessarily worth the money, particularly when the GPS-equipped Series 3 is out at a good $300 lower.
However if what you want is the best Apple Watch to grow with, we can certainly see why the premium is there, and plus there’s always the option that Apple and Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration will talk to each other to make sure the ECG technology is approved for use in Australia in the near future, which does appear to be the reason why it’s still missing in action. For people with heart related issues, this could make all the difference, and is something the Series 3 Apple Watch misses out on.
Yay or nay?
The thing is that while we’re reluctant to say it should be bought by all with an iPhone, the Apple Watch is still genuinely a lovely product, and one worth considering.
A watch isn’t a staple of the modern day anymore, not like how it used to be, but the Apple Watch is one of those accessories you will want to wear. I certainly did.
Between the friendly customisable faces that can feel a little more playful than just another clock-focused smartwatch and some of the smart ways Apple is trying to focus on heart-connected health, the Apple Watch is one of those gadgets that feels like it’s trying to benefit your life.
Before the iPhone 11 Pro Max, it was one of those gadgets that made us want to use an iPhone more, because of Apple’s frustrating reliance with the Watch on the iPhone. Now that the iPhone 11 Pro Max is up there as one of the best phones of the year, the two work hand in hand, beautifully, and essentially arm you with the best tech Apple has at hand.
In essence, despite its failings, of which battery life is easily one, the Apple Watch Series 5 is worthy of your wrist, and a joy to wear. Recommended.