The Apple Watch Series 5 is the Cupertino giant’s next chapter in the world’s best-selling line of watches, ever. It now brings an always-on display, an on-board compass, new cellular bands for emergency service contact, and watchOS 6 – which can’t be understated.

The Apple Watch Series 5 with Solar Dial watch face. Image: Ian Ling

It’s easy to see why it has been a best seller. The Apple Watch has been revolutionary with the functionality and connectivity it has brought. To a discreet wrist-top form factor.

With the already jaw-dropping litany of features on the previous Series 4 Apple Watch, the vast majority of analysts and commentators didn’t expect more than a few Edition versions of the Watch based on leaks of new Ceramic and Titanium cases. How wrong they were.

So, what’s different?

Always-on Display

Firstly, the Apple Watch will finally have an always-on Retina display with its radically-new Low Temperature Silicon and Oxide  (LTPO) display technology. This enables the Apple Watch to vary its refresh rate from 60Hz down to 1 Hz to conserve battery as it dims when the watch is lowered.

When your wrist is lowered, the watch face remains visible although complications requiring more sensor resources will fade. Image: Ian Ling

Effectively, users will be able to view the more passive complications on their Apple Watch without overtly raising their wrists – like a watch should.

Since being able to view key information on a small, discreet display is the main premise of the Apple Watch, this update finally and more definitely distinguishes the Watch experience from users who would rather wake their iPhones to access their information.

With its display and refresh rate powered down and to conserve battery, the Apple Watch Series 5 doesn’t display information that requires the most active sensing. On my Infograph watch face, the smooth sweeping seconds hand fades away, along with the Noise complication that displays the current noise levels. On the side, the new Compass complication also fades when the display is powered down.

However, it continues to show the current temperature, UV levels and the precipitation. Activity rings are also displayed, although users can disable the watch from displaying personal data if they don’t want fellow commuters to be privy to their sedentary lifestyle.

Compass and Improved Navigation

The second update is an on-board magnetometer that effectively acts as a compass for the Apple watch. The immediate implementation is on Apple Maps for Watch, which will now display the cone-shaped blue orientation indicator for more intuitive navigation. 

The magnetometer on the Apple Watch Series 5 imbues it with the ability to display direction

In addition to bearing, the Apple watch also gains the ability to measure elevation and incline, alongside latitude and longitude. While not mentioned anywhere in the keynote, i strongly suspect this means that the Apple watch will be a strong contender for the more enthusiast segment of the niche carved out by specialised adventure watches by the like of Garmin and Polar.

The Maps app on the Apple Watch Series 5 now displays the blue cone indicating your orientation – and yes – I am directly facing the river. Image: Ian Ling

Emergency Connectivity in More Countries

For frequent fliers, the third update expands networking compatibility to 150 countries, allowing for emergency calls to be made with a long press of the side button or when a fall is detected. This could mean the difference between life and death, and hearkens to the Breitling Emergency watch that broadcast a universal SOS radio signal no matter the location.

This feature does require the cellular version of the Series 5, however.

watchOS 6

Like much of Apple’s products, software and hardware is inextricably linked. WatchOS on Apple Watch, like MacOS on Mac, iOS on iPhone, and iPadOS on iPad, serves to keep previous iterations up to date with the latest developments. That means that older generations will receive the latest features.

This means that new developments like the Noise App and Cycle Tracking will premiere on Apple Watch Series 5 the same time as it would on supported older generations of the Watch.

The Noise app comes as a useful bar indicator on the Infograph watch face for Apple Watch Series 5. Image: Ian Ling

Perfect? Almost.

With these updates, two main drawbacks remain – and will likely remain for the foreseeable future.

Firstly, the Apple Watch’s Achilles Heel: battery life. With the added demands on the battery with more sensors and an always-on display, I found that the Watch delivered the same “all-day battery” listed at 18 hours. 

That’s enough for most to crinkle their faces in distaste but I’m more reasonable. I’ve usually gone along well with charging my apple watch at my work desk and the charge would last well through the night for sleep tracking till the next day. 

However, it’s more of a hassle during my travels, when I would be away from mains power for prolonged periods of time.

A full charge at midnight drained to 41% by 1PM the next day with moderate use – and with the social activities for the day expected to end well into the night, I immediately worried for the longevity of my wearable and scrambled to charge it even for the short period when I checked into the hotel. 

The second drawback: Apple exclusivity. While it is the main reason behind the device’s solid ecosystem of features and functionality, the Apple Watch maintains its lustre of exclusivity and luxury for the lay user.

Most I’ve polled primarily view the Apple Watch as an object of luxury and inaccessibility, despite the brand’s recent moves to diversify this product.

It’s understandable. The Apple Watch Edition models, with its Hermès, Titanium, Ceramic and 18K gold versions, can easily leave that impression despite Apple’s efforts to transform its wearable into an object of utility.

This includes all-day heart rate monitoring, fitness tracking across an ever-increasing set of activities, on-wrist GPS and Apple Pay, and more recently, ECG readout, noise level warnings, and cycle tracking.

Even more impressively, for those who struggle to justify a brand new Apple Watch Series 5 that starts from SGD 599 (USD 399), there’s the option for the Apple Watch Series 3, now from SGD 299 (USD 199).

Ian Ling
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

One thought on “Apple Watch Series 5 Review: Always On, Almost Perfect

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.