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Apple Watch Series 5 review

Still an arm's length ahead of the competition, the Apple Watch Series 5 is an outdoor friendly winner

Apple Watch Series 5 review
(Image: © Apple)

Our Verdict

The Apple Watch Series 5 is a more outdoor friendly watch with compass and smarter altimeter but it also looks better too with that always-on display. The cost? Battery life, but it's still a full day.

For

  • Always-on screen
  • 32GB onboard
  • Compass and altimeter

Against

  • 18 hour battery life
  • Expensive

The Apple Watch Series 5 might not look like a step up from the last model but it does have new hardware onboard and represents progress, in the outdoors direction specifically. For our money this is the best smartwatch you can buy, but what's new with this fifth iteration?

Apple has added a new compass and smarter accelerometer performance making this far better and tracking outdoor activities than previous models. Also new is an always-on display which means you get a real watch look all the time and glancing at that screen is easier than ever. 

You also get a 32GB storage capacity which plays nice with outdoor activities since this is ideal for onboard music storage and playback. Apple has, as always, upgraded the chip too with the new S5 boasting greater efficiency allowing the battery to keep going all day despite all those new features.

Of course the watchOS 6 also comes with plenty of new features to enhance this watch and the models before it. So is the Apple Watch Series 5 worth the top dollar price tag or could you go for an older model and still get all you need?

Should I wait for the Apple Watch Series 6?

Before you decide to splash the cash on the latest Apple wrist adornment, keep in mind the next model in line is due for release in September 2020.

Apple is expected to add the long-awaited sleep tracking to the Apple Watch Series 6. Also there should be an oximeter for accurate blood oxygen tracking, making it even more outdoor activity friendly. 

Of course this model will also get a new S6 chip for more efficient battery management. But don't expect any major changes that push it much beyond and all-day battery. 

Apple Watch Series 5

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 5 review: Always-on display design and build

Apple is still known for its design ethos and, despite this not changing from previous models, the Apple Watch Series 5 works. This is definitely an "if it ain't broke" style upgrade from Apple. That means you get the same shape, digital crown, and lots of design options. Only now there is also a titanium variant up for grabs.

Apple Watch Series 5: Specs

Display: LTPO OLED
Battery: One day
GPS: Yes
Water resistance: Yes, 50m
HR: Yes

The big design change is that always-on display. This means you have a watch face on display even when its not lifted to view, making it look like a real watch to everyone else. Yup, the Apple fashion statement just got even more pronounced.

Raise the watch to eye line and the brightness will go up as will the refresh rate. It's this refresh rate slowing which allows it to save battery enough to support an always-on display.  

There's the LPTO screen material which works in conjunction with the more efficient S5 processor. This slows the refresh rate to once per second, rather than sixty times per second, when not in use so it remains on just without using much battery.

This also works during physical activity, with the smart screen refreshing time elapsed every second rather than millisecond, for example, to save power. The always-on display is really useful when training as you don't need to fully raise your arm to check how you're doing at a glance.

Apple Watch Series 5

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 5 review: Fitness and new compass

The Apple Watch Series 5 is one of the world's best fitness trackers and features a new compass and upgraded altimeter smarts which make it even more sensitive to movements. That combination, along with support from the new watchOS 6, make for a seriously powerful outdoor tracking companion.

Yes, previous Apple Watch models have had an altimeter capable of detecting changes in elevation but not able to detect absolute, as in the level you started from. That means, unlike older models, the Apple Watch Series 5 can tell you how high or low you are above sea level at any time. 

This makes the watch a contender for the likes of Garmin. Alright, it's not got half the features or battery life of a Fenix watch, but it's becoming more capable.

The compass, for example, works far better than ones on a phone tend to. It's steady and keeps a smooth motion as you move. That makes it a really useful addition to the watch and means with apps, like Night Sky, it can actually be really helpful.

Apple Watch Series 5

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 5 review: Battery life

Apple has been fairly consistent with its Watch battery life. Each upgrade has added more features while keeping that all day battery life the same. This time that changes a little for the worse. 

An always-on display is always going to use more battery, as is that compass and the accelerometer smarts. You can turn these things off of course, but with everything on, even that more efficient S5 chip can't help.

Apple claims you get an 18 hour battery which seems accurate. In real world use, after a day with the Apple Watch 4 we were going to bed with around 55 percent battery left meaning we could sometimes go for two days on a charge. The Series 5 is at 35 percent after a day, which is still fine for all day use, but won't get you two days.

Apple Watch Series 5

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 5 review: watchOS 6

Apple's update to watchOS 6 has, of course, brought with it plenty of new features. While the newest model has the brightest display for watchOS 6 and can use some features of the new hardware in apps, you're going to get all this in the older models too.

The noise meter is a new feature which alerts you to dangerously loud noise levels. While useful to make you realize you may be damaging your ears if regularly alerting you at work, it can be annoying if a bike revs past on the road. Of course you can adjust settings or simply not use it.

Cycle tracking is new from the health app where women can setup to track their monthly cycle easily. Set notifications for period start or monitor fertility windows with this addition.

The App Store now allows you to download directly to the Watch, ideal when using Siri to voice search for what you need. Annoyingly this is also a bad thing as you can scroll through apps on the Watch but not on your iPhone, where it's much clearer. 

Should I buy the Apple Watch Series 5?

If you want an Apple Watch that will offer maximum fitness tracking functionality, an always-on display for easy time glancing and if you want a compass that will really help if you get lost, the Series 5 is for you.

But if you want a longer battery life, don't mind a slightly smaller screen and don't need all the latest features then a more affordable Watch 3 or, if the larger screen is a must then the Series 4, could be more sound investment options.