Apple Watch Series 5 review: Almost closes all rings on perfection
Deccan Chronicle| Aaron Almeida
The Apple Watch Series 5 is an incremental update on the surface but a deeper dive makes this an upgrade that's worth your investment.
The always-on display on the Apple Watch Series 5 looks and feels innovative even though Apple wasn't the first to launch this feature.
When Apple introduced the Apple Watch way back in 2015, it set the tone of what a smartwatch should be — a great timepiece which had all the features necessary to be the next step in technological advancements. This was the first product to be launched that wasn’t directly overseen by Steve Jobs; in fact, it was the first original device from Apple under Tim Cook’s reign as CEO. Although the Apple Watch was a great device, it had quite a few shortcomings. It was always regarded as an accessory to the iPhone, rather than a standalone unit that could be used independently.
Four years down the line and things have changed; quite drastically. The Apple Watch has come a long way in its short existence and not only can it be used independently without the iPhone in respect to most tasks such as making and receiving calls, listening to music, etc; it is also heralded as one of the best fitness or health wearables to ever exist.
The Apple Watch Series 4 was downright the best wearable to have ever launched and it came loaded with features such as an almost bezel-less design and the ability to check your ECG on the go. The Watch also featured fall-detection and the feel-good stories regarding it spans the world over. This makes you stop, think and actually appreciate what Apple has done with a product which has the potential to rival a smartphone where adaptability is concerned.
At the iPhone 11 event held in September, Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 5 and although it looks like a rather minute upgrade over the well-received Apple Watch Series 4; it actually does come with some features that reaffirm the Apple Watch’s position as the number one wearable in the market.
The latest offering comes with a compass and even more cellular bands that make accessing emergency services all over the world a cinch. Both very useful features; however, now with the latest Apple Watch Series 5, Apple has addressed a pain point that had plagued each and every Watch it has ever released — an always-on display. This allows the Apple Watch to look like a regular timepiece and have all the smarts required for it to be the best smartwatch to have ever existed.
We take a deep-dive into all the features of the Apple Watch Series 5 to tell you if this is worth your investment or not.
While the Apple Watch Series 5 looks similar to the previous generation model, there are some handy tricks on offer—namely the always-on display, compass and expanded storage.
The biggest highlight here is undoubtedly the always-on display and with it finally coming on to the Apple Watch, the Cupertino-based smartphone manufacturer is finally on par with its Android rivals. This isn’t a scoff at Apple; in fact, with this feature in tow, it adds an element into its already strong line-up of weapons that shoot down any rival that aims to pose a threat to its dominance. And one thing is for sure, Apple’s implementation of this feature is second to none and we get a display that’s extremely well-imagined in a number of ways which other brands cannot compete within this day and age.
It cannot be stressed enough that the dark screen on previous Apple Watch models was the biggest pain point since the original Apple Watch that launched four years ago. However, with the always-on display, the wait has been totally worth it.
The always-on display on the Apple Watch Series 5 looks and feels innovative even though Apple wasn’t the first to launch this feature. It is the way Apple implemented it that helps the brand steal the show. On the Series 5, the display doesn’t just show the time like traditional smartwatches. Instead, you also get to glance at all the information that’s on the watch face such as all the complications you have added. When using faces such as Meridian or California, the difference is even more obvious as these have bright backgrounds. The display on these faces dim gradually to black when inactive and this transition is Apple’s attention to detail and design thinking at its best. Additionally, the Watch has an ambient light sensor that perceives how bright your environment is and adjusts its brightness accordingly so it is never too dark or never too bright; but just the perfect amount of brightness.
Whilst in an app, the Apple Watch Series 5’s always-on display not just dims but also blurs out the information and provides you with just the time. However, in the workout app, all the metrics are visible which allows you to quickly glance at your progress. However, those who use the workout app on a regular basis will find that there are some additional enhancements here and the Series 5 will countdown seconds as opposed to milliseconds when it is dimmed. For a person like me, who uses the workout app on a daily basis, I found this feature to be extremely beneficial and without raising it to wake, I found myself quickly glancing at the screen to notice my progress. Even in direct sunlight, I found the idle display to work well while checking my statistics.
To save on battery, you can always switch the always-on display off; however, this defeats the entire purpose of the Apple Watch Series 5.
To sum it up, the always-on display helps transcend the Watch into something that’s more akin to a traditional watch and at the same time coming with all the functionalities available on a smartwatch. Notification alerts will come in just like previous models in the form of haptic feedbacks; but this time around, the contents of the notification will only display once you have activated the display.
Apart from this, the Apple Watch Series 5 comes with the similar form factor found on every smartwatch that the company has launched and there isn’t anything drastically different here. You still get the Digital Crown on the right and sitting below it, you will find the pill-shaped button that allows you to quickly bring up your recent apps.
With that being said, this iconic design is what makes an Apple Watch and even though other brands try to ape it, there is still that premium element that goes along with it, no matter what sort of casing you opt for, be it aluminium, stainless steel, titanium or ceramic.
When Apple announced the compass feature on the new Apple Watch, we didn’t seem as intrigued as compared when Apple announced the ECG feature on the 2018 Apple Watch Series 4. The ECG capabilities were a blockbuster feature that has genuine potential to save lives. However, with every new additional feature Apple throws in, they envision benefits that sometimes far surpass our imagination and the compass feature along with the Compass app is a standout example of their forward-thinking.
The compass allows you to know where you’re heading and it also makes use of the GPS inside the watch to accurately work out your height or elevation above sea level. For those of you who are into hiking, this will serve as a great tool; however, during our testing, we observed that it was spot on when detecting true north. This app is still new and when opened up to third-party developers, the possibilities can be endless.
For me, workouts and the Apple Watch go hand-in-hand as I am constantly aiming to close the activity rings. However, much to my disappointment, Apple hasn’t added any new fitness features to the Series 5. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great watch for workouts, in fact, it is easily the best there is; however when it comes to something revolutionary, it appears that Apple could be saving it for a future version.
I tested a few activities with the Apple Watch Series 5 and it accurately recorded my calories burned and the GPS kicked in as advertised on outdoor runs. Also, the heart rate monitor worked like a charm and accurately calculated my readings based on whatever activity I undertook.
While the watch works as advertised, I would have loved it if Apple added another feature in here and that’s sleep tracking. An in-built sleep tracker from Apple would have its own flair as opposed to third-party apps. However, we see that the biggest limitation here is battery life and once Apple manages to offer even a two-day battery, they can easily add this sleep-tracking functionality.
Apple has gradually improved the battery life on all its previous smartwatches and with the Apple Watch Series 5; they claim that it can last up to 18-hours on a single charge. However, with the always-on display, the 18-hour claim was strongly put to the test and this was a stark contrast from the Apple Watch Series 4 which easily flew past an entire day’s worth of heavy usage.
While using the Apple Watch Series 4, after a typical day’s use, the battery at around 9 or 10 pm would be in the vicinity of around 40 to 50 per cent. This was pretty impressive. The Apple Watch Series 5 on the other hand at the 9 to 10 pm mark had a mere 3 to 5 per cent battery remaining.
This still falls in line with Apple’s claim of 18-hour battery life but we feel that with the Apple Watch Series 5, it is more of a downgrade than an upgrade. Rival brands are offering much more in terms of battery life where seven to eight-day batteries are pretty standard. While the Apple Watch is a great timepiece and probably the best wearable available on the market, this is the one area that Apple really needs to strengthen on.
App Store and more
If the multiple-day battery isn’t your thing, then this is downright the best smartwatch available in the world. In addition to the ECG app that was launched with the Apple Watch Series 4, Watch OS 6 now comes with several new apps and watch faces that build upon an extensive library that was already found on previous generations. The Apple Watch Series 5 is such an advanced timepiece that even small changes that are overlooked, are nowhere to be found on rival devices. For example, Apple has added several new cellular bands here which help with the international emergency calling where your watch will detect where you are and immediately contact local emergency services no matter which country you happen to be in.
This Watch is further strengthened by the fact that it now comes with an App Store! That’s right! Apple has now added an App Store on your wrist! Now, you can browse and download whatever apps you want without needing to pull out your phone.
Apple has finally added a calculator here and this is easily one of the most requested features of the Apple Watch. There is also a new Noise app which demonstrates how advanced the device actually is. The Apple Watch can check sound levels nearby and notify when they may affect your hearing.
The Apple Watch has come a long way and now feels almost like a standalone unit, and part of the reason for this is due to the S5 processor that keeps everything ticking. Not only is it faster than what Wear OS uses, but, because of Apple’s tight integration between hardware and software, is why the Apple Watch experience is as seamless as it is. This is Apple’s biggest trump card and that’s why it works as excellently as it does.
The Apple Watch, like the previous generation, comes in two sizes — 40mm and 44mm. There is the GPS only option and the GPS + Cellular version. The GPS variant starts at Rs 40,900 while the GPS + Cellular version starts at Rs 49,900 and this effectively replaces the Apple Watch Series 4.
If you happen to own the Apple Watch Series 4, then it doesn’t make sense to upgrade to the latest version unless you want the always-on display. While the Series 5 has a lot going for it, and with the Apple Watch Series 4 effectively laid to rest; this is a great option for those who are upgrading from a Series 2 or Series 3 device. Also, you get a larger display in comparison with Series 3 and not to forget great health tools like ECG and fall detection.
However, with a less than stellar battery life, it does lose some points when compared with the previous model. With that being said, although the Apple Watch Series 5 is a great device, the Watch Series 4 is still on sale on online portals like Amazon India. If you don’t need an always-on display, compass and additional storage, then we strongly recommend going for the previous version. If you do require all these minor enhancements, then the Series 5 is meant for you.