- The Apple Watch Series 5’s biggest upgrade is its always-on display, which can show metrics like the time, activity progress, and more when the screen isn’t activated.
- It’s the most noticeable difference between the Series 5 and last year’s Apple Watch Series 4.
- The Apple Watch Series 5 is probably the best choice for those who are buying an Apple Watch for the first time or are upgrading from a much older model, like the Series 2.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If you were to look at the newest Apple Watch alongside last year’s model, you’d probably have a hard time distinguishing one from the other. That is, until you actually wear them.
The biggest difference between the Apple Watch Series 5 and the Series 4 is its new display that stays on all the time – even when the screen isn’t activated. That’s a first for the Apple Watch.
This always-on display means that your smartwatch will no longer turn into a blank black square when it’s not in use. Instead, the watch will continue to display the information that’s usually readily available on your watch face when it’s in use, like your activity progress, the weather, the date, and of course, the time.
Otherwise, the Apple Watch Series 5 introduces moderate improvements over its predecessor, such as a built-in compass that can show which direction you’re facing and the ability to contact emergency services internationally.
The Series 5 starts at $US400, which includes the model that comes with an aluminium case and Apple’s sport band, while the stainless steel version with the sport loop band will set you back at least $US700. Apple also sells high-end versions of the Series 5 that come in titanium and ceramic finishes, which start at $US800 and $US1,300 respectively.
After spending several days with Apple’s new watch, here’s a look at what it’s been like to use the Apple Watch Series 5 so far.
The Apple Watch’s always-on display is undoubtedly its most compelling feature. All of Apple’s watch faces have been optimised to work in always-on mode, which made the experience feel consistent whether the display was activated or not.
This is a noticeable departure from the approach Fitbit has taken with its always-on display on the $US200 Versa 2, which shows the time, battery level, and two key fitness metrics of your choosing.
Fitbit does allow you to customise the always-on display, for example, so you can choose whether to show an analogue or digital clockface and select which fitness statistics to display.
But it’s not as comprehensive as Apple’s, which can serves up most of the information that would be normally visible as a complication on the clock face. The switch between always-on mode and standard mode on Fitbit’s Versa 2 also doesn’t feel as natural as it does on the Apple Watch.
That’s because the always-on clock face on the Versa 2 is different than Fitbit’s normal watch faces, which means you’re most likely moving from the always on display that tells the time to the regular clock face which provides very similar information. The Apple Watch Series 5, comparatively, just brightens up and makes some other minor changes to the existing watch face, which feels more seamless.
When your Apple Watch kicks into always-on display mode, you’ll notice a few changes. The screen becomes dimmer and certain metrics that refresh often – such as the seconds hand on an analogue watch face – are suspended. The time and complications shown on the watch face update once per minute, and complications that show live data become inactive. That also means dynamic watch faces like Breathe and Vapour are essentially reduced to a basic analogue clock when in always-on mode.
When you raise your wrist to wake the watch, the screen will brighten and those suspended metrics will resume.
I find the always-on display to be particularly useful as I’m working throughout the day, since it allows me to glance down at my wrist while typing to see how much progress I’ve made on my activity rings without interrupting my workflow. It’s also helpful in movie theatres since you can keep track of the time without the display becoming disruptively bright.
But if you leave an app open on the watch, the always-on screen will only show the time. You’ll notice the currently opened app will fade out of focus so that the content on screen is indistinguishable, and the time will be displayed in the top right corner.
It’s not just watch faces that work in always-on mode: workouts remain on screen too, making it easier to see metrics mid-exercise without having to raise your wrist to wake the watch.
I only wish, however, that timers worked in always-on mode. I often like to set timers during my workouts or when I’m cooking, two scenarios in which having an always-on display is particularly useful. When I was holding a plank position during a workout, for example, it would have been great to see how much time was left on my 30-second timer.
It’s an understandable omission considering the Apple Watch lowers the refresh rate of its screen to 1Hz when in always-on mode to preserve battery, making it challenging to display metrics that quickly refresh such as seconds on a timer.
That’s not to say it’s impossible to use a timer on the Apple Watch in always-on mode. You can do so as a complication on the watch face, but that means you need to be using a watch face that offers that option. Time complications such as the timer and stopwatch also round their displayed information to the nearest minute when in always-on mode, so if you’re using it to keep track of seconds during a workout it may not be as useful anyhow.
Here’s a closer look at what Apple’s watch faces look like in always-on mode on the Series 5.
Infograph Modular Watch Face
Mickey Watch Face
Activity Digital Watch Face
Breathe Watch Face
Compass and elevation
The Apple Watch Series 5 also has a compass, which is a subtle addition that makes using the watch for navigation all the more useful. The compass shows which direction you’re facing so that you can tell whether you’re walking the right way, which can be helpful for those who get easily turned around, or may be visiting a new city for the first time.
Runners and cyclists will also appreciate the fact that the Apple Watch Series 5 can now display your current elevation by gathering data from the watch’s GPS, its barometric altimeter, Wi-Fi, and topographical map data. Previously, the Apple Watch could measure your elevation gain, but the new model will display the elevation at your current location.
Taken together, the new features make the Apple Watch all the more appealing to runners – likely a key target audience for Apple’s smartwatch.
But many of the watch’s new fitness tracking features will be available on older models too since they’re available via watchOS 6, Apple’s latest operating system for the watch. That includes the ability to measure activity trends over time, monitor health, and track menstrual cycles. That software update will be available for Apple Watch models Series 1 through 5, so you don’t need to buy a pricey new watch to make use of them.
Even with its always-on display, the Apple Watch Series 5 can last a little more than a day on a single charge. During my time with the watch so far, I didn’t find the battery life to be much different than that of the Series 4 or Series 3, both of which I’ve worn for months before testing the Series 5.
If you’re already used to charging the watch overnight, you can expect to do the same with the Series 5. That being said, battery life will always vary depending on factors such as how many notifications you get and the types of apps you use on your watch.
Battery life is one area where Fitbit far surpasses Apple. Fitbit’s Versa 2 can last for around four or five days on a single charge without its always-on display and two days with it always-on feature turned on, which is far longer than the Apple Watch’s battery life.
Should you buy it?
While it’s true that the Apple Watch Series 5’s always-on display makes it much more useful, its core functionality isn’t much different than the Series 4, or even the Series 3.
All three watches support the same apps, the same variety of workouts, come in cellular and non-cellular options, and have roughly the same battery life. The Series 5 also includes features that were introduced last year on the Series 4, such as the ability to take an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading and detect hard falls.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is probably the right choice for those who are buying an Apple Watch for the first time, or for current owners that are upgrading from an older model like the Series 2 or Series 3 – particularly if you’re interested in the ECG feature and other new additions that came in the Series 4. But if you already have the Series 4 or are satisfied with your Series 3, you can probably skip this year’s upgrade.
Fitbit’s Versa 2 is also a compelling option for those on a tighter budget that aren’t committed to Apple’s ecosystem. The Versa 2 offers significantly longer battery life, now comes with Amazon’s Alexa, and is noticeably cheaper at $US200. Plus, it can track your sleep unlike the Apple Watch, which requires third-party apps to do so.
But Apple’s advantage as the operator behind one of the world’s most popular mobile phone operating systems certainly gives it an advantage, as the Apple Watch supports a broader variety of apps than Fitbit. Apple’s watch software also feels much more refined and richer than Fitbit’s, which seems basic in comparison.
All told, the Apple Watch Series 5 brings a much-needed feature to Apple’s smartwatch – its always on display. That makes it even better at its most important job of telling the time.
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