One of the headline features of the new Apple Watch Series 5 is the long-awaited always-on display. The original Apple Watch was criticised for not having an always-on display but when Apple do something they’d rather be right than first. Up to now, when you see someone wearing an Apple Watch, all you’ll see is a dark screen on their wrist. Apple has done some incredible things to Series 5 to allow them to have an always-on display and maintain 18 hours of typical usage. A lot of this was achieved through hardware under the display including the ability to reduce the screen refresh rate from 60Hz right down to only 1Hz. There’s also a new low-power display driver, an ultra-efficient power management integrated circuit, and a new ambient light sensor all working together to keep power consumption down.
You can raise to wake the screen as usual, but instead of going blank to save battery the new Series 5 reduces the screen brightness and transitions the watch face to a more basic version when the always-on feature is enabled. If the display times out, while you’re using an app, it will display a simple clock in the top corner while the app you have open is blurred out in the background. If you need to check your watch during fitness workouts, you’ll now be able to see your data without stopping, something that wasn’t possible with previous versions of the Apple Watch. This is because you now have your workouts displayed on the always-on display which is a big deal for many.
Of course, the real benefit is that you don’t need to raise your wrist to see the time and everyone will know you have the new Series 5. Is it essential? Heck no, it just looks way better than a blank screen and is more functional. Apple aren’t the first to use an always-on display, but they got the implementations spot on.
Another new feature is the compass, which I wasn’t too excited about until I started seeing the benefits. The new compass is hardware-based and this makes a big difference in accuracy and usability. Knowing that I can rely on it, I found I was using it for all sorts of things, but the best use case scenario is when you’re using maps to find your way to say a restaurant in a city you’ve never been before. You start walking, but you don’t know which way you’re facing on the map until you start moving. With the Series 5’s new compass, you can easily navigate with the app showing your heading, incline, elevation, and latitude and longitude. You can even add a compass complication to your watch face that shows at a glance which way you’re facing. Using your phone to navigate your way around a big city is great, but unfortunately, you become a target to thieves. Using the Apple Watch is a much safer way to navigate and not look like a tourist.
Something new that wasn’t talked too much about is the boost from 16GB on Series 4 to 32GB of in-built storage on Series 5. This means you can save a lot more music and podcasts onto your Apple Watch to listen to when you don’t want to bring your iPhone with you.
Although not new to the Series 5, the ECG feature wasn’t available at the time of my review of the Series 4. Press and hold the digital crown for 30 seconds to record an ECG graph. This will tell you if it’s a normal sinus rhythm or atrial fibrillation. It’s important to note that the Apple Watch can’t check for signs of a heart attack and that if you suspect something’s wrong to consult a doctor.
Other new features include a new Noise app, which is also available on Series 4 in the new watchOS 6 update. This is an app a lot of us could have done with back when there wasn’t any standards that limited volume on devices like headphones. It works by monitoring the ambient sounds using the built-in mic on the Apple Watch and sending alerts if the sound levels rise above 90db. There’s even a colour system whereby if the sound levels are below 80db, the indicator is green, over 90db and it turns yellow. Prolonged periods of sound levels over 90 decibels, can begin to impact your hearing after four hours per week of exposure, according to the World Health Organization. You can also add a noise complication to the watch face so you can check the noise levels in your environment anytime.
Cycle tracking is a new health app, where women can set up notifications on when their period is likely to start, or receive alerts of fertility opportunity windows. You can log key aspects of your period, including symptoms. This is available to anyone with watchOS 6 and isn’t an exclusive to Series 5.
In addition to Cycle Tracking and the Noise app, watchOS 6 comes with other great built-in apps including a calculator. Audiobooks lets you listen to millions of books. Voice Memos gives you an easy way to record your thoughts without needing your iPhone with you.
Apple Watch has built-in safety features to get help if you ever need it. Emergency SOS5 and fall detection have been profound features for many. And with Apple Watch Series 5, you can enjoy even more peace of mind with international emergency calling. Emergency SOS calls local emergency services, notifies your emergency contacts, sends your current location, and displays your Medical ID badge on the screen for emergency personnel. Get help by simply pressing and holding the side button. Apple Watch Series 5 cellular models now support international emergency calling. So when you’re traveling abroad, you can call local emergency services from almost anywhere in the world (over 150 countries)—even when your phone isn’t nearby. This works for all cellular models, even if the cellular plan hasn’t been activated.
There’s still no native sleep tracking, but I’ve always used an app called Pillow and it works great for me. Using it means wearing the watch while you sleep, which is something that many are not prepared to do and that’s fine too. I love the feedback I get about my sleep patterns, quality of sleep, how much is REM sleep or light sleep. One of the downsides to wearing the watch in bed is that you can’t charge the watch while you sleep. This means planning a time later in the day for charging.
There’s so much to love about the Series 5, including the always-on display, but I found I was able to get nearly two days of normal use with the feature turned off. While I still prefer to have it on and live with the shorter battery life, I would love to see the next Apple Watch stretch this to at least three days use with an always-on display. This would mean that you could go away for a long weekend and not have to remember to bring a charger.
If you have an Apple Watch Series 3 or older you’re missing out on the always-on display, bigger screen, ECG monitoring, more storage, fall detection, compass, and an ambient noise app. If you’re happy with what you have and don’t care too much for these new features then good for you. You can still purchase the Series 3 with a new starting price of €239, but the Series 5 replaces the Series 4 with the same starting price of €459.