On paper, the Apple Watch 5 is one of the most underwhelming upgrades Apple has ever unveiled. It’s essentially the Watch 4 – one of our best smartwatches, admittedly – with a compass, more cellular bands to call emergency services worldwide (a noble achievement, if not something people will rip it off the shelves for) and not much more.
Except for the screen now never switches off, dimming to an ambient, always-on display when you’re not raising it to look straight at it. Apple has fixed one of the biggest bugbears about its smartwatch, and that’s by far the biggest feature of this new device.
The fitness capabilities of the Watch 5 haven’t been improved, but it’s still a terrific health tracker: the heart rate monitor is accurate, an ECG feature offers further heart health monitoring, and the onboard GPS is pretty accurate (although not quite as high-performing as on dedicated running watches).
You can swim, do high-intensity interval training, cycle and even practice yoga with the Watch 5 to fill up those all-important rings that monitor your daily active performance. However, this is all true of the slightly-smaller Watch 3, which is cheaper and still being sold by Apple.
The music and podcast playback of the Watch 5 is strong, and with 32GB of space onboard (an upgrade from 16GB last year), you can load up more Apple Music tunes or download more podcasts – although getting content onto the Watch can still be a struggle.
WatchOS 6 brings some cool new features, with a noise meter and cycle tracking for women among our favourites: you can protect your hearing and get better period and fertility predictions right from the wrist, with both features feeling slick, and useful in a smartwatch.
We’re not huge fans of the new App Store on the Watch though, as it seems like the screen is still too small to access the portal properly.
Battery life is the biggest issue we encountered on Watch 5, with the always-on display pulling more life out of the smartwatch. The Watch 4 could easily make it past 24 hours, but the Watch 5 struggles to match that, and we were definitely reaching for the charger more regularly here.
Given that the Watch 4 is off-sale, the Watch 5 is simply an upgrade, with more storage, a compass and an always-on display… turn that off and it’s just a slightly-updated smartwatch for 2019.
We found that it still excelled in some areas, and it’s another hugely competent device for your wrist, but the Apple Watch 5 still feels like an underwhelming upgrade, and we’d point you towards the now reasonably-priced Watch 3 as a great alternative.
The Apple Watch 5 was introduced alongside the iPhone 11 range on September 10, and as the phones, you’ll be able to buy it on September 20, although if you want the Nike edition you’ll have to wait until October 4.Advertisement
It’s set to cost $399 / £399 / AU$649 / AED 1,599 for the GPS-only model in the smaller 40mm size. The 44mm size costs a bit more, at $429 / £429 / AU$699.
The 40mm cellular model starts at $499 / £499 / AU$799 and goes up to $529 / £529 / AU$849 for the 44mm size. Most people won’t need the LTE version if they’re always carrying their iPhone with them, but the larger 44mm size usually nets you better battery life and offers larger touchpoints on the slightly bigger screen.
The Apple Watch 5 starting price is for the aluminium case, which comes in three familiar finishes: Gold, Space Black, and Silver. One new perk is that this year’s case is made of 100% recycled aluminium.
You can also pick it up in stainless steel for a higher price – $699 with a sport loop or sport band, $749 with a Milanese loop, or $799 with a leather loop. The all-new titanium Apple Watch 5, in light and dark finishes, starts at $799 with a sport loop and goes up to $899 with a leather loop.
The Watch will once again come in a white Ceramic finish, starting at $1,299 with a sport loop and going up to $1,399 with a leather loop.
There are new Nike models with additional bands, loops and faces, and new Hermes models with Space Black stainless steel cases and noir leather bands. Apple hasn’t said whether these models would be available in both GPS-only and cellular variants.
Let’s get something out of the way right now: the always-on display rocks. It’s a brilliant upgrade from Apple, and it’s been well-thought-out in a number of ways.
It’ll take owners of previous-gen Watches about five minutes to go from automatically raising/flicking their wrist to activate the screen to expect to see the time when their eyes just wander down to their Apple Watch 5.
This ease of transition is because that’s how we all know a watch is supposed to be used: you look at it, you see the time. That’s what the Watch now offers, and it means that rather than you having to rely on muscle memory it works like a regular watch when you want to, you know, see the time.
Apple should have taken this a little further though – the display dims when not in use, but not enough. If you’re in a darker environment the Watch 5 still shines like a beacon on your wrist – and if you want to wear it at night then it’s highly distracting.
We found ourselves activating Cinema Mode in darker conditions – Apple should have added an ultra-low brightness mode, something akin to the luminescent watch hands on some regular watches – easily visible to others, but not distracting. This would have saved power, too.