The always-on display is impressive, but otherwise …
The Apple Watch 5 is a premium smartwatch but does not differ much from its predecessor, the Watch 4. The only major innovation, the always-on display, is a welcome feature. It has not risen in price and offers more storage than before, but the Apple Watch 3 will be a more attractive deal for many.
IN FRONT OF
WatchOS 6 brings solid updates
Looks too much like Apple Watch 4
Battery life is less long
The always-on display is too bright at night
1.Review in a nutshell
On paper, the Apple Watch 5 is one of the least interesting upgrades that Apple has ever released. Basically, it is the Watch 4 – admittedly, one of the best smartwatches – with a compass, more bands and, oh yes, a screen that never goes out.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is equipped with an always-on display. The display always stays on dim when you don’t look at it, and bright when you point it towards you. Apple has solved a major problem with the introduction of the always-on display, and that is by far the biggest feature of this new device.
The always-on display is very useful, and we quickly got used to the action to take a quick look at the display to see the time. The watch screen is actually a tad too bright, and in low-light situations, the display seems rather loud, which means that we regularly switch off the always-on function.
The Watch 5 design is exactly the same as that of Watch 4, which is not entirely unexpected. After all, 2018 was a big change compared to Watch 3. Ceramics and titanium options are now also available with the 40mm and 44mm Watch and they look slick, but you also pay for that.
The Watch 5
The fitness options of the Watch 5 have not been greatly improved, but it is still a fantastic health tracker: the heart rate monitor is accurate, an ECG function provides further heart health monitoring. and the built-in GPS is fairly accurate (but not as accurate as in some sports watches).
With the Apple Watch 5 Series, you can swim, follow intense training schedules, cycle and practice yoga; the clock keeps track of everything and places it in the appropriate schedules. However, all this also applies to the slightly smaller Watch 3, which is cheaper and Apple still sells.
The options for listening to music and podcasts on the Watch 5 are working properly, and thanks to the 32GB of internal storage you can store more Apple Music songs or podcasts locally than ever before. Unfortunately, dragging content to the Watch sometimes remains difficult.
WatchOS 6 brings some great new features, including a sound meter and, handy for women: an accurate indication when you are fertile or not. Both functions work smoothly and feel like an added value for the smartwatch.
However, we are not a big fan of the new App Store on the Watch, as the display is still quite narrow to swipe through the digital marketplace quickly.
The battery runtime is, without doubt, the biggest problem we have encountered with the Watch 5, with the always-on display that consumes a lot of batteries. Watch 4 can easily withstand 24 hours, but it is difficult for Watch 5 to do the same.
Compared to Watch 4, the Apple Watch 5 is a simple upgrade, with only more storage, a compass, and an always-on display … Switch the latter off and the smartwatch is only slightly improved.
Apple’s smartwatch, however, continues to excel in various areas, making it an (again) excellent device. Nonetheless, the Apple Watch 5 feels like a somewhat disappointing upgrade, and we recommend that you also take a look at the cheaper Apple Watch 3.
Apple Watch 5 release date and price
The Apple Watch 5 was introduced alongside the iPhone 11 series on September 10, and like the phones, you can buy it on September 20. Do you want to get the Nike edition? Then you have to wait until October 4.
The Apple Watch 5 appears in the Benelux only as a GPS-only version. The 40-millimeter version costs a minimum of 449 euros, and the 44-millimeter version is sold for 479 euros.
Apple has decided to stop selling the Watch 4, so expect some interesting Apple Watch 4 deals soon.
The basic price of the Apple Watch 5 is for the version with an aluminum strap. It appears in three recognizable colors: Gold, Space Black, and Silver. Nice bonus: the straps are made from 100% recycled aluminum. The special titanium and stainless steel versions do not appear in the Benelux.
The special Nike models with special straps and faces can be found here. Nothing is currently known about Hermes editions.
Always-on display and design
Let’s just drop the door: the always-on display is fantastic. It’s a brilliant upgrade from Apple, and clearly a lot of time and effort has been put into it.
It will take users of earlier Apple Watch watches about five minutes to switch from ‘automatically keeping your wrist up for the time’ to just moving your eyes to the display, since the time is always on.
However, Apple could have made the display a little more sophisticated. The screen of the Apple Watch 5 dims itself when not in use, but in our opinion, the display does not get dim enough. If you find yourself in a dark environment, you will soon notice that Watch 5 is pretty bright.
We ourselves have activated the ‘cinema mode’ several times in these situations. So Apple had better installed an ultra-low brightness option. This could also have an extended battery life.
Apple said on the keynote that it has invested a lot of time in LPTO technology that should make it possible to keep the device working for longer on a full cycle. This is strange because, in fact, the OLED display is no different than that of the Apple Watch 4.
Although the Apple Watch 5 has new display drivers and an improved light sensor to dim the screen more efficiently, we can only conclude that this could also have been implemented in the Watch 4.
The use of LPTO means the following: the Apple Watch 5 can change the refresh rate from a fast 60 hertz to 1 hertz in no time, which means that the display only refreshes itself once per second.
The difficulty for smartwatch manufacturers is to inform the display to activate this function automatically. Apple has, however, achieved that reasonably well. From dimmed to maximum brightness happens, if necessary, immediately, and the ‘lift-to-activate’ function works smoother than ever before.
Unfortunately, there is a big problem: the always-on functionality does not work with every application. Each dial will correct the brightness, and during a workout with Apple’s own app, the Watch 5 will not turn itself off. In addition to the fitness app and the home screen, the display will only show a boring digital clock on the screen.
Apple’s own apps such as the timer also belong to this list. We hope that Apple will adjust this over time, also for developers. This would make third-party apps a lot more convenient to use.
We would understand if the apps would still be adjusted over time, but to hear that no updates are in the pipeline? That is pretty disappointing. Apple says the situation will be reviewed in the future, and we expect Apple to announce new ‘ambient’ modes for its own apps in new updates, but it will be a while before external developers can.
It is difficult to spot something new about the design of the Apple Watch 5 because the watch looks so much like its predecessor. You get the same aluminum frame, a square display, and the Digital Crown, a button to scroll through the menus. Below is a diamond-shaped button that lets you view recent apps and use Apple Pay.
The design has become fairly iconic in a short time for the smartwatch series from Apple. The colorful, clear OLED display combined with the shiny frame gives the device a recognizable look. Everyone can see from a few meters that you are walking around with a hip watch from Apple.
Although WatchOS 6 comes to most smartwatches of the Apple series, it works best on the latest series. So can you live without the always-on display? Then the Apple Watch 4 and perhaps the Apple Watch 3 are worth considering. Especially when you only use the watches as a fitness device.
There are some new features that the operating system brings. In addition to a few adjustments to the design, such as the ‘Now Playing’ screen that has been improved, there are also new features such as Activity Trends. This feature takes 90 days to get to know you, after which the app tells you if you have become fitter.
What we do like – even very nice – is the sound meter that is now built into the watch. If you wear the device constantly, the Watch scans the ambient noise to see if it is not all too loud. In short, the Watch is also a protection system for your hearing.
You can turn on notifications to have the Watch warn you about painfully loud spaces, but we have hardly spotted any notifications of this.
It is more convenient that you can see what your daily environment has for your hearing. This way you know immediately whether too much noise is being made in the office. We are occasionally provided with a message that the sound is too loud for our hearing, but it is difficult to find out why. Keeping an eye on the Watch if you expect (too) loud spaces is a better option.
This new feature added to the watch comes directly from the health application where women can set notifications about when their period is likely to start. Checking the fertility periods is also possible.
It is one of those apps that is perfectly suited for the smartwatch, because you can easily enter when your period starts, or you notice that you have had your period / have experienced symptoms. All this is used to get a better idea of when your period is likely to start.
The interface is simple on the Watch 5, with options to check whether the menstrual period is light, medium or heavy. A simple tap is all that is needed. You can also see when you are most likely to get pregnant.
The ability to download apps directly to the watch works particularly well; for the most effective searches, you prefer to use your voice instead of drawing the letters individually with the Scribble input option.
The Watch does download quickly, although you must have your iPhone on hand to log in to your Apple ID unless you also want to draw every letter with your finger here. (Because of this our Apple Watch 5 even crashed occasionally for a few seconds).
It is nice to browse through the available apps, but you will soon feel the need to swipe through the App Store on your phone. Unfortunately, this has been made impossible by Apple. The App Store is now stuck on the watch and is not accessible on the larger screen of your phone.
In addition, for some apps, the main application must already be installed on the phone in order to function. The App Store on the Apple Watch is not really that great.
Fitness and a new compass
The Apple Watch 5 has hardly been upgraded in terms of hardware. The GPS, heart rate monitor, and accelerometer (to follow your steps) are exactly the same as in the Apple Watch 4.
A small hardware upgrade has been carried out here and there: there is now a compass in the watch, with which you can see which way you are heading. The Watch also uses GPS to see how far you are above or below sea level.
While this will be a good feature for hikers – we have found that the compass worked well and seemed effective in finding the true north – it is not something we used often. Testing the GPS with apps like Night Sky, which uses the compass to navigate through the area, only felt like a fun gimmick to us.
It would be nice if Apple would make a ‘home beacon’ for the Apple Watch, which could send you home if you got lost. Although there are few strong fitness upgrades on the Watch 5 (none to be precise), it remains a great device for anyone who wants to gather more data about themselves.
We have carried out various activities during the course of our review, and in general, everything seems to work as Apple says. While jogging, we saw that the GPS was fairly accurate and the heart rate monitor was strong enough to measure our heart rate with relative accuracy, even during sprint sessions.
While swimming, the Watch 5 was just as useful – counting the lengths and distances that we had traveled fairly accurately. We do find it annoying that the watch always told us that we were doing breaststroke, while it was clearly a crawl.
The only thing missing from the list of smart features is sleep tracking. Apple says this is not a problem because there are a number of third-party apps that can perform this function, but an integrated application is so much more convenient.
If Apple can extend the battery life to more than 18 hours, the watch could be used more easily to analyze our sleep.
Do you know exactly how much sleep you have had? Then this could provide the heart rhythm information with more context. Apple has a long way to go before it can be called the best health and fitness watchmaker.
Battery, music, and podcasts
The battery life is one of the most important features of the Apple Watch, simply because it simply has to be worse than its predecessor, right? The display is always on, so that means that the battery has to work harder?
It may sound like we’re going to say ‘no’ now, but unfortunately, the opposite is true: the battery life is definitely affected by the implementation of the always-on display.
Apple has always claimed that the battery life of her watch would be 18 hours. Although earlier generations have extended this, the 18-hour promise will still be easily achieved by the Apple Watch 5. Even when used intensively with GPS. That is not very impressive, certainly when you compare it with the competition.
During our review period, we got the feeling that Apple has indeed optimized the Watch 5 for training and GPS use since the smartwatch wasted noticeably less battery in these activities than the Watch 4.
Music is also an improved aspect of Watch 5. You can now download music and podcasts to the watch without the intervention of a telephone. Synchronizing is a bit more difficult; you have to hang the Watch 5 on the charger and have your smartphone close at hand, and even then the process does not feel very good.
Apple has not really been able to convince us with the Watch 5. Compared to Watch 4, it is only a small upgrade that offers few truly innovative features. The always-on display is handy, but far from innovative. The shorter battery life is the biggest pain and the lack of built-in sleep tracking remains annoying. You are probably (after all those years) still better off with the Apple Watch 3, especially now that it has fallen in price.
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