The Best Smartwatch Gets Better Still

Apple Watch Series 5

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Apple Watch Series 5 is the latest version of Apple’s smartwatch and while it is largely similar to last year’s model, the small updates that it has affect the product in very profound ways.

To begin, the case design and dimensions hasn’t changed, and neither has the size of the display. However, the display now stays on permanently and Apple calls this the AlwaysOn Retina display. This was achieved using an LTPO (lowtemperature polycrystalline oxide) OLED display with special controllers and light sensors so that refresh rates can be adjusted from as high as 60Hz to as low as 1Hz.

The always-on display is a big deal because it now means you can glance at your watch to tell the time without having to do that exaggerated raise your wrist to your face action. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s exceptionally handy if you are in a situation like a long boring meeting with important people or if you are doing something particularly challenging like the Taraksvasana yoga pose.

When the display does go to sleep, it doesn’t just show a generic watch face like some other smartwatches. It actually shows a dimmed version of the watch face you selected and customised. The second hand also goes away so that it reduces the need to update the display. Some of your complications (like Date and Activity) will still show but some others that require constant updating (like the new Noise and Compass app) will go to sleep.

There’s also an option in the Settings to mask sensitive complications so that information like your calendar appointments, heart rate, mail and messages won’t be displayed. That said, it’s worth noting that notifications are never displayed when the display is in sleep mode. And, you can also turn the display off entirely in rest mode like older Apple Watches if you want.

Does the always-on display hurt battery life? In my experience, I found that it does. I now have about 35% to 40% of battery left after about 11 hours of use, which is slightly less than what my Series 4 watch used to have, which was around 55%. Regardless, Series 5 watches will need a daily charge.

The other notable new feature is the built-in compass, which shows your bearing, coordinates, and even your elevation. Obviously, this is an invaluable tool for hikers, joggers, and cyclists. But for most people, the compass can also be helpful when you are trying to navigate unfamiliar place, especially if you are indoors and have no landmarks for reference — Tokyo’s labyrinthine subway stations, for instance.

Readers thinking of getting the more expensive and also more capable cellular version of the new Series 5 watch will also be happy to know that there will be wider support for international emergency calling. This means you can use your cellular Series 5 watch to call emergency services in over 150 countries even if you don’t have a cellular plan for your watch. This could be a potential lifesaver because who knows what may happen when you are travelling.

Apple Watch Edition makes a comeback too. There are three distinct models here and the priciest and most striking is the Apple Watch Edition in white ceramic. There are also two titanium models; one comes with a natural brushed finish while the other comes in black DLC coating. Both titanium models have been given a special surface coating designed to resist patina.

I have been wearing the natural titanium for the past month and it seems to resist fingerprints and scratches really well. Even after a month of banging it around, it still looks fairly pristine. I also like that it has this gunmetal hue that subtly changes shade depending on how light hits it.

All Series 5 watches ship with watchOS 6 and it introduces a bunch of new watch faces and new health features. New to watchOS 6 are two health apps called Noise and Cycle Tracking. The former uses the watch’s builtin microphone to measure sound levels around you and warns you if things get too loud which might damage your hearing.

The latter app is focused on women’s menstrual cycles. Women can inform the app when their cycle starts, how heavy the flow is, and over time, the app will notify users when their cycle is about to start and when their fertile window might be. As nifty as it may all sound, this app shouldn’t be considered a replacement for a proper doctor’s consultation or contraceptives.

Speaking of health apps, Apple Watch Series 5 will also have ECG capability and owners will be able to take readings right out of the box in Singapore, because it has already been approved by the Health Sciences Authority.

Another good thing is that prices are unchanged from last year, so the Apple Watch Series 5 starts at $599 for the most basic 40mm GPS-only model in aluminium. It’s admittedly pricey but name me another smartwatch that does ECG, has a built-in compass, tracks your activity, lets you pay for things, has cellular connectivity that lets you stream music, and is built like a luxury watch. There is none. In short, the Apple Watch Series 5 is comfortably the best smartwatch you can buy today.

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 For the first time, the Apple Watch can be had with a titanium case.

No question, this is the best smartwatch you can buy right now.
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The new Apple Watch has a built-in compass, which makes it handy for going out.
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Fashionistas will be happy to know that there will be Hermès variants of the Apple Watch Series 5.
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watchOS 6 includes a Noise app that monitors ambient sound and alerts you if it can damage your hearing.
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