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Apple Watch 5 review

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Our Verdict

Those who've never used an Apple Watch before will undoubtedly fall in love with the Series 5. Overall, it's an impressive bit of kit; it's capable of accurately tracking a host of workouts with ease as well as provide some great lifestyle features, intuitively, with a premium edge.

  • Design

Cupertino remains king of the wearables market

APPLE UNVEILED the fifth edition of its popular Watch last month, touting some quite unusual features such as hearing health tracking and, er, a compass.

Looking pretty much identical to the Apple Watch 4, the firm’s latest wearable isn’t exactly a complete overhaul, but it does come in a wider range of colors including two much lighter titanium models, a ceramic white model, and new special editions from Nike and Hermes.

The biggest improvement, however, is the always-on display, which could prove quite a useful tool for those who are fed up with having to flick their wrists to check the time.

Apple Watch 5 review

We’ve been using the Apple Watch for the past month to see how these features stack up and if the watch still ranks one of the best on the market.

Design

If you were to place the new Apple Watch 5 next to its predecessor, the Apple Watch 4, you’d find it quite difficult to tell them apart. Still, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Indeed, the fifth series still looks as beautiful as ever.

Although it would have been nice to see something a little different, such as a reduction in thickness or weight, our review device (the stainless steel 44mm version) still proved a delight to use thanks to some great engineering. It’s also super comfortable on the wrist; at 47.8g, it’s unobtrusive and super-premium feeling.

The digital crown, which was completely re-engineered a year ago with the launch of the Series 4, still works a treat, making use of haptic feedback to make menu navigation more precise. It’s also very satisfying to operate.

Apple Watch 5 review

If you’re looking for something a bit different, you could pick up one of the titanium or ceramic editions. We’ve had a little play around with both of these and they do feel a lot more premium, it’s just a shame about their price tags. The titanium edition, which weighs just 41.7g, costs £849 for the 44mm edition and the white ceramic – as gorgeous as it may be – weighs almost the same as the original at 46.7g but costs an incredible £1,349. It’s nice, but not that nice.

Apple Watch 5 review

Strap and fit

We’ve been reviewing the 44mm Apple Watch 5 with the standard white silicone strap, which attaches to the wrist in a simple wrap-around design with a button clasp that feels a little too simple for our liking. Once it’s on, however, it feels super smooth and very comfortable. The other great news is that the strap on the Series 5 is the exact same as previous models, meaning those upgrading from older devices won’t need to buy new accessories.

Apple Watch 5 review

Screen

There’s nothing new about the Apple Watch 5’s screen, and that’s probably because there wasn’t much room for improvement. Last year, Apple upgraded the Watch 4 with a new OLED screen that came in two slightly larger sizes of 40mm and 44m, versus the 42mm and 38mm offerings of the third-gen device. It’s the same this time around with the Apple Watch 5.

The Series 5’s 40mm variant has a 324×394 resolution display while the 44mm version boasts a 368×448 resolution. While the rectangular screen is not to everyone’s taste, we like it, and often find that circular smartwatches try too hard to mimic traditional mechanical watches and end up looking a bit odd.

In terms of the screen’s performance, it’s not only super responsive but it’s crisp and vibrant, offering all the display features found on Apple’s Retina-equipped iOS and OS X devices.

Apple Watch 5 review

Set-up

As always, setting up the Apple Watch is incredibly straightforward. All you need is an iPhone 6S (or newer) running iOS 13 (or later) with an active Bluetooth connection. Open the app, scan the face of the Apple Watch using your iPhone’s camera, and you’re ready to go.

Your iPhone will ask for a few details during this process – such as your Apple ID, whether you’ll be wearing the Apple Watch on your left or right wrist, which apps you want to install on your smartwatch, and whether you want to set up a passcode – which we definitely recommend doing. After this, the two devices will sync – a process that took around two minutes.

Software and new features

Last year, one of the biggest features Apple touted when it unveiled the Apple Watch Series 4 was the electrocardiogram feature (ECG), so you can regularly check on your ticker with the press of a button. Things aren’t quite as exciting this time around, but there are still some pretty welcome improvements.

One of the biggest is the always-on display – no longer do you have to do a dramatic lift of the wrist the see what time it is. On many occasions with the Watch 4, we’d have to make an effort to check the time by flicking our forearm vigorously to bring the screen to life but now, the time is constantly displayed with vitals updated every 30 minutes or so. However, as we’ll mention later, we do think this drains the battery a little bit more than previous models, despite Apple stating that this wouldn’t be the case.

Apple Watch 5 review

The watchOS 6 updates are also preinstalled on the Watch 5. This brings fresh software features like audiobooks, calculators, and voice memo apps as well as new watch faces and noise monitoring; this helps make sure you’re not exposed to noise and sound over time that could end up damaging your hearing. Our Apple Watch 5 hasn’t notified us of anything out of the ordinary so far, but we haven’t taken it clubbing with us yet.

Another unusual new feature is the compass app, which isn’t really something you’d use that often unless you’re into hiking – but it does improve Maps a little as it will tell you more accurately which direction you’re actually facing.

Fitness features

It’s a shame that there are no new fitness tracking features this time around. Last year we saw the addition of hiking and yoga added into the mix, alongside the standard run, swim, bike, and walk options. Nevertheless, there are still all the essentials there and the ones that we have tested worked flawlessly, and we are especially easy to navigate while on the go.

It’s nothing new to the Apple Watch but we still really like how the Series 5 offers vital health data like heart rate and minutes elapsed. At the end of the workout, it’s really easy to select finish and you immediately get a rundown of how you performed, or in this case, how many calories were burnt during the elapsed workout time.

While all the fitness features we tested worked effortlessly, it’s still a shame there’s no native app for tracking sleep, like you’d find on the Fitbit Ionic or Versa, for example. The one-day battery life is perhaps the reason why. It probably wouldn’t last the night and you’d have to charge it the following morning – not ideal if you want to wear it all day.

Apple Watch 5 review

Performance and battery life

Typically, the Apple Watch’s processor gets a significant upgrade each year that a new edition is released. Last year, the Watch 4 boasted Apple’s S4 chipset which sported a dual-core 64-bit processor and GPU that was two times faster than the old S3 chip – this meant more effective data collection, including sucking up an accelerometer and gyroscopic info.

However, it seems Apple has broken tradition this time around. According to developer Steve Troughton-Smith, Apple’s development tool Xcode reveals that the Watch’s S5 chip is virtually identical to last year’s S4. He claims that all that’s changed is an additional sensor and more storage capacity making it closer to an S4-S revision than a generational step forward.

Nonetheless, we’ve noticed no issues in terms of swiping through screens or firing open apps, as you’d expect from an Apple device. Everything is super fast and fluid, and it remains a massive delight to use. Something else worth mentioning is that the Watch 5 has doubled internal storage from 16GB to 32GB. This was never officially announced by Apple but is most likely for the ability to download a great number of stand-alone apps from the App Store.

In terms of battery life, the folks at Cupertino have made sure the Apple Watch Series 5 will last a ‘whole day’. Apple reckons is 18 hours, not 24, but by having a variable refresh rate that goes from as high as 60Hz to a mere 1Hz. Still, we think that the always-on display does affect this slightly. With the Watch 4, we reported just over two days of juice from one charge. However, on the days that we didn’t use its features as much, we were able to squeeze another half a day out of it.

And in case you were wondering, the Watch 5 takes around one hour 30 minutes to charge fully from dead.

Price and availability

As with the Series 4, the Apple Watch 5 is available now in four variants: 40mm and 44mm sizes, starting at £399 for the smallest version and £429 for the larger model. You’re also given a choice of WiFi or LTE versions, the latter of which has all the same tech inside but starts at £499 for the 40mm and £529 for the larger watch.

On the other end of the spectrum, those looking for a decent Apple Watch without forking out £400 can now get their hands on the Apple Watch Series 3 for a much cheaper starting price of £199 in the UK, which is a steal if you ask us.

In short

Those who’ve never used an Apple Watch before will undoubtedly fall in love with the Series 5. Overall, it’s an impressive bit of kit; it’s capable of accurately tracking a host of workouts with ease as well as providing some great lifestyle features, intuitively, with a premium edge.

However, those who own an Apple Watch already, especially the series 4, are unlikely to find anything compelling enough new with the Watch 5 to justify an upgrade. Although if you’re coming from a series 3 or older we would recommend upgrading to a Watch 5, not 4 as the always-on display is quite a game-changer.

Still, average battery life and lack of native sleep tracking are what you get here for such a fluid software experience. Saying that these aren’t huge negatives, more like little niggles. The Apple Watch 5 is a relatively amazing smartwatch compared to what else is on the market right now – and definitely still the one to beat.

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