It is strange to think that only five years ago Apple introduced a whole new product line, the Apple Watch. While it was introduced in September of 2014, it was not actually available for purchase until April of 2015.
In the past almost five years, both the Apple Watch hardware, as well the accompanying software, watchOS, has seen some significant upgrades. If you owned an original Apple Watch, retroactively dubbed the Series 0, you knew that it was not exactly the fastest piece of hardware around. Besides the hardware being slow, all of the interactions relied upon the paired iPhone for communications.
If it was merely a matter of having slow hardware and slow software, it may have been tolerable, given that it was a first-generation product. However, to add even more third-party applications were very limited in what they could do even on the watch. The overall experience for the first Apple Watch was, in a word, limited.
Apple recognized this limitation by creating the Series 1 Apple Watch, which was effectively a Series 0 watch, but had double the processing power. This upgrade vastly improved the functionality. At the same time, the Apple Watch Series 2 was released. The improvements with the Series 2 included water resistance, GPS, a brighter screen, and Nike+ Editions.
The next big upgrade was with the Apple Watch Series 3 when Apple introduced a cellular option for the Apple Watch, Blush Gold, and a barometric altimeter. Last year’s Series 4 Apple Watch included a new ECG sensor, with a companion digital sensor, a whole new set of sizes, 40mm and 44mm, and a gyroscope.
The Apple Watch Series 5 does not have nearly as many new hardware specific features that the Series 4 watch did, However, there are a couple of very welcome improvements. The improvements with the Series 5 watch include an Always On Display, a Compass, and additional storage. Let us look at each of these.
Always On Display
One of the features that traditional watches have is the ability to always see the time. This has not been available on the Apple Watch, until the Series 5. The Always On Display, is, as the name states, always on. The Always On Display was definitely not possible on the original Apple Watch, the Series 1 nor the Series 2 Apple Watch. The battery life on the Series 4 could have handled it, but it likely was not ready with the Series 4.
When you have the “Always On” display enabled a few things will happen. First, the display will always be on. Secondly, any complications that have “sensitive” data will be hidden when your wrist is down. Sensitive Data is defined as health, calendar appointments, mail, and heart rate. The reason for this is to make sure that your private information is not shown to others. In the case of Activity data, all of the rings are turned black, so the data cannot be seen.
Additionally, when your wrist is down, the size of the screen will shrink a bit and the display will dim. This allows you an easy way to recognize that the display is off. Furthermore, when your wrist is down, you are not able to take screenshots. Again, this is to protect your data.
You can disable the Always On display, if you so choose to do so. To disable the Always On display perform the following steps:
- On the Apple Watch,, or use the Watch app on an iPhone,. open the Settings app.
- Scroll down “Display & Brightness”.
- Tap on “Display & Brightness” to open the setting.
- Tap on “Always On” to open the Always On setting.
- Tap on the “Always On” toggle to disable the “Always On” display.
If you disable the Always On display, your Apple Watch will work similarly to the Series 4, and earlier models, and the display will only be turned on when you raise your wrist.
The last change with the Always On Display, while your wrist is down, is that the screen will refresh much slower than the Series 4. In fact, the screen refresh rate may be reduced to as low as 1 Hertz. This means that the screen will refresh once per second, which should, in theory, significantly improve battery life. On the topic of battery life, let us look at that next.
With each subsequent version of a product, it is quite likely for the battery life to improve. This is typically done by improving efficiency, increasing battery size, or both. In the case of the Series 5, the size of the battery has increased, but not for the 44mm watch, just the 40mm one.
As alluded to above, the battery life on the Series 4 Apple Watch was absolutely tremendous. I could easily go all day without needing worry about the battery running low. Most days the battery would be at above 50%. That has not my experience with the Series 5.
While I would suspect the Series 5 to have slightly worse battery life, due to the Always On Display, my battery life has been significantly worse than the Series 4. There are some days that my 44mm Series 5 Apple Watch is down to 25% when I put it on the charger. I have not been using the Series 5 in any different manner than I did with the Series 4.
To me, this is not acceptable. Yes, there is technically enough battery life to get through the day, that is only with approximately 30 minutes of exercise. If I end up doing a longer workout this results in even less battery life remaining. If I had been running a beta, I might have expected this, but this is the release version of watchOS, so it is not that. Hopefully, Apple will be able to improve the battery life with a subsequent update. Let us look at the another new feature, the Compass.
The Compass is a brand new feature of the Series 5 Apple Watch. The Compass allows you to determine your current heading; just as a handheld compass would do. The digital compass provides more than just the current heading. You can also see the current degree of inline, elevation, latitude and longitude. Even though this is a great feature, there may be some possible issues with it.
The compass is not foolproof. This is because the Compass in the Apple Watch Series 5 can be affected by any magnet. This includes magnets within Watch Bands.
Per Apple’s support page for the Compass:
The presence of magnets can affect the accuracy of any compass sensor. Apple’s Leather Loop, Milanese Loop, and earlier Sport Loop watch bands use magnets or magnetic material that might interfere with the Apple Watch compass. The compass isn’t affected by Sport Loop bands introduced in September 2019, or any version of the Sport Band.
What this means is that if you have a Milanese Loop, a Leather Loop, and older Apple Watch Sport Loop, and possibly even third-party watch bands, they may interfere with the Compass on the Apple Watch. It is not guaranteed to do so, but it might cause a problem. This is something to be aware of, in case you need to rely on the Compass.
The storage for the Apple Watch has steadily increased since the original Apple Watch. For the first three generations you had 8GB of storage on the Apple Watch. If you had a Series 3 Cellular model, this was doubled to 16GB. The Series 4 made 16GB standard, and the Series 5 Apple Watch has 32GB of storage standard.
This rapid increase in storage has is great if you want to store additional media, like voice memos, music, and photos. I do not see Apple adding additional storage beyond 32GB, unless there is a significant reason to add storage. There is one last thing to cover, the included watch band.
Apple has done something different when you purchase an Apple Watch. With the release of the Series 4 Apple Watch, you had to choose one of the pre-defined Apple Watch and Watch Band. Even if you did this, the two items would come in separate boxes. That is not the case with the Series 5. You can now pair any Apple Watch with any Apple Watch band.
This has a couple of different benefits. The first is that you can get the exact pairing that you want. This means that you can get the exact pairing of Apple Watch and band that meets your style. Additionally, this also means that you will not need to have a band that you will not end up using. This is not only good for your wallet, but also for the environment, because Apple does not have to produce an additional watch band that may just end up in the landfill. Next, let us look at the Sport Loop.
I will not do a whole review of the Apple Watch Sport Loop, because I did one in 2018. Instead, I want to comment on the design of the 2019 Sport Loops.
This year Apple has gone with a two-tone color scheme for the sport loops. The sport loop that I chose this year is the Anchor Gray. In the picture this looks like a black and gray band, however when you look at it in person, it is actually two different shades of gray. The darker of the two colors is on the outside while the lighter of the two is on the inside of the band.
This is a nice look overall and I think the two-tone color scheme has a second utility, besides new colors. I think it is related to the Compass feature and allows Apple employees to easily identify the band as one that does not interfere with the Compass feature on the Series 5 Apple Watch.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is a decent upgrade, particularly with the Always On display. While the battery life has been significantly degraded, it still does make it though the day. The battery life may improve with a software upgrade, but only time will tell on that.
The new Compass is a nice feature, particularly since it provides you with the current latitude and longitude. The new 2019 Sport Loops will not interfere with the compass, but some other bands may interfere. The additional storage that is available should come in handy if you want to load up your Apple Watch with any type of media.
If you have an original Apple Watch, a Series 1, or even a Series 2, the Apple Watch Series 5 will be a great upgrade. If you have a Series 4, it may not be necessary to upgrade, unless you absolutely must have the Always On display.