Apple Watch Series 5 (2019) review

Apple Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Apple Watch Series 5
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Immaculate design
  • Rich software
  • Always-on display

Cons

  • No sleep tracking
  • Still no ECG in Australia
  • Premium price-tag

Bottom Line

Even if you’re an Android user, this is still the smartwatch experience to beat.

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 649.00 (AUD)

Should I buy the Apple Watch Series 5?

If you already own or are looking to buy an iPhone, you’re probably going to want to pair it up with an Apple Watch sooner or later. 

If you're looking to save money, you might flirt with a Fitbit Versa for a few months. However, when the opportunity arrives, you’re going to want to upgrade to Apple’s best smartwatch yet.

Even if the advancements and additions to the formula the Series 5 makes are relatively small, they’re technically impressive and don't compromise on any of the things that were great about the Series 4. Ultimately, the new Apple Watch arrives at a place that eclipses past efforts and alternatives with ease. It's pricey but every second with it feels worth the expense.

Whether or not the Series 5 is good enough for you to switch ecosystems is another question entirely. Buying an iPhone just so you can use the Apple Watch is an expensive and irrational way to go about things. There are other options of course, but none of which are quite as capable or quite as polished as the Series 5 is. 

Even if you’re an Android user, this is still the smartwatch experience to beat.  

Price when reviewed

In Australia, pricing for the Apple Watch Series 5  starts at AU$649 for the GPS model and AU$799 for the 4G-enabled version.

Apple Watch Series 5 full review

If you’re already looking at buying a new iPhone, owning an Apple Watch feels like an inevitability. 

The Series 5 Apple Watch is available in two sizes (40mm and 44mm), two variants (Wi-Fi and Cellular), a variety of materials and will support any and all older Apple Watch bands you may have lying around. It runs on the same S5 processor as last year’s model but features an LPTO display plus a new ultra-low power display driver. These additions empower the new Apple Watch is able to dynamically change its refresh rate from 90Hz when you’re using it to 1Hz when you aren’t. 

Credit: Apple

This true always-on display is the big technical feature that separates the Series 5 from what’s come before. Even with this feature enabled, I’d get about two days of normal usage from the Series 5 Apple Watch per charge. 

The other new features introduced in this year’s Apple Watch are more nice-to-have than necessity. The wearable now features a built-in compass, which adds a little bit of extra utility. There’s also an emergency services feature lets you easily and quickly contact emergency services in over 150 countries, even if you don't have your phone on you.

As with last year’s Apple Watch, the Series 5 offers ECG and fall detection, the former of which still isn’t available in Australia. It also doesn’t officially support sleep tracking - which is a bit annoying. 

With the arrival of WatchOS 6, you can also now browse the app store directly using your watch rather than via your phone. Even if it’s a pale imitation of the iOS ecosystem proper, WatchOS still boasts the most-mature and diverse smartwatch app ecosystem. Relative to the other options, you’re more likely to be able to find both the app that does the thing you want and the app that does the thing you didn’t know you needed. 

Credit: Apple

Having seemingly-mastered the art of being a good watch and a great fitness tracker, Apple are now setting their sights on becoming something more than just a mere accessory to your iPhone.

Price

In Australia, pricing for the Apple Watch Series 5  starts at AU$649 for the GPS model and AU$799 for the 4G-enabled version. You can buy it through the following:

Design & Display

At a glance, you could easily mistake the new Series 5 Apple Watch for last year’s Series 4. 

This time around, Apple haven’t really tinkered too much with the thing. The form factor of the world’s most successful smartwatch remains more-or-less largely intact. You still get the same, familiar, square-shaped display. It’s still got thin bezels and curved edges. You’ll still find the digital crown control dial hanging off the side. You’ve still got an enormous library of watchbands to choose from. 

The Series 5 Apple Watch is available in two sizes (40mm and 44mm), a variety of materials and will support any and all older Apple Watch bands you may have lying around. 

Credit: Apple

And even if the Series 5 runs on the same S5 processor as last year’s model, under the hood is still where you’ll find most of the “new” in this year’s new Apple Watch - specifically, when it comes to the display. 

Utilising LPTO display tech and a new ultra-low power display driver, the new Apple Watch is able to dynamically change its refresh rate from 90Hz when you’re using it to 1Hz when you aren’t. 

Essentially, rather than turning off whenever it detects you aren't looking or interacting with it, the new Apple Watch will behave more like a normal watch without taking a massive hit to battery life. This true always-on display is the big technical feature that separates the Series 5 from what’s come before.  For more info on this feature and how LPTO displays work, check out this guide here.

The other new features included in this year’s Apple Watch are more nice-to-have than necessity. The wearable now features a built-in compass, which adds a little bit of extra utility. There’s also an emergency services feature lets you easily and quickly contact emergency services in over 150 countries, even if you don't have your phone on you. It’s not a game changer but I can see it adding additional peace of mind for frequent flyers. Hopefully it becomes the standard in a few years time. 

Credit: Apple

Other than the above, there aren't many major differences between the Series 5 and Series 4 (review here). They both run on the same version of WatchOS 6 and offer the same support for third party apps, contactless payments and fitness tracking. They’re both nice to look at and really comfortable to wear.

As with last year’s Apple Watch, the Series 5 offers ECG and fall detection, the former of which still isn’t available in Australia. 

The most noticeable drawback here compared to something like the Fitbit Versa 2 is that, despite the boost in battery life, the Apple Watch still isn’t something that Apple wants you to wear to bed. It doesn’t officially support sleep tracking - which is still a bit annoying. 

Performance & Software 

I didn’t really come away disappointed or let-down by the performance and software experience offered by last year’s Series 4 Apple Watch and this year’s iteration didn’t really provide much of a difference. It’s still super fast. The UI is still super clean and it’s all oh-so-very Apple. 

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The experience of wearing an Apple Watch and knowing you can look down and see that always-on display at any moment is incredibly cool and convenient. It turns the Series 5 into less of a gadget and more of an ambient time-piece - which I dig. However, it never stopped feeling like a complete luxury even in the context of the most luxurious smartwatch you can buy. Even for Apple, this feature comes across as extremely extra. 

Credit: Apple

Still, the device itself is very easy to set up (though you do still require an iPhone to do so) and all the basic functionality like activity tracking, checking notifications and controlling your music playback works like a charm. Of course, the real hook here is that these disparate threads of the Apple Watch experience work well together. They feel cohesive and polished in a way that no other smartwatch is able to match. There’s still plenty of stuff you’ll probably prefer to do on a phone but, if the need arises, it’s nice to know that my Apple Watch can rise to the occasion. 

Likewise, even if it’s a pale imitation of the iOS ecosystem proper, WatchOS still boasts the most-mature and diverse smartwatch app ecosystem. Of all the platforms out there, it’s the one that you’re most likely to be able to find an app that does the thing you want and surprises you with something you didn’t know you needed. 

As of WatchOS 6, you can now browse the app store directly using your watch rather than via your phone. This isn’t a game-changer but it does do an apt job of reflecting where the Apple Watch sits relative to the other options. Having seemingly-mastered the art of being a good watch and a great fitness tracker, Apple are now setting their sights on becoming something more than just a mere accessory.

Battery life

When it came to battery life, I actually didn’t notice all that much of a difference relative to the non-always-on display of the Series 4 but that’s not to say I was disappointed by the new Apple Watch. Yes, it totally still lags behind the rest of the major alternatives (Huawei, Samsung and Fitbit) but it’s also a significantly better moment-to-moment experience. 

It’s a quality over quantity thing. The Apple Watch is still the nicest-feeling game in town and that’s hard to pass up - especially if all your friends are already on-board that train, closing their circles with fanatical regularity. 

On average, I’d get about two days of normal usage from the Series 5 Apple Watch per charge. Turning off the always-on display would extend that - but not by much. Going out and making heavy usage of things like 4G connectivity and GPS tracking had much more of an impact on battery life. 

Credit: Apple

The Bottom Line

The LTPO display is technically impressive but it does little to fundamentally change what you’re getting from the Apple Watch but, at this stage, that’s probably fine. The Apple Watch is still so far ahead of the rest of the crowd that the math doesn’t really change. Apple basically have this category on cruise-control. 

If you’re already looking at buying a new iPhone, owning an Apple Watch feels like an inevitability. Even if you don’t buy the Series 5 - or the cheaper Series 3 - right away, you’ll probably want to get one sooner or later. And, if you aren’t, this might just be the thing that pushes you to change ecosystems. 

Even five years in, the Apple Watch remains the gold standard for wearables.

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