Apple Watch Series 5 review: Small refinements make for a better smartwatch
Quick Verdict: Owners of existing Apple Watch generations don't need to upgrade, but Apple continues to lead the pack in the smartwatch space with a timepiece that's both stylish and very easy to use.
- Plentiful design choices depending on style and budget.
- Quick response.
- International emergency calling.
- Plenty of compatible apps.
- Always-on display.
- Still no custom watch faces.
- Some watch and band combinations are stupidly expensive.
- Battery life still needs improvement.
- Low impetus to upgrade.
- No Android compatibility.
If you look at Apple's iPhone line, there's a strong push towards upgrading as soon as possible.
As Apple would have it, you must upgrade to an iPhone 11 Pro Max as soon as possible, or you're badly missing out.
That's long been a debatable prospect, but it's even more shaky for the company's signature timepiece, the Apple Watch. Since its inception we've seen five generations of Apple Watch.
If you went back that far in iPhone history, you're on the very edge of what Apple still supports with iOS updates, with the excuse being that the technology in every iPhone has improved massively in that timespan.
It turns out that time ticks a little slower for the Apple Watch. It's still quite easily the best smart watch on the market, but the improvements this year are relatively marginal over last year's Apple Watch Series 4.
- Familiar digital crown-led design.
- Always-on display.
- Range of design materials and bands available.
- Every Apple Watch is the same – but the price isn't.
- A slick smartwatch experience.
- App store directly on the watch.
- Compass for the hiking types.
- Cycle tracking has genuine utility.
- Emergency calling across much of the planet.
- ECG measuring is still notably absent.
- Can we please have some custom watch faces?
- No Android support, but that's not a surprise.
- 18-hour battery life can stretch to multiple days.
- Custom charger is still a nuisance.
- Easily the best smartwatch on the market today.
- But there's not much here to push an upgrade.
The gap between the Apple Watch and its competitors hasn't closed that much in recent times, even though the Apple Watch Series 5 doesn't represent a huge jump in capabilities. If you're an existing iPhone user, it's your best bet for a flexible and highly functional smartwatch, although it does predictably carry an Apple premium price.
If you've got an existing Apple Watch in good order, though, there's not a whole lot here that really pushes the argument that you should rush to upgrade just for the sake of it. The always-on display is easily the best feature, but it's hard to suggest it's worth dropping $649 (or possibly much more) just to get that.
It's also worth keeping in mind that while Apple has dropped the Series 4 watch family entirely, the Apple Watch Series 3 is still available, with pricing starting at just $319. For many, that might be enough Apple Watch for now.
Pricing and availability
The Apple Watch Series 5 sells in a frankly dizzying array of combinations. The cheapest Apple Watch is the 40mm model with a sports band, which will cost you $649 in the GPS configuration, or $699 with the 44mm casing.
The GPS+Cellular version, which enables eSIM features along with a qualifying mobile plan will cost you $799, or $849 with the 44mm case.
From there you can spend a bit more, or quite a lot more. The most expensive model in the market at the time of writing is the 44mm White Ceramic Case with the Space Black Link Bracelet, which will set you back a wallet-worrying $2,719.
That's actually more than the most expensive Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max model, so it's quite the fashion statement to invest in.
Apple Watch Series 5