Apple Watch Series 5 Review Roundup: Always-On Display Solves Biggest Complaint, But Little Else to Warrant Upgrading

The Apple Watch Series 5 is set to launch this Friday, September 20, but the embargo for the first reviews of Apple's latest smartwatch ended this morning. Several journalists and media outlets were provided with review units, so we've gathered together some key takeaways and highlights.

apple watch series 5 studio
Not a lot is new with the Apple Watch Series 5, and it's identical in design to the Series 4. The exception is the display, which uses a lower power (LTPO) OLED screen that enables Apple's new always-on display feature.

To accommodate the new always-on display, Apple has created new battery-optimized watch face options that allow you to see the time and your complications at all times. Apart from a new built-in compass and a new international emergency calling feature for LTE models that contacts the local emergency services when SOS is activated, other new features are software-based and will come courtesy of watchOS 6.

As you'd expect, the focus of many of the reviews is on that always-on display. TechCrunch's Catherine Shu says it "addresses a longstanding issue with the device," but one that has been understandable because of battery considerations. To get around this, Apple has "made a bit of a compromise" by offering an always-on watch that lasts the same stated 18 hours as its predecessors.

apple watch series 5 techcrunch

Apple's employed some clever fixes to ensure that the new feature won’t totally sap battery life. Each of the faces gets a low-power, always-on version. In the case of the Meridian face that I've been using (new for WatchOS 6), it's white text on a black background. Hold the watch up to your face, however, and the colors invert. The active version is easier to see, and the always-on version uses less power.

While complications and other features are still on display, they're simplified, removing any power-hungry features. That means the second hand disappears on the standard watch face, and when the watch is in workout mode, the milliseconds will disappear until you bring the watch back up to your face.

Ultimately, Shu reckons "there's probably not enough here to warrant an upgrade from last year’s model, but some welcome new features like the always-on help keep the line fresh."

Daring Fireball's John Gruber says that the always-on display "solves my single biggest complaint about Apple Watch since day one. Its not perfect," he says, "but it's more than good enough. No other feature or improvement to Apple Watch to date has ever made me this happy."

As for the built-in compass, Gruber says that "while it's fun to play with, I don’t recall ever needing a compass in my entire life." However, he was impressed by the way it overcomes the problem that magnets pose to traditional compasses.

Traditional compasses spin randomly when you bring a magnet near them. Series 5's compass won't do this, because it uses the gyroscope to see if you're actually moving. The compass won't be fooled by a magnet because it can tell the watch itself isn't spinning around. Smart.

The Verge's Dieter Bohn starts his review by covering the new materials for the Apple Watch casing, specifically the more expensive titanium and ceramic.

apple watch series 5 verge

There are some subtle weight differences on the more expensive materials, and they also have sapphire glass on the front of the Watch. But you should not spend the extra money on those more premium materials in the hope that they’ll be better from a feature perspective. They're the same Apple Watch; you'd just be paying more for something fancier. Some people like doing that!

Bohn also admits his long-running desire for an always-on screen, which is made possible by the low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO for short) display that Apple has designed.

I love the always-on screen on the Series 5. Apple's implementation is better than other smartwatches I've used for two reasons: it legitimately doesn't hurt the battery life as much, and Apple keeps a little color visible in ambient mode.

For whatever reason, I've never been able to get earlier Apple Watches to show their screens with subtle wrist movements. I've always had to cartoonishly raise my arm. An always-on screen means I am a little bit less of a jerk in conversations and meetings.

Bohn confirms that the display doesn't deplete the battery faster than the stated 18 hours, although he notes that "the Series 4 usually outperformed that estimate."

Apart from the new compass and LTE-based Emergency Call features, Bohn sees little else to recommend existing Apple Watch Series 4 owners and admits he's more excited about features coming with watchOS 6, like the new health features and the dedicated App Store, which he thinks are worth checking out first before anyone thinks of upgrading.

More Apple Watch Series 5 reviews can be found online: Wired, iMore, CNBC, BuzzFeed News, USA Today.

Related Roundup: Apple Watch Series 8
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Buy Now)
Related Forum: Apple Watch

Top Rated Comments

newyorksole Avatar
42 months ago
I’m happy upgrading from a series 2. A “series 4S” was exactly what I was looking for.
Yeah this is a very very good upgrade for anyone on Series 0 thru 3.

It’s funny when reviewers say “not worth the upgrade” as if only people with the Series 4 are looking for a new watch.
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
itsmilo Avatar
42 months ago
I am upgrading from a series 0 so anything will be welcome change iol
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dan9700 Avatar
42 months ago
maybe add iCloud messaging im sick of deleting messages from my watch when they are removed from iCloud
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
waaaas Avatar
42 months ago
I am upgrading from no watch to series 5 :D
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Agit21 Avatar
42 months ago
Now we just need like at least 4 days battery life and its near perfect.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
vmachiel Avatar
42 months ago
Yeah this is a very very good upgrade for anyone on Series 0 thru 3.

It’s funny when reviewers say “not worth the upgrade” as if only people with the Series 4 are looking for a new watch.
Yeah same with people commenting on the iPhone. It’s a constant evolution, you can’t expect a miracle every year.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iphone 14 pro hands snowflakes 1

Best Black Friday iPhone Deals Still Available

Wednesday November 23, 2022 1:55 pm PST by
Cellular carriers have always offered big savings on the newest iPhone models during the holidays, and Black Friday 2022 is no different. Right now we're tracking notable offers on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro devices from AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. For even more savings, keep an eye on older models like the iPhone 13. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors....
apple watch gold ornaments

Best Black Friday Apple Watch Deals Still Available

Wednesday November 23, 2022 9:31 am PST by
We're tracking all of the best Apple product discounts for Black Friday this week, and the Apple Watch always makes a great gift around the holiday season, so you're guaranteed to find solid discounts right now. In this article, you'll discover the best Black Friday sales on Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch Ultra. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these...
new airpods lineup black friday

Best Black Friday AirPods Deals Still Available

Tuesday November 22, 2022 10:01 am PST by
Although we've been tracking Black Friday deals for a few weeks now, the shopping holiday is officially kicking off this week and we're highlighting the best sales for each of Apple's product lines. In this article, you'll find the best Black Friday sales on AirPods 2, AirPods 3, AirPods Pro, AirPods Pro 2, and AirPods Max. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors....
ipad holiday bulbs

Best Black Friday iPad Deals Still Available

Thursday November 24, 2022 12:25 pm PST by
Black Friday deals have been in full swing for the better part of a month, and now that the shopping holiday is officially here we're seeing even more solid discounts on Apple devices. We're highlighting the best sales for all of Apple's product lines, and in this article you'll find the best Black Friday sales on iPad, iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad mini. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner ...
mac imac snowflakes

Best Black Friday iMac and MacBook Deals Still Available

Thursday November 24, 2022 1:07 pm PST by
Our Black Friday coverage continues today with the best deals you can find on MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac. As with all Black Friday deals, we aren't sure how long any of these will last, and prices are always fluctuating, so if you see something you want, be sure to buy it soon. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of these vendors. When you click a link and make a...
General Black Friday Deals 2022 Green

All the Apple Black Friday Deals You Can Still Get

Friday November 25, 2022 4:40 am PST by
Although Black Friday is now technically over, many Apple products are still seeing major discounts. In this article, you'll find every Apple device with a notable Black Friday sale that's still available. We'll be updating as prices change and new deals arrive, so be sure to keep an eye out if you don't see the sale you're looking for yet. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with some of...
General Black Friday Deals 2022 Blue

All the Apple Black Friday Deals You Can Get Right Now: AirPods, Apple TV, Mac, iPad, and More

Saturday November 19, 2022 8:00 am PST by
Last week was jam-packed with early Black Friday deals, and now that the shopping holiday is right around the corner, we're going back through all of the best sales you might have missed over the past week and updating as prices change and new deals arrive. As with all holiday shopping, there's no guarantee that better prices won't come around later in the season, but if you want to shop early,...
Best Buy November Deals Hero

Best Buy Reveals Black Friday Plans With Sitewide Sales Available Now

Tuesday November 22, 2022 3:49 pm PST by
Following in the footsteps of Target and Walmart, Best Buy this week detailed its plans for the Black Friday shopping holiday and its schedule looks a lot like other retailers. In terms of sales, Best Buy has the expected list of TVs, appliances, video games, computers, streaming devices, and more. Note: MacRumors is an affiliate partner with Best Buy. When you click a link and make a...