Apple Watch Series 5 Review: One month later

Titanium Apple Watch Series 5 on table
(Image: © Rene Ritchie / iMore)

I've been using the Apple Watch Series 5 ever since Stan Ng introduced it up on the September event stage. I posted my initial review, complete with all the little technical details of how all the new stuff worked, just over a week later, after traveling back from Cupertino and reviewing three new iPhones as well along the way. It was a whirlwind.

Now, I've gotten in a couple more trips, but also a lot of regular life. Just day in, day out, using the Series 5 as I've always used an Apple Watch.

And, I've also switched from the space gray aluminum review unit to my own, personal, brushed titanium model. So, how has the first held up and the titanium… just… what's up?

Apple Watch Series 5; Titanium

Every year I swear I'm going to buy the aluminum. It's sleek. It's slim. It does everything Apple Watch can do, and for a lot less money than any other Apple Watch finish can do it. Then, Apple's materials team hits me with something new.

Apple Watch 5 Titanium Close

Apple Watch 5 Titanium Close (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

In that first year, with the Series 0, it was stainless steel with a black DLC — diamond-like carbon — coating so strong that, any time I though some other metal or rock had scratched it, it turned out the Watch had taken a bite out of that metal or rock instead. Like it was Batman's watch. By way of Krypton or something.

The second year, with Series 2, it was white ceramic. It looked shockingly bright, like the original iPod but felt like something from a high-end watchy watch company — which is exactly what Apple had rapidly become.

Year 3 and Series 3 was gray ceramic. I didn't like the look anywhere nearly as much as the white, because it wasn't anywhere nearly as distinct. Less like fresh snow, more like storm clouds. But, it was new and I'm such a sucker for new.

Year 4 and Series 4 was gold steel. I wasn't sure I could pull it off and I ultimately ended up exchanging the one I bought for polished steel. but I loved the look, and just wished Apple made the lugs to go with it. All the lugs.

Now, with Series 5, Apple has brought back the white ceramic and it looks every bit as terrific as ever. But, they've also added something new again — titanium, both brushed and DLC black. And, yeah, I'm a sucker for new.

I had the space black version at first but ended up exchanging it for the brushed steel because I decided I wanted titanium to look like titanium.

They're both distinctive, though, and neither really resemble their stainless steel counterparts. The brushed titanium might bring back memories of the iconic titanium power book… or the doesn't-hold-up-nearly-as-well brushed metal interfaces of the early days of OS X.

It's way lower key than the polished stainless steel, almost closer to the silver aluminum. So, it's definitely not for the showy offy. More for the confident chill.

Same with the space black. It's not the same batmobile black as the stainless steel. Closer to space gray aluminum. But with all the benefits of metal. The closest analogy I can come up with is stealth.

They're classified as Edition, which is the branding Apple has used for the highest-end Watches since the original 18 karat gold, and the subsequent ceramic lines. But it's barely more expensive than the stainless steel.

It also comes in Apple's new Watch Studio packaging, so you can choose your case finish and your band separately.

That lower price and flexibility does come at a cost, though: Unlike the early years of Edition, it doesn't come in any extra fancy box or with any extra fancy accessories, like the charging disk of Editions old.

I kind of miss that, even if I don't miss the price or fixed collections. Ultimately, though, I think this way is better.

And, I'm loving the titanium. It's so Get Shorty: It owns, it just doesn't care if you know it.

Apple Watch Series 5: Always On Display

For some people, the Apple Watch Series 5 barely qualified as an update. For others, it was transformative. Count me firmly in the latter camp. The biggest thing I've complained about, year after year, Series after Series, is how the Watch's biggest problem was failing at the one function actually contained in its name: Being a watch.

Part of the Watch's appeal from day one was how glanceable it was. You didn't have to go back to your Mac. Didn't even have to reach for your iPhone. You could just glance at your watch… for everything but just quickly, discreetly glancing at the time.

Well, Series 5 fixes all that. With style. With aplomb. More specifically, with an always-on display.

If you really want to be all casual and crafty about it, it works best with one of the really big watch faces, like X-Large or Numerals, because they're really easy to see, even in the dimmed out power-saving mode.

I'll always make it a point to switch to X-Large if I'm IRL and need to be able to check the time on the DL.

On the flip side, when you're in an important meeting or out at a fancy dinner, other people can now see your watch face all the time as well, so you tend to go with something fancier, like California or the new Meridian. Yeah, it's totally shallow but only in the most superficial way.

I'm kidding. I thought I wouldn't keep changing faces. That I'd get too lazy. That I'd just keep it in Infograph Modular, which is my work-a-day dashboard face. But, I've been changing it up much more and I'd forgotten how much fun doing that really is.

I haven't flipped the switch to blank out private health complications in always-on mode, mostly because I don't use any of those complications beyond activity rings, and I don't care if anyone sees that. But I still love that hit is a switch that can be flipped.

Always on smartwatches aren't new by any means. But Apple, as is often the case, really nailed the implementation.

It's so good I sometimes still forget it's in always-on mode and I need to tap to return it to normal before I can check notifications. That's how well integrated it is.

Apple Watch Series 5: Battery Life

Battery life has been controversial with the Series 5. I know some people were getting much worse battery life than they did on previous Apple Watches, especially in the first week or two.

A lot of different theories got floated as to the cause, from the new cellular modem to the new Noise app to the obvious — the always-on display.

These days, there's so much variation in apps and settings, it can be hard to track down a universal cause because most causes aren't universal anymore. They're made up of a variety of different things depending on different use cases.

I did have some trouble with the connection between my Apple Watch and iPhone in the first few days, which resulted in it draining quickly, especially while I was traveling. But, re-pairing cleared it right up. And yes, that is the re-install Windows of the Apple Watch world.

I asked on Twitter to see how people were doing now, and it seems like recent iOS updates, of which there's been a few, have fixed a lot of issues. I'm guessing another update or so will fix whatever issues remain.

As for me, both on the aluminum at first and the titanium now, I'm getting a little less with always-on-on than I got with no always-on at all on the Series 4. I typically finish the day with between 20 and 40%, depending on how intense my usage is. That's down from between 30 and 50% on the Series 4. But, it's not much of a price to pay at all for always-on, at least not for me.

Apple Watch Series 5: On-device App Store

Slowly but surely, Apple has been scratching off almost everything on my wish list. Performance. Cellular. Edge-to-edge display. Always-on display. Everything. Almost. The only big thing remaining in independence from the iPhone. Same way the iPhone eventually gained its independence from the Mac.

(Image credit: iMore)

It hasn't happened yet, but watchOS 6 has taken a big step in that direction with the on-device App Store. Now, I can go around with just my Apple Watch and, if I need an app for something, I can get it right on my Apple Watch.

It hasn't been perfect, at least not for me, not yet. First day I grabbed the first app in the list and, while it installed and set up just fine, when I added it to my iPhone as well, it couldn't pull any data back from the Watch app.

Reversing the process worked just fine, but I shouldn't have to. Especially because the idea of going Apple Watch only for periods of time is so compelling.

There's been a lot of talk over the last couple years about us, all of us, overusing our phones. Some companies have marketed smaller, less useful phones as an answer. Which I just think is silly. Some people have taken to installing social media apps only on old phones they keep in the bottom of bags or drawers. Which seems like just too much work to me. Apple and other companies have shipped Screen Time and similar monitoring systems.

But I've started to just use my Apple Watch. It lets me stay up to date on anything important, which lets me stay relaxed, but it's also damn near impossible to get dragged into social on that tiny wrist screen.

I have sound turned off and most notifications set to deliver quietly as well, so I get them on my terms, not their's.

Plus you get all the health and fitness benefits only the Apple Watch can really provide.

Speaking of which…

Apple Watch Series 5: Health and Fitness

There are some health and fitness features, new and old, I still haven't explored enough to really review. I love the new life-saving feature — international emergency calling. Any Apple Phone with a cellular modem can now call for help in most places in the world, even without a plan. But I've also just started exploring the quality of life-saving features. Hydration, sleep tracking, fitness trends.

Apple Watch with the Pillow sleep tracking app on screen

Apple Watch with the Pillow sleep tracking app on screen (Image credit: iMore)

A while back I tired a bunch of ligaments in my ankle and it really slowed me done. That plus a hectic schedule really got me down. Last week I downloaded a bunch of apps and set up a bunch of stats, and I'm going to see what I can do with them — and what they can do for me, over the next couple of months.

I'll do a what's on my Apple Watch and why if anyone really wants to see it, but I'll also report back when I do the three-month review in early December.

Apple Watch Series 5: New apps

I like the compass on Apple Watch Series 5 more than I thought I would. I don't use the app, but I have put the complication on my regular walking watch face to glance at when I'm in a park and want to make triple sure I'm going in the right direction. And, I just plain love how much better it makes the watch at walking directions.

There are some other new apps as well that, while not unique to Apple Watch Series 5, really round out the experience. I haven't used the new calculator app much yet but I'm glad it's there. The nerd kid in me still wants a calculator watch face for fun, though.

Voice memos are great. I've used third-party apps a ton and while this is basic by comparison it's always important to have the basics built-in. Then there's the Audiobooks app, which I don't use because I've subscribed to Audible since practically forever.

The noise app is both fun, just to see the complication bounce around so much, and empowering because I never realized how or where loud noise was impacting me. Especially the door alarms at airports that seem to go off so always so everywhere, and some of the music levels in restaurants as well.

The Cycle app, I asked my colleague Lory Gil about, and you can hear what she says in the video above.

Apple Watch Series 5: Conclusion

The vast majority of people don't upgrade their electronics year over year. That's something entirely invented by tech pundits in one breath just so they can tell you not to do it in the next.

Apple Watch 5 Titanium Close

Apple Watch 5 Titanium Close (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

I can see a few people, especially in services industries, thinking Apple Watch Series 5 is a big enough deal to upgrade for, though. Especially if they can sell their Series 4 for enough to make it a low impact purchase. But I can see a lot more people upgrading from an early Apple Watch for the sum total of recent upgrades, especially rolling up connectivity from Series 3 and design from Series 4 with always-on from Series 5.

And, I can see even more getting into Apple Watch for the first time with Series 5 because of the always-on way it shows time.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.