Apple Watch Series 5 review roundup: The always-on display is a winner

Apple Watch titanium
Apple Watch titanium (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • The first Apple Watch Series 5 reviews are out and here's what they are saying.
  • Most praise the major new feature: the always-on display.
  • The steady battery life and new casings also add more versatility.

With the release of the Apple Watch Series 5 only days away, the first reviews of the device are coming out. Multiple outlets, including our own, received review units and have tested out Apple's latest wearable for a few days and have some thoughts on it.

The always-on display is amazing

The main selling point of the Apple Watch Series 5 is the new always-on display, which reviewers are absolutely loving. Daring Fireball's John Gruber explain precisely what the new feature means to the Apple Watch.

The obvious reason why Series 0 through 4 didn't offer an always-on display is battery life. I've been wearing a black stainless steel Series 5 since last Wednesday, on loan from Apple, and battery life has been more than fine. I even turn the brightness on my watch display to the maximum setting. If you charge it overnight you'll have nothing to worry about. If, like me, you wear it to sleep, it takes a little over an hour to charge in the morning or at some other point during the day. There's a setting to turn the always-on display off, which presumably will extend battery life, but I'll never know because I wouldn't want to spend a single day wearing this watch with the always-on display turned off.To me, the always-on display is the Apple Watch's retina display moment — once you see it, you can't go back.

The Verge's Dieter Bohn was really impressed with how Apple implemented the technology.

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.

CNBC's Todd Hasselton also really enjoys the convinience of the always-on display.

I liked that I could always see the time — important for a watch — without having to tilt my wrist and activate the screen. This also works for Apple's workout app, so you can always see how far you've run, your pace, elevation or whatever else is on the screen. Trust me, trying to get a watch to wake up while on a treadmill can be awfully finicky at times.

Is the battery life any better?

One of the key breakthroughs is the same battery life with the always-on display. TechCrunch's Brian Heater notes that normally this would be a recipe for battery disaster, but with Apple's new tech, battery optimization seems to be great.

While improved battery life would almost certainly be a welcomed feature in future updates, Apple's made a bit of a compromise, offering an always-on watch that lasts the same stated 18 hours as its predecessors. I found I was, indeed, able to get through a day no problem with standard use. My own usage had the product lasting closer to 20 hours without the need to recharge, but even so, the device needs to get charged once a day, regardless — otherwise you'll almost certainly be out of juice the following day.The long-awaited addition of sleep tracking failed to materialize for this model — one of the few places where Apple continues to lag the competition. Of course, adding such a feature would require a much more robust battery than one capable of getting 18 hours on a charge.

iMore's Rene Ritchie broke down what you can expect from the Apple Watch Series 5 battery life.

First, if you're thinking normal 18-ish hour battery life with always on display means even better battery life with always on off, you'd be technically correct but far, far overestimating the actual difference it makes.Apple says it's not a significant amount, much less life changing, and in my limited tests it wasn't even so much that I remembered to mark it down. Of course, your needs and ability to notice might vary, just consider the utility.If you turn the watch off completely, it'll stay charged for months, for all the good it will do you. Battery is there to be spent.

How are the new cases?

Aesthetically, the main difference are some new cases Apple is now offering. The Verge broke down how they differ and if they are worth the extra price.

Relative to the Series 4, there are four new things on the Apple Watch Series 5. The first is that Apple is offering new materials for the casing. You can get it in the standard aluminum and steel, but you can also spend more for titanium or ceramic now.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!

How does the Compass work?

Among the minor new feautres, one that Apple talked a lot about at its event was the new Compass app. Here's how iMore found the new feature to be.

I was kind of blasé about it initially, because we've had one in the iPhone since the 3GS and I don't really think about it any more. But having it on the watch now has made me realize all the stuff it does and all the stuff the Watch hasn't been doing all this time without one.

Apple Watch Series 5 review: Another winning wearable by Apple

Danny Zepeda