Apple Watch 5 Review

The Apple Watch 5 (or Series 5) is the best smartwatch on the market – if you’re an iPhone user that is


The best smartwatch. Apple’s wearable continues to be one of the brand’s finest products and an increasingly useful accessory.


  • Always-on display makes it feels a lot more like a 'proper watch'
  • All the previous straps still work
  • Great at making you want to move and be active


  • No huge improvements to battery life
  • No support for Android users

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £399
  • LTPO OLED display with always-on ability
  • WatchOS 6
  • 18 hour battery life
  • 44mm and 40mm sizes
  • ECG, HRM and GPS

What is the Apple Watch 5?

The Apple Watch 5 (or Series 5) is the best smartwatch on the market – if you’re an iPhone user that is.

While the upgrades this year are minimal on paper, the addition of a screen that displays the time whether you’re looking at the watch or not should make lots of people very happy.

Pair that updated display with the already excellent fitness tracking features, sleek design and huge amount of strap options, and you’ve got a seriously tempting iPhone 11 accessory.

Related: Apple Watch 5 vs Apple Watch 4

Apple Watch 5 Screen and design – Finally, the Apple Watch doesn’t feel like a computer on your wrist

Apple Watch Series 5 might not be packed to the rafters with upgrades over its excellent predecessor, however the big new feature is something I have been requesting since the very first time I strapped an Apple Watch onto my wrist: an always-on display.

Previously, every time you moved the Apple Watch away from your direct vision it would replace the watchface with a blank screen, making it impossible to subtly gaze at the time. It made the whole device feels less like the high-end timepiece it was trying to be and more like a little computer sitting on your wrist

With Apple Watch Series 5 that’s no longer the case. Now when you tilt your watch away the watchface will drain of colour but retain a thin outline, making the time and other information constantly visible. It’s a small change that makes this such a better overall product. What instantly sets this apart from Wear OS versions is that some colour is kept in the face all the time – rather than just fading to a standard digital clock.

Screen completely on (left) vs always-on enabled (right) (drag the slider to compare the two photos)

Apple has added this feature without sacrificing battery life – which I’ll go into more detail on in the section below – by allowing the LTPO display to alter its refresh-rate dynamically depending on what you’re doing. It’ll refresh quickly to show a second-hand ticking, but then dial down to refresh just once a minute if it’s showing a digital clock.

The actual screen retains the same OLED panel used in the Series 4. It’s fantastic: bright, sharp, responsive and stretches just about edge-to-edge. As good as the screen is, I still prefer using the Digital Crown to move around the watchOS 6 software.

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While the Apple Watch 4 retains the same LTPO display used here, don’t expect the always-on feature to come via a software update to older watches. The Series 5 benefits from some new display drivers and an updated ambient light sensor – both of which are required for always-on functionality.

The rest of the Apple Watch 5 is visually unchanged from the 4, aside from the introduction of a few new material options like titanium and ceramic. I’ve been using the most affordable 44mm version constructed from aluminium and it still feels a high-end, supremely built watch. You can also pick it up in a smaller 40mm flavour. If you’re updating from either a Series 0, 1, 2 or 3 then the 44mm is about the same size as the original 42mm, with the 40mm mirroring the 38mm.

Apple Watch 5

The Series 5 looks exactly the same as the 4

As it’s basically the same case as any previous Apple Watch, all your previous bands – both Apple’s own and third-party bands – will work just fine, though you might run into some issues with magnets. 

Apple Watch 5 Battery life – Does the ‘Always On’ screen ruin the endurance?

I can only assume Apple has held off implementing some form of always-on screen because of the effects it would have had on battery life. Thankfully there isn’t any loss to endurance with this setting enabled and my testing matches up with Apple’s claimed 18-hour battery life.

That’s a general observation though, and battery life varies wildly depending on whether you’re pushing the GPS, fitness features, Bluetooth or onboard cellular connectivity. Some days I took the watch off before bed with 50% left, on others it was closer to 15%.

If you’re wondering whether turning off the always-on mode will see the watch magically last for days then prepare to be disappointed. While you might get an extra hour or so, the trade-off just isn’t worth it for me, and Apple likely agrees, as the mode is on by default and you have to bury down into settings to disable it.

We’re still waiting for any Apple Watch to comfortably last multiple days without requiring a charge. Saying that, the lack of sleep tracking means I tend to take the watch off every night anyway, so maybe we’ll see some big endurance leaps once Apple adds monitoring of your zzz’s.

It was rumoured, before the iPhone 11’s launch, that Apple’s new flagship phones would be able to juice up an Apple Watch 5 by laying the wearable on the back of the device. This wireless reverse charge (or Wireless Powershare as Samsung calls it) is a nifty feature on some competing Android phones including the Note 10 and Huawei P30 Pro, and would have made a nice addition to Apple’s devices. However, it’s not here. As Air Power (RIP) isn’t ever going to hit shelves, you’ll have to make do with the included magnetic charging. This is the same charger as all the previous Apple Watches and takes a couple of hours to fully charge up your watch.

Apple Watch 5 Fitness – A wearable that makes you want to move

The Apple Watch isn’t the best smartwatch on the market simply because of its lovely screen and good looks, it gets that tag because it remains the only wearable that actually makes me want to move.

The fitness and activity features might be beaten by high-end Garmins if you’re a serious marathon or ultra-marathon runner, but for the vast majority of people I think they’re ideal – whether it’s nudges to complete your three daily activity goals (move, exercise, stand), badges for hitting targets or just that satisfying buzz on your wrist.

Apple Watch 5

The Apple Watch 5 looks to cover two key areas: health and fitness. It’s the health aspects that really feel the more interesting, and while the feature-set hasn’t really improved this year, it’s still got the smarts to seriously help you out in times of need.

This is one of a few wearables available ‘over-the-counter’ in the US and UK with an electrocardiogram (ECG) sensor built-in. The ECG app can tell you if your heart shows signs of atrial fibrillation, a serious form of irregular heartbeat rhythm, or sinus rhythm – a normal beating. The process of running an ECG is quick and painless and all the information the watch collects in beamed back to the Health app on your iPhone. You can then show the results to your doctor if there are any irregularities.

Fall detection was one of the big new addition for the Apple Watch 4 last year and it remains an integral part of this update. Fall detection will alert you when you fall, slip or trip over; sending out an alert to emergency services and a selection of contacts if you don’t move for a certain period of time after the fall. Some tweaks to the modem inside the cellular version of the Apple Watch 5 allow it to automatically call emergency services (even if you don’t have a data plan) when you’re roaming in other countries.

Thankfully I have never managed to kick the fall detection into gear, however I know others who have and it seems to work exactly as expected.

Other health features include the introduction of female cycle tracking natively on the watch – a constantly requested feature that has been available on Fitbit devices for some time – and a new Noise app that’ll alert you when your surroundings are particularly loud. Both of these additions are part of watchOS and available on previous watches too.

Of course, the Apple Watch 5 has loads of features for tracking your fitness, too. There are two main fitness apps, Workout and Activity, each focussed on different aspects of staying active. Activity is the more basic of the two, consisting of three rings you’re supposed to fill up each day. These include ‘Move’ ‘Exercise’ and ‘Stand’ and you can manually alter how much of each you need to do to get to 100%. It’s addictive trying to fill up each ring and if you’re a bit off track towards the end of the day the watch will annoy you to ‘go for a brisk 20-minute walk’.

Apple Watch 5

Workout is where all your gym tracking tricks are kept. There are decent options for cycling, running and swimming – as the watch is 5ATM rated, it’s perfect as a swimming buddy – along with more specific workouts like HIIT (high-insensitivity interval training) and Yoga. Some of these are better and deeper than others, with Badminton, for instance, not telling you more than calories burned.

There’s onboard GPS and a 24/7 heart rate monitoring here too, both of which I have found consistently accurate when compared to reliable competitors from Fitbit. The Apple Watch 5 does have a tendency to be a bit generous with steps though, always giving me credit for more than other devices. If your heart rate rises above a certain level (120bpm) a warning will be triggered on the watch. The same will happen if your heart rate drops below a certain level or becomes irregular.

Apple Watch 5 Performance and WatchOS 6 – A smooth experience

WatchOS 6 launched alongside Apple Watch 5, coming pre-installed on the newest model and being available for download for both the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 3 (which now has a fantastic £199/$199) starting price. 

Apple said Series 1 and 2 watches will get the update towards the end of the year, while the Series 0 (aka the original Apple Watch) is no longer supported.

Apple Watch 5 front

The Solar Dial face

WatchOS brings the previously mentioned Noise and Cycle Tracking apps, along with a selection of new watch faces. I’m a big fan of the basic Numerals Duo face and the Solar Dial is a good choice if you want to load up on the complications. There’s also a new California face that looks a lot like a traditional analogue watch. You still can’t add, or download, your own custom faces, though.

You can also now access the App Store to download apps without fishing out your phone. Honestly, it’s a little fiddly navigating such a large store on such a small screen but at least it’s there for emergencies.

Apple Watch 5 loud

The Noise app

All these apps run smoothly and quickly thanks to the S5 processor inside the watch. This seems a super-minor update to the S4 with no speed improvements at all. The chip wasn’t mentioned at all during Apple’s big launch event.

Should I buy the Apple Watch 5?

Apple Watch Series 5 might be a very small upgrade, but it’s a small upgrade to an already excellent wearable. If you held off picking up the Series 4, or are tempted to move from an earlier watch, then you’re getting a seriously good product here.

It’s not quite worthy of the full 5-star award, though. Sleep tracking feels like the single biggest health feature that’s missing and the lack of advances in battery life is disappointing. I’d peg both of these being the flagship changes with next year’s Series 6.

Still, if you’ve got an iPhone (maybe a shiny new iPhone 11 Pro) and want a smartwatch, this is seriously the best option. It’s got a better operating system than any Wear OS watch and more features and integration than the Fitbit Versa 2.


The best smartwatch. Apple’s wearable continues to be one of the brand’s finest products and an increasingly useful accessory.

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