The best thing about the new Apple Watch? When you’re not using it, it looks like an actual watch on your wrist — instead of a clunky, nerdy little computer with the screen turned off.
That, at least, is my cranky take on the Apple Watch Series 5. In most respects, it isn’t terribly different from its Series 4 predecessor. If you bought one of last year’s models, there’s no pressing need to upgrade.
Except for one big thing: The new Apple Watch has an always-on display. Instead of returning to its resting state of blank, black glass, the new Apple Watch gives you the option to always display the time.
This, it must be said, carries the very significant benefit of reducing the “nerd factor” of wearing what for years has amounted to a wrist computer with narcolepsy. It’s also a feature that comes in handy in situations where you need to discreetly check what time it is.
While using the always-on mode does consume more juice, the battery will still last about as long as in previous models.
That, of course, is not great news. Battery life is still the Apple Watch’s Achilles’ heel. The Series 5 will usually make it through a day of regular use, but you’ll be pushing it to make it two days. Compare that to the recently released Fitbit Versa 2, which has a battery that lasts almost a week.
To wring the most from its battery, the Apple Watch’s “dormant” screen uses a few other clever tricks to save battery power. In sleep mode, for example, a bright white watch face inverts its colors and loses its sweeping second hand so that it only refreshes every minute.
Aside from this feature, the new Apple Watch is hard to distinguish from the Series 4. Both watches are the same size, the bands they use are identical, and there is no change at all to the physical design. You might be forgiven if, like me, you were changing from one watch to the other and momentarily forgot which you were wearing.
The Series 4 is an excellent smartwatch, with superb fitness tracking, a gorgeous OLED display and a sleek, stylish form factor.
The Series 5 version feels like a small step forward for anyone who had last year’s watch.
Indeed, the glaring similarities appear to be why the Series 4 was discontinued following the launch of the Series 5, which also starts at the same $399 price point. The older Series 3 watch, meanwhile, is still around, and is now a bargain at $299.