Tired of having to raise your wrist or tap the screen of your Apple Watch just to see what time it is? With the new Apple Watch Series 5, that will no longer be necessary, thanks to the company’s new “innovative” Always-On Retina display. (Of course, “always-on” has been a feature of nearly every other watch ever.)
Other new features include a built-in compass and international emergency calling, and Apple has brought back ceramic cases and introduced new titanium cases. Apart from these new features and case materials, the Apple Watch Series 5 builds on the Series 4’s feature set, including ECG monitoring and fall detection.
Always-On Retina Display
The engineering challenge with the Always-On Retina display revolves around battery life, since refreshing the screen constantly chews power. To work around that problem, Apple is using a new low-temperature polysilicone and oxide display (LTPO) in conjunction with custom chips that change the screen refresh rate dynamically, from 60 Hz down to 1 Hz.
In effect, if nothing is happening on the screen that requires redrawing, the power use can drop dramatically. To be fair, while the display is always on, if your wrist is down, the screen dims to save power and returns to full brightness when you raise your wrist or tap the screen.
Apple’s advances in display technology and power management reportedly allow the Apple Watch Series 5 to maintain its 18-hour battery life in normal usage.
The Apple Watch Series 5 sports a built-in compass that enables the watchOS 6 Maps app to show which direction you’re facing, which often makes getting started with navigation easier. A new Compass app goes beyond heading to show incline, latitude, longitude, and current elevation. The Workout app now includes elevation stats. And if you’re a serious location geek, you can add one of three new compass complications to some watch faces.
International Emergency Calling
The third and final notable addition to the Apple Watch Series 5—at least the cellular model—is international emergency calling. Regardless of where you purchased the watch or even if you have a cellular plan enabled, the Apple Watch Series 5 can complete emergency calls in other countries while you’re traveling.
Press and hold the side button for a few seconds to invoke the Emergency SOS feature. The fall detection feature from the Apple Watch Series 4 remains in place, so if you take a hard fall and remain motionless for about a minute, it will attempt to call emergency services.
This addition is welcome for anyone concerned about personal safety while traveling, where you likely don’t know how to call for emergency services.
Case Materials, Pricing, Availability, and Watch Lineup
When it comes to case materials, the Apple Watch Series 5 remains available in aluminum and stainless steel, with the same finishes as in previous years: silver, gold, and space gray for aluminum; and polished steel, gold, and space black for stainless steel.
Apple has brought back the brilliant white ceramic case available for the Series 2 and Series 3, but missing for the Series 4. New for the Series 5 is a titanium case available in natural titanium (silvery, in other words) and space black.
As before, case materials and band options let people choose how much they’re willing to spend for what is functionally the same device:
- Aluminum: From $399 for 40mm GPS; add $30 for 44mm and $100 for GPS+Cellular
- Stainless Steel: From $699 for 40mm GPS+Cellular only; add $50 for 44mm
- Titanium: From $799 for 40mm GPS+Cellular only; add $50 for 44mm
- Ceramic: From $1299 for 40mm GPS+Cellular only; add $150 for 44mm
As is common around Apple Watch updates, Apple has introduced a variety of new band colors. In an unexpected move, the company `dropped the price of the Milanese Loop and Leather Loop bands by $50, from $149 to $99.
The Apple Watch Studio page claims to let you mix and match all the possibilities, and Apple said that Apple Stores would also allow you to do that in person. However, there were clearly band colors for sale that were not included in the Apple Watch Studio, so don’t assume it’s complete.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is available to order now, and it will ship starting on 20 September 2019, except for the Apple Watch Nike Series 5, which will ship on 4 October 2019.
Although Apple dropped the Apple Watch Series 4 from the lineup, the Apple Watch Series 3 remains available—aluminum cases only—to provide an entry-level price point. The 38mm case with GPS-only starts at $199, and bumping up to the 42mm case adds $30. GPS+Cellular models add another $100. The Series 3 lacks the fall detection and ECG capabilities of the Series 5 so you can decide if those features are worth the $200 premium of the latest model.