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Apple Watch Series 5 Introduces Always-On Display

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.

Apple Watch showing compass features

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

New styles of the co-branded Nike (aluminum, from $399) and Hermès (stainless steel, from $1249) models are also available for those seeking affiliation with those brands.

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.

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Comments About Apple Watch Series 5 Introduces Always-On Display

Notable Replies

  1. Well, not all watches have been always on. Back in the late 70s I had an LED watch that you had to press a button to display the time. Otherwise it was always off. A truly horrible experience, but I had an LED watch and that’s what really mattered :slight_smile:

  2. Yep, it was called the Quasar, and cost about $700 at its debut as I recall. The price of digital watches plummeted soon after, but for a brief time the Quasar was the sign of a well-heeled technocrat!

  3. Well, that definitely wasn’t mine. Mine was obviously a cheap version. I was a poor college student working weekends and summers at Knott’s Berry Farm as a sweeper. And as guests asked me what time it was, having both hands holding something made for interesting contortions trying to press the button on the watch to see the display.

  4. From the brilliant Douglas Adams in the 1981 TV series Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
    “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”

  5. When we were in Switzerland, we took a tour of the Patek Philippe Museum. Hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous, gleaming watches made over the past few hundred years. The things those mechanical watches could do were amazing. That was the source of my snarky comment. :slight_smile:

    Alas, photography was not allowed.

  6. No photography? I guess that makes you focus more on the displays and not on trying to get the perfect shot.

    And thanks for the link.

  7. I’ve updated the article to mention that Apple has dropped the price of the Milanese Loop and Leather Loop by $50.

  8. I never really saw myself in the market for an Apple Watch. I don’t even wear a regular watch. That said, for $199 I’d be tempted to get one just to try it and see what it’s all about. Of course after reading this article I realize I’d like the compass/elevation/inclination display on hikes, and of course that clocks in north of $400. Hehe, Apple. :slight_smile: I guess it will be another while.

  9. The Apple Watch is a superb smart watch but a lousy fitness device. If you’re serious about hiking, you’re much better off with a handheld or a serious fitness watch. I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch since series 0, currently use a 3 LTE, and next week will get my AW5 LTE. For hiking, though, I’d much rather use my Garmin Fenix 5+, for many different reasons. For example, easier to read in sunlight, always on means always on (no slowing or dimming), much easier to get data off and to the various places I keep data, pairs with my existing sensors (ANT+, which the AW will never have). And it will operate off the wrist, so in winter when I’m cross country skiing I can wear it over clothing where I can see it rather than having to wear it under so it’s in contact with my wrist. Having the ability to fully operate the thing using buttons rather than a touch screen also helps greatly in the winter. I’ve never recorded an activity on my AW (mostly cycling in the summer, skiing in the winter), since more specialized devices (Edge 830, Fenix 5+) work so much better. For all of the smart watch functions, though (Apple Pay, customizable faces, many different apps, full coordination with the iPhone including the ability to answer texts) the AW is much, much better than anything Garmin makes. It’s worth getting one for that alone.

  10. I wonder why Apple is offering three of the four case options only for the GPS+Cellular versions of the watch. If you don’t want a cellular watch, your only option is Aluminum.

    I have an Apple Watch 3 with GPS+Cellular and canceled the Cellular service ($10/month) after about 8 months because I found I used it only once or twice.

    Maybe they figure people interested in the fancier cases aren’t going to be price-sensitive and so will get the Cellular option anyway. But it’d be nice to have the choice.

  11. Ray

    I’ll bet they offer it to the cell watches for a few months and then it works its way down to other models so they can pull the most money in from exclusivity as possible.

  12. That was the same situation for Watch 4 when I purchased it. I wanted Stainless Steel and had to order the GPS+Cell version, but never activated Cell service.

  13. It was also the same with the Series 3 when cellular was introduced - stainless steel, ceramic and Hermes models came with the cellular radio. You don’t have to activate the cellular option - a stainless steel, titanium, or ceramic watch will function as a GPS-only watch if you don’t activate cellular - so you can still get an expensive case watch and have it be GPS-only.

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