Apple Watch Series 5 review (early verdict): always-on display and a titanium case

A small but significant upgrade makes this the most polished Apple Watch yet

Apple Watch Series 5 review
(Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch Series 5 has finally been made official and our colleague Gareth Beavis over at T3's sister site TechRadar has had some quality hands-on time with the new smartwatch

These are his early impressions on the new Apple Watch, as well as some of our observations about the new device...

First, though, if you missed the Apple Watch Series 5 live stream, we'd recommend watching the slick two-minute highlight reel Apple put together:

We also have a beat-by-beat report from the show last night that covers everything revealed on-stage, including the new entry-level iPad, Apple TV+ shows, and of course, the iPhone 11.

Apple Watch Series 5 review: release date and price

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The Apple Watch Series 5 was announced on the 10th of September 2019, alongside the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro.

The Apple Watch Series 5 is available to pre-order now, and will be on general sale on Friday the 20th of September.

The Hermés edition of the Apple Watch Series 5 will also be available on the 20th of September, but the Nike Sport version will be available slightly later, on the 4th of October.

The prices start at £399 ($399) for the GPS-only 40mm Aluminum model.

It's £429 ($429) for the slightly larger 44mm GPS-only model.

If you fancy a cellular model, the 40mm Aluminium model is £499 ($499) and goes up to £529 ($529) for the 44mm model.

If you're after something a bit more blingy, the stainless steel case with a sport band starts at £699 ($699).

Both steel and aluminium models are available with gold, silver or space grey/black finishes.

New for 2019 is the Apple Watch Series 5 in titanium. Prices for this model start at £799 ($799) and are available in light and dark finishes.

Sitting at the top of the range is the white ceramic model, with prices starting at £1,299 ($1,299).

Apple Watch Series 5 review: design and screen

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Apple shook up the Watch’s design last year by making both models slightly larger, to accommodate bigger displays. Given that, the first size change in the Watch’s three-year life, we didn't expect to see Apple redesign the Series 5… and the didn't.

There are a few new personalisation options available (listed in the section above). 

Most notable is the re-appearance of White Ceramic, and the introduction of Titanium in but light and dark finishes.

Since the physical case design is untouched, the new models will continue to work with older straps and accessories.

Apple has launched a new online configurator, allowing you to completely personalise your Watch before buying it.

Without a doubt, the headline feature for the Series 5 is the new always-on display. 

Unlike previous models, the Apple Watch Series 5 display will never go to sleep, always displaying your watch face (although in a darkened, power-saving state).

This will allow you to check the time, or notifications, without having to wake the screen by twisting your wrist. It's very useful for situations where twisting your wrist would be rude, awkward, or impossible.

It will also improve the aesthetic design of your watch, as you've no longer got a black mirror constantly strapped to your wrist – you've got a watch.

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Gareth was impressed with the OLED screen, claiming it's "bright and vivid" and "easy to see on the wrist".

When he tested the new always-on display feature, he was impressed by the viewing angles which allow you to see the watch from pretty much any angle.

Apple Watch Series 5 review: features and software

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Apple tends to show off its new Watch software, known as watchOS, at its annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), which this year was held on 3 June

Called watchOS 6, the headline feature is undoubtedly that the Apple Watch now has a native App Store available on the device. The App Store on the Apple Watch allows you to browse apps, with curated lists and categories, or search for a specific app using Siri dictation, the mini keyboard, or handwriting detection.

This makes the Apple Watch even less reliant on your iPhone, almost paving the way for the ability to go iPhone-free in the future.

Another update includes a feature called 'taptic chimes', which silently tap your wrist on the hour to help you keep track of the time.

watchOS 6 also includes four new watch faces, as well as a selection of updated existing watch faces. These faces can also be customised with new complications, such as 'Chance of Rain' complication and the ability to instantly start recording a voice memo.

These new complications are powered by new apps, such as the built-in Voice Recorder, Books and Calculator app.

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The Calculator app essentially turns your Apple Watch into a 40-year-old Casio  Calculator watch, allowing you to work out tips and shared bills directly on your wrist.

Apps can now run independently on you Watch, without the need for an iPhone companion app, and Apple will allow these apps to stream music or podcasts directly to the Watch.

The new Apple Watch Series 5 also has a built-in compass, so you can always know which way you’re facing. This can be accessed through a new Compass app, watch face complication, as well as in apps (such as Apple Maps, or Night Sky).

And finally, Apple has also improved the Emergency SOS function. Now automatic emergency calling is international, so you can quickly contact emergency services in a number of countries.

Apple Watch Series 5 review: health and fitness

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The Activity app on your watch will not only show you your daily goals, but it'll also show you 'Activity trends'. The Apple Watch will measure nine key metrics, and compare them your last 90 days to the previous year. This will give you a clear overview of your health over a long period of time.

The Apple Watch now has a built-in noise metre and will warn you if you're frequently exposed to dangerous levels of sound. This will help protect your hearing.

Following Fitbit and Garmin, the Apple Watch (and the Health app on iOS) will help women track their menstrual cycle. Cycle Tracking will give you notifications when fertility windows are about to begin or your period is likely to start.

What Apple Watch owners have wanted for some time is sleep tracking, which is currently not available unless you download a third-party app. Apple is certainly interested in sleep tracking - it purchased Beddit, manufacturer of a sleep tracker designed to slip under your bedsheets, in 2018, but alas, there was no mention of sleep tracking during the Apple Watch Series 5 presentation. Keep this feature in your dreams until 2020.

Apple Watch Series 5 review: early verdict

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Overall, we were very impressed with the new Apple Watch. Yes, it's not a huge leap in terms of technology over the previous model, but it's certainly the model to go for if you're a first-timer or upgrading from the Series 2 or 3.

The always-on display is a particularly welcome addition, while the additional personalisation options are great for people looking for something a little more unique.

T3 will shortly be reviewing the Apple Watch Series 5 in full, so be sure to check back in soon for our official verdict. 

TechRadar's Apple Watch Series 5 hands-on review can be enjoyed in full, at your leisure, right now.