Apple Watch Series 5 Review
Pros: Fantastic display, tons of fitness tracking features, smart functions
Cons: Pricey, so-so battery life
Our Analysis and Test Results
In addition to the standard version, you can also get an LTE-enabled Series 5. This costs a bit more but gives the watch standalone connectivity with its own eSIM card, allowing you to leave your phone and home and still pay for things or make calls. It also can add a bit more to your phone bill for the additional connected device.
Ease of Use
To rank and compare how easy each watch is to use, we started by comparing the responsiveness of the touchscreen and any other input methods each product may have. We also looked at how reliable the charging connection is and how much work it took to swap out bands, as well as how water-resistant each watch is. Altogether, these account for 30% of the Series 5's total score. It's convenient and easy to use, earning it one of the top scores overall in this metric.
According to its ratings, the Series 5 is water-resistant to a depth of 50 meters, or 5 ATM, so you are totally fine to wear it in the shower or the pool. The Series 5 has haptic feedback and a crown scroll in addition to a very responsive touch screen, so we never had any issues navigating through the different menus. The screen lights up almost instantly when you raise your wrist to look at it, lacking the annoying delay prevalent with other models.
It's easy to swap wristbands, allowing you to easily go from a sporty band in the gym to a more stylish one for a night out in just a few minutes. The charging cable attaches to the back of the watch for wireless charging and is a fairly strong connection, though it can come loose if you drop the watch or it gets jostled too hard. You can also take screenshots of the display if you want to preserve any information on the watch by tapping both buttons, though this might be turned off by default and require you to go into the settings menu to enable it.
Next, we rated and compared all the different features that separate the Series 5 from a typical timepiece. We looked at the app compatibility of the Apple Watch, if you can make or receive phone calls, control your music, pay for things, and if the watch has a standalone GPS module. The Series 5 has some of the most comprehensive set of smart features we have seen so far in a smartwatch, earning it one of the top scores of the entire group in this metric, which accounts for 20% of the final metric.
The watch has pretty much the most app compatibility, with an extensive library of standalone apps to choose from, such as Uber, Messenger, Spotify, Strava, or IFTTT. However, this changes very frequently, so you should always double-check right before you buy if there is a specific app that you are interested in. This watch does let you make calls with a built-in speaker and microphone and the audio quality sounded surprisingly good.
You also have basic control over your music from the Series 5 and can skip tracks, adjust the volume, or play/pause the song right from your wrist. You can also use your watch as a payment method at NFC kiosks with Apple Pay and there is an integrated GPS unit as well. This provides additional data for fitness tracking or certain location-based apps if you aren't using the watch when it is paired to your phone.
Next, we compared and scored the display of each smartwatch, which is also accountable for 20% of each product's final score. As we talked about earlier, the display on the Series 5 is exceptionally awesome, earning another one of the top scores overall once again.
The Series 5 comes in both a 40mm and 44mm variety, which have a resolution of 324x394 and 368x448, respectively. They are both LTPO OLED Retina display with Force Touch that looks great.
The backlight is exceptionally bright and is easy to read even in bright sunlight. The Series 5 still can't automatically adjust the brightness of its backlight but you — finally — can set the display to be always on.
The Apple Watch Series 5 can double as a fitness tracker with its impressive set of fitness and health tracking abilities, earning it one of the top scores in this metric, which is responsible for 15% of its final score. Specifically, we compared the accuracy of the step counter, heart rate monitor, and stair tracker, as well as the workout tracking when determining scores for each smartwatch.
The Series 5 did a fantastic job of tracking steps in our tests, only having an average discrepancy of 10 steps or less from the manual count in each of our mile-long walks. To test the heart rate sensor, we compared it against a chest strap monitor with both a resting and active heart rate. The Series 5 impressed us again by being within 1-2 bpm of the chest strap with the resting heart rate and only a bit more off with the active one. It also has an "ECG" feature that can measure your heart's rhythm and can even notify if it detects an irregularity, like atrial fibrillation (Afib). However, the Series 5 can't replace talking to your doctor if you have any concerns about your heart health.
You also have a ton of different workouts that you can track, including yoga, HIIT, hiking, swimming, biking, elliptical, rowing machine, and many more. It has automatic workout detection for starting and stopping and will track things like the distance, duration, active & total calories, pace, heart rate, and weather conditions for your workouts. It can even detect compatible gym equipment for even more comprehensive fitness tracking details. Unfortunately, we didn't find the stairs climbed tracker to be the most accurate, only registering about half of the staircases we climbed in our tests.
Our last set of tests dealt with the battery life of the Series 5, accounting for the remaining 15% of its overall results. In this metric, we graded the Series 5 on how long it lasted with typical use and on how long it took to recharge. Breaking a trend, the Series 5 didn' score at or close to the top of the entire group, instead finishing towards the middle with its so-so battery life performance.
We sent a series of calls and texts to each watch, as well as made sure it showed periodic notifications to simulate normal use and found it lasted for 30-36 hours. Setting the display to "Always On" or using the internal GPS will deplete your battery even faster, getting to the point where you would just barely make it through your day. It took about 48 minutes to recharge a completely dead watch to 50% and two hours to reach full charge.
The Series 5 isn't a great value option, pairing a premium performance with a premium price.
If you want all the features you can get in a smartwatch to go with your iOS phone, then Series 5 is your best option. It has tons of standalone capabilities and an impressive suite of health and fitness tracking, all while looking sleek and stylish with a great display.
— Austin Palmer, David Wise, and Jenna Ammerman
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.Learn More