Apple Watch Series 5 Review: Design, Performance, and Battery Life, and Pricing and Availability, and more

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Apple Watch Series 5 Review: Design, Performance, and Battery Life, and Pricing and Availability, and more
Apple Watch Series 5 Review and more

REASONS TO BUY

  • +Solid, premium design
  • +Best health feature on the market
  • +Gorgeous UI
  • +Fitness options for days
  • +Always-on screen

REASONS TO AVOID

  • -Battery life only one day
  • -Still doesn't work with Android

The Apple Watch Series 5 is still a formidable rival in the complicated world of wearables, despite the fact that it is nearly 18 months old. It debuted in September 2019 with some innovative – yet strange – features including hearing health tracking and, er, a compass. While the latter was more of a gimmick, the majority of the Apple Watch Series 5's health features, such as an emergency dialing function that interacts with fall detection, are really useful. If activated, the Apple Watch will immediately dial 911 if it detects a hard fall and the user remains immobile for more than a minute.

The Apple Watch Series 5 didn't seem all that different from the Apple Watch Series 4 before it, but it did come in a larger choice of colours, including two significantly lighter titanium variants, a ceramic white model, and new special editions from Nike and Hermes.

The always-on display, on the other hand, was the most significant upgrade. This was the most talked-about feature of the Apple Watch Series 5, as it was the first time we saw it in an Apple Watch, and it proved to be a handy tool for those who were tired of having to flip their wrists to see the time. Thankfully, Apple decided to remain with this approach with the arrival of the Apple Watch Series 6, which, in our opinion, is one of the best smartwatches on the market today.

So, if you're in the market for an Apple Watch but don't want to spend the money on the brand new Series 6, the Series 5 still has most of the latest features, such as the Always-on Display.

So, is this still one of the finest Apple Watch deals, and should this be your first smartwatch purchase? Here's an in-depth look at everything you need to know about the game.

  1. Best Apple Watch
  2. The following is a complete list of the best smartwatches.
  3. For all models of the Apple Watch, the finest deals are available.

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APPLE WATCH SERIES 5: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Apple Watch Series 5 went on sale in September 2019 for £399 / $399, the same price as its predecessor, the Apple Watch Series 4.

For that low price, you get an aluminium body and a 40mm screen. Folks who want a 44mm screen will have to pay £429 /$429 — a pleasingly moderate extra that doesn't feel like it's punishing those with larger wrists.

However, because Apple no longer sells the Apple Watch Series 5, you'll have to rely on third-party retailers like Currys, which has the cellular 40mm model for £299 and the cellular 44mm model for £319.

The screen on the 40mm Apple Watch Series 3 is actually larger than the screen of the 42mm Apple Watch Series 3 (still on sale, from an Apple Watch Series 3), so it's not as simple as the tiny one being 'for' women and the bigger one being 'for' males. It's worth trying them on because many men still feel the 40mm model to be sufficiently large and proportionate. Space Grey, Silver, and Gold are the three aluminium finishes available.

All versions now include 32GB of on-board storage, which is ideal for storing more music or anything else that has to be stored on the Watch for a long time (such as offline maps for a planned hike).

APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW: DESIGN

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Nothing has changed in terms of shape between Apple Watch Series 5 and Apple Watch Series 4. That's not surprising given the Series 4's radical redesign, which had larger screens in a slimmer body than previous versions.

As a result, you'll get a practically edge-to-edge display with curved corners that looks quite similar to existing iPhones (without the notch).

On the side, there's still the Digital Crown, which acts as a scroll wheel (in addition to the touchscreen) and a kind of Home button. A side button next to it can be used to switch apps or call for help in an emergency.

Overall, it's still the best-looking smartwatch, albeit its advantage isn't as strong as it once was. However, the customization is amazing - being able to choose from a wide range of colours and finishes, as well as Apple's seasonal new strap colours, allows you to choose something that matches you.

Because of a uniform lozenge-like curve on the edge and the fact that the extra thickness of the heart-rate sensor is buried discreetly beneath it, the design performs a decent job of looking slimmer than other higher-end smartwatches.

The inclusion of the titanium finish option is the only substantial design modification. It's lighter than steel but heavier than aluminium as a material, which is mirrored in the watch's weight, which is a perfect compromise between the two.

The brushed surface has a smoother, higher-quality sheen than the practically matte look of the aluminium Apple Watches, but nowhere near the shininess of the steel variants.

I've been using the Space Black titanium model, which doesn't show off the brushed finish as well as the 'natural' titanium finish, which is actually a really beautiful colour - a deep grey with a subtle beige tint to it, especially when the light strikes it. It's the Watch finish that most closely resembles pure metal, especially in bright light when the brushed texture stands out.

The Space Black appears to be a more neutral colour, but it exudes quality, and if you want an all-black watch without the reflectiveness of the steel Space Black, it's well worth a look in person.

One unanswered question is how the titanium will age: the first thing I did after receiving this watch was to compare it to my stainless steel Apple Watch Series 4. When I removed them, I found that just a few minutes of intermittent touch with the steel watch's crown had left some faint markings on the case.

Shiny steel, of course, gets dented and dinged, but we know that this helps it age gracefully. Giving this titanium case a year is the only way to test how it will age...

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APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW: ALWAYS-ON SCREEN

So, this is Apple Watch Series 5's big new feature (the other big new hardware feature is a compass, which we'll talk about later). It's been criticism about having to raise your wrist to see the Apple Watch's screen since the original model, and it's taken this long to find a remedy.

A new LPTO screen material, as well as a low-power screen controller and a new S5 processor with a variety of added power management features, are the fundamental modifications that enable this.

They combine to allow the Watch's screen to refresh at a pace of just once per second (rather than the typical 60 times per second of most screens) while remaining powered at all times.

In practice, this means that you can get the screen to run at full speed and brightness when you lift your wrist to look at it. When you lower your wrist, the brightness and frame rate both declines, and any large sections of brilliant colours on your watch face are turned black (because that draws less power).

But the impact is still there: you may now peek at the time without making a spectacle of it. You don't have to take your hand away from your exercise equipment to check how long you've been working out.

Plus, there was the prospect of adding more of a 'look' to your watch that other people could see, which I was most enthusiastic about. Because, no matter how much you customize the look of your Apple Watch, it will always be overshadowed by that enormous black rectangle on the front of other people. You get to view the face of your choice, but just you. An always-on screen felt like an opportunity to imbue it with more of your personality.

While this is technically doable, it lacks the dramatic impact I was expecting for. We're still in "you may have any colour you want as long as it's black" area since, as previously said, any white (or cream, or navy) faces will be transformed to black as it dims.

Other aspects of your face will stay, such as the complexity you choose and the numerals you use.

There are several exceptions: faces based entirely on colour rather than complexity and other functionality will retain a little more of their appearance. The 'Gradient' watch face is generally loaded with colour, which fades away in the dimmer setting but isn't fully erased - only diminished.

In its default form, the chunky 'Numeral Duo' face is nothing more than a bright, cartoony digital readout; in dim mode, these digits become highlighted, like a neon effect, but keep your colour choice.

In dim mode, your complications update less frequently — the exact frequency depends on the type of complication. Some will only update when you elevate your wrist, while others may only update once or twice each minute.

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You get a special dim view of the training mode when you're in it. In other words, it no longer displays the hundredths of seconds and instead counts up in seconds. The heart-rate meter no longer refreshes in real-time and instead updates at longer intervals. Otherwise, it's all the same information, which is rather useful.

But here's what irritates us about it: if the last thing you looked at was an app, you'll see a little digital time read-out instead of your watch face when you turn your wrist. This readout does not appeal to me since it is too small, the numbers are too thin, and it is readily obscured by reflections when exposed to the sun. What's the deal with it not being bigger and clearer?

This isn't a problem if, like me, you have your Watch programmed to return to the watch face after two minutes of inactivity – the reversion occurs even in dim mode.

But here's where some of the Apple Watch's formerly useful features turn into an annoyance: one of the apps that trigger it to enter this unpleasant clock mode is Now Playing, which automatically displays remote controls for your phone's music. This is something I've always loved, and it's come in handy more often than it's gotten in the way of seeing problems or anything.

However, because the Now Playing app remains active as long as you're listening to music, this crappy little clock essentially overrides your preferred watch face in the dim mode for as long as you're listening to music. So I heaved a sorrowful sigh and disabled Now Playing's automatic activation.

You can still bring it up manually, but tasks that used to be done with a single press now require many taps. I'm hoping that, like workouts, Apple will consider giving Now Playing a unique treatment in dim mode.

Finally, the always-on screen is clearly superior to anything that came before it, and it only takes a few minutes of using the Apple Watch Series 5 to realize that anything without it feels laughably old-fashioned.

However, it isn't such a game-changer in terms of functionality that I would advise Apple Watch Series 4 users to upgrade right away (unless they have a lot of free cash). The always-on Watch is fantastic, but it's not a requirement, nor is it a possible lifesaver, as fall detection was in Apple Watch Series 4.

Basically, if you're on the fence about upgrading your Apple Watch Series 4 and don't want to spend the money, don't try a Apple Watch Series 5. Because then your present Apple Watch, which is totally good, will feel a lot worse than it is.

In a nutshell, all other aspects of the screen, including brightness and resolution, are identical to the Apple Watch Series 4. This implies it's nice and crisp, and it's easily visible in bright sunlight. Touch is a responsive medium.

Everything is protected by a layer of sapphire or toughened glass (aluminium variants) (steel and higher). I've had steel models for a long time and have never managed to scratch the display. Many times I've accidentally smashed my watches against metal things and thought to myself, "Phew, I hit the glass, not the more fragile metal, that was close." That's a strange one...

However, I've seen the glass on aluminium versions become more damaged as a result of rigorous handling. It definitely makes the steel and Edition models' price increases feel like a better investment.

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APPLE WATCH SERIES 5: PERFORMANCE

The S5 processor in the Apple Watch Series 5 replaces the S4 processor in the Apple Watch Series 4. (see if you can crack that naming code).

But, despite the fact that the CPU has changed sufficiently for Apple to give it a new name, don't expect to detect any differences: the new features are focused on efficiency rather than speed.

The changes all revolve around the addition of a low-power controller for the always-on screen, as well as other power-saving measures to offset the increased energy use.

The good news is that the Apple Watch didn't require any additional speed, so I'm fine with it - I've never had the Apple Watch Series 4 bottleneck me while loading an app (though I have had it bottleneck me when downloading data within apps, it's more of a wifi responsiveness issue).

While it would be fantastic to feel like we're getting a new revolutionary speed increase, we're still moving at the same pace, which is more than fast enough.

I mentioned wireless performance and data loading within apps earlier, and I've observed an improvement when using the Apple Watch Series 5, but it's difficult to determine how much of that is due to hardware — watchOS 6 could be bringing more improvements. However, I believe that the fact that I'm using an iPhone 11 Pro helps.

An extra Bluetooth antenna for the improved range is one of Apple's improvements in the new iPhone. And, in a way that is admittedly unique to me, I've noticed a considerable improvement in connectivity between the watch and phone, which is a good indicator in general: I ride my bike to work with my iPhone in a waterproof backpack (because England), which is constructed of a material that prevents my iPhone XS and Watches Apple Watch Series 4 from interacting over the three feet between them. (Having my own water-sack body in the way didn't help.)

APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW: BATTERY LIFE

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Okay, we've shown that the S5 chip is focused toward energy conservation, but can it overcome the additional draw of the screen?

Surprisingly, the answer is both yes and no. The battery life here outperforms Apple's claims, as it has for the previous few Apple Watch models, but not as much as the Apple Watch Series 4.

Apple claims an 18-hour battery life, which is equivalent to a full day of use before sleeping, as it did with the Apple Watch Series 4. This assumes a mid-level use scenario, with some working out and GPS usage (both of which are significant battery drainers), but largely alerts and a little Siri threw in for good measure. Quite common, and very close to how I use it.

I was taking the Watch off at bedtime with 50-55 percent battery life left on Apple Watch Series 4. I was always quite confident of getting two days out of it if I wasn't near a charger (though sometimes it fell a couple of hours short).

So far, the Apple Watch Series 5 has averaged around 35% at the end of the day. There's still enough to get me through that day, but I won't be keeping the charger plugged in overnight.

You can, however, disable the always-on display, turning the Apple Watch Series 5 into a regular Apple Watch and recuperating battery life. This is a useful choice to have on hand if you know you'll be in a position where you won't be able to charge your phone easily.

So, while Apple's battery life claims are easily met, the always-on screen reduces total battery life when compared to its predecessor.

The Apple Watch has always been quick to charge, which is convenient because it allows you to charge it while you're in the shower or doing something similar.

The Watch, on the other hand, comes with a USB Type-A cable, which is a bit of a letdown in this day and age. The iPhone 11 Pros, iPad Pros, and MacBooks all come with USB Type-C charging cables, allowing them to be charged with a single type of converter, which is ideal for travelling.

However, the Watch still uses the old-fashioned connection, necessitating the need of a second sort of adapter. A separate USB Type-C Watch charger is available for £29, but given that the high-end iPhone is going to USB-C, we're not clear why the Watch hasn't followed suit.

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APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW: WATCHES 6

The new version of watchOS adds a slew of new capabilities, including cycle tracks, noise level alarms, and activity trends, which I go over in-depth in the health and fitness sections below.

New watch faces, better Siri capabilities, and several new apps are among the most helpful new features.

It's no surprise that I've spent the most time experimenting with watch faces. I criticized the range of faces offered in watchOS last year, and I believe that watchOS 6 is a substantial improvement... But I'm still interested in seeing more.

Let's start with the positive. Apple has improved in two major areas: intriguing new faces that appear to make use of what being digital can do, and making those faces more adjustable for what you want to show.

We already have some gimmicky motion faces, but I prefer the new Solar Dial, which shows the sun's movement in a circle around the face, with an analog or digital face on the opposite side of the circle that moves with it.

It's colourful, has four complications on the outside, and can only be done on a smartwatch in this way. I won't use it in the winter because seeing the sun cross the horizon before leaving the workplace is gloomy, but I still think it's fantastic.

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The analogue face of Numerals mono sits over a massive set of quirky numbers that serve as a quick way to see the hour. It's not for me, but it's a fun design that you can't get on a regular watch.

California and Gradient are two examples of these types of faces. California has a more classic appearance, but it comes in a variety of colours, allows you to pick between line markers solely or numerals (including a mix of Arabic and roman), and you may have it full-screen or as a circle with complications around the edge. This one face has so many different expressions — it's incredible.

The gradient is simpler in that it just fills the watch face with colour that extends outward from the hands and shifts hue as it moves away from them. It's a creative effect with a wide selection of colours to choose from, and it can either fill the entire face or be a circle with complexities in the corners.

All of them are significant strides in the right direction, but there are still some issues. Meridian is a new face that looks the most like a dress watch so far, and I'd wear it for more formal events if the only colour options weren't black or brilliant white. It needs some great cream or off-white alternatives – it's strange to have such a limited face next to California's Swiss Army Knife.

But I'm still hungry for more. I'd like to see more designs that are more daring with traditional watch features, as well as more designs that are completely unique. This watch is a blank canvas, and I don't think it's being utilized to its full potential.

But that's been my complaint since the first Watch - I'm more happy with this year's faces, and I believe it's easier than ever to find something that suits you, especially if you want to tinker.

Siri's new features are fairly useful: you can now ask it what song is playing and get an answer, and it can now search the web for solutions to inquiries and provide links to open web pages in a browser right on your watch screen.

If the solution is in the snippets from the pages that Siri pulls out, this can be quite beneficial, but if you have to access the web pages themselves, then... Do you know how much nonsense now covers the actual stuff on the internet? Put it on a small screen now. Yeesh. But, well, it's a possibility.

The Voice Memos app, out of all the new Apple apps, has the most potential to be useful, especially if you set a shortcut to it from a complication. If you have something worth storing for posterity, you can just hop in and start taking notes. Although not everyone is a forensic pathologist or a starship captain who needs to keep track of these things, it may encourage more people to do so, and you may like it.

If you get audiobooks through Apple's Books store, the new Audiobooks app could be very useful. It easily syncs between where you were last and allows you to pick up just where you left off.

The Calculator app is obviously useful, but a) finding it from the Watch's tiny bubbles app list when you need it is more of a hassle than pulling out your phone (though there is an improved list view for your apps as well), and b) I'm furious Apple didn't make it look like a classic Casio calculator watch. Instead, it resembles the iPhone's Calculator software. Whatever.

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In watchOS 6, adding and removing apps has been greatly improved: not only is there an App Store on the device, but you can also delete most system programs, clearing out even more clutter.

The downside of having an App Store on the Watch is that it's now gone from the iPhone Watch app (though there's still a tab for it, weirdly enough). It seems a shame to completely eliminate the ability to surf on a larger screen with a physical keyboard.

There are also some unseen improvements for developers that will result in slicker, better apps — particularly audio apps like podcast apps, which will be able to stream audio directly from the internet.

APPLE WATCH SERIES 5: HEALTH

Noise detection is the most important new feature for health monitoring. If you're in an environment that surpasses 90 decibels, you'll receive a message alerting you to the fact, along with information on how long you'll be exposed at that level until hearing damage occurs.

Consider it like the increased heart-rate notifications: it's not meant to bother you, and if you get one when a motorcycle passes by, you can simply ignore it.

However, if you notice that this warning appears frequently when you're in an environment where you can't ignore it, such as your employment, it's something you should address.

You can alter the alarm threshold to anything higher or lower if you wish, and you can also use the new noise app (and complication) at any time to keep a check on the levels around you.

The noise app, according to Apple, does not record any sound and only monitors the volume.

The other new health feature for iPhone and Watch is period monitoring, which is more of a software addition. It has its own Watch app, and it's been incorporated into the iPhone's new Health app (more on that in a bit).

You must configure it on your iPhone by telling it when your last period was and how long your cycle generally lasts. Then you can add details on what's actually happening on a day-by-day basis, such as how heavy the flow is on that particular day and any other important symptoms, such as spotting, increased acne, weariness, breast discomfort, and so on.

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On the Watch, the software essentially allows you to input this information more quickly and view your expected cycle progress. And, perhaps most importantly, you'll be notified when you're less than seven days away from the start of your next period.

Fertility tracking is an optional aspect of this — you may have it notify you when you're most fertile so you can, uh, take advantage of it.

The purpose of the Health app is to provide you with information that you can combine with your other Health data to acquire a better understanding of how your body operates. It's just a matter of being able to cross-reference everything. You might experience headaches a lot around your period, but not on days when you exercise in the morning (or vice versa) – it's all about being able to cross-reference everything.

Because I'm not precisely the target market for this, I had it tested by someone who actually has a menstrual cycle. She couldn't say whether it worked well in the long run because that would take months, but she did put it to the test.

She didn't think it was something she'd bother with before trying it, but after setting it up and diving into the possibilities, she felt extremely confident about being able to obtain all the data and see if there were any clear trends with specific discomforts and timings (or activities).

The apps were useful and properly written out, she said, and the warning about potential start dates piqued her interest because it allows you to make sure you're stocked up on supplies wherever you'll need them.

There's nothing here that other cycle-tracking apps haven't done before, but having it embedded into the Health app and Watch is a huge plus, and Apple is about as trustworthy as corporations get when it comes to your data in 2019.

WatchOS 6 now contains alerts concerning irregular heart rhythm based on the optical heart rate sensor, eliminating the need for an ECG to identify it. However, the ECG is incorporated into the Apple Watch Series 5 (as it is in the Apple Watch Series 4) and should be your first port of contact if the Watch detects an unusual beat. It's really simple to use – all you have to do is launch the app and sit down while holding your Watch.

The ability to detect an abnormal beat without the use of an ECG is more of a bonus for previous Watch models than anything practical in the Apple Watch Series 5, but it's still a worthwhile improvement.

Fall detection, the Apple Watch Series 4's second key health breakthrough, is back. If you take a tumble, your Watch will send you a notice asking if you're okay. It will notify emergency services and send a message to your emergency contact if you do not respond.

This is an incredible feature. Obviously, you hope you'll never need it, but we're talking about a true lifesaver.

You can also use the Emergency SOS feature on the side button to notify the emergency services - this, too, communicates your location to your emergency contact and can be initiated with a single button hold, so no tinkering is required.

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The Apple Watch Series 5 has one additional feature: cellular variants of the new Watch can contact emergency services worldwide - regardless of where you purchased the Watch, it will contact local services for wherever you are, even if you don't have a cellular plan activated.

APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW: OUTDOOR ACTIVITY

The addition of a compass and altimeter is the only hardware change in the Apple Watch Series 5, aside from the always-on screen. All of Apple's prior devices could detect changes in elevation (i.e. how far you've climbed or dropped), but not your absolute elevation (ie, what height you started from).

The Apple Watch Series 5 can simply tell you how high or low you are, which is useful for tracking your progress on hikes and seeing exactly what you've accomplished, or simply if you're inquisitive at any time.

Here's the most important thing to know about the compass: it's actually rather good. I mean, seriously.

The magnetic compasses integrated into phones (including iPhones) have always been suspect, frequently misaligning by several degrees and twitching even when you're not moving.

That is not the case here. It makes a point. It makes consistent and, as far as we can tell, correct points.

It's not a spectacular feature, but it significantly improves the Watch's walking navigation capabilities. In fact, Apple appears to be going after Garmin with these two new possibilities.

Garmin's Fenix series, for example, has a lot more functions (and a lot longer battery life), but for the average hiking trip, the Watch has just become a seriously capable companion.

Well, it will be after the specialty walking map applications are updated to include compass support — we've been testing pre-release and right after release, so it's too early for them to integrate the feature just yet.

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APPLE WATCH SERIES 5 REVIEW: FITNESS

There are no substantial software modifications in terms of useable functionality, nor are there any big hardware changes for fitness.

Apple, on the other hand, has made some significant improvements to both the Health and Activity apps, such that, while it can't take in any new types of fitness data, the data is now much more useful.

The Activity app's trends are first on the list. You'll now be notified not only how you've been doing recently, but also how your performance compares to previous periods on average. So, for example, you can see on the app that you've been performing 31 minutes of exercise every day recently, which exceeds the goals. However, you were exercising for 40 minutes each day.

This context is extremely beneficial since it serves as a reminder that meeting your goals does not automatically imply that everything is back to normal. If you're heading in the wrong direction in a certain location, you can now spot it and correct it before you get into trouble.

The new Summary section in the Health app is one of our favorite aspects of the update. You select the kind of information you want the program to keep, and everything is displayed right up front — no need to dig through the sub-menus.

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Because the Health app may pull data from a variety of sources, it can be customized in a variety of ways. If you're trying to lose weight, you might have weight tracking from your smart scales, as well as graphs of your active calories burnt and food intake, all displayed next to each other.

If you're worried about stress, keep track of your blood pressure using a smart gauge, your resting heart rate graphs, your sleep patterns, and how often you do your breathing exercise.

Perhaps you're preparing for a bicycle trip. You could enter your VO2 Max, overall heart rate, cycling distances monitored via workouts, resting energy, and so on.

You can still browse the Health app's various categories to see everything it has to offer, but we think the Summary feature is a game-changer because it makes Apple's health push about you rather than some abstract concept of good living.

Again, none of this is unique to the Apple Watch 5, but it's vital to be aware of if you're considering purchasing any Apple Watch.

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APPLE WATCH SERIES 5: VERDICT

The Apple Watch Series 5 may have been forgotten since the release of the Series 6, but that doesn't mean it's no longer a fantastic piece of technology. It's capable of correctly recording a variety of workouts as well as delivering some nice lifestyle features with a premium edge, all while being intuitive.

Those who already possess an Apple Watch, particularly the Apple Watch Series 4, are unlikely to find the Apple Watch Series 5 interesting enough to justify an upgrade. However, if you're moving from a Series 3 or earlier, the Apple Watch 5's always-on display is a game-changer.

In terms of drawbacks, expect a one-day average battery life and support for only Apple devices. However, these aren't major drawbacks. The Apple Watch 5 is a relatively excellent wristwatch compared to what else is on the market right now, even with the Series 6 overshadowing it.