I love my Apple Watch. Beyond AirPods the Watch remains the most inspiring Apple product they have released in the past 8 years at least (since the iPad). The following are my thoughts on the newest addition to the line-up, the Apple Watch Series 5.
Today I managed to have a look at the Brisbane Apple store to get a real hands-on with the newly released Apple Watch Series 5. The Series 5 is effectively identical in dimensions to the Series 4 and shares much the same processor, and all of the same features except for two key ones: a compass and an Always-On Display option. (More on that later) In short I want one, but I’m not sure exactly which one. What follows is my attempt to think that through with the new options available.
At this stage I most wanted to check “which” model I would get, based on it’s materials in the first instance. I had previously tried the Chermside Apple Store however they had no Titanium nor Ceramic Edition models available for people to physically handle, although they had them behind glass that’s not a very good way to get an idea of what they’re like. Firstly a weight comparison…
The new finishes in turn, with pros and cons of each…
Systematically holding each bare watch in turn I couldn’t detect a significant difference in weight between the Ceramic, Stainless and Titanium and with a variance of only 5.5g (40mm) and 6.1g (44mm) between the models that’s hardly surprising. Having worn Titanium frame glasses for many years due to my corrosive sweat I know that Titanium is stronger than Stainless Steel by weight and that whilst it should be lighter the reality is it’s extremely difficult to notice that difference. The bands I have almost all have stainless steel lugs and initially I thought that the plain brushed (aka ‘natural’) finish of the Titanium might look amiss against those polished lugs, however I noticed that with my well worn and pre-scratched lugs they blended in quite well, so that’s less of a concern than I thought it would be. Titanium is unfortunately prone to scratching easily as was evidenced by the unit I held - it already had three significant scratches and for a model that can only be a week old at most, that’s not a very promising sign. Some had said that Titanium is better as it is not Ferro-magnetic, but this will only be useful for compass accuracy and if that’s a concern, only the Stainless Steel watch presents a concern in that regard.
The last Ceramic Apple Watch was the Series 3 Edition and it came in a plain white as well as a brown finish. The Series 4 was never offered with a Ceramic finish however with the Series 5 Apple brought this back with only the plain white ceramic Edition looking just as beautiful as it did on the Series 3. There’s no doubt it’s a very striking polished white finish that many will like. The fact it’s ceramic makes it relatively heavy (still just a fraction lighter than Stainless Steel) though being the only Apple Watch with genuine RF transparency through the case means there will be better LTE performance in particular. That said if it’s ever dropped on something hard (tiles, stone, cement etc) it’s likely to shatter but it is, effectively, scratch proof unless you get out a diamond and do some very nasty things to it. Still cheaper than the Hermes range, it’s a high end model that really doesn’t go with any of my bands and I can’t really justify that price for slightly improved LTE performance and scratch resistance. I’m personally more concerned about accidental dropping on something hard than the occasional scratch.
Aluminium and Stainless Steel
As always Aluminium remains the most popular material due to its lightness and ease of working during manufacture, so unsurprisingly it’s the cheapest and hence most popular. Both the Nike Sport and Apple Sport watches use the material and it’s the softest, easiest to scratch and dent by far. Then again did I mention it’s the cheapest? My first Apple Watch Series 0 was Aluminium and it did well but was dented and scratched as was its face, but given the amount of damage my Watch takes, I’m still a huge fan of the Stainless Steel. As such my second Watch was a Series 2 Stainless Steel, no dents no scratches on the face, then I upgraded to my third which is my current watch, a Stainless Steel Series 3 LTE model which has been solid, reliable and still has amazing battery life and still looks great two years on, random scuff and scratches and all.
For me at least Stainless Steel still represents the best option: it’s the cheapest model with the full sapphire glass screen and the cheapest and strongest case material. As much as I like Titanium I know it won’t look as nice as the Stainless after two years of John-abuse.
Why Upgrade Now?
I lot of people asked me why I didn’t get a Series 4. I’ve said simply put that the one thing I didn’t ask for was a bigger screen. I still don’t. The 42mm Series 3 is a great size screen for what I need. What I wanted was an always on display. And finally Apple have given us that. The truth is that much discussion from Apple centered around the LPTO display used in the new Watch, but the truth is that the same display technology was used in the Series 4 as well. I am absolutely confident that the Apple Watch Series 4 could have had an Always On display, however the battery life may have sacrificed from 18 hours back to maybe 15 hours or so, which was a bridge Apple wouldn’t cross. The new ambient light sensor and improved gyroscope undoubtedly drive the additional power savings in the Series 5. Academic debate aside, it’s the feature I want and since there’s no way Apple will gift that back to the Series 4 after the fact, and there’s no way to hack a Series 4 to do it, it’s time to upgrade if I want it.
Being me I had no choice but to stand in the Apple Store for nearly half an hour, testing each watch face, setting it, turning it on its side to imitate a relaxed arm position, wait for the second to tick past the next minute and observe the watch face. It might have looked odd in retrospect but alas. What I learned is that if you have a light face (like the white background Meridian face) it will invert its colours when in half-awake mode. If you’re watching the face as you turn your hand it quickly inverts back to white in fully-awake mode, the transition between the two states is exceptionally jarring visually. In addition the seconds hand simply disappears on all analogue watch faces and the seconds disappear on the Activity Digital watch face, and the HH:MM shrinks slightly and shifts to the right to where the seconds once were.
So I honestly found the Always On to be Always Odd. It’s definitely going to have an impact on what watch faces I would prefer since I don’t like that shifting, inverting, changing face every time I turn my wrist. That said, that’s my only real complaint. Finally after 4-1⁄2 years the Apple Watch can tell the time all the time - a feat mechanical watches had mastered hundreds of years ago from day one.
The Series 5 comes with twice the on-board storage, now up to 32GB which is a welcome addition, and over my current Series 3 it also comes with other benefits like fall detection, a better heart rate sensor, ECG, faster processor, taptic digital crown and it’s slightly thinner overall.
Upon closely examining the titanium both the natural brush finish and the space black stainless finish the titanium was underwhelming, ceramic is too pricey for minimal advantage leaving the Stainless Steel 44mm and not because I want the larger screen but rather because all of my watch bands will fit it. Now I just need to save up for it, since I just spent a non-trivial amount of money on a new DSLR…it might be a few months before I can manage one.