Apple Watch Series 5 review: Top-notch health companion

Apple Watch Series 5 review: Top-notch health companion

Apple released the new Watch Series 5 along with the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro series in India on September 27.

I have been using the Watch Series 5 for a week and here's what I think about Apple's latest smart wearable.

Display, design and build quality
In the lead up to Apple's Fall Event 2019, there was very little chatter on whether Apple had plans to bring the successor to the highly acclaimed Watch Series 4 or not. 

It stemmed from the fact that the company had managed to bring most of the necessary features including the life-saving ECG app and Fall Detection in Watch Series 4. So, what more can be improved in such a compact device? Well, it now looks like Apple had taken note of the need for always-on display, which some had complained in 2018. I myself didn't mind it, as the Watch Series 4 would last longer and whenever the notification came, it would just vibrate (or make ping sound) and I raise the wrist to see the message.

Apple Watch Series 5 (DH Photo/ Rohit KVN)

But, with the Watch Series 5, the display is always-on. In a bid to save battery draining, the screen gets dimmed (but never fully off), when it detects the hand is in the resting position. 

To achieve this feat, Apple has used LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) OLED Always-On Retina display (with a peak brightness of 1000 nits). It is backed by the ultra-low-power display driver, efficient power management integrated circuit and new ambient light sensor. 

A notable aspect of the LTPO is that it allows the display to refresh dynamically from as high as 60Hz to as low as 1Hz, so Apple Watch requires very low power. No other smart wearable has this kind of screen in the industry.

Another feature I liked about the new smart wearable is the smart-hide feature. Whenever the messages come, the information gets blurred and turns visible, only when the Watch screen is in the direct line of the eye. 

Design-wise, there is no discernible difference between the Watch Series 4 and Series 5. It comes in two sizes 44mm and 40mm having the same thickness of 10.7 mm. They have display sizes of 977sqmm (368x448p) and 799sqmm (324x394p), respectively.

The Watch Series 5 has the same digital crown, a mic, and the side button. There is a speaker on the opposite side. To differentiate the GPS+Cellular and the GPS-only models, Apple has incorporated a crimson-hued ring on the digital crown.

Apple Watch Series 5 comes in aluminum and stainless steel case variants with sapphire and ceramic-covered backs, respectively. It can sustain up to 50 meters of underwater pressure. You can go for a swim in the indoor water pool or an ocean without any fear of damaging the Apple Watch. But, once you come out, dry the device with a soft cloth. It also has a self-drying feature as well. Just swipe up the Apple Watch's screen and tap the water-drop icon and do as suggested on the screen—turn the crown to unlock and eject the water. 

Internal hardware and watchOS 6 features
Apple Watch Series 5 runs on 64-bit S5 dual-core processor, watchOS 6 and 32GB (NAND) storage. It also comes with an electrical heart sensor for Electrocardiogram (ECG) app and second-generation optical heart sensor for Irregular Heart Notification (IRN) read-out.

Another new feature in the Watch Series 5 is the Compass, which will come handy during outdoor trekking.

Additionally, it houses a gyroscope, accelerometer (up to 32 G-forces), barometric altimeter, gym kit and ambient light sensor. It also supports Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n 2.4GH) and Bluetooth 5.0.

Apple Watch Series 5 can track numerous sports activities such as outdoor walk, yoga, indoor walk, outdoor run, outdoor cycling, indoor run (treadmill), indoor cycling, elliptical, rover, stair-stepper, high-intensity interval training, hiking, pool swimming, open water swim, and the user can even add more workouts to the Watch get the calories burnt measured. 

The Activity Rings (with Move, Excercise and Stand features) of Apple Watch is one of the most intelligent fitness-tracking features for a smart wearable in the market. Whenever it notices I haven't moved for 50 minutes, it nudges me to take a walk for a minute. Also, it will subtly encourage me to take up an exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes per day. 

Activity Rings features on Apple Watch Series 5 (DH Photo/Rohit KVN) 

And, depending on the calories target set, I am compelled to do some physical work and move more often. Over-time, it improves fitness. What I like about Apple Watch's Activity Rings' alert is that it never comes off as nagging. The message is very subtle and the colorful activity badges make it incentive enough to reach the target for the day.

One of the highlights of Apple Watch is its watchOS interface. It is clean,  visually pleasing and most importantly, simple enough for any rookie to understand the basics of the device in a short span of time. 

Apple Watch Series 5 (DH Photo/Rohit KVN)

With the latest watchOS 6, Apple has brought in Cycle tracking features. With this, women can log important information related to their menstrual cycles and see predicted timing for their next period and fertile window using the convenience of Apple Watch.

The daily log function enables the quick addition of information related to the menstrual cycle, including the current period, flow, symptoms, results from ovulation prediction kits and other elements of fertility tracking.

The watchOS 6 also brings a new Noise app, which will help improve the hearing health of the device owner. If the sound around the watch goes beyond 90 decibels, it warns him/her to move away from the place.

There is also a cellular version of Apple Watch; it offers an extra sense of freedom, as you can make calls, send messages and even hail a cab on Apple Watch's compact screen, even when the iPhone has run out of battery.  

During the testing period, it never ran out of juice during my active hours (6:00 am to 11:00 pm). Most of the days, it had more than 20 percent battery life left before I could plug the device to the power source and retire to the bed. 

It may sound too little compared to other rival branded smart wearables, but given the complex operational capabilities and potential life-saving features of Apple Watch Series 5, I don't like to crib about one-day battery life. 

Final thoughts

ECG app on Apple Watch Series 5 (DH Photo/Rohit KVN)

Over-all, Apple Watch Series 5 is a moderate upgrade over the predecessor, but it is worth the asking price. The key point to note is that the ECG app, Fall Detection, and the IRN read-out features are the gold standards in the industry. There are lots of credible reports to back the claims, as Apple Watches have saved lots of lives young and old around the world.

Also, read | Apple Watch's Fall Detection feature saves man's life

Furthermore, the watchOS comes with several value-added native features such as menstrual cycle tracking, Noise app to take care of hearing health, Breathe app (to take a minute break for deep breathing to relieve from stress), Activity Rings to meet daily target of doing physical workouts, making Apple WatchSeries 5, one of best all-round fitness and health companion in the industry.

Having said that, I would like to see Apple come up with a more power-efficient battery tech and be able to offer the sleep-tracking feature in the future Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Series 5 prices start at Rs 40,900 in India.

Always-on display 
Intelligent notification-hide feature
Activity Rings
Life-saving ECG app, Fall Detection, and IRN readout feature
Premium build quality 

Not compatible with Android phones
One-day battery life 

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