Before you read this review of the Apple Watch Series 5, a confession – I’m not a fan of smartwatches.
I’ve reviewed a dozen or more in my time, and while all showed promise, none ever truly won me over.
That’s not to say I don’t like the idea of a smartwatch. On paper the idea is great: a wearable device that can stand in for your smartphone when it’s not at hand. Few smartwatches have been deliver that experience though, save for the Apple Watch, and its new iterations in particular.
The new Apple Watch Series 5 recently launched locally, with Vodacom being one of the networks to support the connectivity features onboard the device, and in particular the OneNumber function which ostensibly mirrors your number onto both your smartphone and smartwatch.
This means that using your Apple Watch Series 5 sans iPhone for a fully fledged wearable experience is now a reality.
Vodacom was nice enough to seed us an Apple Watch Series 5 for review (We’ll be referring to it as Apple Watch S5 from now on), to get a feel for the smartwatch, as well as how OneNumber performed on the device.
So this is what we’ve learned after two-plus weeks with the Apple Watch S5.
Catching the eye
Say what you will about Apple’s designs of late, but the company knows how to make something instantly recognisable.
It may be because the review unit of the Apple Watch S5 is gold with a pink strap, but it certainly has drawn the most attention out of any smartwatch I’ve donned before. People immediately asked if I was wearing an Apple Watch, which was swiftly followed with “can I try it on?”
After declining those requests, it’s clear that the Apple Watch inspires envy, and it’s easier to see why the wearable outsold all Swiss timepiece makers in 2019.
As such, despite what some people might think of the Apple brand, its devices certainly carry with it a particular cache.
As for the design of the Apple Watch itself, not a lot has changed since the first iteration, with the key differences for this new version being technology housed within, and the materials used for construction.
The only real change is the red accent on the digital crown. On our review model, which is the 40mm cellular version, a red ring is found. The other two options in the range, the standard and Nike offerings, feature a full red circle on the crown.
Other than that, it looks and feels like the Apple Watch we’ve come to know over the years.
Premium, inside and out
Shifting to the aforementioned materials and specifications of the Apple Watch S5, and the firm has made a number of improvements across the board when compared to the older generations of the device.
One of the more noticeable is the OLED Retina screen, which features rounded edges and smaller bezels, offering a greater amount of real estate with which to work.
My preference is for the larger 44mm Apple Watch given my pork sausage fingers, but the amount of space you have to work on with the 40mm (324 X 394) offering is still good enough.
The one area that does feel a little encumbered is the cluster layout for all your apps and settings, which can be toggled between when pressing on the digital crown. Things in the cluster mode still feel really cramped, and the apps lying towards the edge of the display are sometimes difficult to spot or make out, without scrolling to that portion of the layout.
Along with increasing the size of the display, Apple has made the form factor on this device thinner. The Series 5 sits at 10.7mm thin to be precise, and never feels unwieldy on your wrist, regardless of what it is you may be doing.
Other notable improvements on this model include the dual-core S5 processor and W3 wireless chip onboard the Series 5. Both are steps up from the Series 3 iteration, and it shows, with the smartwatch rapid and responsive.
It’s also worth talking about battery life, which is one divisive area when it comes to other Apple watch models.
On the Series 5 we found that a fully charged device yielded two full days worth of use before needing to charge overnight. This was with the always-on screen working, and brightness set to the medium level (there are three levels).
Turn that always-on screen off and bring the brightness to the lowest level and you can squeeze out another half day out of the Series 5.
Whether this is advisable is up for debate, as you’d need to charge the device during the middle of the day, but we think keeping the always-on screen off is a better idea in general, as the display can be distracting at times if you’re trying to get work done. Catching out of the corner of your eye while typing for example can prove a tad distracting.
If the Apple Watch has other smartwatches beat in any area, it’s the number of apps available and the maturity of its ecosystem.
There are a number of features on the device that are extremely handy, such as being able to set a timer via Siri sans smartphone.
There’s also the Activity rings, which feature on the digital watch face, and the reminders you get to stand up every once in awhile to reach specific goals. This might seem gimmicky to some, but sitting down at your desk all day without taking any breaks can often prove detrimental to your health.
Apple has also added a few apps that I did not realise I needed, such as walkie-talkie, the voice memo function and remote camera app to snap pictures to your connected iPhone.
As for OneNumber from Vodacom, I must admit that it took a little time to setup, with access to the My Vodacom app in order to do so. Part of the setup time is down to Vodacom’s call centre being under-staffed due to COVID-19, which is understandable given the circumstances.
Once setup though, it is a rather handy feature to have, especially when your iPhone is not readily on hand. Previously, I would receive notifications on my MacBook that a call would be coming in, and then would have to remember where I put my iPhone.
Granted, people might call me lazy, but simply being able to take a call and send messages from your smartwatch is a very nice feature to have, and ultimately, what I envisioned when these wearables first started hitting the market.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is expensive, there is simply no way of getting around it. Pricing for the device starts at R12 699, which is significantly more than you’d pay for some smartwatches out there. The Samsung Galaxy Watch (42mm) with eSIM, for example, costs half that at R5 999.
We cannot compare the given the respective operating systems onboard, but as premium an offering as the Series 5 is, you’re still paying quite a bit for the Apple logo alone.
That said, there are few, if any, smartwatches on the market that combine the fitness tracking, connectivity and app ecosystem that the Apple Watch does. If you can stomach it, the Apple Watch Series 5 is the best smartwatch currently on the market, but more cost-savvy users out there might go for the less expensive (and less feature-rich) Series 3 instead.