Apple Watch Series 5 is a good (if not necessarily a must-have) upgrade

The Apple Watch Series 5 is a great upgrade of Apple’s smartwatch, but it’s not a must-have upgrade for everyone. Still, it’s increasingly independent of the iPhone, which is a good thing, and I really like the Always-On Retina display.

The Always-On Retina screen never “sleeps,” which means you can check the time and other info, without having to raise or tap the display. If you have to sit through boring meetings, as I often do, this is a most-welcome improvement.

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You’d expect the Always-On display to ding battery life, but you’d be wrong. To preserve battery life, the screen intelligently dims when your wrist is down and returns to full brightness with a raise or a tap. 

Apple says that several advanced technologies work together to deliver the new feature without draining the battery, including a low-temperature polysilicone and oxide display (LTPO), ultra-low power display driver, efficient power management integrated circuit and new ambient light sensor. Apple promises an 18-hour battery life, and I’ve found that to be about right. Still, you’ll have to charge the smartwatch overnight to make sure it will last through the next day.

I’ve never had to use the Emergency SOS feature of the Apple Watch, but I’m glad it’s available. I run six miles a day in a grassy field that offers me a lot of privacy, which I love. However, I’m aware that I could suffer a heart attack, heat stroke, etc., in such a location, and no one could see me. So I always have my Apple Watch handy just in case.

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New emergency calling features on the new Apple Watch and watchOS 5 make this even better by allowing you to to call emergency services directly from the smartwatch in over 150 countries without an iPhone nearby.

This is regardless of where the device was originally purchased or if the cellular plan has been activated. International emergency calling also works with fall detection, if enabled, to automatically place an emergency call if the smartwatch senses that you’ve taken a hard fall and remains motionless for about a minute.

There are some new location features, such as a built-in compass to current elevation. You can even add one of three new Compass complications to your watch face to see direction at a glance. I doubt that I’ll have to use this feature, but, hey, I’m a Trail Life USA counselor, so who knows?

In addition to all these niceties, you’ll get all the features of watchOS 6.

With these improvements, why isn’t the Apple Watch Series 5 a must-have upgrade? There’s no change in the size or form of the smartphone, so it won’t interest those who like something radically different design-wise in their new Apple products. There’s no sleep tracking, as was widely expected. And there’s still no international roaming support.

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If you have a Series 4, you may be happy to “upgrade” simply by installing watchOS 6. However, if you have a Series 3 or earlier smartwatch, the Series 5 should be on your purchasing list.

By the way, the Apple Watch Series 5 is available in a wider range of materials, including aluminum, stainless steel, ceramic and an all-new titanium. (I went with the stainless steel space gray version.)

The Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS) is available to order in 41 countries and regions and Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS + Cellular) is available to order in 22 countries and regions.

The Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS) starts at $399, and the Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS + Cellular) starts at $499. The Series 3 is still available, now at a new low price of $199 (GPS) and $299 (GPS + Cellular).

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★