Apple Watch Series 5: A cheat sheet

The Apple Watch Series 5 has been released. Here's what pros need to know about Apple's latest smartwatch.

Apple Watch Series 5 The Apple Watch Series 5 has been unveiled. Here's what pros need to know about Apple's latest smartwatch.

The Apple Watch Series 5 is one of the major hardware announcements Apple unveiled during its September 2019 event. The fifth generation of Apple's market-leading smartwatch comes with new features and improvements, but are those enough for you to upgrade your Apple Watch? Read the specifics about the Apple Watch Series 5 to see if the wearable is a good fit for you. (Note: This article was first published on Sept. 10, 2019.)

SEE: Apple's 2019 Event: The essential guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is the Apple Watch Series 5?

The Apple Watch Series 5 is the latest generation of Apple's smartwatch, which was first released in 2015. Like previous generations, the Apple Watch 5 comes in 44 mm and 40 mm sizes, has a touchscreen, a heart rate tracker, and optional GPS and cellular capabilities. 

The Apple Watch Series 5 does differ from previous models in three key ways, most notably its always-on screen. That's right: No more lowering your wrist to turn the display off or on.

Apple said its always-on screen, which is made of low-temperature polycrystalline oxid (LTPO), will dim when a wearer's wrist is lowered and can drop to a refresh rate as low as 1Hz, or one new screen image per second. The variable refresh rate of the LTPO screen means, Apple said, that although the screen is always on, the Apple Watch Series 5's battery life remains the same 18 hours as the Apple Watch Series 4.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

The second new feature in the Apple Watch Series 5 is a built-in compass. As an Apple Watch owner, I have definitely wished for one of these, and its addition may be enough reason to upgrade if you use your watch for hiking, running, or other outdoor activities. The compass will be available as an app that also displays latitude and longitude, elevation, heading, and incline, and as a watch face complication. 

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Image: CNET

Lastly, the Apple Watch Series 5 adds a much-needed safety feature to its cellular models: Free international emergency calling. No matter which country you're in, a long press on the Series 5's crown will dial the local equivalent of 911.

The Apple Watch Series 5 has the following new finishes and case materials as well.

  • Aluminum Apple Watch Series 5s is available in silver, gold, and space grey (all aluminum Apple Watch Series 5s are made from 100% recycled aluminum).

  • Stainless steel Apple Watch Series 5s is available in gold, space black, and polished.

  • A new titanium model is available in natural brushed and space black.

  • A ceramic model is available, though it only comes in white.

  • New Nike and Hermes styles will be available.

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What are the Apple Watch 5's main features that make it different from previous generations?

Apple has decided to skip the incremental update with the Series 5 and has instead built a new generation of Apple Watch that offers new and unique things previous models have lacked.

The biggest selling point for Apple Watch users is the always-on screen, which could make a huge difference for wearers. The fact that it offers that new feature without compromising battery life makes it all the more enticing for those considering an upgrade.

The Apple Watch Series 5's other new features—the compass and emergency calling—are also great, but situationally so. If you're going to upgrade your Apple Watch, the selling point is probably going to be its screen. 

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What are the Apple Watch Series 5's specs?

Apple neglected to make a single mention of the hardware specs on the Apple Watch Series 5 during its keynote on September 10, and with good reason: There isn't a whole lot of improvement over the Series 4. 

In terms of hardware, there isn't a lot of improvement over the Apple Watch Series 4. A few new chips will make the watch a bit faster, but nothing in the Apple Watch Series 5 makes it vastly superior to its predecessor.

How do Apple Watch Series 5 specs compare to Apple Watch Series 4 specs?

Apple Watch Series 5

Apple Watch Series 4

Screen size

44mm: 448x368 pixels, 977 sq mm display area
40mm: 324x394 pixels,
759 sq mm display area

44mm: 448x368 pixels, 977 sq mm display area
40mm: 324x394 pixels,
759 sq mm display area

Watch sizes

40mm and 44mm

40mm and 44mm 

Display

LTPO always-on retina display, 1,000 nits brightness

LTPO retina display, 1,000 nits brightness

Battery life

Up to 18 hours

Up to 18 hours

Chipset

S5 64-bit dual core processor

S4 64-bit dual core processor

Sensors

32 g-force accelerometer, barometer, gyro, ECG electrode, optical heart rate, ambient light, compass

32 g-force accelerometer, barometer, gyro, ECG electrode, optical heart rate, ambient light

Wireless connectivity

NFC, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, and GPS/Glonass/Galileo. LTE available on select models.

NFC, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, and GPS/Glonass/Galileo. LTE available on select models.

Storage space

32 GB

16 GB

Additional info

IP68 and 5 ATM dust and water resistant

IP68 and 5 ATM dust and water resistant

Who are the Apple Watch Series 5's biggest competitors?

Apple has held a commanding lead in the smartwatch market, and while it dropped a few percentage points at the beginning of 2019, Apple still accounts for more than 40% of the smartwatch market. TechRepublic's gallery of the top 10 Apple Watch alternatives is a good roundup of the who's who of the other 60% of the smartwatch market. Samsung, Fossil, Fitbit, and others are all potential competition for the Apple Watch. 

Think about mobile OS market share for a moment, and you may notice a similarity: iOS has somewhere in the 40% market share range, with Android making up the bulk of the other 60%. 

SEE: The Apple Developer Program: An insider's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The same goes for smartwatches: Most non-Apple watches (roughly 60% of the smartwatch market) are built on Android's Wear OS or some generic platform that has OS-agnostic—and limited—smartwatch features. 

The bottom line is ecosystem: Smartwatch operating systems are meant (at least for now) to be extensions of their parent OS. Sure, Google offers an app that allows Wear OS devices to interface with iOS, but it's rated poorly. Apple offers no such app for Android, so if you get an Apple Watch, you only have one choice of ecosystem: Apple's.

Yes, there are competitors for the Apple Watch, but in the same way that Android devices are competitors for iOS ones: Switching teams means adopting a whole new ecosystem.

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Why should professionals care about the Apple Watch Series 5?

The Apple Watch Series 5's always-on screen alone could make a huge difference for business users: It's now possible to see the time, weather, upcoming meetings, and more, all without having to lift your wrist or tap the screen.

The fitness wearable's secondary new features may not be of immediate use to professionals, but those who spend a lot of time traveling or working outdoors probably see the Apple Watch Series 5's appeal immediately.

SEE: Apple: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard) 

A compass can make navigating simpler for those who work in nature, and international travelers are made a little bit safer by having instant access to emergency services around the globe.

Should professionals care about the Apple Watch Series 5? Yes, if one of those new features pique your interest. If none of them seem immediately beneficial in your life, you can skip the upgrade for now.

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How much does the Apple Watch Series 5 cost?

The Apple Watch Series 5 starts at $399 USD for a GPS-only model and $499 USD for a cellular model.

On a side note, access to the world of wearables via an Apple Watch just got a lot cheaper: With the release of the Series 5, Apple is lowering the entry-level price of the Apple Watch Series 3 to $199 USD.

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When and where will the Apple Watch Series 5 be available?

The Apple Watch Series 5 was released on Sept. 20, 2019 in more than 41 countries. The Apple Watch Series 5 is available to order on Apple's website and is now available in Apple Stores and other retailers.

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Image: CNET