Was the wait for an always-on display worth it?
Early last year, I got a pretty awesome promotion at work, and as a gift to myself, I purchased an Apple Watch Series 4 in Stainless Steel with a Milanese Loop band.
I have been wearing an Apple Watch on and off since day one, but after purchasing the Series 3, I got bored of the same old design that it shared with the first two versions. So I sold the watch and used a Seiko 5 dumb-watch for almost a year before I decided to get myself the Series 4.
Since march last year this watch has been on my wrist every single day, besides while sleeping — not into sleep tracking yet.
It is the best Apple Watch since the original, and I have enjoyed using it for everything like time (of course), weather, workouts, notifications, podcast playback, adding to my to-do list, and, above all, timers!
So when the Cupertino based brand announced
Apple Watch Series 5,
and it was the same old Apple Watch I adored, but with a new and better screen that allowed an “Always-On” display, my initial reaction was excitement until I started thinking about it deeply.
Don’t get me wrong, the fact that Apple was able to get the display not only to be always-on but to also, almost¹, keep the overall style of the watch face by keeping all of the colors and complications always available for view is a brilliant idea.
One biggest thing you lose, which isn’t at all that big of a deal, is the screen goes from 60Hz to 1Hz when in dim mode, meaning the refresh rate drops to help with power consumption.
The next thing that you may lose, though, which is still coming in from early users, is the battery life not being great on these watches. It is hard to know if it is the watch itself, the always-on screen, or something else like a bug in iOS.
Nonetheless, if you want the Apple Watch Series 5, the major upgrade is this new Always-On display feature. So I bought a Series 5 and put it to the test for a few days to see if it is worth the hype.
Is it worth upgrading from a Series 4, like some are suggesting, or even an early model?
Apple describes the new screen in the Apple Watch Series 5 as an Ultra-low-power LTPO display.
If you switched off the always-on display on the Series 5, it would be indistinguishable from the Series 4. The new screen technology is only there to assist in the always-on feature. So my aim of testing this out was to see if the always-on was that useful and if it is worth upgrading from any other previous Apple Watch model.
So I wore the watch for a couple of workdays and tested to see how much I would benefit from having the time and complications always available to me on my wrist.
Usually, at work, I sit a desk with a keyboard and mouse. Of late, I have been using a MacBook more with a monitor so I can jump around to meetings and other buildings more efficiently. As I sit at my
using the keyboard, it was nice to be able to look down at my wrist and see the time without having to lift my arm.
But honestly, how useful is this really?
When I am on my computer, I usually look at the time on the screen. I touch type, so I am never looking down at my keyboard when I am typing. So looking down at my Apple Watch, is not typical for me. So to me, this isn’t that useful, it’s nice that it is there, but generally I don’t see a massive benefit.
When walking back and forth to meetings, I sometimes have to travel outside to other buildings. I wanted to see how useful the always-on display was when walking in the sun, especially when holding something, like a cup of coffee or laptop, that wouldn’t allow me to raise my wrist.
I could see the time, but not that great. If I was in direct sunlight, I doubt I would see much at all and honestly at this angle do we really need to see the time? If I really wanted to look at my watch, I would have lifted my arm, which would exit dim-mode, or set my coffee down.
The next test I wanted to conduct was going to the gym. I wanted to see how beneficial it would be to use the Series 5 while running on the treadmill inside. When you are sweating, breathing heavy and in motion, lifting your arm sometimes can be a problem. I may be exaggerating a little, but it would be a good idea to glance down at your wrist while jogging instead of having to lift your arm to check your progress.
This, I will say, was the biggest sell for me to move to the Series 5 from my Series 4. The always-on display when in dim-mode shows everything I need to know when wanting to glance down to see my progress. My heart rate, miles run, the time elapsed, calories, and I can see the actual time in the top right corner effortlessly.
I’m certain outside the display would be a little less visible, but overall I think this is a superb use of the always-on display. Using it at the gym would be a huge benefit whether you are running, lifting, or even stretching to be able to glance at your wrist without having to pause the activity you are doing.
In general, I think the Apple Watch Series 5 is the same exceptional Series 4 with a feature I don’t feel is necessarily worth the upgrade.
If you own a Series 3 or earlier, sure, the new Series 5 will be a significant upgrade. Not only for the always-on display but the display itself with it being larger and rounded in the corners like the Series 4. It is far much better than the boxy earlier models.
But if your primary objective in purchasing Series 5 is to use it as an ordinary dumb-watch, I don’t think it is worth it. A non-smartwatch is in a whole different category from smartwatches in the sense that a smartwatch does more than tell you the time. I would reason time is the lowest priority when buying a smartwatch.
It is the same when purchasing a smartphone over a dump-phone. You don’t purchase a smartphone to make calls and send text messages; you use it for all of the other superb features that are bundled in a smartphone.
I do understand that you are getting more than just the time with an always-on display. You can see other complications like weather and your activity rings. But for me, if I want to check a timer or the weather or check my activity progress on my watch, I will raise it to my face.
The intention of wanting to check something will drive me to want to lift my arm. Causally looking down at our watch is something we do when we are at a meeting or something people do casually while doing something else. If I intend to get information off of my watch, I’ll raise it to my face. Even while admitting that at the gym it is really beneficial, I don’t think that is enough to get it.
So if you’re in the market for a smartwatch and you want one from Apple, get the Series 5.
It is an excellent watch.
However, if you already have one that is still working perfectly and you are like me and don’t see the real need of an always-on display, I would say your better off not upgrading.
When I do upgrade my Series 4 in a couple of years I am sure the always-on display will be on that new watch, I am sure it will be even better² than it is on the Series 5, and I will probably love it.
But for the time being, I love my stainless steel Series 4 and the black screen that is there when I look down as I type this doesn’t bother me whatsoever.
Obviously it’s different for everyone, so I would recommend visiting an Apple store to try them out. Don’t worry, they sanitise them after each person
is done with them, and they will also allow you to pair them to your personal phone.
Alternatively, you can purchase them, and try them for 14 days, as long as you return them within this period, Apple’s return policy allows you to give them back.
I hope this review has helped and answered your questions, if not, leave a comment below and I will answer them.
Please do share your experience as well. I would be very interested to hear them.