Apple Watch Series 5 hands-on: That always-on display is long overdue

Apple just announced the latest generation of its Watch fitness wearable.

Lynn La Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones
Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.
Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Lynn La
Scott Stein
2 min read

The new Apple Watch Series 5.

James Martin/CNET

Update, Sept. 18: Read our full rated Apple Watch Series 5 review here.

Apple unveiled the latest iteration of its fitness wearable, the Apple Watch Series 5, on Tuesday as it introduced the iPhone 11 at its annual September event. While the iPhone grabbed most of the attention, the new watch, which succeeds the Watch Series 4, adds a few new features. It will start at $399 (£399, AU$649) for the GPS-only model, and $499 (£499, AU$799) for both GPS and cellular. You can order the Apple Watch Series 5 now and it will be available in stores on Sept. 20.

As the fifth iteration of one of the best-selling fitness wearables, the Apple Watch and its suite of apps focuses on user fitness, biometrics and health research. The Watch Series 5 will have an always-on display while delivering, Apple says, the same all-day, 18-hour battery life as previous models. It's something other watches have had, and we're excited to see it come on the Apple Watch.

Watch this: Up close with the Apple Watch Series 5's always-on display

Much like other smartwatches, especially last year's Qualcomm Snapdragon 3100 Wear OS watches, the color watch faces go into a dimmer, yet still slightly animated mode when you turn your wrist away. The watch faces change colors a bit and brighten up when you turn your wrist back. The always-on mode works only when it's on a wrist, and with Apple's watch faces and the Workout app.

Other features include a native compass. During our brief time with it, we could get directional bearings quickly, and it seemed to perform fine in a crowded Steve Jobs Theater demo room. Compass complications show up in a few watch faces, too. 

The new case designs, particularly ceramic and titanium, are sharp. They better be, topping off at $1,200 or so for the ceramic model. The titanium case has a brushed-metal look that's pretty different from the polished mirrored steel of the stainless models.

The Apple Watch Series 5 doesn't feel dramatically different, but having an always-on display is a big and overdue change that we didn't expect, but are glad to welcome

In addition to the debut of the Watch Series 5, Apple announced it has permanently lowered the price of its Apple Watch 3, which launched in 2017, to $199 (£199, AU$319). 

Apple Watch Series 5: First look and everything new

See all photos