Apple's iPhones numbers may be missing in recent years, but when it comes to smartwatches, the company remains utterly dominant. Recent figures from Counterpoint put Apple Watch growing at 48% year over year for the first quarter, commanding more than a third of the total global smartwatch market. Samsung's myriad different models, meanwhile, put the company in a distant second by 11%.
All of that is to say that Apple's clearly does something right here, and competitors like Fitbit and Fossil (the latter of which has have been working closely with Google) have a lot of catching up to do on the smartwatch front. Given the company's sizable head start, it probably comes as no surprise that the latest version of the watch is more interested in refining the device rather than reinventing the wheel.
Announced alongside a repositioned line of iPhones, the Apple Watch Series 5 does not include any hardware additions quite as flashy as the LTE functionality and ECG (electrocardiogram) monitor it introduced with previous updates. With an always-on display and a built-in compass ̵
Visually, the Watch remains largely unchanged from previous generations, aside from the increased display size that arrived on the Series 4 The addition of the always-on display, however, addresses a longstanding issue with the device. When not in use, the Watch has traditionally been a blank screen. It seems like a massive oversight, but it also seems like an understandable one. Battery life has always been a big concern with products of this size, and keeping a screen at all times is a surefire way to make sure you'll run out of juice before the end of the day.
While improving battery life would almost certainly be a welcomed feature in future updates, Apple's made a bit of a compromise, offering an always-on watch that lasts the same stated 18 hours as its predece ssors. I found I was, indeed, able to get through the day with no problem with standard use. My own usage had the product lasting closer to 20 hours without the need to recharge, but even so, the device needs to be charged once a day, regardless – otherwise you'll almost certainly be out of juice the next day.
The long-awaited addition of sleep tracking failed to materialize for this model – one of the few places where Apple continues to lag the competition. Of course, adding such a feature would require a much more robust battery than one capable of getting 18 hours on a charge.
Apple's employed some clever fixes to ensure that the new feature is completely sap battery life. Each of the faces gets a low-power, always-on version. In the case of the Meridian face that was already using (new for WatchOS 6), the white text on a black background. Hold the watch up to your face, however, and the colors invert. The active version is easier to see, and the always-on version uses less power.
The low-temperature poly-silicon and oxide display (LTPO), meanwhile, adjusts the refresh rate based on usage. Wide a spectrum: 60Hz at the high end and as little as 1Hz at the low. The ambient light sensor also automatically adjusts the brightness to help conserve power. Covering the watch with your hand will jumpstart the low-power mode.