The Apple Watch series 5: Annoyingly good at being the best

Erna Mahyuni
Coupled with the more elegant Milanese band, the Apple Watch could still pass muster at a party. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — “When.” “When.” “When.” I got that a lot about the Apple Watch Series 5 and honestly I was surprised at the level of interest I saw from Malaysians on social media. 

I shouldn’t have been. The Apple Watch is currently the bestselling watch in the world, never mind wearables. Now it’s on its fifth iteration and after spending a few weeks with the watch, I can’t really say I’m disappointed.

Still pretty

You either love the Apple Watch’s design or you hate it. The square case often gets people asking, “Why aren’t there circular versions?”

The simple answer (or the PR one, at least): “It’s by design.” If you’ve actually used Apple Watch apps, you can see why some apps, like Messages, just wouldn’t work as well on a round face.

With a square face, you can fit in a lot of text - something round watch faces were never really designed for.

“You could never take an Apple Watch outside the gym,” some argue. With the right strap, you could. My personal favourite is the Milanese band — stainless steel, fine chain link with magnets that are easy to put on and take off while looking elegant enough with formal wear.

There are also a lot of third-party straps sold now if you find Apple’s own straps uninspiring or too expensive.

Now a new feature included is the always-on display. It means you can have the display always viewable without you needing to tap on it. When it’s not facing you, it dims but is still visible.

Whether it’s the toughened glass that comes with the aluminium models or the sapphire crystal one that comes with the stainless steel, titanium and ceramic ones, it’s a nice display.

Living with it

My usual routine with the watch — strap it on, ignore its admonitions at me to “breathe”, occasionally listen when it tells me to stand up, sigh when it tells me I should move or exercise more... and then take it off to charge.

An interesting new development is the cellular model is now available in Malaysia. That means I can leave my phone at home while I walk my dog and still be able to text and call with the watch.

Digi, Celcom and Maxis all now support the feature and I would say it’s worth every extra ringgit you pay for a cellular watch.

I walk to the nearest train station or shophouse and of course, take my dog to the park. Snatch thefts are a frequent occurrence; I avoid taking my phone out as it makes me a target.

Knowing that I can call or text should I get accosted, as I have been, is a huge relief. I can also take calls wherever I am in my house without needing to take my phone everywhere; no one I have talked to on the watch even realised I wasn’t on a phone.

Apple has also tweaked its Health app to show trends — not just how much exercise (or not) you’re getting in a day, but an overall look at your health patterns.

Also new on Watch OS: a period tracker and noise detector, the latter showing levels of ambient noise and warning you if your surroundings are getting too loud.

You also get headphone audio levels tracking that will let you know if your headphones are too loud. Nice to know Apple is helping you save your hearing.

The extra storage on the watch also means I have more space for my various Apple Music playlists and of course, apps. This is where the story gets less rosy.

Apps still disappoint

The always-on display makes the most of the great screen on the Apple Watch but it is also a battery drain. — Picture by Erna Mahyuni

Apple’s update to Watch OS means you can now download apps directly onto the watch, from the watch. No more downloading first to your phone and then syncing the app.

There’s just one more problem — there still isn’t much to download. Apple has added  a calculator as well as a compass, which should come in fairly handy. They’re just not killer apps and really should have been added earlier.

Trying to download apps straight to the watch isn’t too bad a process but searching for an app worth downloading? Best to do it on the phone as squinting at that small screen isn’t fun.

It is still perplexing why Apple won’t allow third-party watchfaces. Nice as Apple’s watchfaces are, there’s a limit to the personalisation they allow.

While the main app store gets refreshed fairly often, the watch app section shows the same apps under “quick fix games” that I saw months ago.

Apps have always been the heart of Apple’s mobile experience — it’s disheartening that even after all this time, watch apps have not caught up with the other mobile devices.

Should you get it?

There’s a lot to like on the new watch. More storage, the always-on display and the 18-hour battery life isn’t bad at all.

What is slightly annoying is that the always-on display does cut into battery life so you might consider turning it off if battery life matters more to you than the always-on feature.

Apple still is behind Fitbit and other trackers when it comes to battery life. The only thing I miss about the Fitbit is only needing to charge it every few days while if I forget to charge the Watch at night, I’ll regret it later.

If you own a Series 4, it’s not that much of an upgrade, but anything older? Yeah, it’s a good step up.

Is the cellular version worth the extra dough? Yes. Is it worth getting the latest Series  5 instead of the discounted Series 3? That depends.

If you don’t see the watch as more than an exercise companion and you’re unlikely to spend more money on it besides a spare band, Series 3 will do you fine.

Otherwise if you haven’t gotten an Apple Watch yet and you’ve been planning to, a Series 5 might be the better investment should you want a wearable that lasts you at least a good two years, instead of a cheap throwaway fitness band.

The Apple Watch Series 5 is available online, at official resellers or via special plans with the three major telcos.

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