Five years ago, the Apple Watch’s launch was designed to be a cultural event. “It’s as much about personal technology as it is style and taste,” proclaimed Tim Cook at its grand unveiling.
The likes of Beyoncé and Karl Lagerfeld donned all-gold editions of the device estimated to be worth £24,000. A partnership with Hermès was established in which Apple assimilated its new product with the high fashion company. Even Tom Ford transformed the thing into a pocket watch for the launch of his London Collections Men SS16 show.
Last month, the video heralding Apple Watch Series 5’s arrival was very different. One man told the story of how he’d halved his trouser size with the help of its activity tracking. A kid with autism fell in love with cross-country running again. A woman saw her pregnancy saved after it detected an irregular heart rate.
“It’s not something you think of: your watch saving your life,” proclaimed another average Joe.
All of which begs the question: who is the Apple Watch for these days? Truthfully, the new Watch Series 5 is whatever you want it to be and that is very much the point of it. It’s a great fitness tracker, it’s a great accompaniment to your iPhone and now it’s a great watch. Which sounds weird to say, but that’s pretty much the point of the latest iteration of Apple’s wearable.
Functionally, the big change with this latest Series 5 iteration is its always-on display. This is an upgrade that belongs to the “does what it says on the tin” school of innovations. That’s to say former Apple Watches had a screen that turned off when it was turned away from your face. Now the Series 5’s screen will always show the time. If you turn its screen towards you, it’ll now brighten up and sometimes show a little more information. So if you prefer a watch face with a seconds hand, that will pop into view again.
Although the thought of being able to read your wrist while it’s laid across your laptop might not seem particularly revelatory, its genuine utility is enough to justify Apple launching a new Series 5, as opposed to a 4S, 4 Plus or some other nonsense. It also required Apple to completely redesign the Watch’s screen with a slew of improvements to curb power consumption.
You see, the reason why it took so long to make a Watch that always tells the time can be summed up in two words: battery life. A screen that’s constantly illuminated will drain a device’s stamina faster than one that’s switched off. And nobody wants a smartwatch that has to be charged twice a day.
Apple claims the Watch Series 5 will deliver a minimum of 18 hours battery life and that feels about right from a week spent with it. We’ve regularly managed to squeeze just over a day with the thing, but that’s mainly because we used it most for music controls, the odd HIIT class and, you know, telling the time. Checking every update from the family WhatsApp group or calendar reminder for our daily 10am is not such a priority.
Dedicated follower of fashion
More significantly, the introduction of an always-on display pretty much checks off the list of essential features a lot of people wanted from the Apple Watch on day one. Swim-proofing, GPS, streaming music without your iPhone and even the ability to install apps natively are all in place now. But what about the great intangible: Is the Watch stylish? Could you wear it to a wedding with without feeling like the bloke who does up all the buttons on his waistcoat? Or the guy who wears belt braces as a substitute for a personality?
To find out, we wore our titanium Series 5 to an actual wedding. Important caveats: it wasn’t ours and, no, we didn’t crash one for the sake of this review. In short, of course you can suit up with an Apple Watch. You can suit up with whatever you please and no one is going to be enough of an arse to tell you otherwise.
In long form, the Watch has undergone a minor key style revolution since its introduction five years ago. As well as the concept of wearing one becoming that bit more normalised – yet another thing to thank Bey for – Apple has continued to plug away at the idea of making the Watch an object of desire. Two new premium case options have been introduced with the Series 5: titanium and ceramic. Both of them are suitably luxe and represent a clear step up from the aluminium and stainless steel options of old.
While you’re probably still not going to wear your titanium Apple Watch to an ultra-traditionalist black tie affair, pretty much every other social scenario is fair game. Especially since an always-on display means there’ll no longer be a blank 44mm square taking up space on your wrist anymore. Want to make sure your Watch makes the step up to a special occasion? Be sure to match it with a band of genuine quality – such as a leather strap or Milanese loop – as opposed to the gym-ready fare that often comes in the box.
Look, Jony Ive designed the Watch and is still a self-avowed Omega Speedmaster fan. This device doesn’t have to be a replacement for your Swiss-engineered timepiece. You can own both and marry them with the perfect moment.
It’s called direction
What else is new with the Apple Watch? Not much in all honesty. The addition of a compass means directions in Apple Maps and similarly location-minded apps now point you in the direction and that’s pretty much it. A lot of the Series 5’s new software-related features – such as the aforementioned ability to install apps straight to the Watch and a new means to compare activity trends over time – are coming to all Apple Watch models as part of watchOS 6.
This probably begs the question of whether Apple could have done more with its latest Watch. Apart from an ongoing lack of native sleep tracking, something that Fitbit has brought to its brand new Versa 2, there’s little we can point to that the Watch doesn’t already deliver.
This is a device that caters to those who run and those who swim. Those who are able-bodied and those in a wheelchair. Those who want to train for a triathlon and those who want to skip playlist tracks without reaching for their iPhone. And that’s not to mention its bona fide health monitoring abilities in heart rate tracking and ECG measuring.
All of which is to say the Apple Watch Series 5 is the most fully featured smartwatch available, by far. To the extent that its next true step forwards is probably its first proper design change. By the time 2020 rolls around we’ll have had five years of the Watch as we know it. And aren’t you curious to see what it might look like in circular form?
Apple Watch Series 5 review: GQ’s verdict
There are smartwatches and there is the Apple Watch Series 5. We should know, we’ve worn the best of them and Apple’s fits into your life with greater ease, is capable of that little bit more and sits on your wrist with superior gravitas.
Really, it’s this sense of luxury that its always-on display and new premium case options double down on. That the Series 5 is a rock-solid fitness companion and a rock-solid wellness companion is no great revelation. That it feels closer than ever to an object of desire is more of a surprise. Class shouldn’t spell “compromise” and that’s what half a decade’s worth of evolution has afforded the Watch: the ability to deliver exactly what you’d expect of it.
Whether it can stand comparison to a Rolex or a Samsung is an irrelevance. The Apple Watch is very much its thing and that’s to be appreciated. Now more than ever.