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Select 'OK' to allow Verizon Media and our partners to use your data, or 'Manage options' to review our partners and your choices. You won't find a radically different looking smartwatch here, nor will you find a smartwatch with a lot of new moving parts or even a dramatically upgraded CPU. The Series 5 and watchOS 6 refine little details and push the Apple Watch even closer to being an independent device—and this is quite possibly the closest it will ever get to separating itself from the iPhone.
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I've spent about one week with the Apple Watch Series 5 so far, and I can tell you up front that everything you liked about the Series 4 and all models before it still stands. Given that overlap, let's instead focus on the new features and improvements, which are almost all unsurprisingly solid but may not warrant an upgrade for those happy with their Series 3 or Series 4 Watches.
There's little difference in hardware between the Series 5 and Series 4 Watches, but the parts that are different may be very appealing to some users. The display itself is the same LTPO panel that's on the Series 4, but the Series 5 has new and improved internals that help the display support an always-on mode without sacrificing battery life. According to Apple, the Series 5 has an ultra-low power display driver, a new power-management circuit, and a new ambient light sensor. All of those components work together to power the display all day long, allowing you to see information most importantly, the time even when your wrist is turned downward.
All of these changes are internal, so users won't "see" them in action, but they might notice the improvements when they observe the Series 5's display brightness. Previously, the Apple Watch's display would go completely black when not in use, turning on when a user turns their wrist upward to check the time. Now, the Series 5's display will still turn on full brightness when you check the time, but it will automatically dim not turn off and lower its refresh rate when you put your wrist down.
The display will also automatically adjust in brightness depending on your environment. The new ambient light sensor is essentially always on, whereas in previous Watch models it was not. The always-on display uses this ambient light sensor to constantly check the brightness of your environment so it can dynamically adjust the screen's brightness appropriately. For example, if you're in a particularly dark room like a movie theater, the always-on display will not shine too brightly so as to distract you or others around you.
The Apple Watch still has theater mode that you can enable at any time to prevent distractions like this in specific environments, but the convenience of the Series 5 is that you don't have to do that, and you can still check the time just by glancing at your resting wrist. But as anyone who has used an Apple Watch or any other smartwatch knows, the display shows much more than the time. It can show information via complications depending on your selected watch face and via app and smartphone alerts.
Apple had to reconfigure many of these things to make them both compatible and appropriate with an always-on display.
The company edited aspects of almost every watch face available for the Series 5 all of which are designed by Apple because it still does not allow third-party developers to make watch faces so that they don't draw excess power when you're not actively looking at them. The new Meridian watch face, striking with its white background and black and red crawling watch hands, will basically invert its color scheme when your wrist is turned down. The white background turns black and the black hands turn white and become more visible, allowing the watch to retain its design and continue to show the time while consuming less power.
When a notification from your smartphone arrives on your wrist on the Series 5, it will still cause the watch to vibrate and make a noise if you have sound turned on , but the details of that alert will not appear on the screen until you turn your wrist upward. That means you won't have to worry about peeking eyes around you reading information from a text message or a sensitive email if they look at your watch.
Complications, or those tiny spaces on watch faces that display information from various apps, didn't need as much reconfiguration because they were so small that they could remain largely untouched and not draw excess power. However, like smartphone notifications, there are some complications that display information, like the next meeting on your calendar, that you may not want the world to be able to see.
To fix that, Apple added the new high-sensitivity complications mode that you can toggle on or off—when on, it blurs out sensitive complication information so only you can see it when you turn your wrist upward and actively look at the Watch's display. An always-on display is a feature beloved by many wearables users, and many will rejoice that the Apple Watch finally has it. But the Apple Watch has one of the most accurate raise-to-wake features I've ever used in a smartwatch, so I never found myself dreaming of an Apple Watch with an always-on display.