the finest smartwatch, but offers little over Series 3


The two big non-screen improvements on the Series 5 are a compass and international emergency calling. The compass is good for hikers and people who use Yelp, and will likely improve hundreds of apps in subtle yet important ways, but in the week I’ve been wearing the watch I can’t say I’ve actually needed to use it once.

International emergency calling is good if you expect to travel a lot without number sharing and anticipate having your phone stolen, or finding yourself in an emergency situation where you can only make the call from your watch. But that scenario seems unlikely enough that very few people will need it (though, those who do may owe it their life).

The new Apple Watch Series 5.

The new Apple Watch Series 5.

All that aside, the main reasons to buy a Series 5 over the Series 3 were introduced in the Series 4: the ECG (which only works if you trick the watch into thinking you’re American) and fall detection.

Fall detection was a gamechanger for so many people, and gave older people, epileptics, pregnant people, and folks with various disorders and their families more confidence and independence.

It’s much, much cheaper than a monitored Medical Alert, but will still call your family or emergency services if it detects a hard fall and doesn’t get a response for a minute. It’s also good for hikers, and anyone else who puts themselves in situations where they might fall and need help.

Fall detection was a dramatic advance in wearables that has absolutely saved lives and given some people more confidence, which should be the ultimate goals of any health wearable.

All the other big improvements come from WatchOS 6, and are fantastic, but are available on most Apple Watches, including both the 3 and the 5. The Noise app is my favourite, because it constantly monitors noise levels and lets you know when it gets too loud, which is wonderful for hearing health. There’s also now an App Store on the Watch which doesn’t require a dummy app to be downloaded to the phone to work.

The older Apple Watch Series 3

The older Apple Watch Series 3

Another new feature of WatchOS 6 is the Cycles app, a breakout from the Health app, which helps people track their periods. What makes it so noteworthy is that it’s not gender locked or forcing a focus on fertility.

Most menstrual cycle apps either force transmen to misgender themselves, or present the information in a gendered way, which is unhelpful. Further, most apps assume you’re only tracking your period because you want to get pregnant, which can be inconvenient or upsetting for infertile people, and so having the option of fertility tracking presented to you when you set up the app is a thoughtful touch.

In the end, the Apple Watch is still hands down the best smartwatch on the market, the only tough part is deciding on which model to get. There aren’t a lot of reasons to buy the Series 5 over the Series 4, and since the 4 was cheaper this is likely one of the reasons it’s been discontinued.

Whether you should get the 5 over the 3 depends on how likely it is that you might need fall detection and a more accurate heart rate monitor, and have an extra $330 you can afford to spend on a watch.

The author travelled to California as a guest of Apple.

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