Apple Watch 5 Review Roundup: What Critics Love (and Hate)

Apple Watch series 5 hands On review
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch Series 5 goes on sale this Friday (Sept. 20), but reviews about the Apple’s updated wearable are already trickling in on whether the $399 smartwatch is worth buying.

For Tom's Guide's hands-on review, Caitlin McGarry had the chance to swap out her Apple Watch Series 4 for the ceramic white edition of the Series 5. Her initial impression of the device didn’t sell her: "It's beautiful. But also kind of the same." She's currently testing the latest Apple Watch, and a verdict on the Apple Watch Series 5 will be coming shortly.

But what do other reviewers think? The always-on display is garnering the most excitement, but lack of other remarkable improvements (like a longer battery life) might dissuade buyers from rushing to own one. Plus Apple knocked down the price of the Apple Watch Series 3 to $199, presenting a low cost tier for the popular wearable. 

MORE: Apple Watch Series 5 vs. Apple Watch 3: Which Watch Should You Buy?

As we do our own Apple Watch Series 5 testing, here's a look at what people are saying about Apple's new smartwatch.

The Verge (Rating: 9/10) 

Dieter Bohn’s review for The Verge calls the Apple Watch Series 5 the best smartwatch, saying there’s nothing better if you have an iPhone and can afford the $399 starting price. The chief upgrade is the always-on screen, but the compass, international SOS calling and new materials are welcome additions. Despite the limited update, the Apple Watch Series 5 is still far more advanced than other smartwatches. 

The Good
“I love the always-on screen on the Series 5. Apple’s implementation is better than other smartwatches I’ve used for two reasons: it legitimately doesn’t hurt the battery life as much, and Apple keeps a little color visible in ambient mode.”

“The best part of the Apple Watch is that I’m able to talk about those features at all. Every other smartwatch I have used in the past few years (and, reader, I have used a lot) has failed to cross very basic thresholds of usability.”

The Bad
“Apple claims it still gets 18 hours with standard use, and I have gotten that. So, box checked — except that the Series 4 usually outperformed that estimate. I won’t go so far as to say that the Series 5 gets notably worse battery life than the Series 4, but at best, it’s on par.”

“Because it’s tied so closely to the iPhone, the possibility that it will ever be an option for Android users seems to be getting smaller. That’s a shame because there are many, many more Android users, all of whom don’t have great smartwatch options.”

Cnet (Rating: 8.3/10) 

Cnet’s review, written by Scott Stein, is positive, focusing on the functionality of the always-on display and showing off some of the neat new watch faces included in watchOS 6. Stein also found the added compass capabilities useful, saying it’s something you might have thought was already on the Apple Watch. Bottom line: The Apple Watch remains the same great wearable as last year’s overhauled model.

The Good
“I can report that its always-on display delivers what I've wanted. It's an upgrade that was long overdue. I notice it a lot because now I can glance at the time when I'm typing. Or casually watching TV. Or driving. No more weird arm twists”

“I'm now using the Apple Watch more like a normal watch. And I keep thinking about all the people everywhere with Apple Watches on, showing blank dark screens.”

The Bad
“There's more I want to see. Battery life remains two days max, and many watches and fitness trackers do better. I'd like to see days, maybe a week — even if that means going into a low-power state more often.”

“It shouldn't require an iPhone to pair with it. WatchOS 6 takes a step in the right direction by launching its own App Store for the Watch, but there are still miles to go. The Apple Watch continues to be one of the best smartwatches, but it remains limited by being an iPhone accessory for now.”

TechRadar (Rating: 4/5) 

(Image credit: Apple)

TechRadar’s review calls the Apple Watch Series 5 a premium smartwatch, but one that doesn’t present a significant upgrade over the Apple Watch 4. Editor-in-chief Gareth Beavis is impressed by the always-on screen, but is overall underwhelmed by the lack of change. He would point those interested towards the now-discounted Apple Watch Series 3.

The Good: 

“Let’s get something out of the way right now: the always-on display rocks. It’s a brilliant upgrade from Apple, and it’s been well thought-out in a number of ways.”

“If you've lost your phone but inexplicably have a paper map on you, the compass on the Watch will really help you out.”

The Bad:

“While the Apple Watch 5 has new display drivers and an improved light sensor to allow the screen to dim more efficiently and preserve battery, we can’t help but feel that this could have been done on the Watch 4. Was Apple holding off from unveiling this tech until 2019 so it could provide an upgrade to its smartwatch range, or did it need the extra 12 months to develop the necessary components to make it work?”

“The Apple Watch 5 has received precisely zero upgrades to its fitness capabilities in terms of hardware, so the GPS, heart rate monitor and accelerometer (to track your steps) inside are exactly the same as in the Apple Watch 4.”

TechCrunch (Rating: N/A) 

In his review for TechCrunch, Brian Heater highlights how successful the Apple Watch performs in the global smartwatch market. Though the Apple Watch Series 5 doesn’t include any flashy hardware additions, the always-on display and built-in compass help maintain the wearble’s spot as the top smartwatch.

The Good

“Given [Apple'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.”

“The addition of the always-on display addresses a longstanding issue with the device.”

The Bad

“Apple’s made a bit of a compromise, offering an always-on watch that lasts the same stated 18 hours as its predecessors.”

“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.”

USA Today (Rating: N/A) 

Apple Watch series 5 hands On review

(Image credit: Future)

Edward C. Baig is pleased that Apple made a watch display that doesn’t sleep. In his review for USA Today, he sings the always-on display’s praises. But he also wonders why Apple hasn’t gotten around to adding sleep tracking to its wearable. He had concerning battery troubles during his review, too. 

The Good
“Friends have told me that the absence of an always-on display is the reason some of them have held off buying an Apple Watch. While it didn’t stop me from purchasing a Series 2 in 2016, also since discontinued, I’ve groaned about the lack of this feature myself.”

“An always-on display serves a real purpose when you’re standing on a crowded bus, riding a bike, cooking or are otherwise occupied.”

The Bad
“While Apple claims about 18 hours of battery life with Series 5, same as prior models, the battery on the first cellular watch the company supplied for testing died mid-afternoon after getting a full charge overnight.”

“I'm lamenting the continued omission, however, of a native sleep app, another feature many people have been asking for.”

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.