Three Months With The Series 5

For a number of reasons I don’t have the time or inclination to go into tonight, a few months ago I got myself a new Apple Watch, and I’ve been collecting assorted tidbits of my impressions thereof until there was enough to make a more substantial post than the usual fanboy crowd.

Bigger

I moved from a 38mm Series 3 (already running WatchOS 6) to a 44mm Series 5, and the first impression was that I had strapped an ancient cathode ray TV set to my wrist.

That was due partially to the physical size change, and partially to the much increased display area (the 40mm already has a lot more usable pixels than the 38mm as well, but the bigger form factor makes for a nearly 2x increase from what I was used to).

The size was a bit of a concern initially, but even with the sports bracelet (there isn’t anything else in stock in stores around here) it didn’t get caught in shirt cuffs, so it turned out to be fine in daily use.

It wasn’t an easy choice to make (I’ve always preferred smaller, slimmer watches), but improved readability and battery life took precedence.

Cosmetics

All my Apple Watches have always been space grey aluminum, for both weight and price concerns. I also prefer the sober look, although I found myself looking at the shinier variants every now and then.

This time, besides my usual favorite (the black Milanese loop, which I like for both aesthetic and comfort reasons even though it is heavier than the watch itself) I also got myself a bunch of Chinese knock-offs of the sports bracelet in various (reasonably sober) colors, plus a couple of sportier tones.

I’m hardly a fashionista, but the Milanese loop was kind of annoying in Summer and the black sports bracelet isn’t very comfortable at the beach either, so I’ll be trying those out in the sand next year.

But a part of me still wishes the watch was round. We may live in the future and appreciate the data it displays, but none of the gimmicky analog watch faces make sense for me on it, and I’ve settled on Infograph Modular as my default watch face.

That face does have a significant (and strangely short-sighted) drawback for me, though. it won’t let me swap out the date complication for another time zone, which is something I just cannot fathom since it seems to be possible on nearly every other watch face…

Overall Impressions

First, the good bits:

  • I like the always-on display and the way it manages brightness (very dim when partially obscured by a shirt cuff, perfectly readable when uncovered, and very bright when active). There have been exactly zero times when I could not glance at the watch and check the time or one of the complications.
  • There are significant delays between getting a haptic notification and the always on screen updating to show the little red notification dot, which means that Apple is really prioritizing battery life.
  • Automatic workout detection (especially for outdoor walks) works a lot better for some reason (I assume CPU). I haven’t tested fall detection (although I’ve enabled it), but in general the watch seems to be much smarter about kinetics and activity tracking.
  • The ECG feature is way more than a gimmick (for me at least), and does a decent enough good job at capturing variations in QRS and any changes in the occurrence of P waves). Getting a nicely formatted PDF in the Health app whenever you capture one is just icing on the cake.
  • Siri is very responsive (and loud), and despite remaining somewhat limited, it works OK. But it seems to be completely unable to run any kind of useful Shortcuts from the watch, and that remains a sore point, for I miss when Workflow (now Shortcuts) was able to run simple scripts on the watch. I used that to prompt me for menus and numbers to include on pre-formatted SMS messages or invoking Web APIs and getting a notification with the results, and I miss it a lot more now that I have a bigger watch face to tap on.
  • It is much faster than what I was used to, obviously, and the most notable aspect for me is that The TOTP tokens I keep in 1Password (for now, until Secrets gets around to implement a WatchOS app and I can finally switch over) are instantly accessible.

The not-so-good bits are mostly about gaps and bugs in third-party apps, but there are a few doozies in there:

  • I still can’t really get a grip on my calendar on either the built-in one or Outlook–the wonderful timeline mode that I had on my Pebble is something I sorely miss, but not being able to see anything beyond a single day’s appointments (or Calendar’s pretty but useless monthly view) is a major frustration.
  • You still cannot pair a Watch with an iPad. I know it probably will never happen, but we could have handed down my Series Zero to one of my kids (who are still far from owning a cell phone), if only for the sake of keeping it in use.
  • I really miss having Google Maps on the Watch. Apple Maps is still unaccountably–no tragically–bad in Lisbon, and Google’s decision to stop supporting Apple Watch still rankles.
  • The Home app is still pretty much useless on the Watch. Fortunately I can control most of my HomeKit devices via Siri, but the device-at-a-time approach is just ridiculous on this big a display.
  • WhatsApp notifications still suck at displaying media, and they don’t seem to have any interest in fixing them.
  • Responding to notifications is still a crapshoot in many regards–Apple still does not allow us to fully customize the order of canned responses or made it easier to dictate/swipe proper replies, which is annoying (especially when “Yes” is the tenth reply on the list for some reason).

Why some apps still haven’t made a comeback (or decent updates) when the number of Watches continues to climb is a mystery to me, but other than Google Maps and a nicer Uber app, most of the essentials I need are there.

Battery Life

Battery life has been great overall, considering I wear the watch round the clock, get both Teams and WhatsApp notifications on it throughout the day and also sleep with it.

And, of course, the LTE model is not available in Portugal, so I don’t even have the option of spending more battery (which I would not be interested in, honestly).

My 38mm Series 3 charged during my morning ablutions and trickled down to 20% over 24h most days (except on very busy ones), and comparatively the 44mm Series 5 has been able to match or exceed that over the past few months with ease, without any special settings other than noise monitoring off and brightness a smidgeon below average, plus a daily routine of enabling Cinema Mode when I’m going to bed.

The net result is that I sometimes wake up with over 40% battery remaining, which is pretty nice indeed.

Which reminds me: I have no clue why Apple hasn’t bothered with any kind of automation for switching off the display during the night, in the same fashion as Do Not Disturb.

It feels like a glaringly obvious feature even if they haven’t decided to tackle sleep tracking this time around (I’m still using AutoSleep, and it works just fine for me, as well as fitting in nicely with the other complications I have on Infograph Modular)

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t really expecting to upgrade this year, and it wasn’t for the always-on display, but the device now feels more whole with it somehow. I will be somewhat disappointed when Apple does something grubby like adding official sleep tracking features to the next iteration only (in somewhat the same way they “forget” to back-port new features to older iPhones even though they would be just as feasible there), but I really like this year’s upgrade and expect it to last me quite a while.

Now all we need (somewhat like the iPad, but with a narrower scope) is for the software to catch up until it is an awesome time keeping and navigation device instead of a glorified health tracker with rather uninspiring and inflexible watch faces.

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