I want to preface this by saying that for the last quarter century I have not been a watch person. In fact, I have been firmly anti — instead reaching for my phone to check the time and scoffing at the idea of wearing a bulky clock on my wrist. And yet I stand before you a changed woman. After testing out the new Apple Watch Series 5, I have begun to regard it as an outfit accessory just as essential to my daily wardrobe recipe as my chunky sneakers. Let me explain.
In terms of the actual hardware itself, the most obvious difference between the Series 5 and older models is the always-on display. This means the display is always visible and never sleeps, so you don't have to engage your wrist to very obviously check the time during a meeting. This always-on status also makes the watch more of a fashion statement, given the many watch faces to choose from. My personal go-tos are the California in apricot/black and the Numerals Duo — and I love being able to change the face depending on my outfit and mood.
This is the first time the Apple Watch will come in titanium, and the very popular white ceramic and tried-and-true aluminum are also making a comeback. I'm really digging the gold aluminum (which, when paired with the Pink Sand Sports Band, takes on a rose gold hue). With the apricot watch face, it's a whole lot of millennial pink, and I'm down for it.
Apple certainly isn't shying away from embracing this fashion moment. As part of the Apple Watch Series 5 announcement at last week's keynote, Apple also introduced Apple Watch Studio, where you can mix and match cases and bands to architect the exact watch of your dreams (there are almost 1,000 unique configurations). Among these options are chic updates to the high-end Apple Watch Hermès and the sportier Apple Watch Nike.
Also new to the Series 5: A compass, elevation level detection, and, most importantly, emergency international calling, which you can engage by hitting the side button even without your phone. But the real highlights here are part of watchOS 6, the newest Apple Watch software coming out on Thursday, which can be downloaded on all Apple Watch models as long as you have an iPhone 6s or later with iOS 13 or later. With it, you can now record Voice Memos on Apple Watch (very handy for moments when you have an idea and no pen), figure out restaurant tips with the new Watch calculator, and access a ton of added health and fitness features. Below, the rundown.
Cycle Tracking & Health
My personal favorite feature of the Watch is the new built-in menstrual cycle tracking app. It lets you track your flow level, symptoms, spotting, and sexual activity, and use the data to predict your next period and the timing of your fertile window. You can also opt into notifications if you want to be alerted of when they are expected to begin. (Apple has stated that this should not be used as a method of birth control.)
Of course, period-tracking apps are not new, but there's something unprecedentedly simple about tapping on my watch, logging my period symptoms of the day, going about my morning, and then being able to easily check the Health app on my iPhone for my menstrual history whenever I want to access it. Its interface is also much simpler than those of the third-party cycle-tracking apps that I've used in the past. Cycle tracking is, importantly, available in the Health app on iPhone in iOS 13 as well, so you can still use it even if you don't have a Watch.
Additionally, there's a new hearing health feature, which monitors the noise level in your environment and can notify you when it gets too loud. In my case, this is especially useful when it comes to my headphone audio levels, since I tend to listen to my music pretty loudly without realizing it.
As a person who has a really hard time feeling motivated to work out, the Activity app on Apple Watch was a push in the right direction. With rings for daily movement, exercise, and standing time that fill in with color as you move throughout your day, you can see visually how much progress you're making in all three categories. (And I pretty much always smile and/or squeal with joy when my Watch congratulates me on completing a daily ring.) WatchOS 6 takes the Activity app even further, with comprehensive Activity Trends. This feature takes 180 days of workout data to kick in, and then shows your progress across these metrics over time in the Health app on your iPhone. It can also tell you on any given day how many steps you've taken in relation to your average behavior, as well as suggestions for getting back on track if you're trending down.
The Watch can also detect when you're working out — the last few times I've gone to the gym, my Apple Watch pinged me to ask if I was on an indoor run and then recorded my workout. (You can also record other workout types from outdoor cycling to rowing to using the elliptical.) The more workouts you complete, the closer you get to completing workout goals.
The Apple Watch Series 5 is certainly the best one yet, but as with the new iPhone lineup, there's no need to run out and buy the new one if the model you already have works and is compatible with the new software. As far as cost, pricing starts at $399 and $499 for cellular models, but with the Series 3 now available for $199, you might consider the older option if you're a Watch newbie on a budget. And if you have a Watch that's still doing you well but might be in need of a refresh, you can simply give it a new band. (I'm kind of obsessed with these two-tone Sports Loop bands.)
Of course, the new Fitbit Versa 2 also comes with comparable period-tracking and workout features, and rings in at $199.95. (Plus, it's battery life is a lot better than that of the Apple Watch Series 5 — over five days versus 18 hours.) So if all you're after is a fitness and health smartwatch, that one might be your best bet. But Apple Watch is obviously much better integrated with the iPhone (especially with Apple Pay and iMessage baked in), and, with the cellular version you can basically leave your phone at home altogether, so it's a better choice for someone looking for all-inclusive watch that lets you listen to an audiobook whilst mapping yourself home and simultaneously recording an outdoor walk workout.