Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: All the key differences between the Apple smartwatches

Thinking of upgrading? Find out what has changed and what has stayed the same
Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4

We've been hearing whispers about the Apple Watch Series 5 for months, but the Cupertino giant has now confirmed the facts at last – the new smartwatch is coming on 20 September.

Whereas last year's model offered a significant design shift, the newly unveiled Watch is a much more subtle update. As such, it can be difficult to pin down the differences between the Apple Watch 4 and Apple Watch 5.

Hands on: Apple Watch Series 5 review

To help split between the two – particularly as many will be looking to trade in their old models for the shiny new Series 5 – we've gone through Apple's announcement to clear up what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: What are the differences?

Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: How the smartwatches compare

1. The always-on retina display

If there's a key difference between the Series 5 and Series 4, it comes in the design, with the Series 5 being the first Apple Watch to offer an always-on display.

This means the screen will remain on and dimmed even when your wrist isn't up – a change from previous models, which only saw the display light up when touched or when the wrist was raised.

Read more: Best Apple Watch deals

This is aided by the new low-temperature polysilicone and oxide display (LTPO), ultra-low power display driver and an ambient light sensor.

2. The new W5 processing chip

On the Series 4, Apple added a new W3 wireless chip and S4 system-on-chip (SoC) to improve performance, and the Series 5 takes a further step forward, with an S5 processor, giving a potential speed bump. We'll know the extent of this when we have the Series 5 on our wrists to test.

3. More built-in storage

Storage for the S4 models is 16GB, whereas the S5 has had a bump up to 32GB, which could also be good for any prolific music downloaders. The accelerometer and gyroscope are the same in both models, capable of detecting 32 g-forces.

4. Improved emergency calling

One difference that Apple highlighted is available to users who purchase the Series 5 with a cellular plan and model – international emergency calling.

This means that when you're travelling, you can choose to activate it (or enable it if your watch detects a hard fall followed by immobility) and call the emergency services right from your wrist with no phone required at all. The Series 4, on the other hand, only let you call emergency services in the country you bought it in.

5. A built-in compass

The Series 5 represents a small improvement in location mapping over its predecessor, with a new built-in Compass app and improved Maps app helping to improve tracking.

The Compass app can let you see your elevation, latitude, longitude, heading and incline, which could prove useful if you're off the beaten track. This isn't available through the Series 4.

Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: What has stayed the same?

Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: How the smartwatches compare

1. Battery life is still just 18 hours

Despite the addition of an always-on display, Apple claims the new Watch still sticks to the same 18-hour battery life that the Series 4 manages without the feature.

While it was certainly disappointing to not see more juice added to the smartwatch line, the fact Apple is managing to bring a substantial display improvement while maintaining old standards is an achievement – even if it's a small one. We'll be testing the two against each other upon the release of the Series 5 to confirm this.

2. The display has changed, but not the overall design

We now have new technology and software powering the always-on retina display, but the physical design of the Apple Watch Series 5 is the same as the Series 4.

The 40mm Series 4 watch has a 324 x 394 resolution, while the 44mm version of the Series 4 brings you 368 x 448. Where form factor is concerned, the Series 5 looks to be identical to the previous version, with the case also still coming in at 10.7mm deep.

The Series 4 also introduced a change to Apple's digital crown, giving it haptic feedback and building electrodes into it to allow for ECG readings. These features return for the Series 5, along with that red ring to distinguish the models from the older Series 3.

3. Old bands will still work with the new model

Just like with the Series 4, Apple has been careful to make sure that all of its Apple Watch accessories work between generations of the wearable, and that's set to continue.

Providing that they're for the same size of watch, your straps should work across all generations of the Apple Watch.

4. Picking up an Apple Watch still costs the same

Apple has resisted the urge to increase the price between generations, with the starting price of the Series 5 exactly in line with what the Series 4 was previously – $399.

The Series 3 got a price cut as a result of the Series 5's launch, down to $199, and the Series 4 will no longer be sold by Apple – though it will still be available through third-party retailers. Expect prices to fall as the holiday season approaches.

5. Both will run the same software and features

The watchOS 6 update – first previewed back in June and landing this September – is coming to both Apple Watch models. And given the pair have identical display sizing and shapes, there's little to no drop off in the features.

On both, you can use Apple Pay, automatic activity and sports tracking with GPS tracking, ECG monitoring through the optical heart sensor and 4G/LTE to cut the tether from your iPhone.

On top of that, the same range of apps are available across both watches. One of the major additions to watchOS 6 is coming in the health department, as Apple goes even further in its commitment to health tracking.

A forthcoming app, Research, will allow users to opt in to providing data for ongoing health studies, and some of these will use your Apple Watch to harvest information.

Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: Which is best?

Apple Watch Series 5 v Series 4: How the smartwatches compare

So soon after the announcement of the Series 5, the final judgment on which watch is better for you may come down to how important it is to you to have the latest and greatest on your watch.

If you're an Apple devotee, then the Series 5 is attractive – it has better display technology and it'll be Apple's flagship smartwatch for at least another year.

On the other hand, if you're a Series 3 user, or don't have an Apple Watch at all, there's a lot to be said for upgrading to the top model, rather than the admittedly-excellent older Series 4.

The Series 4 is a hell of watch, though – we named it our 2018 Smartwatch of the Year and overall Wearable of the Year, too.

We'll see if the Series 5 can match it when we go hands-on for a review very soon, but, in the meanwhile, whichever model you decide to go with, you'll be picking a winner.

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