Upgrading from an Apple Watch Series 2 to a Series 5

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2020/01/20/upgrading-from-an-apple-watch-series-2-to-a-series-5/

Back in September, Adam Engst moved from an Apple Watch Series 2 to an Apple Watch Series 5. After living with it for several months, he’s figured out which features make a difference and which are just marketing fluff.

As luck would have it, I also upgraded from a Series 2 watch to a Series 5 this month (and gave the Series 2 to my daughter). Adam’s right that individual experiences will vary — wildly.

The Series 5’s always-on screen addresses one of my biggest complaints about the Series 2: Checking the time required a dramatic, grandiose arm swing to wake up the screen. I’ve worn a watch for years and years, and it always bothered me that there was no way to discreetly check the time on the Series 2. If I want feedback from an app screen, I don’t mind raising my wrist. I love that my Series 5 Apple Watch feels like a watch again. To each their own.

On the other hand, it’s taking me a while to get used to the bigger screen. I think it’s because the Series 5 screen’s corners are more rounded. I never had trouble with the size of the screen on my Series 2, but the useful part of the Series 5 doesn’t feel much bigger. Again, to each their own.

Skipping ahead to the bands and colors: I can’t imagine I’d ever look at Apple Watch colors as a reason to upgrade, personally. I got my Series 5 in exactly the same color as my Series 2. As far as the bands, I got the Series 5 with the band my daughter wanted for her new-to-her Series 2. I now use my Series 5 with the same bands I used with my Series 2 — including my original black Sport Band — and I like them just as well.

However, I totally endorse Adam’s feelings about the difference in performance. I knew the Series 5 had to be faster than the Series 2; I had no idea how big the difference was. Use cases that felt janky and half-baked on the Series 2 are flawless on the Series 5. My app use was always split roughly 50-50 between Apple and non-Apple apps, but in the weeks I’ve had the Series 5 I’ve tried several new apps and installed several that I’d been using on my iPhone 7 but not my watch.
ETA is one of my new favorites — having a complication that always shows me travel time home from work (or to work from home) feels pretty dang cool.

So, is it worth it? I think so, I guess? I’ve been a smartwatch user since the first-generation Pebble, and the Series 5 feels for the first time like a fully functioning product — but even if it feels worth the price of the upgrade for the moment, I know those feelings could easily change if the Series 6 comes out and offers another leap. That’s just the way I’m wired, I guess.

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I went from 3LTE to 5LTE, so not quite as big of a jump as you made. I got mine when it came out, one of the first few days they were available.

Always on: At the beginning, always on burned battery too much, so I initially turned it off. After a couple of WatchOS upgrades, I turned it back on. It’s useful enough so that I haven’t turned it off again, and the battery burn is acceptable, but I agree with your complaints about 3rd party apps. There should be a way for an app to keep the screen on (with the understanding that that’ll burn battery).

Compass: I actually used it! A few months back we went to England for a week and I went on a trip to Greenwich one day. Standing on the prime meridian, I checked the coordinates on my phone and the longitude wasn’t quite at zero. There was a sign explaining that fact and saying “go 100 meters east” to find the prime meridian for the GPS coordinate system. I wondered which way was was east, and then I remembered that my watch had a compass. Found east, walked until I was on the zero longitude line of the GPS coordinate system. Haven’t used it since, didn’t use it before, but at least one time I found it useful.

Apps: Only used Strava once, to “cheat” on the Escape Plan challenge. (Well, technically not cheating, but walking the dog for 30 minutes, which counted according to the rules of the challenge, is much easier than any of the rides I do, and I usually wouldn’t bother recording that.) The other app I regularly use is Overcast. Occasionally I’ll use one of a number of weather apps. I have speciality devices (Garmin Edge 830 and Fenix 5+) for cycling/hiking/cross country skiing, so I don’t use my AW for recording activities, and I keep it from annoying me about steps/heart rate/etc. I occasionally take an ECG, but only because I can, not for any real purpose.

Was it worth it for me? Yes, I’m still glad I did it. It’s faster than the 3, and I like the bigger screen.

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I also went from S2 to S5 (though I’ve kept the S2 as a sleep tracking/spare watch) and it was a great upgrade for me. I did go down in size (42 to 40) and my only regret is that the bands are just a bit on the small side for me. Performance is excellent, as you say.

I’m a huge fan of always on display, though. I always have a watchface showing so I can see the time easily without the wrist raise and I especially love the fact that the workout app has a great always on display. My biggest frustration with the S2 was when I’d be mid-workout and want to see time and/or distance and the watch would be black when I looked at it. It always took a weird exaggerated raise to get the display to turn on in a workout.

I’ve never used the compass and likely never will. (Well, I used it once and it was off, but that’s because of the Milanese loop band with its magnet.)

One other thing is that I’ve gone from aluminum to stainless steel and I like that my crystal remains without a scratch. My S2 was scratched up within a month of owning it.

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I’m surprised you don’t find the always-on display more useful, Adam. That’s my favorite feature and the main reason I upgraded.

First, quick background: I bought a stainless steel Series 0 in 2015 sight unseen (pre-order) and used it until just a year ago fall. By then its battery life was pathetic, it was so slow I pretty much just used it to tell time (no apps), and then while on a trip I scratched the screen. When I got back home I upgraded to a Series 4, opting for the smaller size since the screen was made bigger.

The series 4 was definitely a huge improvement over the 0, and I prefer the smaller watch, but I found I still didn’t really use apps. Oddly, one of the main things I use it for is telling the time. When Apple announced the always-on display, I wanted that. Sadly, Apple only gave me $100 trade-in for my year-old series 4, which was lame, but better than nothing (what Apple would give me for my expensive Series 0). I figured if I waited I’d get even less, so I decided to go for it. I’m glad I did. I see no benefit to the steel or other finishes over the aluminum other than they make your wallet lighter.

Battery life is better on 5 than the 4 (I’m usually at 50% by bedtime while on the 4 I was closer to 25%) and I love being able to just glance at my wrist to tell time. If I’m in a dark place like a movie theatre I love that I can check the time without lighting up the room.

It is true that always-on doesn’t show app info or other detail, and some complications (like weather status) are out of date on the always-on, but none of those are a huge deal for me. Just the other day I was telling myself that there’s no way I could go back to an apple watch without the always-on display.

In terms of other features, the 5 is slightly better at detecting “exercise,” but I still have to start workouts manually for the most part, which I hate (I forget about twice a week and don’t get credit for my workouts, which depresses me terribly and makes me less likely to exercise). I actually had problems with the watch stopping my workouts automatically for me; my main exercise is walking the dog and apparently that’s too inactive to be considered a workout (even though it’s uphill and I’m panting). I called Apple support and they had me make some changes in settings that seemed to help, but it still does it occasionally (overcompensating for battery saving because workout mode drains the battery too much, I guess).

For me, the fitness areas of the watch are the most incomplete and useless feature; I still don’t know why so many people think it’s great for fitness. If you’re an athlete like Adam I suppose it makes more sense; for a sedentary slug like me, just emptying the dishwasher is a workout and I want exercise credit for that!

If someone is wondering why I don’t wear a regular watch if I mainly use Apple Watch to tell time, I should say that I also use the notification features to see who is texting or calling or if a VIP email has come in. That’s not something I use constantly, but it is important enough to justify a smartwatch over a cheap Casio.

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I have an original Watch and I’ve been trying to justify moving to a Series 4. One problem for me is I need a metal watch band as the vinyl/rubber/cloth ones irritate my skin. What is the sport loop band made of? Alternately, I could just move my current metal loop band to the newer watch.

I would just move the current metal loop and buy the cheapest watchband variant that has the features you need.

The thing I like the most about the AppleWatch is the choice in bands, both Apple and third party, when I got my 5 the band I wanted wasn’t shipping for another month, so I got a sport band and used my old band till the brown leather strap was available. It also means I can give an unused band with the old watch when I pass it on to family etc.


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I went from an s4 42 to the s5 40, I know I got the smaller Watch this time, but I’ve gone from almost 48 hours of battery life to less than 24. That’s without any workouts… I was gps tracking 4 hour kayak trips with my s4 and still having more than 24 hours of battery. I’m afraid to even try that with the battery in my s5…

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I’m 66 with a knee replacement and a hip that’s been replaced twice. I consequently don’t have the balance i had 20 years ago and the fall notification feature in the 5, coupled with the ECG app, made upgrading from my 3 last September a no-brainer for this senior citizen. The fall app has detected each of several hard falls I’ve had and has offered to call 911 or my wife each time - happily not required, but great to have it in the background in case I ever need it. The GPS and cell capability mean it can call and identify my location if I don’t respond. Also like the larger screen, better exercise app and all the other improvements.


Wow. That’s the opposite of my experience.

I should mention, though, that i turned off “raise to wake” as I found that normal arm movements woke it up all the time and wasted battery. With always-on display, I don’t need raise to wake. If I really want to wake it up I have to tap the screen. This works great for me and battery life is terrific (9a-midnight with 50% left with typically about an hour workout walk each day).

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I upgraded from Series 2 to a Series 5, when my Series 2 watch broke. (Well, half broke. The motion sensor broke. So I had to tap the watch to wake it up, and when I went for a run it tracked the run with GPS but told me I’d taken zero steps.)

I find the Always On feature the most useful change. I have a part-time job at a golf course where I need to look at the time frequently, or show people what time it is, and having to move my arm or tap the watch with the Series 2 was very annoying. Now I know I can just glance down at my arm whenever I want, just like those old fashioned unsmart watches. :wink:

No one has mentioned the Noise app, which I think was new for Series 5. (?) I’ve found this to be both interesting and useful. (Although the microphone has issues in strong winds, thinking its very noisy.)

I don’t use a lot of apps either, so didn’t really notice the performance differences. The larger screen and more complex watch faces are nice; I alternate between one with lots of details and complications, and one which just shows the time in big numbers!

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I am considering upgrading to a Series 5 from a Series 2, and like Adam, I was hoping to be able to see the larger display better without my reading glasses. Does anyone else have any comments on that? Also, what does the always on display show when using the Apple Workout app? I usually like to check my heart rate during workouts and the current raise to wake can become cumbersome. Thanks in advance for any advice.

I have a hand me down series 1 and was wondering if it is worth upgrading, so the article has me thinking. Is having the built in gps helpful when tracking walking?

Right now, with my series 1, I typically have 50% battery left by the time I put it on the charger when I go to sleep. With the always on feature will that get worse?


That’s exactly what I love about always on display. It shows everything the workout app would show if the display was lit, except it is a little dimmer and doesn’t show the tenths and hundredths of seconds. They show up and the display brightens when you raise to wake or tap the screen. One other improvement I’ve noticed with the S5 over the S2 is that raise to wake seems to work a lot more reliably for me. .

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I think everyone is different, but if I don’t charge my watch during the day (I usually do when I am showering) I will go to bed with between 30 and 35%. I’ve never used it without AOD so I don’t know what the difference will be. However, I probably had a bit more with the S2 - probably about 40 to 50.

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Hmm… What to do. The easiest answer is nothing at all. :slight_smile: I got this Series 1 as a hand-me-down from a friend who upgrades to a Series 4. It’s more interesting than I thought it would be (I posted about it in my blog at https://lerner.net/personal-review-the-apple-watch/ and more recently at https://lerner.net/applewatch-exercise-tracking-linking-with-myfitnesspal-and-comparing-with-mapmyrun-and-an-indoor-bike/.

I wonder what more I would get out of the Series 5 than I do from the Series 5. I should go through a feature-by-feature comparison I guess.

By the way, when you get the cellular version does that require an extra cellular data monthly contract?

No. I have a cellular version but I have not activated cellular yet. So far I’ve seen no reason to - I always have my phone with me anyway.

The Watch generally defers to the phone for almost everything when it’s connected. From what I’ve read, the AW’s GPS is only used when it’s not connected to the phone. So if you’re carrying your phone, it’ll be using the phone’s GPS anyway, so it’ll be no different.

Generally, with always on I have about 40-50% left at the end of the day. Depends on what I’ve been doing and whether the phone has been left behind/is unavailable at some point. When it’s on its own the Watch uses more power.

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If you want to use it it does. I have Verizon. I think I’m paying $10 per month for the AW. It’s not a full line charge because it shares a number with your phone, and the only time cellular on the watch is used at all is if it’s not connected to your phone.

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I traded in my Series 1 for a Series 5  Watch last September. I love the much improved responsiveness when I tap a workout in the Zones app. And I love having more pixels on the display, even though I went from the larger S1 display to the smaller S5, which fits my wrist better. The Sport Loop is way better than the Sport Band. I got the $399 GPS-only model, which became $369 after the trade-in, which became $358 after the  Card cash-back. Definitely worth it.

I will never have an  Watch with cellular unless Apple relaxes the restrictions on the choice of service provider. Currently, you have to have the same service provider as your iPhone, but my phone’s service is with Spectrum Mobile ($14 per month), which is not one of the choices for the watch.

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