The best smartwatch for the iPhone is … the Apple Watch Series 5.
Did I hear a groan? Did someone call me “predictable”?
It’s true, that was probably the most predictable answer, especially if you are aware of the vast differences in compatibility between the iPhone and the Apple Watch Series 5 versus the iPhone compared to other non-Apple smartwatches.
It’s a massive gap, in fact, so much so that the Apple Watch Series 5 just makes it worth your while to fork out the premium.
But be aware that if you ever decide to leave the iPhone (how dare you!), your Apple Watch will not be able to pair with an Android.
That said, keeping it in the same bloodline really helps. The Apple Watch Series 5 is the smoothest, most integrated experience you will ever have.
Everything runs smoothly. Pairing is easy (just bring it close to your iPhone).
I think it’ll be good to start the conversation by discussing the experience with non-Apple smartwatches.
Apple iPhone with Wear OS, Fitbit
Wear OS and Fitbit smartwatches have a major challenge to deal with when paired to an iPhone — integration.
Apple doesn’t play friendly with anything non-Apple. Apple iPhones will forward notifications to Wear OS and Fitbit devices, but you won’t be able to reply to these notifications.
Vice-versa is true too. You can’t connect Android smartphones with the Apple Watch Series 5. That’s a real pity because the Apple Watch Series 5 is one of my favourite smartwatches, but I prefer Android smartphones.
But these incompatibilities or protectionism, however you want to interpret it, really add to the Apple Watch Series 5’s strength when paired to an iPhone.
No Country for Old iPhones
The Apple Watch Series 5 is no friendo to old iPhones.
I had an iPhone 6 that Apple has decided will not receive the iOS 13 update.
Apple Watch requires you to have iOS 13.
Fail. Now I have an iPhone 8 just so I can test the Apple Watch Series 5.
Bang, Bang, my bank account!
The base Apple Watch Series 5 cost a lot of money. Way more than most Wear OS watches or Fitbit watches.
But that’s not all. You can bling it up if you’d like.
It’s not a modder’s paradise like a Honda Civic. It’s more like buying coffee at Starbucks, you start with something basic, then you swap out stuff, add features and then swipe that credit card.
For example, you can double the cost of the Apple Watch by swapping out the straps. The base model comes with a simple silicone strap but you can get a leather, textile or stainless steel band.
On my initial tests, I said I didn’t like the stock Sport Band because it doesn’t have a buckle. Instead, it has a push-pin fastener. I still do find it a bit precarious to have such a tenuous hold on the watch while I fasten it, but I have become quite the fan given that it’s a good waterproof strap.
You can also add LTE functionality onto the Apple Watch, making it much closer to a smartphone. Great when you are out kayaking and don’t want to bring that fragile iPhone out to sea. Rice won’t save it nor will it float if it ever takes a dip.
Just be aware that you should check whether your mobile phone carrier supports smartwatch LTE functionality. It didn’t for me because I was on a discount carrier.
Compared to its competition, the Apple Watch Series 5 offers many more customization options. Really, it’s like going to Starbucks and wanting venti cappuccino with a shot of cappuccino, salted foam on top and an extra espresso shot.
The Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle offers some customizability. Different watch cases and different straps, but there aren’t as many customizations available.
Beautiful watch faces
The big, black screen can be bought in 40mm or 44mm sizes. They come with a beautiful curved edge, reminiscent of high-end Samsung smartphones.
The screen also takes up the majority of the watch’s surface area and I am glad that Apple has made some of the most beautifully designed watch faces.
There are some really beautiful and informative watch faces that I have never seen before on other smartwatch systems.
For example, a watch face that tells you the alignments of the solar system. Really rekindles all the memories of Kerbal Space Program. Rotate the crown and you can see how the planets will revolve over time.
There is also a really cute Mickey Mouse watch face. If you are a fan of Mickey Mouse, this is the only smartwatch with this character as a watch face.
The widgets that are available on the Apple Watch, which Apple calls “Complications”, are also rather interesting. No other smartwatch platform tracks noise, for example. You can get a complication that tells you the noise level in your surrounding area.
One aspect I really love about the Apple Watch Series 5 is its sports capabilities.
I really love how the Workout app is designed. It can also track swimming which is something that Wear OS devices cannot do without installing a third-party app.
The Workout app is just more elegant in design. It’s cheery lime green colour scheme is very encouraging unlike the Wear OS’s Google Fit which has a duller cyan colour scheme.
Most of all, what I really like about the Workout app is that it’s very well integrated with the Health app on the Apple iPhone.
The Health app is the one-stop app for all things including your workouts, noise exposure and other aspects. This contrasts with the Wear OS’s disjointed experience where you have Google Fit for workouts and then you need another app for sleep tracking and nutrition tracking.
The closest experience you can get is with the Samsung Galaxy line of smartwatches. Samsung Health is a very close competitor. The only reason why I haven’t talked much about it is because it really isn’t meant to be paired to an iPhone.
I love Siri. I love his Australian accent. But if you would rather stay in the northern hemisphere, you can choose a British or American accent.
Amusements aside, Siri is probably the BEST voice assistant out there. I say this because while the Wear OS offers Google Assistant which is a true powerhouse too, the experience with Google Assistant can be dampened depending on the hardware you buy.
The Apple Watch Series 5 offers an excellent experience. Long-press the crown and you will summon Siri. Siri answers immediately. Google Assistant can sometimes take a bit longer before it’s ready to hear you out.
The results you get from querying Siri is also excellent. It can help you find directions with Apple Maps, it can tell you the weather and start a timer. It really reduces the tedium involved.
Its other competitor is Alexa, available on Fitbit smartwatches. “Alexa” might start and end with an “A” but I’d only give it a B rating because it just falls short of what Google Assistant and Siri can do.
Alternatives? How about a Fenix?
There are other smartwatches that you can go for. They won’t be the “best” in terms of all-round performance, but they offer much more than the Apple Watch Series 5 can offer.
One of my favourite watches to wear is the Garmin Fenix 6. Specifically, I have Fenix 6 Sapphire which is a Fenix 6 with a map and music app in it. It also has a hardier glass coating that Garmin terms “Sapphire”.
Now, what’s so special about the Fenix 6? Why pay even more when you can get music and maps on the Apple Watch Series 5 for free?
The answer is because the Fenix 6 is a sports smartwatch powerhouse. The benefits you get from the Fenix 6 from this watch outstrips what Apple can offer in the domain of sports and lifestyle tracking.
I remember travelling on a cross-continent road trip. On a road trip, you just have too many things you need to handle and you are tired at the end of the day.
The Garmin Fenix 6 makes it easier. On one charge, it can last 10 days with some sports tracking used. On the Apple Watch Series 5, you just can’t get this kind of battery life.
The Fenix 6’s integrated maps also really helped me a lot. On the Apple Watch Series 5, you will need to be connected to the phone in order to be able to get Apple Maps to work.
I went canoeing and I found that I was in unfamiliar territory, looking for a beach on an island away from the mainland. If I used Apple Maps (or Google Maps on Wear OS devices) all I will be seeing is a grey grid of disappointment — because I didn’t bring my phone onto the canoe in fear of it getting wet.
In my opening paragraphs, I talked about compatibility. Does the Garmin Fenix 6 not have the same issues with compatibility with the iPhone?
Honestly, it does have the same issues all non-Apple smartwatches have. You can’t reply to messages, although the messaging function is limited to sending pre-composed messages that you don’t lose much.
I’m just going to conclude it like this. If you need a general-purpose smartwatch, you’d want an Apple Watch Series 5. If you want a specialized smartwatch meant for sports and lifestyle, the Garmin Fenix 6 would be the best in this regard.
Special mention: Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle
Fossil’s Gen 5 Carlyle has all the problems of the Wear OS when paired with the iPhone.
It’s advantage is that it’s more affordable and is a full-featured premium watch.
One major difference between the Carlyle and other Wear OS watches is that you can answer calls on the Carlyle.
This is an amazing feat by Fossil. No other Wear OS smartwatch that I’ve reviewed has been able to do it.
Just get the Apple Watch Series 5. End of story.
BUT…. do you plan to migrate away from an iPhone soon? Remember that your Apple Watch will become a fancy, expensive and ostentatious timepiece because it won’t pair with anything but iPhones.
If so, then perhaps what you need is a Fossil Gen 5 Carlyle. It’s just a more dynamic smartwatch with no qualms as to who it’s paired to.
Then it’s also worth considering the Garmin Fenix 6 if you think sports, maps and super long battery life is important.