To the naked eye, the Apple Watch Series 5 isn’t much better than its predecessor, the Series 4. It looks identical, aside from the Series 5’s always-on display. It’s pretty similar under the hood as well. The Series 5 has a few expected upgrades, such as a newer faster processor and more storage, but it has essentially the same combination of sensors and can track mostly the same metrics as the Series 4.
The one big internal difference is that the Series 5 has a built-in magnetometer. This enables an all-new Compass app, which no other previous Apple Watch has, and it can help you tell which direction that you’re facing just by looking down at your wrist. The new sensor also enriches the experience of using other apps, besides the Compass, on the Series 5.
The obvious example is the Maps app, which can now tell you which direction you’re heading. But there are many third-party developers working on different apps that can take advantage of this new sensor as well.
“In previous Apple Watches without the native compass, map orientation was accurate only while you kept moving since the direction was determined from the GPS coordinates,” explains Jordi Ramot, the founder and CEO of Wikiloc, an outdoor trail app for hikers. On the Series 5, however, hikers are able to stay oriented even when they’re standing still. “You just turn around while looking at your Apple Watch and the maps will turn effectively displaying your current location and the features you’re looking at in front of you.”
Of course, the built-in compass is still a new feature and not every — if many — Apple Watch app takes advantage of it yet. Those that do are mostly outdoor-related, which makes sense given it’s a compass and all. We rounded up a few of those apps below, but it wouldn’t surprise us if many more that are updated with compass support in the near future.
Best Hiking App: Wikiloc
Wikiloc is a hiking, running, biking and all-around outdoor navigation app. It allows users to track their hikes and other activities, giving them a bunch of real-time metrics like speed, distance and hike time. It can also help find new trails to hike. And a neat feature is that you can download trail maps for offline use. So yes, the built-in compass will work even if you don’t have cell service.
Best Paddle-boarding App: GoSup
GoSup is a paddle-boarding app that records a whole-bunch of metrics during a session, including distance, pace, left and right paddle strokes, heart rate and burned calories. The Series 5’s compass sensor allows the wearer to see which direction they’re paddling, but more importantly, it also helps them get back home. While using the app’s “Find Home” feature, a house icon shows the wearer where home is, as well as how far away they are (which is handy because the distance is often difficult to tell while you are paddling on the water).
Best Stargazing App: Night Sky
Identifying when a star will be visible and then where it will be located in the night sky — that’s no easy task. But Night Sky makes it pretty easy. It’s been a fan-favorite stargazing app for a long time, and it works great on the Series 5. Thanks to the new built-in compass, Series 5 wears are be able to tell if they’re facing the right direction for a specific star, constellation or even the International Space Station, straight from their wrist.