Apple Watch Series 9 Review: Small Improvements, but still great

Apple Watch Series 9

The Apple Watch remains the smart wearable to beat, but the changes between Apple Watch generations mean that the Apple Watch Series 9 is best suited for those with much older Apple Watches, or first-time buyers.

Pros Cons
Faster processor No big design changes this generation
Double Tap Gesture (Eventually) Battery life hasn’t improved
On-Device Siri Precision Find feature only works with the iPhone 15

Score: 4/5

 

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Since its introduction, the Apple Watch has been the watch to recommend for iPhone users.

Yeah, I know, there’s no point recommending them to Android users, because every Apple Watch ever has always been an Apple-only device, but even allowing for that, Apple’s careful attention to physical design and UI has really made the Apple Watch a bit of a winner.

Apple’s even shown some willingness to meddle with the model, offering up the lower cost (but still rather good) Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen for those on more constrained budgets or the Apple Watch Ultra 2 for the extreme sports types.

The Apple Watch Series 9 continues that trend in mostly broad, obvious ways, with a faster processor, a new gesture control method and a carbon neutral approach making it a highy compelling proposition – as long, I’d argue, as you’re not upgrading from an Apple Watch Series 8 or Series 7.

Design

Apple Watch Series 9

The design of the Apple Watch Series 9 hasn’t markedly changed since the previous generation, with a choice of either 41mm or 45mm watch sizes with Apple’s “Digital Crown” on the side. The one new style choice you have in terms of watch bodies is the new “Pink” colour, joining Midnight, Starlight, Gold, Silver and Graphite.

Pink wouldn’t be my choice – and for what it’s worth Apple loaned me the Midnight colour – but more choice for consumers after wearable devices is rarely a bad idea.

The display on the Apple Watch Series 9 – in my case a 45mm model – peaks at up to 2,000 nits, double that of the prior generation. That does aid in visibility in bright weather; testing the Apple Watch Series 9 while running on a bright Sydney day I could genuinely appreciate enhanced visibility on this score, though it’s a variable matter depending on your environment generally.

The other big design change in Apple Watch land this year is a stronger focus on recyclable materials – both internal and external – and packaging, as Apple shifts towards carbon neutral production methods. With the dropping of all leather bands in favour of fine woven bands, the Apple Watch Series 9 (as well as the newer production of Apple Watch SE) are fully carbon neutral with some (but not all) of Apple’s wide array of watch bands.

While early rumours pointed to the idea that Apple might change the Apple Watch band connection method, that hasn’t happened, which does mean for longer-term Apple Watch owners that existing bands will still work with the Apple Watch Series 9 as well.

Also read:
Apple Watch Series 8 Review (Finder)

Performance

Apple Watch Series 9

The Apple Watch Series 9 runs on upgraded Apple internals, specifically a processor that Apple calls the Apple S9.

No prizes for guessing what the processor that ran the Apple Watch Series 8 was called – but the point here is more that it’s a faster processor that Apple says offers 25% CPU speed boosts and 30% GPU boosts over prior generations.

Does a smartwatch really need a whole lot of processing power? Maybe not; I really had a hard time absolutely picking the Apple Watch Series 9 as “faster” than the Apple Watch Series 8 for most essential smartwatch tasks, but then it’s not like the Series 8 was slow to begin with.

There’s a bit of a cognitive trick at play here too, because watchOS is a rather slick and nicely animated OS anyway, so it’s hard not to convince your brain that it must be slicker on the Apple Watch Series 9 just because it already looks slick. It’s all but impossible to measure, and subject to a lot of subjective bias, I feel.

The Apple Watch Series 9 integrates Apple’s U2 ultra wideband chip to aid it in finding a paired iPhone… or to be more precise, a paired iPhone 15 generation device. This does work reasonably well in ad-hoc testing, with a “lost” iPhone in my home located and the watch guiding it to me as though it was sitting on top of an Apple AirTag, but it’s notably only that accurate with other U2-enabled devices.

Theoretical positions aside, the S9 does add some new functionality to the Apple Watch experience. Siri commands can now be processed on the Watch itself rather than paired back to an iPhone and Apple’s servers, and that can be notably faster if Siri’s your assistant of choice.

With full disclosure in mind, I’m not a big fan of talking to any smartwatch, especially out in public, so my testing was limited to ensuring that it worked as Apple said it did. Your own usage can naturally vary from that.

Apple Watch Series 9

The other new headline feature is one Apple calls “Double Tap”, using a combination of the phone’s gyroscopes, heart rate sensors and the S9 chip to allow you to raise your hand, tap your index finger and thumb together twice and invoke specific on-watch actions.

Or at least it will be in a future watchOS update.

It’s on the developer beta as I write this review, and I’ve got a strong preference to only review complete features as a consumer might see them; there’s just too much of an escape clause (and it’s a fair call) that “beta” software might not work, but then my review states something that’s not true any more, or only has “hope” statements in it. In any case, I can’t disagree with optional software that aids in general improvements in accessibility, though I do seriously wonder how critical the S9 processor is in all of this.

You can opt for the Apple Watch Series 9 in either a straight GPS/Bluetooth connected model, or in what Apple calls “GPS+Cellular” (because Apple’s an American company), which means it can access mobile phone networks independently of a phone if your phone plan and telco supports that.

My current telco and plan doesn’t, so I’ve not gone fully hands-free with the Apple Watch Series 9, but it can be handy for simple things like Apple Pay if you don’t have your iPhone on you. In any case, there’s nothing at a specifications level that suggests it’s any different from past years.

The Apple Watch Series 9 runs on WatchOS 10, and that does bring with it a few new other software features such as the scrollable smart widget stack, fitness updates and mental health tracking through the mindfulness app.

They’re all fine features, but they’re software that’s also coming to older supported Apple Watches for the most part, so from the perspective of an existing Apple Watch owner, there’s not a big impetus to upgrade just for that.

Battery

Apple Watch Series 9

The one area where – excluding the Apple Watch Ultra – I’ve found the Apple Watch lacking in the past in a comparative sense is battery life. Prior Apple Watch generations have touted a general “up to” battery life figure of 18 hours usage.

The Apple Watch Series 9 has an upgraded processor and an even brighter screen to pull at its power. Take a wild crazy guess how long Apple reckons it’ll run for?

If you answered anything but 18 hours, you’re really not paying attention.

Based on my own testing, that’s a fair figure, though with less intense usage it is sometimes possible to stretch it a little further without having to dip into low-power mode.

Realistically, you’re still looking at recharging it every single day; if you want true multi-day Apple Watch battery life, opt for the Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Series 9: Alex’s Verdict

Apple Watch Series 9

While I’m still waiting to get hold of an Apple Watch Ultra 2 for testing, that model is for both the seriously cashed-up and/or serious endurance athletes.

The Apple Watch Series 9 is meant to be the more elegant model for everyday use, and by itself, it’s easily your best option for most iPhone users after a smart wearable, with some caveats.


I can’t quite see the sense in upgrading from an Apple Watch Series 7 or Apple Watch Series 8 if you’ve got one of those strapped to your wrist.

The Apple Watch Series 9 is nicer, yes, but it’s only incrementally nicer for most everyday functions, unless you figure you’re really going to live and die by double tap actions.

There’s just no need to upgrade an Apple Watch every single year, but anyone with an older model, or those coming to the Apple Watch for the first time will find a lot to like about the Apple Watch Series 9.

Apple Watch Series 9: Pricing and availability

Apple Watch Series 9

The Apple Watch Series 9 retails in Australia with pricing starting at $649 (41mm) or $699 (45mm), with a lot of pricing variance depending on band choice.

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