Apple Watch Series 9 review: why you should buy it right now
Apple Watch Series 9
“The Apple Watch Series 9’s 24/7 comfort, extensive features, fast performance, and seamless integration with the iPhone make it a must-buy — but not a must-upgrade.”
- Supreme 24/7 comfort
- Choice of size, color, and bands
- Extensive health, fitness, and safety features
- Fast, smooth, and usable performance
- Total, easy integration with the iPhone
- Double Tap not available yet
- Less than two days battery life with moderate use
- Almost no reason to upgrade from previous version
The Apple Watch Series 9 is the perfect introduction to the world of Apple’s superb smartwatches, as not only does it follow the winning formula of previous models, but it’s also only going to get better over the coming months.
If this appears very carefully worded, then well-spotted. Some key phrases hint at several very important things to understand about the Apple Watch Series 9 before you buy it. Here’s what you need to know.
Apple Watch Series 9: familiar brilliant design
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Apple Watch Series 9 comes in 45mm or 41mm case sizes, and there’s a choice of aluminum or stainless steel. It is 10.7mm thick and has an IP6X dust resistance rating plus 50 meters water resistance, weighs somewhere around 32 and 39 grams depending on the model, and is compatible with a host of different bands. That’s right, it looks and feels almost exactly the same as the Apple Watch Series 8.
This isn’t terrible, as the Series 8 is one of the most comfortable, best-designed, and most recognizable smartwatches ever made, so the fact the sequel is the same isn’t a crime. Some will bemoan the “lack of innovation,” but often what they really mean is, “Why doesn’t it look different?” Thankfully, Apple understands the value of staying with a design that works so well instead of adopting a change-for-change’s-sake.
The fact the Apple Watch Series 9 repeats the Series 8 and Apple Watch Series 7’s formula means two things: if you liked either of those smartwatches, you’ll like the Series 9. If you hate either of those smartwatches, the Apple Watch Series 9 won’t change your mind. But to hate it based on looks is to be willfully contrary, as the Apple Watch is almost perfect in its fit, shape, and weight. It’s the most wearable smartwatch there is, and it’s also a whole lot more comfortable and wearable for long periods of time than many traditional non-smartwatches.
The rectangular shape won’t be for everyone, but it’s impossible to deny that it hasn’t risen to iconic status. Brands known for creative designs (including Casio, which makes watches for everyone, to H.Moser & Cie, which does not) have emulated the Apple Watch’s look. Apple isn’t breaking new ground with the Series 9’s design because it doesn’t have to. If you want a smartwatch you can wear all day and night without it becoming bothersome yet still acceptable in style regardless of what you’re wearing, then the Apple Watch is for you. The Apple Watch Series 9 is also notable for being Apple’s first carbon-neutral product, provided you buy the aluminum version with a Sport Loop band.
There is a wider choice of colors for the Apple Watch Series 9, starting with the Midnight version in our photos and moving on to the brighter Starlight, silver, gold, Graphite, Product Red, or pink version. Apple has binned its leather bands in favor of its new FineWoven material, which is found on the Modern Buckle and Magnetic Link bands. I’ve been wearing the Series 9 with the new Nike Sport Band in Desert Stone, and it’s wonderfully soft and flexible. It’s ideal for all-day, everyday wear and suitably jazzes up the simple Midnight case color.
I think this is the biggest thing to understand about the Apple Watch Series 9 if you’ve never worn one before. When you put it on, there will never be a reason to take it off due to comfort issues, and considering all the benefits that come from wearing it, this is a very big deal. The fact it comes in two sizes, various colors and finishes, and a wealth of bands to truly customize it to your own liking means you want to wear it too. The Apple Watch’s all-around excellent design, from both a comfort and style viewpoint, is what truly sets it apart from so many of its competitors.
Apple Watch Series 9: what about Double Tap?
Before I go into the rest of the Apple Watch Series 9, it’s best to talk about the Double Tap feature. It’s the ability to control aspects of the watch, from enabling dictation in message replies to stopping a timer using only a two-finger pinch gesture. Apple talked about it extensively when it first showed the Series 9 to the public, but it’s not available on the smartwatch yet. It’s apparently coming in a software update (likely watchOS 10.1) during October.
This means I cannot test it at the moment, which is disappointing, particularly as it’s one of the prime differences between the Series 8 and Series 9 and was pushed so hard at launch. I have no reason to think it won’t arrive in the near future or that it won’t be very good when it does, as Apple is basing it on an established accessibility feature that is shockingly effective.
However, this only compounds how baffling it is to me, and embarrassing for Apple, that Double Tap isn’t on the Apple Watch yet. When Double Tap does arrive, I’ll revisit this review, but until then, be aware no matter how frantic your pinching gestures are, they will currently do absolutely nothing at all when wearing the Apple Watch Series 9.
Apple Watch Series 9: watchOS 10 brings big changes
Out of the box, the Apple Watch Series 9 runs watchOS 10, which is also available for the Apple Watch Series 8, Series 7, and various other Apple Watch models. It includes the most meaningful design and operational change we’ve seen for a while, as twisting the Digital Crown and pressing the button do different things than before, and even swiping up on the screen does something new too. It means anyone familiar with watchOS will almost certainly find controls have moved, and muscle memory will need retraining.
It has taken me a while to adjust to the new system, but I’m not sure it’s better than before, just different. The reason for the alteration seems to primarily be to make way for the Smart Stack, which repeats the multi-widget option of the same name in iOS, and various somewhat informative cards appear when you twist the Digital Crown. To switch between open apps now needs a double press of the Digital Crown, which is a bit of a pain as it often prioritizes showing the app menu, as the Control Center is now behind a single press of the lower button.
These changes, along with alterations like the apps being scrolled through vertically instead of a 360-degree view, all make watchOS 10 feel quite different from before. At the moment, I can’t say I’ve found much use for the Smart Stack feature, which instigated this new way of navigating and controlling the Apple Watch. However, the great speed and fluidity of watchOS remain, and that makes it so pleasant to use. It’s also perfectly tailored to use on your wrist, as all the buttons are easy to interact with or tap, instructions are clear, and fonts and icons are always sensibly designed and sized.
One feature that has taken me by surprise is Siri. I’ve largely forgotten about Apple’s virtual assistant over the years, prompted by Apple’s ambivalence towards it, but now that it processes a lot of its commands on the Apple Watch itself (aided by the new S9 chip and its faster Neural Engine), Siri responds and acts almost instantaneously. My virtual assistant requirements are basic, but I’ve found Siri faster and more reliable than Google Assistant on my Google Pixel Tablet for tasks like setting timers and turning on lights. It hasn’t failed to recognize what I’ve said yet, either. If, like me, you’ve ignored Siri for a while, it’s time to get reacquainted with it the Apple Watch Series 9.
One other thing to note is I’ve felt a difference between the haptic alerts on the Series 9 and the Series 8, with a more “clicky” and less “full” sensation than the soft-yet-deep alerts I was used to. I’ve found it necessary to increase the alert intensity to “prominent” from the default to better replicate the Series 8’s wonderfully tactile haptics.
It’s not a negative change, but I noticed the instant I put the Apple Watch Series 9 on. Apple has not mentioned any hardware changes that would bring this about, so it may be watchOS 10-related. Don’t let it put you off, though.
Apple Watch Series 9: screen and Snoopy
The size of the Apple Watch Series 9’s OLED screen is the same as the Series 8, but it has a maximum brightness of 2,000 nits and the ability to drop to one nit on the always-on display. In the mostly overcast U.K., where I’ve been testing the Series 9, the screen has not felt it necessary to boost the brightness outside, but I’ve had no problem seeing the screen at all times, regardless.
Actually, this isn’t quite true. The Apple Watch Series 9 (or watchOS 10, I’m not sure which is the culprit) has a habit of randomly dropping the brightness to a very low level, leaving you squinting to see anything. It’s frustrating because you have to go to the Display and Brightness menu to increase the brightness to a normal level. It doesn’t happen all the time, which makes me think it’s a software thing, and it should be cured in a future update.
Apple’s Snoopy watch faces are joyous creations.
Now, let’s talk about Snoopy. You may have passed Snoopy on the Apple Watch by, thinking it’s just another basic cute watch face like the Toy Story or Mickey Mouse ones. But it’s way more than that. The watch face isn’t just one watch face; it’s dozens, as the animation dramatically changes every time you raise your wrist. Each has been lovingly created and matches the Peanuts theme, right down to the names given to the watch face colors, which include Blanket Blue, Woodstock Yellow, and Doghouse Red.
So often smartwatches aren’t much fun, and the watch faces disappointing, but Apple’s Snoopy watch faces are joyous creations, and what’s more, the character (along with many others from the world of Peanuts) have a long horological history, with Timex, Seiko, Swatch, Bamford, and Omega all adopting the famous beagle for use on a watch. Apple’s nod to this, the timeless nature of the characters, and how the fun animations manage to make me smile even on a dreary day means Snoopy is a wonderful addition to the Apple Watch.
The Snoopy watch face is part of watchOS 10, so it’s available on any Apple Watch that runs the software, not just the Series 9. The fact I’ve written two paragraphs about Snoopy should tell you what to expect from the new Apple Watch’s screen: it’s basically the same as the last one, and the aspect that got me most excited is a watch face available on pretty much any recent Apple Watch.
Apple Watch Series 9: health and fitness tracking
The sensor array on the back of the Apple Watch Series 9 is the same one found on the Series 8, so it will still measure your heart rate and blood oxygen levels, take an electrocardiogram, and measure skin temperature for sleep and cycle tracking. There are dozens of workouts to track using the Apple Watch, and data appears on the screen. And with some workouts, such as cycling, you also see a Live Activity on your iPhone.
New features come with watchOS 10 rather than the Apple Watch Series 9 itself, with Apple enhancing its cycling mode with Power Zones and compatibility with Bluetooth accessories. Hikers can use the Compass app to see elevation changes, and certain regions now have topographic maps. WatchOS 10 and the Apple Watch Series 9 also have an incredible suite of health and safety features — including crash and fall detection, hearing protection, information on the amount of time you spend outside in the sun, and emergency SOS calls, along with medication reminders and new mindfulness sessions. I don’t want to use any of them, but I love that they are there.
Wear the Apple Watch Series 9 overnight (which is no problem to do at all), and it will track your sleep. Data-wise, it’s fairly close to the results I get from the Oura Ring, but it does not go into much detail about the state of your sleep or how to improve it. I’ll talk about battery life in a while, but the trade-off of tracking sleep and its impact on battery life is perhaps not worth it. Like Double Tap, another feature coming soon is Siri’s ability to relay health data when you ask for it, which is performed on the watch and not in the cloud to ease privacy concerns.
All this means tracking your health and fitness with the Apple Watch Series 9 is very much like doing so on the Series 8 and the Series 7. Apple is working to make the platform more powerful, starting with its cycling updates, but the Apple Watch remains ideally suited to the regular exerciser interested in fitness rather than the hardcore fanatic. It’s also brilliant for the casual exerciser, the camp into which I fall.
Why? It’s all so easy. It takes moments to start tracking, auto-tracking is reliable, the layout is informative and logical, so you’re never looking for controls or data, and I find the simple, attractive, and fun “Rings” system for daily goals motivational. Data is split between the Health and Fitness apps on your iPhone, which is frustrating, and the Health app, in particular, is very dense and irritating to sift through. But if you want to track a few walks, runs, HIIT sessions, or a round of golf, it’s all very easy to do, and the clear Rings display makes sure you’re always aware of your progress.
There’s a little more depth to the Apple Watch Series 9’s fitness system if you want it, but don’t expect it to advise much on how to improve outside of suggesting you subscribe to Apple’s Fitness+. If the Series 9 isn’t quite enough for you, the Apple Watch Ultra or Apple Watch Ultra 2 has the battery life, activity-specific features, and added durability you may require. If serious running, cycling, swimming, or anything like a triathlon is your thing, then Garmin’s range of smartwatches (such as the Garmin Forerunner 265 or Garmin Epix Pro Gen 2) should be considered instead.
Apple Watch Series 9: performance and battery life
The Apple Watch Series 9 uses Apple’s new S9 dual-core System-in-Package (SiP), which is based on the A16 Bionic processor and then optimized for the Apple Watch. The new Neural Engine enables Siri’s on-device processing and, when it arrives, Double Tap. Apple’s claim of the Series 9 being 30% faster than the Series 8 seems accurate, as when I wore them back-to-back, it was just that bit snappier and faster to react. However, the Apple Watch Series 8 isn’t slow by any means, so in the real world, I can’t imagine this changing your use in any meaningful way.
Inside the Apple Watch Series 9 is the new U2 Ultra Wideband chip, which brings smart, location-based HomePod control, and the Precision Finding feature so you can exactly locate a lost iPhone 15 model. Bizarrely, Precision Finding isn’t part of the Find My app on the Apple Watch and is instead found in the Control Panel when you force the Apple Watch to ring your lost phone. It’s very easy to use once you have figured out where to find it, and it has always located my iPhone reliably.
I’m a little over a week into using the Apple Watch Series 9 and have so far found the battery life to be comparable to the Series 8. Two full days is possible (but only just) if you don’t track any workouts or sleep. Add these, or if you use energy-intensive apps like Maps, the Apple Watch will be out of power by late afternoon or early evening of the second day.
A basic day of use wearing the Apple Watch Series 9, including a single 30-minute workout with GPS (which takes about 5% battery life on its own), means the battery is at around 50% by the time I go to bed. Wear the Apple Watch overnight, and it depletes by between 15% and 20%, leaving you with little choice but to recharge it before the end of the next work day or first thing in the morning. Apple states the Series 9’s battery will last for 36 hours using Low Power Mode.
The Apple Watch is recharged by placing it on a special magnetic puck, but it is not compatible with a MagSafe puck used to recharge your iPhone.
Apple Watch Series 9: price and availability
The 41mm Apple Watch Series 9 with Wi-Fi and GPS starts at $399 or $429 for the 45mm model, and the price increases by $100 if you want to include a cellular connection. Prices also vary depending on the band you specify, with anything other than the Sport Band or Sport Loop costing extra. The stainless steel model, which is otherwise identical to the aluminum version, starts at $699.
In the U.K., the Apple Watch Series 9 starts at 399 British points for the 41mm Wi-Fi and GPS version and 429 pounds for the 45mm Wi-Fi/GPS model. If you require a cellular connection, add 100 pounds to these prices. The stainless steel Apple Watch Series 9 starts at 699 pounds.
If, for some reason, you don’t want to use an Apple Watch with your iPhone, what other choices are there? Samsung’s Galaxy smartwatches don’t work with iOS, but some other Wear OS smartwatches do — including the Tag Heuer Connected Calibre E4 range, but you’ll be paying around $2,000 for one of these. Huawei’s smartwatches, such as the recent Watch GT 4, are cheaper at less than $300 and a surprisingly good pairing with iOS, but you will need to accept many features — including Message support and interactive notifications — won’t work.
Alternatively, dedicated fitness watches like the Garmin Forerunner 265 and Garmin Vivomove Trend will suit those more focused on health and workouts. The Withings ScanWatch 2’s hybrid design goes in a different direction and will appeal to anyone who doesn’t want to be overwhelmed with notifications or deal with a full touchscreen. We’d also suggest looking at a Casio G-Shock GBD-200, DW-H5600, or GBD-H2000 if a more traditional watch with connected features appeals.
Apple Watch Series 9: verdict
I have the feeling I’ve said this a few times before, but if you own an iPhone and want a smartwatch, buy the Apple Watch. It’s by far the best smartwatch for your phone. If it’s your first Apple Watch, you’re going to adore the Series 9. However, as of this moment, you could buy an Apple Watch Series 8 and have an almost identical experience to the Series 9 — largely due to Double Tap and Siri Health Suggestions not being available yet.
But even when they do arrive, I’m not sure they’ll have what it takes to transform the Apple Watch Series 9 into a must-have upgrade from the Series 8. If you already own last year’s Apple Watch or the Series 7, keep hold it it for now. The Apple Watch Series 9 is a brilliant smartwatch, but it’s important to understand a lot of its brilliance comes from watchOS 10, and you can get that on all Apple Watch models after the Apple Watch Series 4.
Perhaps more than ever before, the Apple Watch Series 9 is best suited to newcomers to Apple’s smartwatches rather than an essential upgrade for anyone who has already bought one in the last three or four years. I want to restate how excellent the Apple Watch is, how seamlessly it fits into my life, and how much I recommend you buy one. But I also want to make it clear how I felt exactly the same about the Series 8 when I wore it again ahead of the Series 9’s launch.
Here’s my conclusion: buy the Apple Watch Series 9 right now, provided you haven’t put an Apple Watch on your wrist before. Just think very carefully before doing so if you already own an Apple Watch Series 5 or later.