The Apple Watch Series 9 is not a radical new smartwatch in any way. It is a by-the-numbers wearable with some hardware upgrades over the Series 8. Apple’s latest smartwatch gets a faster chipset, a brighter screen, and some interesting new gesture features while keeping the design largely identical to its predecessor. This is a tried and tested process for Apple, but does it make the Series 9 worth upgrading to for existing Apple Watch users or is it more suited for first-time buyers?
Table of Contents
Design and display
No matter how closely you look at the Apple Watch Series 9, you won’t be able to tell the difference between it and the Series 8 or even the Series 7 before that. The design has largely been left unchanged, so you get the same square-shaped aluminium or stainless steel frame in 41mm and 45mm sizes. The new Pink colourway (in aluminium) is the only way to identify a Series 9 from its predecessor. Other colour options for the aluminium model include Midnight (our review unit), Starlight, Silver, and Product (Red). The stainless steel version comes in Gold, Silver, and Graphite colours.
The right side of the frame has the familiar crown and pill-shaped button on the right side and a speaker cutout on the left side. By the way, the aluminium model is made from 100 per cent recycled aluminium while the Sport Loop straps are carbon neutral and contain 45 per cent recycled content.
The Apple Watch Series 9’s display looks similar to its predecessor as well. The 45mm variant offers a decently big screen with some bezels around. It’s still not completely edge-to-edge, but one expects Apple to reduce the bezels some more in the 10th iteration. It’s a good-looking LTPO OLED display with vivid colours and inky blacks. The biggest upgrade, however, is to the brightness which has been bumped up to 2000 nits from 1000 nits. That’s a lot of brightness for a smartwatch and it does show whenever you’re under harsh sunlight.
Double-tap is a major new feature exclusive to the Apple Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2. It arrived recently with watchOS 10.1. Double-tap, at its core, is an accessibility feature that allows you to perform certain actions with just one hand. It’s meant for all those times when you just can’t use the other hand, like say, when you’re holding a cup of coffee or if you’re washing the dishes. Double-tap, as the name suggests, enables you to perform certain actions by simply tapping your thumb and index finger twice.
A version of Double-tap has existed for some time now since watchOS 8, tucked away in the Accessibility settings. The older gesture feature, called Assistive Touch, also allowed you to perform customised actions like bringing up the notification center, dock, or control center, dismissing messages, waking Siri, or other shortcuts using single pinch, double pinch, or clenching your fist. I found Assistive Touch slightly more convenient than Double-tap simply because it gives you more options to map gestures.
While AssitiveTouch is more useful, it is also more power-hungry as it uses more processing power. Double-tap, on the other hand, uses the S9 chip’s Neural Engine, which is why the feature is available only on Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2.
Double-tap in its current state allows you to perform only one action: double tap. Apple allows you to use Double-tap for stuff like playing or pausing music or bringing up the Smart Stack. It also works on other major notifications like answering or hanging up a call, stopping a timer, initiating a reply to a message notification, snoozing an alarm, and more. Double-tap, however, is set to perform the default action of that particular notification or app and cannot be customised. This means that Double-tap does not allow you to customise to dismiss a message notification instead of the default reply option or ignore a call instead of answering it by default.
I do expect Apple to add more customisability options in Double-tap in the future. While it is limited right now, it almost always works like a charm and can be a very useful feature for a lot of users.
Performance and software
Apple’s new S9 SiP (System in Package) claims to offer 30 per cent faster performance over last year’s S8 chip. It also comes with a four-core Neural Engine which is what makes it capable of enabling on-device Siri processing and the Double-tap gesture, among other things. The former means Siri can perform several basic tasks like setting reminders or alarms without requiring an active internet connection.
If you’re coming from an Apple Watch Series 7 or older model, you will notice a bump in speed during regular usage. Animations and app transitions feel fluid and there’s little to no noticeable lag when running applications. If you’re upgrading from Series 8, you might not feel a significant difference in performance. Nevertheless, Series 9 is snappy when switching between workouts, weather, or Apple Music on the go.
Coming to watchOS 10, Apple has made some tweaks here and there to make apps easily readable at a glance. Apple has also rejigged how you access the control panel and widgets. Swiping up on the main screen now brings up Smart Stack widgets while pressing the side button brings up the control panel. It took me a while to get used to this as my muscle memory tends to swipe up for the control panel. And as you would expect, watchOS 10 brings some new watch faces as well, such as Solar Analog which is quite nice and the Snoopy watch face, which is more fun than functional.
Not much has changed in the battery department. The Apple Watch Series 9 is still very much a two-day battery life on a single charge provided you use it sparingly. This gets shortened to a day and a half if you use any of the workout modes for around an hour or more. This is further reduced to a day-long battery if you have always-on display enabled. If you’re coming from a Series 7 or older Apple Watch, you will notice an improvement in battery life but don’t expect anything mind-blowing. The device takes roughly an hour to charge from zero to 100 per cent using a 30W Apple charging brick and around 1 hour and 20 minutes using a 20W adapter.
The Apple Watch Series 9 does not bring a revolutionary new design language. It looks identical to its predecessor and its predecessor’s predecessor, so you know what to expect here. The S9 SiP makes the smartwatch snappier than ever, while the battery life sees a marginal improvement. Arguably the biggest upgrade you get is the new double-tap, which feels like a feature that is only going to get better going forward. That said, this one feature might not be worth upgrading to from a Series 8 or a Series 7.
While last year’s Apple Watch SE is a more affordable option for those on a budget, Series 9 offers a complete smartwatch experience combined with a bigger display and faster chipset. It is ideal for first-time Apple Watch owners who want the latest features, including double-tap, without having to go the Ultra route. That said, if you were hoping for an Apple Watch with a newer design and more upgrades, you’ll probably be better off waiting for next year’s model.
Editor’s rating: 8 / 10
- Snappy performance
- Double-tap feature is convenient
- Bright and attractive display
- Battery life hasn’t improved much
- Design is largely unchanged