The Apple Watch Series 9 is a fantastic smartwatch for iPhone users. It’s full of sensors, excellent software and high-end hardware. A redesign, or a least a freshening up of this near decade-old design wouldn’t go amiss in the future though.
- Certain models made from recycled aluminium
- Faster Siri
- Accurate tracking
- Very bright screen
- Design remains the same
- Health data needs to be shown better
- New chipUpdated chipset offer on-device processing of Siri requests and more
- Carbon neutral optionsCertain body and strap versions of the Series are carbon neutral
- Gesture controlDouble Tap gesture allows control with finger and thumb
Another year, another Apple Watch, but does the Apple Watch 9 offer enough new ideas to make it worth the upgrade?
Launched alongside the iPhone 15, the iPhone 15 Pro and the sportier Apple Watch Ultra 2, the Apple Watch Series 9 will be familiar to anyone who used one of the wearables in the eight years since its debut.
There’s no huge revolution this year, which likely won’t come as a surprise as Apple has far been quite reticent to mess around with the formula too much. Instead, there’s a smattering of changes that point to where the Apple Watch is heading.
The big question is: is this still the best smartwatch that iPhone owners can buy?
Design and Screen
- Certain models are now carbon neutral
- Pink, Midnight, Starlight, Silver and Red colour options
- Very bright screen
I have reviewed every single Apple Watch for the past five years and the Series 9 feels like the most iterative in terms of visual design changes. On the surface, this is the same Apple Watch, featuring a curved screen, a rounded body and 41mm and 45mm size options.
There is a new pink hue for the aluminium model which pairs nicely with the matching iPhone 15, and then the same colour collection we had with the Series 8, including Midnight (pictured), Starlight, Silver and Red. Plump for the pricier stainless steel model and there’s a choice of Gold, Silver or Graphite.
It remains a very good-looking wearable, even if Apple refuses to mirror Samsung and Huawei by keeping the Apple Watch’s design very different to that of a traditional watch. There are persistent rumours that the Apple Watch Series 10 or Series X which should arrive in 2024, will be a reinvention of the design, just like how the iPhone X took Apple’s flagship phone series in a completely new visual direction.
As much as I like the look of the Apple Watch Series 9, it is crying out for a rethink. This shape has been around since the very first Apple Watch debuted and there are certain tweaks that would make it feel a touch more modern.
The Action Button, for example, from the Apple Watch Ultra would be a welcome addition for adding quick access to more tasks without delving into menus. I really like being able to start a workout, and then interact with that workout, all with one button.
There are some very important changes with the design and materials used though, and these point to a positive future not just for the Apple Watch but for other Apple products too.
Certain combinations of the aluminium version of the Apple Watch Series 9 are carbon neutral. Pair the 100% recycled aluminium Watch with the new recycled Sport Loop or one of the Pride or Unity bands and you’ve got the most environmentally friendly Apple Watch yet. A fantastic step in the right direction. The box the Watch comes in is smaller too, and free of single-use plastic.
The display on the Apple Watch Series 9 is great, if very similar to what has been present in previous few generations. Apple says it’s both brighter and dimmer than before, and you can definitely tell the difference by putting the Series 9 next to the Series 8. The newer model is noticeably brighter and at night it gets a lot dimmer – great if you forget to put it into sleep mode before bed.
If you plan to use the Apple Watch Series 9 in brighter conditions, or you feel the previous screen didn’t get quite dark enough, then the display updates will be of benefit.
The covering of the display varies between the two models. The standard aluminium model has an ion-X strengthened glass display, while the stainless steel swaps that for a sapphire crystal. I have always found the ion-X glass very durable, with nothing more than a few scratches picked up over the course of a year.
All Apple Watch models are water resistant, with the Series 9 tested to depths of 50m making it a good choice for swimmers. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 ups that to 100m, making it a better choice for divers.
Performance and Software
- Updated S9 chip makes notable improvements
- Gesture controls are welcome, if limited
While the last few Apple Watch versions have received new chips, the new chipset inside the Series 9 represents the first meaningful performance updates seen in a good few years. Apple has claimed that the S9 chip has a 30% faster GPU and it now includes four neural engine cores.
Those neural engine cores allow a lot of machine learning tasks to be handled on the wearable itself, rather than needing to send the data to the cloud first. As a result, any Siri request that doesn’t require outside knowledge – think setting a timer or an alarm – is all done on the watch and can be done offline. Siri is much faster and more responsive as a result.
Not having to send data to the cloud will allow Siri to show you Health data, however this isn’t available yet at the time of review.
Another feature introduced due to the skills of the S9 is an improved Double Tap gesture. By tapping a finger and thumb together twice, this new gesture allows basic navigation through watchOS 10.1.
It’s handy to flip through the new widget stack, though you can’t really open apps or use it with third-party services. I can see double tap and other gestures being a lot more prominent in the future of the Apple Watch.
Fitness and Health Tracking
- Plenty of accurate sensors
- A lot of data collected
- Various health features included too
Without any notable hardware additions to the Series 9’s tracking arsenal, the wearable’s prowess remains very much the same as before. That’s not a slight on the device as Apple has really improved the sensor array and added vast amounts of fitness, health and wellbeing features in the past few years.
The Series 8’s focus on getting you out of mortal peril remains, with SOS satellite and car crash detection sticking around. Thankfully I haven’t had to make use of either, but I’d be happy they were there if I ever did.
There’s an ECG app, heart rate, temperature and blood oxygen sensors and GPS too – although it’s not the same multiband GNSS found on the Apple Watch Ultra 2. Still, I’ve found the GPS to be very accurate – this has always been the case – even if it’s not quite as precise as Apple’s higher-end watch. The heart rate sensor is equally as accurate and will alert if the rate drops or rises too much.
The temperature sensor is used mainly for female cycle tracking and it is able to give ovulation date estimates. It can also screen for serious conditions. This was a fantastic inclusion when it arrived with the Series 8 and remains welcome here.
When it comes to collecting the data from the various sensors, the Apple Watch Series 9 is hit-and-miss. It’s great for some things, like the way it makes it very easy to see and visualise your daily move targets. There’s also a huge array of workout options, including some additional ones focussed on cycling that have been added with watchOS 10.
However, the Apple Watch is starting to feel a little outdated in the way it shows your data. A lot of stuff is simply delivered as raw data into the iPhone Health app. For instance, I can see my sleep metrics but there are no hints, tips or contextual information on how to make it better. It’s the same for resting heart rate, too. I’d love to see this Health app get a real refresh in the future, turning all this data collected by the Apple Watch into something far more useful.
This is a great wearable for casual use. If you want real actionable analysis and recovery information, it’s not for you though. Any of the best Garmin watches do a much better job at that.
- The same battery life as just about every other Apple Watch
- Included cable, no plug
- A full charge can be achieved in an hour
Even with the addition of the new chipset, the Apple Watch Series 9 has very similar overall battery life to the Series 8, which had basically the same battery life as the Series 7 and the Series 6. You get the picture.
Apple has always focused on a single day of battery life (or 18-hours as it calls it), trying to avoid wavering even with the addition of new screen tech, extra features and additional workout modes. It’s a shame that battery tech hasn’t moved on enough in the past few years to the point where multi-day use is a given.
I’ve always found surpassing that 18-hour claim to be easy, especially with general use. During the review process, my day would typically consist of a short workout, then notifications throughout the day and then sleep tracking at night. I didn’t finish any day with less than 30%, so plenty in the tank to keep an eye on my slumber.
The battery will deplete faster if you track longer workouts and while there is a Low Power Mode, I always found this to remove too many features. Turning off the always-on display, for instance, can add an extra hour – but the trade-off just isn’t worth it for how I use the watch.
If you’re like me and use the Apple Watch Series 9 to track sleep, then charging becomes a morning ritual. It’s welcome then that with the included USB-C to magnetic puck charger, a full battery is achieved in under an hour. A 10-minute charge will juice the watch up around 20%, enough to track a night of sleep. If you’ve got an iPhone 15 you can also use that as a wired charger.
Should you buy it?
You the best all-round smartwatch for iPhone
The Apple Watch Series 9 is the best smartwatch for iPhone users. It’s more affordable than the Ultra and is packed with health and fitness features.
You want in-depth feedback from your activities
A lot of the data generated by the watch sits in the Health app. If you know what to do with it then great – but it would be much better if the Watch made it easier to work out how to improve your activity through the use of this data.
The Apple Watch Series 9 is an excellent smartwatch, both for those who want a fitness companion and others who just want an expansion of the iPhone.
Feature-wise, the Series 9 doesn’t have much to tempt those who have updated in recent years, but importantly it does tease and introduce aspects I am sure will become important in coming iterations. The switch to a more sustainable build, a focus on gesture control and a more useful Siri are all fine examples of features that will be the basis for the next decade of Apple Watch.
There are rumours of a big redesign coming next year, possibly an iPhone X-style rethink, but if you don’t have an Apple Watch then this is a solid choice that’ll last for years to come.
The design is iconic, if a little long in the tooth, and there’s a fantastic selection of features from accurate workout tracking to fast performance and not to mention the best array of watch faces on any smartwatch.
If you’ve got an iPhone, want a smartwatch and don’t have the spare cash for the more modern feeling Apple Watch Ultra 2 then the Apple Watch Series 9 is easy to recommend.
How we test
We thoroughly test every fitness tracker we review. We use industry standard testing to compare features properly and we use the watch as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Compared against rival devices
Heart rate data compared against dedicated heart rate trackers
Worn as our main tracker during the testing period
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Yes, a magnetic USB-C cable is included, however you’ll need to provide your own plug.