If you’re looking to get an Apple Watch this year (and you’re not interested in the premium Ultra or affordable SE series), you’re likely asking yourself this question: Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8 – which is better?
From the outset, they’re very similar smartwatches, which can make parsing the differences between them quite challenging. Like all the best Apple Watches, they both use the same operating system, watchOS 10. They look pretty much identical, and their battery life is the same.
But there are some key differences you need to know about when looking to buy one of Apple’s best smartwatches, and we’ve broken it all down below so you can tell whether it’s worth investing in Apple’s latest or you’d be better off with last year’s model.
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8: Price and availability
The Apple Watch Series 9 is available at every outlet you can find Apple Watches worldwide, including from Apple’s own online store. The watch comes in 41mm and 45mm screen sizes, with aluminium and stainless steel case options.
The Series 9 starts at $399 / £399 / AU$ 649 for the 41mm aluminium model without cellular connectivity, but like all Apple Watches, each additional feature – whether you want to go up to the 45mm size or get a cellular model capable of accessing the internet – ends up costing you more. For example, a 45mm version of the watch above, with an aluminium case and no cellular, will cost $429 / £429 / AU$ 699 instead of the cheaper price.
The Series 8 started at a similar price point, $399 / £419 / AU$ 629 for a 41mm with no cellular when it was launched last year. However, although Apple has now stopped selling it, as it does every year when a new one is released, you can frequently find cheap Apple Watch deals on older models that you don’t get on new arrivals – especially during the Black Friday deals. For me, that cheaper price trumps the Series 9, especially as the two watches are so similar.
Winner: Apple Watch Series 8 (it's cheaper, after all)
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8: Specifications
|Header Cell - Column 0||Apple Watch Series 9||Apple Watch Series 8|
|Sizes||41mm, 45mm||41mm, 45mm|
|Weight||32.1g (aluminum 41mm)||32.2g (aluminum 41mm)|
|Case and bezel||Aluminium or stainless steel||Aluminium or stainless steel|
|Display||Always-On Retina OLED display, up to 2,000 nits||Always-On Retina OLED display, up to 1,000 nits|
|Chipset||S9 SiP, 64-bit dual-core||S8 SiP, 64-bit dual-core|
|Battery life||18 hours||18 hours|
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8: Design and build quality
Design-wise, both watches are very similar, with the same sizes, materials made during construction, and similar colourways. The old Midnight/Starlight/Product Red list of options in aluminium rears its head again this year, with other premium metallic options available in the more expensive, specialist stainless steel and Hermes editions. A new colour has been added to the standard aluminium version of the Series 9, pink, which is sure to be a hit with anyone who has seen Barbie more than once.
Another key design difference is the straps available and the materials used. The Series 9 boasts Apple’s first ‘carbon neutral’ label, signifying that when you combine the watch with some of its straps, both of which are made in environmentally-conscious ways, the product is said to be fully carbon neutral in its approach. There are no (first-party) leather straps available for the watch either, and the Sport, Trail and Alpine loops are made partially from recycled material. The aluminium used in the watch itself is 100% recycled.
It’s certainly a great marketing move, and we’d all like to think of ourselves as more eco-conscious for buying one. The shift towards increasingly eco-friendly materials used during construction has made no dent in the build quality, which is as excellent as ever and more or less identical to the Series 8. While the Series 8 doesn’t have the Series 9’s green credentials, it does offer the same excellent design, with the side button incorporated flush into the casing and the protruding digital crown allowing you to scroll through your Smart Stack with ease.
Other than the materials used, the design is more or less the same when it comes to build and looks. Apple hasn’t reinvented the wheel here: it’s still good, and I don’t think you could tell a Series 8 from a Series 9 at first glance. The only other difference to note is the screen; whereas the Apple Watch Series 8 was limited to a 1,000-nit brightness, the Series 9 has the capacity to crank it up to 2,000. In my experience, this sort of brightness is rarely needed, even in direct sunlight, but it’s nice to have the option.
Winner: Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8: Features
The Apple Watch Series 9 shares all the features of the Series 8, including Siri, ECG scans, a skin temperature sensor for improved sleep and cycle tracks, a US Food and Drug Administration-approved AFib History feature to better monitor heart health and all the bells and whistles afforded to you by the watchOS 10 operating system, such as the new Smart Stack system of widgets.
However, the Apple Watch Series 9 adds a few new tricks as a result of its new S9 chip. The biggest feature is Double Tap, which allows you to operate the watch by raising your wrist and pinching your thumb and forefinger twice. It activates the “main” function of any complication currently open, such as scrolling through widgets, dismissing a timer, or playing/pausing a song.
If you have an iPhone 15, the Series 9’s new chip and the iPhone 15 share Ultra Wideband technology, allowing them to interact via an improved Find Devices feature. Instead of just having your phone play a sound when you’ve lost it, the Series 9 can tell you how many feet away from the iPhone 15 you are and what direction it’s in. The number of feet updates in real-time as you move towards it, like the easiest game of Marco Polo ever. It’s a feature that will become more prevalent as more Ultra Wideband-enabled iPhones are released in subsequent years, making the Series 9 a good “future-proof” option.
Siri now lives on your device and doesn’t send your requests to the cloud, making the smart assistant faster than ever. It also allows Siri to process health requests such as “tell me about my cycle tracking this month”, as Apple is rightly keen to ensure your health data stays on-device and, if it is shared, is anonymized and encrypted.
Winner: Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8: Battery life
The Apple Watch’s Achilles’ heel, battery life remains 18 hours for both Series 9 and Series 8 models. In practice, most people tend to better this figure and get 20-21 hours out of a watch, provided they’re not power users or extensively using the GPS for running or cycling workouts, which tend to drain the battery faster.
However, trying to make use of the sleep tracking features and waking up to a dead or critically low battery will always be an annoyance for me. I hoped for an improvement in the Apple Watch Series 9, but I didn’t get it.
Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8: Verdict
Which is better: the Apple Watch Series 9 vs the Apple Watch Series 8? From a features and specifications perspective, clearly the Series 9. It has more tools than the Series 8, it’s made in a more environmentally friendly way, and it has the useful new Double Tap feature. It allows you to interact with Siri in a new way, Siri itself is faster, and the use of Ultra Wideband technology effectively future-proofs it in case you want to upgrade to a more recent iPhone in a year or two.
Which is better value? The Series 8. You’re far more likely to get a good deal on an older smartwatch, and none of the features mentioned above drastically change your experience using the watch day to day – with the possible exception of Double Tap. If you don’t mind skipping that feature, the Series 8 is virtually identical in performance, design and battery life to the Series 9, and the better buy if you care about saving money.
If your budget can stretch to purchasing a new device at full price, the Series 9 is the watch to go for. Strapped for cash? Opt for the Series 8, or look into buying an even cheaper Apple Watch SE 2.