I don't understand people, especially tech journalists, and especially those tech journalists who criticise the new Apple Watch Series 9, the subject of this review, for being only a minor upgrade over its predecessor. Besides looking very similar without the screen turned on, the Series 9 is a very different smartwatch. It's faster, brighter, and features no previous generation Apple Watches will be able to get. What more do you want?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Apple announced the latest generation mainline Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Series 9, along with the Apple Watch Ultra 2, at the annual Apple event in Cupertino, California. We knew the Series 9 was coming, but we weren't sure what changes we'd see, which isn't that unusual, as Apple never discloses this information ahead of the reveal.
When the latest iteration of Apple Watches was revealed, everyone said the same: 'Oh, the battery life is still 18 hours' and 'It looks the same as the Series 8'. Guess what? Both of these statements are true. However, that's not the point. Clearly, the short battery life doesn't deter people, considering the Apple Watch is by far the most popular wearable in the world.
The more important questions we need to ask are: is the Apple Watch Series 9 the best Apple Watch? Moreover, is it the best smartwatch? How much better is it compared to the Apple Watch Series 8 (our in-depth comparison can be found here: Apple Watch Series 9 vs Apple Watch Series 8)? I've been testing the Series 9 for a bit, and I believe I'm ready to answer those questions. Let's get going.
[First reviewed October 2023]
Apple Watch Series 9 review
Apple Watch Series 9 review: Price and availability
The Apple Watch Series 9 was announced in September 2023 and is available now directly from Apple UK, Apple US and Apple AU, with prices from £399/ $399/ AU$ 649. You can choose between the aluminium and steel versions, although the latter is only available in the GPS + Cellular version, which is more expensive than the non-LTE variety. Prices for the steel Apple Watch Series 9 start from £699/ $699/ AU$ 1,199 for the smaller 41 mm version.
The aluminium version is available in Midnight, Starlight, Silver, and Product Red colours, as well as the new Pink colourway. The steel version is available in three colours: Gold, Silver and Graphite. Both material choices come in two sizes, 41 mm and 45 mm, just like the Series 8.
Speaking of the Apple Watch Series 8, the recommended retail price of the watch was £419/ $399/ AU$ 629, so the price in the UK went down, while in AU, there is a small price bump. The US price hasn't changed for a while, although it's worth mentioning that the $399 is the before-tax price, so it's not what you pay in the shops for the wearables. Apple only states this price, as states have different tax regulations.
I tested the 45 mm aluminium GPS + LTE version in the Midnight finish.
Apple Watch Series 9 review: Specifications
- Sizes: 41mm/ 45mm
- Case materials: Aluminium or stainless steel with a ceramic and sapphire crystal back
- Display: Ion-X glass (Aluminum) Sapphire crystal (Stainless Steel) Always-On Retina LTPO OLED display, up to 2000 nits active brightness (down to 1 nit in Sleep Focus), 352 x 430 pixels (41 mm)/ 396 x 484 pixels (45 mm)
- Bezel size: 1.7 mm
- Processor: S9 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor, 4-core Neural Engine, Second-generation Ultra-Wideband chip
- Battery: up to 18 hours (up to 36 hours in Low Power Mode)
- Charging: Up to 80 per cent charge in about 45 minutes
- Durability: WR50 (swim-proof), Dustproof (IP6X), crack-resistant front glass
- Weight (case): 32.1g/39.0g (Aluminum), 42.3g/51.5g (Stainless Steel)
- Connectivity: LTE and UMTS, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz, 5GHz, Bluetooth 5.3
- Storage: 64GB
Apple Watch Series 9 review: design and build quality
- Same form factor
- Brighter display
- New processor
You'll see this in every Apple Watch Series 9 review, but it's true that the new watch is the spitting image of the Series 8 and, therefore, the Apple Watch Series 7. It comes in the same two sizes, the same case material options (aluminium and steel) and more or less in the same colours, apart from the new Pink colourway, which actually is really pretty.
However, once you start looking a bit more closely, you'll discover just how different the new watch is. For starters, the Always-On Retina LTPO OLED display is far brighter than before and has a broader brightness range (1-2,000 nits). The max brightness of the Series 8 was only 1,000 nits, which is not too shabby, but the new watch is as bright as the original Apple Watch Ultra, which is extremely easy to read in broad daylight, let me tell you.
The resolution stayed the same – 352 x 430 pixels (41 mm)/ 396 x 484 pixels (45 mm) – and so did the border, which is 1.7 mm. The Apple Watch Series 9 weighs 32.1g/ 39g (Aluminum) or 42.3g/ 51.5g (Stainless Steel) and is built to the same durability standards as its predecessor, which is WR50 (swim-proof), dustproof (IP6X), with crack-resistant front glass.
Another exciting new hardware update is the S9 SiP, which allows the Series 9 to perform tasks much faster as well as unlocking features we haven't seen in other Apple Watches, such as Double Tap and offline Siri. The new S9 SiP is said to be Apple's most powerful Apple Watch chip ever, with a dual-core CPU that has 5.6 billion transistors – 60 per cent more than the Apple Watch Series 8 – and a GPU that is up to 30 per cent faster.
The new second-generation Ultra-Wideband chip also enables the wearable to use Precision Finding for iPhone. However, you can only use this feature with iPhones using the same second-generation Ultra-Wideband chip, so iPhone 15 or up.
One big-big update is the carbon-neutral certification of the watch if you buy an aluminium Apple Watch Series 9 with a Sport Loop, the latter of which uses 82 percent recycled yarn. Apple not only guarantees that the majority of the watch by weight is made from recycled materials, but the company also claims that it will offset the environmental impact of charging the watch during its lifetime by investing in green projects around the world.
I won't discuss Apple's sustainability efforts here or what the new carbon-neutral product lineup means. It's an admirable effort from Apple to do something about its environmental impact, not least because other companies often follow suit, but it's safe to say that there is much more to sustainability than recycled aluminium cases with recycled plastic straps.
I was sent the new Nike strap (see above), made from recycled old Nike straps, giving each band a unique pattern. It's super comfortable, too, which is a bonus.
Apple Watch Series 9 review: (New) features
- Gesture control
- Offline Siri
- WatchOS 10
- Integration with HomePod
As well as being way more capable from a hardware point of view, the Apple Watch Series 9 also has a killer feature set exclusive to the new watch. While more WatchOS 10 features, including Smart Stack and updated cycling and hiking modes, will trickle down to older models, some of the new interactions are unique to the Series 9, thanks to the new processor and chipset.
The most exciting of the lot is the Double Tap interaction, which allows you to control the wearable without touching the screen. For now, the level of interaction is somewhat limited, as Double Tap doesn't work with all the apps, but it shows great potential.
Another – probably even more important – reason we should all get excited about the Double Tap gesture is that it makes operating the watch more accessible. Sure, Apple's example scenario was you holding a coffee or a dog leash, but Double Tap could be super useful for people who only have one hand or are limited in their mobility. I look forward to seeing where the company will take this feature in the future.
Offline Siri is yet another feature that's more of a promise than a full-fledged feature. Thanks to the Ultra-Wideband chip, the Apple Watch Series 9 doesn't need an internet connection to process some Siri requests, such as, 'How did I sleep?' or 'Set a timer for five minutes'. Apple found that these represent the majority of smart assistant requests and made the right call by enabling the watch to deal with them offline.
There are other implications of offline Siri, as it allows you to check health data stored on the watch. Thanks to the advancements in AI and machine learning, I can see this feature developing into something more robust, where Siri can give you sleep, training and recovery suggestions based on your health data. Currently, the Apple Watch only stores around a week's worth of data, so offline Siri can only see this.
Finally, the Apple Watch Series 9 has a more robust HomePod integration, which I'm sure will only affect a small percentage of Apple Watch users. When you are within four meters (approx. 12 feet) of your HomePod, Apple Watch launches Now Playing for convenient audio control or provides media suggestions in your Smart Stack to play directly on your HomePod.
And just to clarify, the Apple Watch Series 9 has all the features you'd find on any previous Apple Watch iterations.
Apple Watch Series 9 review: Health and fitness tracking
- New cycling anf hiking features
- Health tracking generally unchanged
I added the Series 8 to our best running watch guide, thanks to running updates introduced by the WatchOS 9.2 update. The same advanced running features are also available on the Apple Watch Series 9, as well as the new cycling and hiking features ushered in by the WatchOS 10 update.
And while some hiking features will only be available in the US, at least, for now, the new cycling features are already available to everyone (it also works with the Apple Watch SE 2). One feature I dearly miss from the Series 9, and all other mainline Apple Watches, is Precision Start, which requires an extra button only found on Ultra models.
GPS and heart rate accuracy seem on point for a non-dedicated running watch. As a side note, I found the VO2 max estimations of the Apple Watch the most strict (i.e. the lowest) of all wearables. While Coros and Garmin watches often give me a VO2 max score of around 54-55 mL/kg/min, the highest I could get it on Apple's wearables is around 44-45 mL/kg/min.
[As a side-side note, Polar watches are the most generous in VO2 max estimations in my experience. They often give me scores over 60 mL/kg/min, so if you need a self-esteem boost, get a Polar.]
General health tracking is on point, although I find the sleep data display in the Health app a bit... odd. It often says I spent nine hours in bed, whereas the first hour of my 'sleep' is often me winding down for sleep, watching TV on the sofa, or something similar. Surely, my heart rate is a bit higher when I'm awake than when I'm asleep? Not a huge issue, though.
One health feature on the Apple Watch Series 9 that I sadly can't test is the cycle tracking with retrospective ovulation estimates. Using the temperature sensor, the watch looks for temperature changes to reveal the biphasic shift, an increase in temperature that can indicate ovulation. The Cycle Tracking app can retrospectively estimate when ovulation occurred using this information.
Apple Watch Series 9 review: Battery life
- More power efficient porcessor
- Same 18-hour battery life
Every year, we hope Apple will announce a new Apple Watch iteration with a longer than 18-hour battery life. And every year, we get disappointed, as Apple hasn't extended the battery life of any subsequent Apple Watch since the first generation of Apple Watches eight years ago.
Despite the 25 per cent more power-efficient S9 SiP, the battery life of the Apple Watch Series 9 is still 18 hours. With Low Power Mode, you can get up to 36 hours of battery life on a single charge. With fast charging, you can charge from 0 to 80 per cent in about 45 minutes. And if you use an Apple Watch to track your sleep, just 8 minutes of charging provides 8 hours of sleep tracking.
I mentioned this elsewhere, and I'll say it here, too, but I think Apple treats battery life the same as the company treats any other Apple Watch features. Having consistent battery life across multiple generations of Apple Watches gives users a sense of familiarity, which isn't a terrible thing.
I, just like everyone else, would love it if I could wear an Apple Watch for longer than a day without charging it, but I'm so used to popping the watch on the charger every evening after my rings have been completed for the day, it would almost feel natural if I didn't have to do it. It's part of the process of owning an Apple Watch.
That said, Apple, please, please, can the Apple Watch X have a week-long battery life? That'd be magical.
Apple Watch Series 9 review: Verdict
Next time someone says, 'The new Apple Watch is the same as all other Apple watches in the past', tell them they are wrong. The Apple Watch Series 9 might look the same as the Series 8 or even the Series 7, but it provides a different user experience than previous iterations of the wearable.
It has a brighter display, a faster microchip, exclusive features, and a somewhat more sustainable construction – what else do you want? Surely, no one expects Apple to launch a round watch? Or a smaller/bigger wearable? The Apple Watch already comes in too many different variations (two Watch SE sizes in three colours, two Series 9 sizes with two case materials and eight colours and the titanium Ultra 2), if you ask me.
Is the Apple Watch Series 9 worth the upgrade? From the features point of view, absolutely. I didn't see a point in moving from the Series 7 to the Series 8, but the difference between the Series 9 and any other Apple Watch is significant enough to warrant an upgrade.
The only reason I recommend against changing your Apple Watch if you recently bought one is sustainability. No matter how carbon neutral the Series 9 is, the most environmentally friendly thing you can do is not to buy a new Apple Watch every year. However, if you have a Series 6 or an even older model, I recommend getting the Series 9. It's a brilliant smartwatch.
Apple Watch Series 9 review: Also consider
I mentioned several alternative Apple Watch Series 9 options in the review, but if you need more suggestions, check out T3's best smartwatch roundup. No other wearable will play quite as nicely with iPhones as an Apple Watch, but there are watches that work with iOS, so there are alternatives.