Apple Watch Series 9 Review: What’s New?

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Design plays a huge role when it comes to timepieces. A captivating design is all it takes to convince someone to go for an expensive watch purchase. However, Apple smartwatches have not been selling too well over the past couple of years. Market reports have shown that Apple’s smartwatch market share has been growing smaller over the past two years and the reason for the same is quite obvious. Apple hasn’t changed the design of its watch for the past three years. Last year’s Series 8 appeared identical in terms of design to the Series 7, and this year’s Watch Series 9 continues that tradition.

This isn’t to say that Apple’s formula of tweaking and selling a similar-looking model isn’t working. Despite any design changes or big new features, consumers are still buying an Apple Watch every year.

So, an Apple Watch Series 9 with the same design as last year’s model does seem a bit pointless, but just like last year’s Crash Detection feature, there is something new in the form of a double tap gesture, which lets you perform several functions without the need to reach out and touch your watch. Sounds exciting? As always, there’s a catch. But before we get to that, let’s find out what’s new.

Apple Watch Series 9 price in India

The Apple Watch Series 9, just like the Series 8 (and the Series 7), is available in two case sizes (41mm and 45mm) and in two versions – GPS or GPS and Cellular. Another choice Apple gives its buyers is the case, which can be purchased in aluminium or steel, with both looking distinctly different. Pricing for the 41mm aluminium case starts from Rs. 41,900, while the 45mm starts from Rs. 44,900.

The 41mm stainless steel version starts from Rs. 70,900, with the 45mm case starting from Rs. 75,900. Apple lets you choose one strap option to go with your new watch. With the aluminium case models, that would be the new Sport Band or Sport Loop, while the stainless steel models get a choice of the Sport Band or Milanese Loop (metal).

Apple Watch Series 9 design and specifications

Unless you are upgrading from an Apple Watch Series 6 or earlier, you will see absolutely no visible change in terms of cosmetic design among the Series 7, last year’s Series 8 and this year’s Series 9. The bezels around the Series 9’s display have not gotten any thinner, and no matter which way you look at it you are essentially looking at the same old design.

The only way to tell two Midnight black Apple Watches apart is by peeking at the fine engraving on the ceramic back case, which will have the number ‘8′ replaced by number ‘9′. Indeed, Samsung did a far better job with its Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic this year, by adding subtle refinements which enhanced the look of the smartwatches.

Apple claims that the Series 9’s case is made from “100 percent recycled” aluminium

 

However, Apple claims that it has used only recycled materials in the construction of its smartwatch this year. But this only applies to the Series 9 with the aluminium case (not applicable to the stainless steel case) when paired with the Sport Loop strap, which is what Apple refers to as a completely carbon neutral product.

Apple provided its review unit with two watch bands. While the Midnight Sport Loop came in the box, Apple also sent across a Desert Stone Nike Sport Band. It was a bit too small to fit my wrist, but was built well and felt premium. The carbon neutral Sport Loop band was also very comfortable for everyday use, and I found it hassle-free to fasten because it has a velcro adjustment strap.

Both the aluminium case and the ion-X strengthened cover glass did not get scratched during the review period. The case is still IP6X rated for dust resistance and is water resistant to a depth of 50 metres, according to Apple. Included in the box is a magnetic fast-charging adapter, which now has a braided cable, just like with the new iPhone models.

Apple Watch Series 9 front comparison ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

The Apple Watch Series 9 (left) appears identical to the Series 8 (right)

 

Apple retains a similar 1.9-inch Retina LTPO OLED display with a resolution of 484 x 396 pixels. However, Apple claims that this year’s display can get a lot brighter. There is also a new S9 SiP which the company claims has a faster neural engine allowing for faster capture of commands and responses from Siri, while common tasks (like setting a timer and more) are handled onboard without the need to connect to the phone and the Internet.

The watch comes with the same sensors as before which includes the blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor and a third-generation heart rate sensor(introduced with the Series 8) apart from the usual array of sensors. Also included is a second-generation ultra wideband chip (UWB) which is useful for finding a lost iPhone. Holding up your watch close to a Homepod also reveals music suggestions thanks to this new chip. The new sensors for temperature monitoring and crash detection features which arrived with last year’s model also make it here.

Apple Watch Series 9 front watch face ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

The new Snoopy watch face is cute and entertaining, but is available on all watchOS 10-supported models

 

The watch supports the usual global positioning systems, and comes with dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.3. There’s 64GB of internal storage now, which is double of last year’s model. This comes into use when storing music locally on the watch, when you don’t want to carry your phone with you.

Apple Watch Series 9 performance

The new Apple S9 SiP feels a bit faster when opening and closing apps and even when casually browsing through the watchOS interface. However, it isn’t drastically faster than the Series 8, which was already quite snappy, so I won’t consider it as a reason to upgrade. The same applies to the brighter display which Apple claims can go up to 2,000 nits, which is on par with last year’s Watch Ultra 2. Last year’s Series 8 did just fine in terms of outdoor brightness and so I would not consider it as an upgrade when buying or upgrading from a recent model.

Coming to watchOS, it has seen some major changes with the latest version. There are four new watch faces including a rather cute and funny Snoopy one, with numerous enjoyable animations. The Solar Analogue and Palette faces are quite customisable and the new Nike Globe watch face is quite useful for those who use the Nike Run app.

The new OS relies less on gestures and uses both the physical buttons well. It also adds a virtual, on-screen back button when browsing through native apps. Smart Stack, which is basically a bunch of widgets, shows up when you scroll through the digital crown after waking up from the default watch face. Accessing the Control Center now needs a press on the side button, which makes it more useful. All of the native apps have undergone a much-needed overhaul in terms of design and incorporate the new on-screen back button as well. Indeed watchOS 10 feels like a proper step forward in the right direction and it also presents a fresh new facade given that the watch’s physical design has not changed.

Apple Watch Series 9 front app menu ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

WatchOS 10 brings a new app grid with a vertical-scrolling layout

 

Since I tried out the double tap feature in a beta state (watchOS public 10.1 beta 2), it would also not be right on my end to conclude about its performance, but at the same time, I can tell you about how useful it is.

While it seemed pretty cool on stage appearing to control the watch, this isn’t really the case as the feature only works with accepting or dismissing single button functions. This sure seems like a lot of things, from accepting calls to starting and stopping a stopwatch, to playing and pausing music. However, it can’t really be termed as a navigation feature as it only activates and deactivates a single function. And to get to that point you still have to put your umbrella or groceries down and navigate using your fingers to start that app and even select a timer to start it. It’s only the stopping part where double tap comes in. What annoyed me the most is that double tap cannot even be used to open a notification that just popped up on my watch, which is something I do feel Apple really needs to enable.

Apple Watch Series 9 front back button ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

WatchOS 10 has a new and useful back button in all of its native apps

 

And there’s another catch. You first have to raise your wrist up and second, glance at your watch (or flick your wrist towards yourself) in order to activate a double tap gesture. If either has not been accomplished, double tap will simply not work. Given all the onboard processing which Apple explains happens for the double tap feature to register, I really wished that I did not need to perform two actions in order to perform one gesture.

Also, it just plain feels weird to lift your arm up in a crowd and keep tapping your fingers while staring at your watch. While I admit that the feature is still in a beta state when I tested it, I still found it a bit sluggish in terms of response and activation. Lastly, I often forgot that double tap existed and I had to constantly remind myself that the feature exists mainly because it only works with specific functions and apps.

In terms of health and fitness tracking, I found the results to be quite accurate overall. Sleep tracking with sleep stages, which was introduced last year, shows the same data like it did with the Series 8. Just like last year, I found it to be quite reliable and accurate with its reports. I’m happy to see that SpO2 readings have improved, they are still not as consistent as a dedicated pulse oximeter, but quite close to accurate. Heart rate readings are spot on. GPS tracking during walks (sans the iPhone) were also accurate.

Apple Watch Series 9 front mood ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

One can log moods both from the iPhone or from the Apple Watch

 

Apart from physical health, iOS 17 and watchOS 10 also let you track your mood with the eventual goal of providing some guidance to mental health. The mood tracker can be accessed on both an iPhone (Health>Browse>metal Wellbeing>State of Mind) and the Watch Series 9 (in the Mindfulness app). It asks you a simple set of questions helping one log their moods during the day or once a day. The new State of Mind section inside the Health app will then give you a broader picture about what exactly is the cause for your poor mental health (lack of sleep, work) or what helps elevate your mood (exercise etc). What’s still missing is the Journal app which Apple has yet to deliver on iOS 17-powered devices and is expected to come “later this year”.

Apple Watch Series 9 front sleep tracking ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

Sleep tracking is quite accurate on the Apple Watch Series 9 but not as helpful as on Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 6 models

 

Despite not increasing the size of its battery, Apple claims that it has managed to deliver some improvements when it comes to battery life. This is probably down to the more power efficient S9 SiP but I did not find anything drastically different compared to what I experienced with the Series 8 last year. Sleep tracking still was the biggest power draining activity apart from a GPS-connected walk which consumed about three percent of the battery’s charge, per kilometre.

Since the always-on feature is available, I did not bother switching it off as I found it useful for quickly glancing at my watch face. With no exercise tracking, all notifications switched on and all automated health tracking features enabled, the Watch Series 9 lasted me about 1.5 days on a single charge. Turn off sleep tracking and with no work outs, and you can increase that to about two days. Charging the watch remains the same as before. The magnetic charger managed to charge the watch to 65 percent in 30 minutes and completed the charge in one hour and seven minutes.

Apple Watch Series 9 front charging ndtv AppleWatchSeries9  Apple

Charging speeds are the same as last year’s model

 

Verdict

Indeed, there’s little that’s changed or is new with the Apple Watch Series 9. This could be a bit disappointing for fans of the brand who were probably looking forward to upgrading to something new this year, which the Apple Watch Series 9 clearly isn’t. And since the design has not changed for two years, you can attach those fancy new FineWoven bands to your current Series 7 or Series 8 watch as well.

In my experience the double tap feature is not as useful as it’s made out to be. However, Apple is confident about its usefulness and has already mentioned that it cannot be made available on the older models, so you have to upgrade to a new one if you really want to try it out.

Last year, I had similar feelings recommending the Series 8 to anyone. This year, once again, those same feelings persist. It is really hard for me to recommend the Series 9 if you already own a Series 7 or a Series 8, unless you are hell-bent on having the double tap feature. If you are stuck with an Apple Watch Series 6 then the Series 9 is a solid upgrade as it also gets you the newer S9 SiP and more onboard storage, making it future-proof (over a Series 8) in terms of software updates.


Apple unveiled its first mixed reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro, at its annual developer conference, along with new Mac models and upcoming software updates. We discuss all the most important announcements made by the company at WWDC 2023 on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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