Apple Watch Series 9 review: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – Creative Bloq

The Apple Watch Series 9 follows in most other recent Apple releases’ footsteps, in that the changes and upgrades from previous iterations are incremental rather than revolutionary. It was the same story with the iPhone 15 and 15 Pro, where the main changes are a slightly more powerful processor underpinning the performance along with a few superficial function upgrades. While the iPhone 15 has the Action Button, the Watch gets Double Tap. 

But what is that? And does it make (or keep, depending on your personal viewpoint) it an essential accessory for any Apple owner? And does it make it a mandatory purchase over the Watch 8? (No, if you’re not an Apple owner, it’s still not compatible with anything other than iOS, but we have a list of Apple Watch alternatives for you…)

I received a test unit to use alongside the new iPhone 15 and 15 Pro over several weeks, to get a real sense of what it is like to live and work with. And after those weeks, the results may feel familiar: it’s extremely slick, easy to set up, pair and use, the screen is great and the health features continue to impress (for the most part), but the minimalist nature of the upgrades does make me question whether you’ll need the Series 9 if you have the previous generation…

(Image credit: Future)

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Key specifications

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Processor:S9 SiPScreen:41 or 45mm Always-On Retina displayMax brightness:2,000 nitsHealth tracking:Blood oxygen, ECG, heart rate, irregular rhythm notifications, cardio fitness, temperature sensing, cycle trackingSafety features:Emergency SOS, intrernational emergency calling, fall/crash detectionWater resistance:50m water-resistant, swimproofBattery life:18 hours, 36 hours in Low Power ModeDimensions:41/45 x 35 x 10.7mmWeight:32g

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Design and screen

(Image credit: Future)

Look at the Apple Watch Series 9 and you’ll notice almost no changes from the Series 8, which we reviewed (favourably) last year. The screen options are the same choice of either 41mm and 45mm as last year’s Series 8, (with either stainless steel or aluminium), but the colour range is a little livelier, with a whole seven colours on offer. Some even look discernibly different from each other! I know, crazy stuff.

Apple Watch Series 9 at Amazon for £409

The one I had in for testing was the Midnight one (basically very very very dark blue), with a choice of two straps; the Midnight Fabric Sport Loop and a Nike Blue Flame Sport Band. That spec will set you back £499/$499 on Apple’s website with either band, which is a slight uptick from last year’s Series 8, if I’m doing my calculations correctly, but nothing too far out of the ordinary with general tech price rises in the last year.

The Sport Loop quickly became my favoured strap, with the fabric delightfully soft and comfortable, and it was really easy to put on and take off too. Also, I found it caused less irritation when out for a walk, cycle or run than the rubber sport band. 

While the Series 9 looks near-identical to the Series 8, there is one crucial difference when it comes to the screen. The last version topped out at 1,000 nits, which is very bright already, but this one doubles that, with a peak brightness of 2,000 nits, with an always-on screen that activates simply by raising and turning your wrist towards and looking at the watch. Don’t worry about it keeping you up at night, though, as it can go as low as 1 nit. 

The clarity and sharpness of colour on the screen is nothing short of astonishing, with dozens and dozens of customisation options for the watch face, including a new introduction that became my son’s favourite, an animated Snoopy who gets up to all sorts of mischief with his avian friend Woodstock while keeping me up-to-date on the time. “What’s Snoopy doing now?” became the most frequently asked question in the house for the time the Watch spent in my presence. It’s a fun little mixture of playfulness and functionality, and has been impeccably executed here.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Features and performance

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Feature-wise, the Apple Watch Series 9 is nearly unchanged from the Series 8 version, with a wide range of health-tracking functions, including heart rate, ECG, temperature and blood oxygen, and while they can’t be taken as gospel when it comes to the absolute figures given (and Apple knows this, reminding you that the Watch doesn’t replace health experts’ evaluation, help and advice), they offer a good barometer for comparative progress. 

The step and exercise tracker is brilliant as usual, fairly accurate when it comes to step count and intuitive too. For example, if I went out for a walk, jog or cycle and forgot to manually start the Watch tracking my workout, it chimed in after a kilometre, saying, ‘It looks like you’re working out. Would you like to log your exercise?’ and then add and retain your workout from the start with impressive accuracy.

Sleep tracking is also a useful comparative feature. I say ‘comparative’ because again, it can’t be taken as gospel, because it sometimes logged me as sleeping when I was simply sitting down on the sofa late at night, and if I woke up early it didn’t always log that either. But for general sleep health comparison between nights or weeks, it’s still a useful tool.

The big feature introduction on the Series 9, however, is the ‘Double Tap’, which adds a touch-free dimension to the functionality. Applying to a variety of functions, such as turning off the alarm, starting and stopping a timer, answering a phone call and more, you can now angle your wrist slightly and double-tap your thumb and index finger to control several functions on the Watch. 

It has great potential, for example if you need to set a timer when cooking/baking and your hands and fingers are covered in foodstuff, or if you get a phone call while your hands are full, such as holding a child or carrying bags. It didn’t always work as intended for me, as it still requires a fairly specific application of both wrist and fingers, but I’m sure the accuracy will improve with each software upgrade. 

One seemingly innocuous feature quickly turned into perhaps my most frequently used one, though, and that’s the humble torch. A long hold on the button flush with the body (not the dial) switched on the torch, which helped me navigate my lightless garage at night, where our freezer is located, as well as look for and collect our grumpy, rebellious cat from the garden when she would protest the nightly curfew. There is also a torch function which turns it into an emergency beacon, by flashing rapidly, and with the brighter screen, both of those functions are more brilliant than before.

In fact, while I could take or leave the iPhone itself, I felt really connected to the Watch as a useful, essential item in my everyday life, which is no small feat by what was long seen as a niche accessory. Controls are comfortable and intuitive, most of the functions are designed around making the user’s life easier, in small or big ways, instead of feeding any sort of digital addiction, which I find most phones do, whether inadvertently or intentionally.

However, taking phone calls on the Watch will probably never stop feeling weird, although yes, it can be a convenient alternative if you can’t reach the handset as the phone rings. 

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Battery life

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The Apple Watch Series 9 quotes the same battery life as the Series 8, namely 18 hours, or 36 hours in Low Power Mode, with fast wireless charging. I found these figures mostly accurate, maybe even underestimated a little for the main figure, as I habitually got about 20-22 hours of life between charges during what I consider normal use. The wireless charging pill that magnetically attaches to the back of the watch then topped it up from 10% to full in about 45-50 minutes for me, which impressed me, and not just for the fact that this was the first time I found an Apple product that charged faster than I expected…

Apple Watch Series 9: Price

As I said before, the Apple Watch Series 9 as tested costs £499/$499, but if you already have a strap (or are getting one from elsewhere), and don’t need cellular support, you can get it from £399/$399 before discounts. If you want the stainless steel case, the price can quickly jump to above £699, though…

Should I buy the Apple Watch Series 9?

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If you already have the Series 8, there probably aren’t enough upgrades here to justify the considerable outlet that the Apple Watch Series 9 will require. However, if you’re entering the smartwatch game, switching to an Apple ecosystem or you’re looking to upgrade from a Watch that’s a few generations old by now, then the Series 9 is likely going to be at the top of a short list. If you only need the essential functions, the Apple Watch SE is a more affordable alternative, but then you’re missing out on the 2,000-nit screen, blood-oxygen tracking and more advanced features including the new Double Tap. The seamless integration and genuinely helpful and intuitive functionality elevates the Apple Watch Series 9 from an accessory to almost a must-have for any Apple aficionado.

Apple Watch Series 9: Price Comparison

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