Apple Watch Series 9 review

 Apple Watch Series 9.
Apple Watch Series 9.

Take a look under the hood of the Apple Watch Series 9 — that's where you'll find the biggest upgrades introduced with Apple's flagship smartwatch. Hoping to steal the show back from the Apple Watch Ultra, the Series 9 arrives with some convincing attributes.

Apple Watch Series 9 specs

Starting price: $399 / £419 / AU$629
Sizes: 41mm, 45mm
Colors: Midnight, Starlight, Silver, Product Red, Pink
Processor: Apple S9
Connectivity: Cellular (optional,) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, U2, NFC, GPS
Dust-resistance: IPX6
Waterproof: Up to 50 meters
Health sensors: Skin temperature, heart rate, ECG, SpO2
Battery life: 18 hours (36 with low power mode)
Compatibility: iOS only

With the exception of a subtle pink finish, there's nothing noteworthy looks-wise with the Apple Watch Series 9. Instead, its S9 processor introduces the watch's most significant performance boost in years, powering a brighter display and faster Siri interactions. An improved ultra-wideband chip enables new ecosystem functions, too. What’s more, the new double tap gesture makes it possible to carry out a slew of Apple Watch Series 9 controls one-handed.

But most consequently, in my opinion, is the Apple Watch Series 9's progress for Apple's larger sustainability missions. Eco-friendly watch bands, reduced packaging, and recycled parts throughout make this year's Apple Watch family — including the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and returning Apple Watch SE — the first set of carbon neutral Apple devices to hit the market.

With that said, has Apple successfully reminded us why its flagship watch is the very best smartwatch money can buy? Read my full Apple Watch Series 9 review below to find out.

Apple Watch Series 9 price and availability

The Apple Watch Series 9 is available to preorder now, with full availability on September 22. Our guide to Apple Watch 9 preorders guide can help you if you're hoping to be an early owner of the next-gen Apple Watch.

In terms of price, the Apple Watch Series 9 starts at $399 for the GPS-only model and $499 for the GPS + Cellular variation. The larger 44mm model, meanwhile, will start at $429 and go up to $529 for optional cellular support.

Keep in mind that you'll need to pay your mobile carrier an additional fee in order to connect your Apple Watch independently of your iPhone.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Design

You'd have a hard time telling the Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8 apart just by looking at them side-by-side. The big exception is that the Apple Watch Series 9 comes in a pink finish, though I will say it’s more subdued in person than it looked in the keynote and even on Apple’s website. While I probably wouldn’t use the pink myself on a daily basis, I did find it to be pretty in a jewelry-like way, not in an in-your-face-Barbie kind of way.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

There are more design differences, but they’re things you might not notice. All aluminum Apple Watch models were already made of 100% recycled aluminum, but now they have more recycled internals, including a 100% recycled cobalt battery. The new Sport Loop that came with my review unit features 82% recycled yarn, so when paired with the aluminum watch, it's the first carbon neutral-certified Apple device.

Apple is also phasing out all leather bands (yes, even the Hermes ones) in lieu of a new recycled textile called Fine Woven that pairs nicely with the Stainless Steel models, even though the Stainless Steel unit doesn’t have the carbon-neutral certificate. Of course, all the best Apple Watch bands are compatible with the Series 9, so you can swap them out to suit your style.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

It’s also worth noting that the Apple Watch box is smaller than before, using less paper, and Apple says it’s shifting away from air-shipping and offsetting power demands. The rest of the products are on pace to join the carbon-neutral bandwagon by 2030, but it’s the 2023 Apple Watch family that’s leading the way.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Performance

Apple touts some major spec upgrades for its smartwatch silicon. The Series 9 chip sees a 25% improvement to efficiency thanks to 5.6 billion transistors and 4-core neural engines that can power machine learning twice as fast as before. Effects look smoother with a 30% faster GPU.

When switching between apps and navigating menus, the Series 9 certainly felt more responsive next to the Series 8. Using the new Smart Stack UI in watchOS 10 felt effortless as well.

Siri now works much faster with support for complete on-device computing, so nothing is being sent up to the cloud.

Siri also works faster with new support for complete on-device computing, so nothing is being sent up to the cloud. This means that Siri can execute certain commands even when the Apple Watch Series 9 is disconnected from Wi-Fi or a smartphone. Opting to leave my iPhone at home for an outdoor walk, I was able to use Siri to launch the workout with my voice. Apple says that dictation is 25% more accurate now as well, though I had a difficult time actually gauging the improvement in a forced testing setting.

The S9 also helps maintain the Apple Watch's 18-hour "all day" battery life despite the display brightness now reaching 2,000 nits. That's double the brightness rating of the Apple Watch Series 8, though the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is now the brightest Apple Watch with a claimed 3,000 nits peak. When I took the Apple Watch Series 9 outside, the display brightness did seem to match up with the first-gen Apple Watch Ultra’s, which checks out with the ratings.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

In addition to the S9, the Apple Watch Series 9 gets Apple's new U2 ultra-wideband (UWB) chip, which introduces some fresh functionality. I, for one, always misplace my iPhone and rely on my Apple Watch's ping feature to find it. With the U2 chip, the Apple Watch Series 9 can actually direct me to my iPhone's location.

But there’s a big catch — this feature only works in this way if you have an iPhone 15 that also has the newer U2 chip. While I am upgrading my phone and know I’ll be taking advantage of this all the time, I wish that others didn’t need to get a new phone for one of this Apple Watch’s key upgrades to be functional.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Double Tap

The headline feature of the Apple Watch Series 9 is a gesture called double-tap. Even if you already knew about controlling your Apple Watch with hand gestures from an accessibility standpoint, the new dedicated double-tap control looks to make single-handed Apple Watch control highly practical for all users.

Editor's note

Apple provided me a pre-release unit specifically for the purpose of trying double-tap ahead of the feature's arrival in October.

Imagine you've just picked up your coffee, but you're getting a call you'd like to take. Instead of using your opposite index finger to answer, and possibly losing your oatmilk latte in the process, you can double-tap your index finger and thumb on your watch hand to start the call. Another double-tap will end the call when you're done.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

Double tap has several applications, including scrolling through the Smart Stack. Certain Apple Watch apps, such as the timer and Apple Music, support a double tap command as well. I've shared my experience with the Apple Watch Camera Remote app several times, but with double tap, remote content capture becomes more convenient.

Another plus is that you can quickly respond to incoming texts with a double tap, speak your response and then double tap to send your reply.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

Double tap is available only for Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 via watchOS 10.1, out as of October 25, 2023. Even though the heart rate sensor is the same from previous generation models, the S9 processor powers the algorithm that detects an intentional double tap gesture. That said, if it doesn’t sound like something you’d like or are worried about accidentally triggering it, you can disable it.

But there's a few things to know — double tap only works when your wrist is intentionally raised, and sleep mode does automatically disable it as well so you won’t have to worry about double tapping apps while you’re in bed.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: watchOS 10 and features

To this point, I've ignored a lot of the features that people might associate with the Apple Watch. Think: workout tracking, step counting, heart health alerts, sleep monitoring, phone calls and using apps. The Apple Watch Series 9 has all these features, but there's not much new in these areas compared to the Apple Watch Series 8.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

But it does ship with watchOS 10. I mentioned the Smart Stack UI, but the software update also packs a bunch of new tools for cyclists, mental health tracking via the Mindfulness app, vision health monitoring using the watch's ambient light sensor and a pair of new watch faces.

Apple Watch 9
Apple Watch 9

Apple Fitness Plus also gets some significant updates, including the ability to stack classes and create custom workout plans. When you get a new Apple Watch, you get a free trial of the virtual workout platform, and if you ask me it's worth trying. I recently wrote a guide to the best Apple Fitness Plus features to try for your next workout.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

You can further personalize your Apple Watch experience by downloading some of the best Apple Watch apps, too. I use SwingVision for tennis, the ESPN app to get sports scores, Water Llama to track my water intake and more. My Oura Ring Gen 3 even has a dedicated Apple Watch app and complication, so I can cross-monitor my health data as desired.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Battery life

I've long abandoned hope that the flagship Apple Watch would get full-featured, multi-day battery life like other smartwatches I've tested, namely Garmin watches. While the introduction of Apple Watch low power mode last year made a difference, daily charging is still needed for regular use, rated for 18 hours.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

If battery life is your priority, you might want to turn your attention toward Apple's second-gen Ultra. It lasts approximately 36 hours with normal use and up to 70 hours with low power mode.

There's no difference in charging, though. Apple's charging cord comes braided as a standard, which is nice, but it still takes about an hour for the watch to go from dead to full. You can top off charging for a few minutes before bed for it to last the night while sleep-tracking, which I always appreciate.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Verdict

I’ve been using Apple Watch pretty much nonstop for years. So when I say I’m actually able to see and feel the Apple Watch 9 performance upgrades, I’m not doing so lightly. It's the best Apple Watch you can buy, hands down.

Apple Watch Series 9
Apple Watch Series 9

Do I think you need to go out and get a new watch if you have the Apple Watch Series 8 or Series 7? No, not necessarily. But it you’re worried about longevity, the Series 9 is definitely more future-proof. I wouldn’t say the types of improvements we saw this year are must-haves for most people. Instead, with these usability-centric updates, it's another step toward advancing the smartwatch experience, making the Apple Watch a more essential device and hopefully powering much more life-changing features going forward.

For now, if you’re in the market for a new smartwatch, the Series 9 is the best you’re gonna find. The internal upgrades make a difference, the double tap gesture is super handy, and no one should take for granted the environmental statement this year’s family of Apple Watch devices make.