Apple Watch Series 9 Review

The Apple Watch Series 9 offers sleek design and advanced features, but struggles with user experience and battery life, making it less compelling than expected.
AuthorSmitaJun 25, 2024
apple watch series9

In September 2023, Apple revealed the Watch Series 9, which was considered by many to be one of the most minor updates in its smartwatch lineup. While Apple likely doesn't expect users to upgrade their devices annually, this year's highlights—carbon neutrality and a new double-tap gesture—feel somewhat underwhelming. It almost seems like Apple is trying to present an old model as new with minimal changes.

When I first got the Apple Watch, I was enchanted by its design, user interface, and overall functionality. The experience felt magical, akin to what we've come to expect from Apple's products. However, after the initial excitement faded, I found the user experience to be lacking. The core functionalities seemed scattered across many apps, and the implementation of features felt poorly thought out. This review delves into my experiences with the Apple Watch Series 9, detailing its design, hardware, software, user experience, and battery life.

Design and Build

The Apple Watch Series 9 upholds Apple's legacy of exceptional hardware design. It comes in two sizes: 41mm and 45mm, and is available in aluminum or stainless steel, with a variety of band options. It also offers GPS or GPS + eSIM capabilities. 

The Retina display is nearly bezel-less, with a pixel density of 326 ppi, making it immediately impressive. It's sharp, colorful, and smooth, covered with slightly curved tempered glass. The aluminum or stainless steel frame adds a touch of luxury, and even the more affordable models feel high-end. The digital crown and side button are conveniently placed, with the crown providing excellent haptic feedback.

The Sport Loop band, though initially seeming a bit cheap, has proven to be durable and comfortable. It has held up well over two months of continuous use, still looking almost new. The Apple Watch Series 9 is water and dust-proof, adding to its robust build quality. Overall, the design and build of the Watch 9 are top-notch, living up to the high standards Apple is known for.

Hardware

The Series 9 is powered by the new S9 system-in-package (SiP), which boasts 60% more transistors than the previous S8 series chip. It features a 30% faster GPU and a new 4-core NPU, enhancing the overall speed and performance of the watch. This results in a snappier interface and smoother interactions, which are noticeable improvements.

One of the standout features of the S9 SiP is its ability to process Siri requests on the device itself, rather than sending them to the cloud. This leads to faster response times and 25% more accurate voice dictation. Siri can now access your Health data, making it easier to check key metrics. However, as someone who rarely uses voice commands, I found this upgrade less impactful.

The new Double Tap gesture is another highlighted feature, allowing users to control various functions by tapping their thumb and index finger together in the air. This gesture is detected through changes in blood flow and wrist movements via the watch's accelerometer and gyroscope sensors. While this feature is interesting, its practical use felt limited in my experience.

The Apple Watch Series 9 comes equipped with a comprehensive array of sensors, including blood oxygen, an electrical heart sensor with ECG, an optical heart sensor, sleep tracking, temperature sensing, a compass, an altimeter, accelerometer, gyroscope, and ambient light sensors. It also supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, GPS, and NFC, with an option for 4G LTE via eSIM. A new UWB chip improves location tracking, enhancing integration with HomePod speakers and making it easier to locate and ping your paired iPhone.

Despite the impressive hardware, I found that these features didn’t come together to provide the seamless experience I was hoping for.

Software

The Apple Watch Series 9 runs on watchOS 10, which brings a refreshed app interface and new watch faces, including Snoopy and Palette. There are also new advanced modes for cycling and hiking, along with updated health features that include mental and vision health tracking.

Setting up the Watch from the iPhone's Watch app is straightforward, allowing for extensive customization of notifications, app behaviors, and watch faces. However, despite the variety of watch faces available, many felt either too simple or overly complex, with some lacking support for complications that provide real-time information.

The software's user experience is hindered by a few significant issues. For instance, the inability to easily view a numerical step count, which instead defaults to graphical rings, is a notable drawback. Additionally, sleep tracking requires a pre-set schedule and fails to detect naps, which is frustrating. The automatic sports detection works inconsistently, and many sports modes lack specific metrics, reducing their usefulness.

On the communication front, notifications are well-displayed, and Bluetooth calls sound good. However, the keyboard’s language support is limited to English, German, Spanish, Dutch, and French, making it challenging to type in other languages without battling autocorrect.

The much-advertised Double Tap gesture, introduced post-launch, turned out to be a repurposed feature from Accessibility settings. While it works fine, it didn’t feel revolutionary or particularly useful in my day-to-day usage.

User Experience

The overall user experience with the Apple Watch Series 9 was a mix of highs and lows. While the design and hardware are excellent, the scattered features and poor battery life significantly detract from the experience.

Firstly, the Watch’s core functionalities, such as step counting and sleep tracking, are not as user-friendly as they should be. The graphical rings for step count are not as informative as a numerical display, and the rigid sleep schedule requirement for sleep tracking is inconvenient. The lack of automatic nap detection further complicates things, as the Watch's smart reminders can disrupt unintended naps with suggestions to move, breathe, or drink water.

Sports tracking is another area where the Watch falls short. While it includes modes for various activities, the metrics provided are often basic and not specific to the sport. For example, rope jumping doesn’t count jumps, and boxing doesn’t count hits. Only advanced modes like swimming, hiking, running, and cycling offer more comprehensive data, leveraging location information to provide detailed metrics.

Communication and notification responses are generally good, with notifications displayed clearly and Bluetooth calls sounding crisp. The predefined responses for messages are handy, but the keyboard's limited language support is a significant drawback for non-English speakers.

The much-anticipated Double Tap gesture felt like a letdown. It was already available on previous models as an accessibility feature, and its introduction as a headline feature for the Series 9 felt more like a marketing move than a genuine innovation. While it functions adequately, it doesn’t add significant value to the user experience.

Battery Life

Battery life remains a significant weak point for the Apple Watch Series 9. Apple claims an all-day 18-hour battery life, but in reality, the Watch struggles to last a full day with moderate use. Engaging in activities like GPS tracking, making calls, or using health features extensively reduces the battery life to about 12-14 hours, even with the Always-On Display turned off.

To prolong battery life, I had to disable several features, such as continuous heart rate tracking and harmful noise detection. With these adjustments, I managed to extend the battery life to around 40 hours, but this required sacrificing many of the Watch’s smart features. This compromise significantly diminishes the Watch’s appeal as a high-end smartwatch.

On the upside, the Watch charges quickly. A 15-minute charge replenishes about 50% of the battery, while a full recharge from 10% takes about 50-60 minutes. However, the frequent need to recharge remains a hassle.

Conclusion

After two months with the Apple Watch Series 9, my overall impression is that it falls short of expectations. While it boasts advanced technology, a sleek design, and an impressive array of sensors, the user experience is hampered by scattered features, poor battery life, and an overemphasis on minor updates like the Double Tap gesture.

The Watch's core functionalities, such as step counting and sleep tracking, are not as intuitive or comprehensive as they should be. Sport tracking is inconsistent, with many modes lacking specific metrics. Communication and notification handling are decent, but the keyboard’s limited language support is a significant drawback. Battery life is the most disappointing aspect, requiring frequent recharges and compromises on functionality.

In conclusion, the Apple Watch Series 9, despite its high-end design and advanced features, does not provide the seamless and intuitive experience that users expect from a premium smartwatch. For those seeking a more reliable and user-friendly option, alternatives from brands like Xiaomi, Amazfit, Huawei, or Garmin are worth considering. These options offer better battery life, more intuitive features, and a more affordable price point, making them a smarter choice for most users.