The Apple Watch Series 9 has arrived to much fanfare, as one of the most enticing Series upgrades to Apple’s wearable lineup in recent years. Apple Watch Series 7 was a subtle but intriguing upgrade that brought a new screen size, but the Apple Watch Series 8 was a very incremental upgrade that didn’t merit a jump from the previous model.
This year, however, the Series 9 brings some unexpectedly hefty updates that are sure to turn the heads of any user, be they early adopters, serial upgraders, or first-time buyers. We’ve been hands-on with Apple Watch Series 9, and have compiled our first impressions.
Out of the box
The Series 9 unboxing experience remains unchanged from previous years, and it’s decidedly less exciting than the Apple Watch Ultra 2 unboxing. That being said, you get your Apple Watch Series 9 and a lovely braided charging cable, with a USB-C port to connect to a plug socket, Mac, or dock. The only new arrival here is a subtle “Carbon Neutral” logo on the back of the watch box to reflect this is Apple’s first-ever carbon-neutral product alongside the Ultra 2.
Like the unboxing, the setup is unchanged from previous years and incredibly straightforward. However, as we mentioned in our Apple Watch Ultra 2 first impressions, it’s noticeably faster this year thanks to the new S9 chip, which is always a nice bonus.
Materials, design, and strap
We’ve got the Midnight Aluminum Apple Watch, and a couple of Sport Loops to try including a new one from Nike. They’re the same Nylon design from previous years, and I’m (personally) not a massive fan. I’ve always found the Nike Sport Bands to be the most comfortable design, so I popped the white one from my Series 8 on as soon as I pulled the watch out of the box. I’m very excited by the new Nike bands which include recycled plastic for a unique flecked design, but we don’t have one just yet.
The finish on the new Series 9 is also identical to the previous version, both here and across the board. Again, there’s a sense of not fixing what isn’t broken.
The design of the Series 9 remained unchanged from both the Series 8 and Series 7 before it. This might be disappointing for some, but honestly, it’s such a sleek and comfortable housing that I don’t think it needs to be changed. The 45mm sizing is just right, as are the gentle contours of the rear housing, which fits snugly on my wrist. With its smaller size, it’s noticeably more comfortable than my Apple Watch Ultra 2, and decidedly less cumbersome to wear than the titanium beast.
The S9 SiP is the Series 9’s new party piece, powering a couple of really exciting new features. The first is on-device Siri, which lets you talk to your watch and do basic tasks like setting timers without the need for an iPhone or any sort of processing. That means that if you ask your watch to “Set a two-minute timer”, your timer will be running before all of the words have finished appearing on the screen. It’s a real breath of fresh air on the previously lethargic Siri experience.
The S9 chip also makes using the Watch decidedly more snappy when it comes to scrolling menus and loading up apps. Bringing up the app drawer, for instance, is noticeably quicker than before, and panning around the screen feels smoother.
The S9 chip will also power the upcoming new double tap feature, coming to the Series 9 in October. While we can’t give you a rundown here (for obvious reasons), having seen the feature demonstrated, it looks impressive and very handy for those times you might find yourself with your screen tapping hand full. It’ll let you carry out certain actions, such as answering or ending calls, by simply pinching the thumb and finger of your watch-wearing hand together.
The Series 9’s other party piece is a new Ultra Wideband chip. This second-generation chip powers all the close-range interactions you’re used to between your iPhone, Watch, and beyond. One of the coolest new ways it does this is by showing now playing on the nearest HomePod, letting you skip, play, and pause tracks, as well as controlling AirPlay to other speakers.
The new Ultra Wideband chip also powers elevated Find My functionality for your iPhone. Not only can you now ping your iPhone using your watch, but you can use Find My to bring up the same interface you’ll recognize from finding an AirTag, leading you right to your phone with military precision. This is a cool feature for those of us trying to find our iPhones, but I can’t help but think this is also a fantastic accessibility feature for those who are hearing impaired, who will now have a visual way to find their phones.
Display and Faces
The Series 9 has the same excellent display as the previous model, uprated with a peak brightness of 2,000 nits. The display is noticeably brighter during the day, and also now supports a new low brightness of one nit so you can use it in the movie theater or at night without disturbing anyone. Interestingly, having used the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the new Series 9, I actually prefer the latter’s display because Apple has done more to push the display right to the edges of the screen. Whereas the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a noticeable bezel around the edge thanks to its flatter display and larger chassis.
All-in-all, the Series 9 is a good upgrade to the Series 8 and one I’m excited to get to grips with more over the coming weeks.