Is Apple’s wearable still one to watch – or is it time for a change?
Apple’s latest wearable arrived this September. And some reviews seemed to appear in barely the time it takes for a watch hand to make its way around the display.
But I’ve now had the Apple Watch Series 9 for a whole month. So how has it held up? Is it worth upgrading from recent models? And should newcomers give it a try? Let’s find out…
More of the same
My initial impressions were this Apple Watch was a case of (slight) evolution rather than revolution. It looks identical to its predecessor – no bad thing, because that means existing bands and accessories remain compatible. I would have liked the Action button to come across from the Ultra, though.
Two less evident changes from a glance concern the watch’s display and innards. The former is brighter outside, which I noticed when on holiday in sunny Spain but less so when back home in gloomy England. The chip is faster too, making for a zippy app experience – although the Series 8 was hardly sluggish.
Fortunately, this extra power doesn’t impact battery life – although the 18 hours ‘all day’ promise from Apple hasn’t improved over the Series 8, and I found that number could drop sharply when the watch was used for lengthy exercise sessions.
It’s also worth noting that software changes arrived along with the new hardware. Some are delightful – notably the new animated Snoopy watch face. But some are less so, such as no longer being able to quickly swipe between faces – which means I found myself far less likely to use the Snoopy one. Tsk.
A glimpse of the future
One of the two biggest new Apple Watch features – double tap – was absent when the device was launched. But it arrived a few weeks into this test. And it’s… fine. If you’ve used AssistiveTouch, the feature’s in a similar space – double-tap and your watch performs an action.
There’s little you can configure – just how double-tap affects playback and the Smart Stack – and you must raise your wrist to use the feature. But I found it useful when my other hand was otherwise occupied with shopping bags or stirring food, because I could double-tap to answer calls, fire up the Smart Stack, or close a timer.
It does feel very ‘version one’ though – a test ground Apple can build on, should feedback be positive.
The other big feature was there from day one: the Ultra Wide chip. This just means when you ping an iPhone 15, your Apple Watch will attempt to guide you to it, which for me worked very nicely.
A rude awakening
Towards the end of my 30 days, I was on holiday. At a beach, I unwisely ventured on to some rocks, while my nine-year-old (who’s clearly much smarter than I am) suggested I really shouldn’t. My foot found a spot akin to sheet ice, In an instant, I was flat on my back, with bits of me dunked in the sea.
When I came to my senses, I saw my Apple Watch was already part-way through its countdown, primed to call emergency services. Fortunately, I didn’t need that and cancelled the countdown. My left hand was banged up (along with my dignity), as was a poor glasses case in my back pocket. But I was mostly OK.
Still, this incident got me thinking: what if I hadn’t been? What if I’d been alone, without my family, and had landed differently? The Apple Watch would have had my back.
Verdict: Apple Watch Series 9
How the Apple Watch Series 9 responded to my beach incident isn’t unique to this Apple Watch – fall detection has been built in since the Series 4. But it made me think about the nature of technology: what is frivolous; what has utility; and what is essential, with scope for meaningfully affecting your wellbeing.
It didn’t make me rethink my broad opinion of the Series 9. As an update, it’s no more than OK. If you already own an Apple Watch as far back as the Series 7, stick with it for now. And even Series 5 users might want to wait and see if next year brings bigger reasons to upgrade.
But as a device, my slippy rock experience nudged Apple Watch from ‘utility’ to ‘essential’. You might not find yourself using Apple Watch often, but you’ll be glad it’s there when you do – whether that’s for notifications, timers, or rather bigger incidents. And if you’re a newcomer, I’d say the Series 9 is a great place to start.