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The Apple Watch Series 9 offers new features in a familiar package

Double Tap, Precision Finding and WatchOS 10 make a great smartwatch even better.
 I tried the Series 9 for about three weeks, wearing it to work, to sleep, on runs, while cycling and everything in between.
I tried the Series 9 for about three weeks, wearing it to work, to sleep, on runs, while cycling and everything in between.Courtesy Harry Rabinowitz

Apple Watch users know the “nose-tap.” For me, it happens when I am wheeling my grocery cart in one hand and holding a bag full of food in the other. With both hands full, my Apple Watch asks me if I would like to start an outdoor walk on my way home. Being an absolute stats nerd, my answer is always yes. So, raising my grocery-bag-holding arm, I try to tap the “start” button with my nose. Yes, it takes multiple tries. Yes, it is deeply embarrassing. Yes, it is more difficult than stopping and freeing a hand and pressing the button normally.

The Apple Watch Series 9 solves this hands-full problem, making it a notable upgrade over its predecessors. Its new hands-free gesture, plus a suite of software improvements, make it my favorite smartwatch yet.

SKIP AHEAD How I tried the Apple Watch Series 9 | Why I love the Apple Watch Series 9 | What I don’t love about the Apple Watch Series 9 | What’s Apple’s return policy?

Apple Watch Series 9

What we like
  • Syncs seamlessly with iPhone
  • Quality display
Something to note
  • Less battery life than others

Display size(s): 41mm, 45mm | Display type: Always-on touchscreen | Weight: 31.9g (41mm), 38.7g (45mm) | Battery life: Up to 18 hours, fast charging | Built-in GPS: Yes | Sleep tracking: Yes | Heart-rate monitor: Yes, with ECG | Water resistance: Yes, up to 50 meters | Compatible with: Apple iPhone

What to know about the Apple Watch Series 9

The Apple Watch Series 9 replaces last year’s Series 8 model, one of our favorite smartwatches and fitness trackers

On the outside, the new Series 9 looks virtually unchanged from last year’s model. It starts at the same $399 price tag, comes in the same two display sizes (41mm and 45mm), and has all the features found in the Series 8. It comes in five colors, the new addition being pink, and dozens of watch band options.

The bigger changes are internal. The Series 9 has a new chip (the S9 SiP) that has 60% more transistors than the S8 chip, leading to faster all-around performance, according to the brand. Inside is also a new “Neutral Engine” that enables new gestures and speeds up machine learning tasks like Siri, according to Apple.

One of these new gestures is called Double Tap. With your wrist raised, you can answer calls, open an incoming notification, play and pause music, stop timers and more by pinching your index finger and your thumb together twice. The gesture can only be used on Series 9 and Ultra 2 Apple Watch models.

The Series 9 screen is also much brighter, with a maximum brightness of 2000 nits, up from 1000 in the Series 8.

How I tried the Apple Watch Series 9

I wore the Apple Watch Series 9 (top) and Fitbit Charge 6 (bottom) during outdoor walks and runs.
I wore the Apple Watch Series 9 (top) and Fitbit Charge 6 (bottom) during outdoor walks and runs.Courtesy Harry Rabinowitz

I tried the Apple Watch Series 9 with a sport loop band for a little over three weeks. Previously, I wore the Series 8 for over a month and the Watch SE for over two years. I have also tried smartwatches and fitness trackers from Garmin, Samsung, Google, Fitbit and Whoop.

I wore the Series 9 everywhere, only taking it off in the mornings to charge while I got ready for the day. I used it to track my sleep and fitness activities including outdoor runs, indoor strength training and outdoor cycling. I used the on-screen keyboard and Siri to respond to text messages. I wore the Series 9 at the same time as a few other smartwatches to compare comfort, battery life, software and fitness data metrics.

What I like about the Apple Watch Series 9

Like its predecessors, the Apple Watch Series 9 is very easy to use. I find the layout, settings, and interface all very familiar and intuitive for an iPhone user like myself. The always-on display and narrow frame make it easy to read information and swipe through notifications, even while running or with gloved hands. It syncs easily with Apple’s Health and Fitness apps to provide useful data that keeps me better informed about my workouts and sleep quality.

But all of that can also be said about the previous Series 8. The new features in the Series 9 are what make it my new go-to smartwatch.

Double Tap is incredibly useful

Double Tap made it easier to start outdoor workouts.
Double Tap made it easier to start outdoor workouts.Courtesy Harry Rabinowitz

As described earlier, Double Tap has been incredibly useful to start and stop workouts without having to tap anything on the watch’s screen. I use Double Tap to start and stop my cold-weather outdoor runs which has been much easier than peeling off my gloves and pulling back my long-sleeve layers to physically tap the screen.

You can also use Double Tap to answer calls, start and stop music and more, but interacting with workout notifications has been where I’ve noticed the most difference.

Siri is more functional than ever

I use Siri to send texts while my hands are full, namely while I am running, cycling or carrying groceries (things I do often). One of the main reasons I wear an Apple Watch over something like a Garmin Forerunner is because of this voice-to-text feature.

With the new internal components, I find that Siri is more functional than ever. It’s faster: the Series 9 completes long voice-to-text messages 2 to 3 seconds faster than my Apple Watch SE. Siri is also up to 25% more accurate in its dictation, according to Apple. Sending a variety of long, mumble-speaking or sing-songy texts to my partner, I also found about a 25% accuracy improvement over an older Watch model like the SE.

Precision Finding with iPhone 15

Precision Finding helped me find my iPhone 15.
Precision Finding helped me find my iPhone 15.Courtesy Harry Rabinowitz

Precision Finding only works with the iPhone 15 paired with an Apple Watch Series 9 or Ultra 2 — these devices all have the brand’s second-generation ultra wideband internal chip.

WatchOS 10

Apple’s latest software update, watchOS 10, launched in September on all Apple Watch Series 4 and newer. It is a comprehensive update to nearly everything in the Apple Watch experience. Apps look different, cycling workouts create a pseudo bike computer out of your iPhone, the compass app shows 3D elevation views and trail information, Apple maps can be downloaded for offline use and the list of changes goes on and on. 

WatchOS 10 isn’t specific to the Apple Watch Series 9, but the software changes made the Series 9 and even my old SE better to use.

What I don’t love about the Apple Watch Series 9

Out of the box, the Apple Watch has always been smart, notifying me about everything — my group texts, multiple email inboxes, reminders to stand up and more. If you are not intentional about your settings, the Apple Watch can quickly become too helpful, an annoying square screen that won’t stop buzzing trying to make sure I am up-to-date on all my things.

This is not unique to the Apple Watch, and it is easily solved by going into the settings menu and customizing your notifications (and anything else) to your liking. For me, turning off email alerts and a few other reminders helps my Apple Watch feel more like a watch and less like a second phone incessantly buzzing on my wrist.

What’s Apple’s return policy?

Apple offers a 14-day standard return policy on all its products. Only products purchased directly from Apple, either online or at an Apple store, can be returned to Apple — an Apple Watch purchased through Amazon follows Amazon’s return policy.

Why trust Select?

Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at NBC Select who covers technology and fitness including fitness trackers, running shoes, earbuds and new product launches. For this piece, he wore the Apple Watch Series 9 for three weeks after the brand sent him one to try.

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