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Apple Watch Series 9 review: Still a great smartwatch with poor battery life

Our Rating :
£399.00 from
Price when reviewed : £399
inc VAT (41mm, aluminium)

The Apple Watch is still the best smartwatch money can buy but its limited battery life is becoming increasingly embarrassing


  • Huge range of capabilities
  • On-device Siri
  • Great GPS accuracy


  • Short battery life
  • Heart rate monitor still flawed

The Apple Watch Series 9 is one of those products that almost doesn’t need a review. The updates to it this year are so minimal that a layperson would struggle to tell the difference between it and the Series 7, let alone its immediate predecessor.

At this point in my formulaic “nothing to see here” intro, I would usually side step and say something like: “Well, there’s actually plenty that’s new, you just can’t see it from the outside.” Not here. In fact, I’m struggling to justify why anyone should upgrade from either the Series 8 or Series 7. There are some differences, of course, but they don’t add up to much.

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Apple Watch Series 9 review: What you need to know

The Apple Watch Series 9 shares most of its core features and physical attributes with its two immediate predecessors. Nothing has changed on the design front (apart from a new pale pink colourway) and even the internal hardware is mostly the same.

The only major change to the product itself is to the processor – upgraded from the S8 SiP to the S9 SiP (system in package) – but even here you won’t really notice much change. I’ve never had any complaint about the Apple Watch’s responsiveness to taps, clicks, scrolls and voice commands and the same goes for this wearable.

What this new chip does enable, however, is a couple of minor improvements: first, to Siri voice recognition, which can now respond on-device (and thus more quickly) to commands that don’t need access to the internet. A faster neural engine, meanwhile, also helps to improve dictation accuracy according to Apple.


The display now goes brighter – up to 2,000 nits – again I’ve never experienced screen brightness as being an issue with previous Apple wearables. And there’s a new hands-free gesture to control things on screen. On the hand wearing the watch, you double tap your forefinger and thumb together to dismiss notifications, answer calls, pause or play music and so on without having to touch the screen.

I hesitate to call this a truly “new” feature, though, first because it’s not here yet – Apple says it is coming soon – and, second, because it’s an expansion of an accessibility feature that already existed on previous Apple Watches.

Apple Watch Series 9 from the side

Potentially more significant, although not from any kind of impact on usability or performance, is that the Apple Watch Series 9 is the first fully “carbon neutral” Apple product. Although, note, this is only if you purchase one with the Sport Loop.

That might make you feel better about buying one, I suppose, but if you’re worried about your impact on the planet and the environment, you’d be better off buying a second-hand Series 7 or Series 8 instead.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Price and competition

The Apple Watch Series 9 starts at £399 for the 41mm aluminium version (£429 for the 45mm) and rises to a base price of £699 (£749 for the 45mm) for the 41mm stainless steel model. I’ve tested the 45mm aluminium model for this review.

These prices are for the Watch with the cheapest rubber and textile wristbands, including the carbon neutral sport loops. You can, of course, opt for more exotic materials, including the new Magnetic Link and Milanese Loop straps, but these do add to the price. In this case, there’s an extra £50 to pay.

There is no other smartwatch as capable as the Apple Watch, for iPhone owners at least, so the alternatives come in the main from Apple’s own stable of wearables. The only cheaper option here is the Apple Watch SE (2nd generation) which is available from a very reasonable £219 but lacks some key features. It has no always-on display capability, for example, and won’t measure or track your blood oxygen levels (SpO2) or your body temperature.

If money is no object (or at the very least less of one) then you can go for the more rugged Apple Watch Ultra 2, which has a larger body, screen and longer battery life but also starts from £799.

As for competitors from outside the Apple ecosystem, you’re looking at something from a dedicated fitness brand such as the Garmin Forerunner 265 (£430) or the Coros Pace 3 (£219) – or a smartwatch that supports both Android and iOS such as the Huawei Watch GT4 (£230). The latter looks a lot more attractive than the Apple Watch Series 9 and has far better battery life but lacks the smartphone integrations and app ecosystem the Apple Watch Series 9 enjoys.

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Apple Watch Series 9 review: Design and new features

As I’ve already highlighted, there’s nothing new about the physical design of the Series 9 at all. It looks identical to the Series 8, which in turn looked the same as the Series 7. The watch case on the 45mm still measures 38 x 45 x and 10.7mm (WDH), while on the 41mm it’s 35 x 41 x 10.7mm. And these house LPTO AMOLED displays with resolutions of 394 x 484 and 352 x 430 pixels respectively.

There’s sapphire crystal glass topping the screen, which should mean it’s tough enough to shrug off the worst scuffs and bangs and the physical controls are in the same places, too. The watch is water resistant to 50M so you can take it swimming and, as you’d expect, it’s backwards compatible with the same watch bands as the Series 8 and 7.

This means it’s just as comfortable to wear as its predecessors and looks just as good on the wrist, especially if you enable the always-on screen mode.

The new features, as described above, don’t add too much to the experience of using an Apple Watch, either. Yes, Siri does respond more quickly to commands as a result of on-device Siri and the new S9 chip. HomePod Media control works well – the watch will launch Now Playing whenever you’re near – but I’m not sure whether I need it or not.

It’s nice, too, to have Precision Find for your iPhone enabled on the watch, which works via the Ultrawideband tech first introduced alongside Apple AirTags, although my enthusiasm for this feature is somewhat dampened by the fact that it only works iPhones, not AirPods or AirTags, and only the latest iPhones 15, at that.

In fact, I’d say that, for most people, the biggest difference they’re going to see is down to WatchOS 10, which radically overhauls all sorts of things, not least the way you interact with core things like the buttons, home screen and apps view.

The main change here is the introduction of Smart Stacks – a series of context-sensitive widgets or cards that provide information such as news headlines, workout summaries and upcoming appointments. The problem is that these have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is off the main watch face at the bottom of the screen, where the Control Centre used to be.

That’s initially disorientating, but okay; you can now access Control Centre with a single press of the side button. However, this also displaces another core view: Recent Apps. That view can now be accessed with a double press of the digital crown.

If you’ve been wearing an Apple Watch for a few years, these changes will take a while to get used and I’m not entirely sure they were completely necessary, but as these changes aren’t exclusive to the Series 9, it’s not a criticism I can level at the watch itself.

Other WatchOS 10 changes are more cosmetic. The App view grid is now a vertically scrolling view that you can’t zoom in and out of. I think this is an improvement but your mileage may vary. And various core apps have been given a bit of a makeover, too, including the Weather, Mindfulness and Heart rate apps.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: The Double Tap gesture

The single biggest feature the Watch Series 9 – and the Watch Ultra 2, for that matter – bring is the “Double Tap” gesture. This is a big deal because it means you can control certain things one-handed, simply by tapping your thumb and forefinger (or middle finger) together twice quickly.

Frustratingly, Apple isn’t bringing the feature to the Apple Watch officially until later this year, but I’ve been able to get a flavour of how this works by activating the Assistive Touch Hand Gestures accessibility setting, which delivers a similar type of capability.

And it certainly works well enough, recognising not only double taps but also single taps, fist clenches and double fist clenches. The accessibility features even let you customise what each gesture does, allowing you to navigate and operate the Watch without ever having to touch the screen.

When Double Tap finally arrives, it will work differently and will focus on the double tap gesture alone. By default, double tapping your fingers from the watch face will launch the Smart Stack and, in apps, it will mainly be used to carry out basic actions such as starting and stopping the stopwatch, or dismissing notifications when they appear. You’ll also be able to use it to confirm that you want to start a workout when the watch detects that you’ve been walking or running for a while.

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Apple Watch Series 9 review: Performance, accuracy and battery life

When it comes to performance, the S9 SiP doesn’t improve responsiveness in a meaningful way until you ask Siri to do something for you, at which point it feels like a major step forward. I’ve never been a big user of Siri on the Apple Watch but it does feel snappier here, in particular dictation for quick message replies, the text for which seems to fire onto the screen in ridiculously quick time.

In fact, any action that doesn’t require an internet connection – starting and stopping the stopwatch, setting up a timer or controlling music playback – happens just that bit quicker because it works without needing to pass the request through your phone to the internet and wait for a response back.

That’s all good stuff but, if you were hoping for other aspects of performance to improve, I’m afraid you’re sadly out of luck. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. GPS accuracy is on point, as it was last year, tracking distance and pace extremely well when compared with my control device, the 3rd generation Styrd running pod. And the heart rate monitor, when comparing averages taken over a whole run, looked pretty good compared with my Polar H10 chest belt as well.

Apple Watch Series 9 hr and distance accuracy chart

This doesn’t tell the whole story on heart rate accuracy, however. Although the monitor was  incredibly accurate when it was able to gain a lock on my heart rate, there are occasions when it simply loses that lock. And when that happens, it leaves big gaps in the data, sometimes for minutes on end. I don’t need to tell you that this is hardly ideal. If you rely on live heart rate data for training, then, I would purchase a chest belt and use that instead.

Apple Watch Series 9 heart rate trace chart

And the battery life issue still hasn’t changed, with Apple quoting a mere 18 hours of use on its website, a claim I wouldn’t dispute as it’s so disappointingly unambitious. To clarify, I’ve never seen the watch fall drastically short of this time, even with an hour-and-a-half outdoor run thrown into the mix but neither have I seen it last significantly longer.

The long and short of it is that you’ll need to charge the Apple Watch Series 9 at least once a day, just like always. And this is something, increasingly, that is becoming untenable in a world where other brands (except Samsung) can make their OLED-screened fitness and smartwatches last a week and more.

Apple Watch Series 9 review: Verdict

Despite that, the Apple Watch Series 9 remains the best smartwatch for iPhone owners. Its huge range of capabilities is unrivalled, its app ecosystem ensures there are plenty of ways to expand that and, in every other respect, it’s a five-star product.

It looks great, performs brilliantly and, once you get used to the new way WatchOS 10 works, it’s easy to get to grips with and use. And, while the new features aren’t particularly groundbreaking, they do make a small difference to the overall experience, which is already spectacularly good.

Overall, then, the Apple Watch is still a great product. Not good enough, perhaps, to upgrade to if you already own a Series 7 or a Series 8 but if you have an early Apple Watch and love it, perhaps now is the time to make the leap.

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