Apple Watch Series 9 Review

The Ultimate Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 9 Review

Exploring the Apple Watch Series 9: Double Tap, On-Device Siri, and More


Have you observed the internet meme circulating, portraying individuals who inexplicably load their fingers with an excessive number of items? Regrettably, I must confess to being among their ranks. Irrespective of the size of my bag, my hands invariably become laden, rendering it arduous to operate my smartphone or smartwatch while on the move. I am not alone in this predicament. This is precisely why voice-activated assistants and hands-free gestures hold such allure.

Apple Watch Series 9 Unveils New Interaction Modes

The Ultimate Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 9 Review
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With the introduction of the Apple Watch Series 9, the company is unveiling a novel mode of interaction while enhancing another: the Double Tap and Raise to Speak functions (directed towards Siri). Furthermore, it is ushering in on-device Siri processing, allowing users to request health-related information and log daily statistics with the assistance of this digital companion. It is essential to note that these enhancements stem from the new S9 system-in-package (SiP) powering the device, which implies that they are unlikely to be accessible to earlier models via watchOS 10.

Enhanced Features and Gesture Control

The Series 9 also boasts a second-generation ultra-wideband (UWB) chip akin to the one found in the iPhone 15 series. This chip facilitates an updated interface for locating your connected phone. On the exterior, the new Apple Watch maintains a visual similarity to its predecessor. However, the revamped gesture feature alone may prove enticing enough to coax some into upgrading this year.

Double Tap: A Closer Look

The Ultimate Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 9 Review
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In the spirit of full disclosure, owing to a series of unfortunate mishaps involving FedEx, I only received a separate sample of the Apple Watch with Double Tap functionality enabled recently. Consequently, my real-world experience with this new gesture is limited to just a day. It’s worth emphasizing that this feature will not be accessible on watches shipping on September 22;

it will be activated via an over-the-air update later in October. Apple provided reviewers with supplementary units equipped with Double Tap functionality for our coverage and testing, in addition to the actual devices slated for consumer release. However, the remainder of this review is grounded in my experience with a Series 9 that I’ve had since the Apple event last week. The Double Tap sample arrived later, albeit I’ve already gained some insight into its potential utility.

When both hands or at the very least, the hand wearing the watch, are otherwise engaged, Double Tap loses its practicality. At a minimum, you require the availability of your thumb and index finger to execute the pinch action. However, during activities such as cleaning my apartment, maintaining a side plank, lifting a single dumbbell, or being engrossed in reading, this gesture significantly simplifies my life. I must admit that I appreciate the convenience it affords when scrolling through Reddit on my phone held in my right hand, without the need to set it down to dismiss a notification on my left wrist.

The Series 9 demonstrates proficiency in identifying instances of double pinches performed in quick succession, though it took me a few attempts to establish the correct rhythm. Tapping too swiftly or too subtly results in non-recognition. Despite my aversion to being told that I’m doing something incorrectly, in this case, where I’m acclimating to an entirely new gesture, I’m willing to invest the effort.

Apple employs a fusion of data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart rate monitor to discern movement and fluctuations in blood flow. This enables the watch to distinguish between touches made by different fingers. I managed to trigger Double Tap by mimicking the act of snapping my thumb and forefinger, as well as by tapping the side of my digit rather than the pad.

Differentiating Double Tap from Assistive Touch

The Ultimate Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 9 Review
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It’s important to clarify that Double Tap differs significantly from Assistive Touch, a feature introduced to watchOS in 2021. The latter is geared towards accessibility, and it has been a staple of iOS for several years. It empowers individuals with various mobility requirements to interact with the operating system. Activating Assistive Touch on the watch necessitates a visit to the settings, after which you can employ gestures like pinching and clenching for navigation. A double clench activates Assistive Touch, which brings up an outline surrounding elements on the screen. Subsequent pinches navigate through individual elements, and clenching serves as a substitute for tapping.

In contrast, Double Tap offers a more streamlined experience with a single action and limited scope. You must ensure that the Series 9 is awake. From the home screen, a double tap summons the Smart Stack, and successive pinches scroll through the widgets on that page. Customizing the default setting allows follow-up double taps on the Smart Stack to enter the top card.

Throughout the rest of watchOS, Double Tap is employed to trigger the primary function. Whether it’s starting or pausing a timer, silencing an alarm, controlling music playback, or responding to messages, Double Tap proves its utility. Apple has thoughtfully integrated this functionality into some applications. For instance, if you use Double Tap to respond to a message, it will present the option for voice typing, recognizing that you may not be able to use your other hand to type a response while already engaged in a pinch gesture to address a notification.

It’s worth noting that Double Tap isn’t universally available across all aspects of watchOS. For instance, while exploring the Phone app or checking my Move rings, the gesture remained non-responsive. A subtle indicator did appear to signal its registration, but it failed to correlate the action with any on-screen function. I appreciate the presence of this subtle indicator, as it significantly aids in my learning process of this gesture.

On-Device Siri Processing

The Ultimate Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 9 Review
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Having acknowledged these aspects, it appears that Double Tap may not be as revolutionary as initially portrayed during the keynote. Nevertheless, it remains a valuable tool that is likely to reduce the necessity of raising one’s wrist and swiping the screen.

Another noteworthy enhancement comes in the form of improved voice control on the Series 9. Specifically, Siri requests made on the new watches (including the Ultra 2) will undergo on-device processing. This presents several advantages, with responsiveness speed being the least significant. After conducting a side-by-side comparison of the Series 9 and Series 8, it became evident that this year’s watch exhibited only marginal improvement in responding to my “Hey Siri” requests.

However, the benefits of on-device processing extend beyond mere response time. The ability to invoke Siri for assistance while offline or disconnected from my iPhone is particularly noteworthy. For instance, when I left my paired iPhone 15 Pro at home during a visit to the gym, I was relieved to be able to instruct Siri to record an outdoor walk upon my return, despite the absence of my phone (which I typically use to issue such commands due to my hands being occupied, as is often the case).

Additionally, since user requests no longer leave the watch, Apple can facilitate requests for health-related data. Users can inquire about their sleep duration, and daily step count, or log specific health events, among other functions. Some of these capabilities are already accessible, while others are slated for availability through a future software update later this year.

It is pertinent to mention that the current responses provided by Siri in these scenarios leave room for improvement. When I inquired about the number of steps taken or calories burned, Siri opted to redirect me to the Move or Exercise ring pages instead of providing a direct response. When I requested my heart rate, it redirected me to the Heart Rate app for a reading, which, while reasonable, leaves room for the hope that future software updates will yield direct answers regarding steps or calories.

As I am unable to test this functionality at present, I cannot offer a comprehensive assessment of the impact of Siri Health Requests. However, it is a feature that has the potential to set Apple apart from its smartwatch competitors. The ability to effortlessly input data using voice commands could streamline the process of data collection and, consequently, enhance the insights gleaned from the watch. At present, no other wearable operating system offers such functionality.

Raise to Speak and UWB Chip

Lastly, with the Series 9, Apple has also improved “Raise to Speak.” This enhancement involves refining the algorithm to better anticipate your “Hey Siri” request before you raise your wrist. It leverages the power efficiency of the S9 SiP and the always-on microphone to capture a rolling 2-second audio buffer, enabling the device to capture your request before it is formally initiated. In theory,

this should enable users to bring the watch close to their mouth and initiate Siri with ease. However, in my experience, this functionality was only moderately successful, working as expected approximately half of the time. While effective, it felt almost magical. I could raise my wrist, speak into the watch case, and observe the Siri icon appear, along with the words I had just uttered. Consequently, there was no longer a need to engage in long presses of the Digital Crown or uttering “Hey Siri.”

HEY SIRI FUNCTIONALITY

Fortunately, even when Raise to Speak fails to register, users can still resort to the trusty “Hey Siri” command. Nonetheless, the extensive testing required for this feature proved somewhat irksome, especially considering the repetitive act of raising one’s wrist. But I digress; it has been an arm-intensive week at the gym, after all.

The Series 9 introduces another hardware-related feature, the second-generation UWB chip. This chip enhances the user experience by providing a novel interface for locating your paired iPhone. Presently, the Apple Watch permits users to activate a signal on their iPhone to make it ring. However, with the Series 9 linked to another device equipped with the new UWB chip, users can not only gauge their proximity to the misplaced device but also determine its directional orientation.

I experienced a moment of panic at the San Francisco airport when I believed I had lost my iPhone 15 Pro Max after clearing security. However, I swiftly utilized the Series 9 to signal my phone, bringing about a welcome sound. To my amusement, the watch informed me that my phone was a mere foot and a half away.

To access the new interface that provides directional information about the missing item, users must be more than five feet away from it. Upon returning home from the gym, I employed the Series 9 to ascertain my phone’s location, and the on-screen arcs and distance indicators effectively guided me to my couch where I had inadvertently left it. As I closed in on my phone, it emitted a vibration and rang, further facilitating its retrieval.

I was unable to test this feature with a HomePod, but the Series 9 can detect when you are within four meters of one and will automatically display the Now Playing screen, allowing for easy playback control.

Display Brightness and FineWoven Bands

One last hardware-related feature of note in the Series 9 is its screen brightness. The new model offers a screen that can reach up to 2,000 nits in brightness while also dimming to as low as 1 nit. This represents a doubling of the brightness capabilities compared to the Series 8, which was already quite readable in bright conditions. Consequently, I found the latest model to be easily viewable even on the brightest of days.

However, it is worth mentioning that the low-nit display may pose visibility challenges in dimly lit environments. I conducted a comparison while wearing both the Series 8 and Series 9, and the newer watch exhibited significantly lower brightness in a dark room. In such conditions, smaller text with low contrast bordered on illegibility. For those affected by this, it is reassuring to know that the device’s general brightness can be adjusted to mitigate excessively dim screen display.

Conclusion and Environmental Commitment

Aside from the aforementioned enhancements, there are few other substantial distinctions between the Series 9 and its predecessor. Many of the new features are also available through the watchOS 10 update, making them accessible to owners of older Apple Watches. As such, I will not delve into these aspects in detail. Similarly, I will not revisit previously tested functionalities such as fitness and sleep tracking, fall detection, and emergency SOS. These aspects are unlikely to significantly influence the decision to upgrade to the new watch.

One additional feature, available to users regardless of their watch generation, is the introduction of FineWoven bands. Apple has replaced leather with this material as part of its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. FineWoven is a suede-like material crafted from recycled materials, designed to offer a premium feel. While I prefer the texture of leather, I am willing to forgo this tactile sensation in support of environmental conservation.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is noteworthy that the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 represent Apple’s first foray into carbon-neutral products. This achievement, despite marketing endeavors and the juxtaposition of its 2030 vision with the launch of new devices, underscores the company’s commitment to minimizing its environmental impact.

For environmentally conscious consumers, this commitment may influence their choice between the Apple Watch Series 9 and competitors like Fitbit. However, for those who prioritize features such as Double Tap and Siri, as well as overall performance and battery life, other factors may take precedence.

The Series 9 is a versatile and well-rounded smartwatch, positioning itself as a leader in its category. The Double Tap and on-device Siri functionalities alone may provide sufficient incentive for owners of older Apple Watches, including the Series 8, to consider upgrading. Especially if they find the notion of swiping or tapping on a small wrist-mounted screen cumbersome.

What intrigues me even more is the future trajectory taking shape. With gestures like Double Tap, an increased emphasis on voice commands, and the earlier introduction of the Vision Pro headset, it is evident that Apple is charting a course for the future. The Series 9 appears to be laying the groundwork for a more immersive, hands-free ecosystem that holds great potential.

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