Our review of the Apple Watch 9: It’s a small but worthwhile upgrade

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Apple


We’ve finally got our hands on Apple’s latest smartwatch. 

Whether you’re thinking about upgrading from Apple Watch Series 8 (or an earlier version) or you’re just a newb who’s mulling your very first smartwatch buy, we have all the advice you need on whether the new Series 9 is right for you. We’ve even factored in folks who may be interested in buying this model for a child in lieu of a smartphone, or for a non-tech-savvy elderly parent who might benefit from the watch’s safety features.

Apple Watch Series 9 has a starting price of $399, but that figure can be a little misleading. What you’ll end up paying really comes down to how much watch you want — whether you want to use the watch as a phone, and what kind of casing or band suits your fancy. You’ll also pay a little bit less if you buy your watch from Amazon, as opposed to buying from Apple directly.

To give you an idea, here are some of the popular Apple Watch Series 9 configurations (and their starting prices):

  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 41mm, GPS only, rubber or textile band) – $390 on Amazon
  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 45mm, GPS only, rubber or textile band) – $420 on Amazon
  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 41mm, GPS + Cellular, rubber or textile band) – $490 on Amazon
  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 45mm, GPS + Cellular, rubber or textile band) – $520 on Amazon

Apple Watch Series 9: At a glance

Casing size options: 41mm or 45mm | Casing material options: Aluminum or stainless steel | Battery life: Up to 18 hours, 36 hours in Low Power mode | Water resistance: 50 meters | Connectivity: GPS only or GPS + Cellular (both with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) | Display: Always-on Retina LTPO OLED touchscreen | Maximum display brightness: 2,000 nits | Operating system: Apple WatchOS 10 (or later) | Processor: Apple S9 | Watch band: Extensive selection of styles and colors

In terms of appearance, the Apple Watch Series 9 should look familiar to anybody who already has an Apple Watch. But it’s what’s inside the watch — the upgrades to the operating system, the new watch bands, the enhancements to pre-installed apps and the addition of new ones — that make Apple Watch Series 9 worthy of your consideration.


Apple Watch Series 9: What it’s really good for

In the early days, Apple Watches were basically just a second, tiny screen for an iPhone. Not anymore. The Apple Watch Series 9 can now be considered a powerful and feature-packed communications, productivity, health/fitness, safety and entertainment device that’s extremely customizable. 

To be honest, if you’re thinking about upgrading from an Apple Watch Series 8 to an Apple Watch Series 9 and sticking with the same configuration (especially when it comes to choosing between the GPS or GPS + Cellular version), you’re not going to notice a big difference. This new version, as well as versions of the Apple Watch from Series 4 to the present (along with the Apple Watch Ultra, Ultra 2 and SE) can all run WatchOS 10 and benefit from the same features and preinstalled apps. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few plusses. The two things I noticed within minutes of setting up my new Apple Watch Series 9, were the brighter display and faster overall speed of the watch. These are hardware-based enhancements that make a big difference.

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Jason R. Rich


As for what else Apple Watch is good for, that has a lot to do with you. Yes, it tells the time and displays the date. Using a customizable watch face, the watch’s can also showcase the weather, your next appointment, your activity level for the day, the local air quality, the phase of the moon and your heart rate, for example. Plus, you can choose from a pre-created stagnant or animated watch face, or you can create your own using your favorite digital photo, or even an emoji as the centerpiece.

Personally, my custom watch face rotates between displaying 10 photos of my dog, while also posting the time, date, day of the week and current weather. I created this watch face in a matter of minutes using the tools offered by the Apple Watch app on my iPhone. 

Beyond just appearance, the Apple Watch Series 9 is a customizable tool that can boost all aspects of your life while it’s wrapped around your wrist. Here are just some of the ways people utilize their Apple Watch on a typical day. Again, you can pick what functionality you want to take advantage of based on your personal needs.


Apple Watch 9 offers powerful safety features

One of the biggest reasons why I invested in the GPS + Cellular version of the Apple Watch for myself and my 83 year old mother, as well as and recommended it to the parents of my 12 year old niece, is for the safety features. They’re a big deal -– even when an iPhone is not nearby.

The main safety features of the watch include emergency SOS, international emergency calling, fall detection and auto crash detection. Last winter when I was walking my dog, I slipped on ice and banged my head. The watch’s fall detection feature kicked in and had me confirm I was conscious. If I did not respond, the watch would have contacted 9-1-1 and my emergency contacts automatically and at the same time, shared my location. 

Meanwhile, I often serve as a speaker aboard cruise ships and travel overseas. If I find myself in danger, I can simply hold down the side button on the Apple Watch and contact 9-1-1 (or the international equivalent) in an emergency gives me tremendous peace of mind.

I chose the GPS + Cellular version of the Apple Watch for my mother because she lives alone and is concerned about slipping in the shower or having a problem when she’s walking her dog at night. If something does happen to her, even though she’s not at all tech savvy, the watch’s fall detection feature will kick in, or she can use the Emergency SOS feature. If an authorized family member can’t reach her, it’s easy to track her location in real time using the Find My app to ensure she’s safe.

As for my niece, like all 12 year olds, she is gaining her independence, but her parents were not comfortable giving her a smartphone at her age. The Apple Watch offers a great alternative. Using the Family Setup feature, my sister can control the watch via her iPhone and fully adjust the integrated parental control features. At the same time, my niece can make and receive calls, plus send and receive text messages via the watch, but only communicate with people my sister has pre-approved. My niece also knows that in an emergency, she has access to the Emergency SOS feature. 

Also from a safety standpoint, if the person wearing the GPS + Cellular version of the Apple Watch ever gets lost, between Siri, the watch’s GPS functions and the pre-installed Apple Maps app, all someone needs to do is say, “Siri, how do I get home from here” or “Siri, how do I get to [insert location]” in order to get real-time, turn-by-turn walking, driving or mass transit directions to their intended destination. Again, this is possible even if the person’s iPhone is not with them.

My experience using the safety features of the Apple Watch have been extremely positive, with past versions of the Apple Watch and so far with the Series 9 version as well. I believe these features alone offer a compelling reason to own and wear an Apple Watch with GPS + Cellular connectivity.


Apple Watch 9 is a health device you wear on your wrist

For someone who is health- and fitness-minded, loves exercising or participating in a wide range of fitness and recreational activities, the Apple Watch Series 9 has it all. It can track everything from blood oxygen levels, heart rate and body temperature, to distance traveled, speed, elevation, calories burned, stress level and sleep patterns. Also built into the watch are specialized functions for a wide range of exercises, from running, cycling and Pilates, to swimming, surfing, rowing, kickboxing, walking and more. The watch uses its internal sensors to gather data and share it with the Health app (or other health/fitness apps) on the iPhone.

And as you’d expect, Apple Watch Series 9 supports Apple Fitness+. In fact, when you purchase a new Apple Watch, you get a three-month trial subscription for free. After that, it costs $10 per month or $80 per year. With this service, you get access to more than 4,000 pre-created workouts, between five and 45 minutes in length, that cover more than a dozen fitness-related activities. There are also live, audio- and video-based group training sessions you can access via your watch. With Apple Fitness+ it’s easy to identify your fitness goals, create a plan and monitor your progress using the Apple Watch and your iPhone. 

Beyond fitness, Apple Watch can be used as a medical device and sleep monitor, especially when it’s wirelessly paired with other equipment. An, if you take prescription medications, the watch’s medication app can remind you when to take them and keep a log of what you’ve taken.


Apple Watch 9 would make Dick Tracy jealous

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Jason R. Rich


As long as the watch is within about 33 feet from an iPhone, the-GPS only version of an Apple Watch Series 9 can make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, access Siri and handle any other task that requires Internet access using one of the watch’s preinstalled or optional apps. But, the GPS + Cellular version of the watch can handle all of that and more, even when the iPhone is not close. In fact, you can leave your phone at home when you go for a walk, head out to the gym, or wander away from your desk at work.

The Apple Watch itself has a built-in microphone and speaker system which allows it to serve as a speakerphone with surprising clarity. However, I found that it’s much easier to make and receive calls, or even dictate outgoing text messages and access Siri when the Series 9 watch is paired with wireless earbuds, such as the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen). 

When it comes to composing text messages using the watch, there are four options. You can use the small virtual keyboard that appears on the display, use your finger to draw one letter/number at a time on the display, you can dictate the message with your voice and have Siri transcribe it, or you can send a pre-written response with a single on-screen tap. 

And if you want to communicate with other Apple Watch users, there’s also the Internet-based walkie-talkie feature and FaceTime audio. It’s true these are all features offered by previous versions, but the faster processor and brighter screen make using the watch easier. Plus, Siri now has better accuracy when dictating messages.

I would not recommend composing long emails using the Apple Watch, but you can be alerted of incoming messages and quickly respond to them with ease.


Apple Watch 9 is a customizable productivity tool

Another great thing about the Apple Watch is that it shares data automatically with many of the apps on your iPhone, including the Calendar, Notes and Reminders app. This means you can use the watch to keep you running on time, while keeping all of your responsibilities organized. 

Oh, and don’t worry about having your wallet with you when you shop at a store or eat out. Apple Watch is fully compatible with Apple Pay and virtually all apps for restaurants, like McDonald’s and Starbucks.

Instead of having to constantly look at your phone when you receive notifications, all of this information is well organized and easily accessible. The enhanced performance of the Apple Watch Series 9, in conjunction with new functionality integrated into WatchOS 10, makes handling these productivity, time management and organizational tasks that much more convenient. 

Another useful tool is the Apple Watch’s integration with Apple News. This allows you to read news headlines, stay up-to-date on breaking news events and even read more in-depth articles directly from the watches screen. 

And when the Apple Watch has Internet access, it can be used to remotely control other smart equipment, such as your smart TV, video doorbell, smart lights, home security system, or even your smart coffee maker. 


Apple Watch 9 is a versatile entertainment device

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Jason R. Rich


If you get the GPS-only version, as long as your iPhone is nearby, you can use the watch to stream music or podcasts, play simple games and share pictures stored in your iCloud Photo Library. The Apple Watch works with Audible for listening to audio books. There are also plenty of other streaming music apps you can use with the watch.

With the GPS + Cellular version of the watch, these functions can be used anytime and virtually anywhere. So you can hear your favorite playlist while on a run, listen to a podcast as you walk your dog, or browse through your photos while you’re waiting in line at the checkout counter of a supermarket. 

Plus, when you install the official apps for the various social media services, you can use Apple Watch to check your accounts anytime, although interactive functionality and posting capabilities are limited from the watch. 


Apple Watch Series 9: Getting started

Your new watch comes with your selected watch band and the charging cable. The watch should be partially charged, so you can begin setup right away. With some enhancements made to WatchOS 10 and iOS 17, setting up a new watch from scratch or transferring content from your old Apple Watch to your new one is very quick. I was able to complete my watch’s initial setup in about 10 minutes. 

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Jason R. Rich


When you turn on the new Apple Watch for the first time, it will tell you to place it close to the iPhone you want to pair it with. The watch and the phone will make an automatic connection. You’ll be asked to use the iPhone’s rear-facing camera and point it at the Apple Watch’s display for several seconds early in the setup process for the connection between the two device to be fully established.

Next, you’ll be given the option to set up the new watch from scratch or transfer content from your old Apple Watch to your new one. Simply choose the appropriate option and let the watch and phone do their thing. If you’ve purchased the GPS + Cellular version of the watch, there are a few extra steps involved with activating (or transferring) the watch’s cellular connectivity and linking it with your iPhone’s existing cellular plan. Follow the on-screen directions, but most of this process also happens automatically.

Much of your personal information and app specific data needed by the Apple Watch will be transferred directly from your iPhone. This whole setup process will take about 10 to 15 minutes. One of the last steps iwill be giving the watch permission to update the WatchOS to the very latest version. This process, if required, will take up to 10 to 15 additional minutes. You’re then ready to strap your new Apple Watch onto your wrist and begin using it.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much more streamlined and easy Apple has made the initial watch setup process. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be tech savvy, if you follow the directions displayed on the watch’s screen, you should have no trouble setting up the watch. However, if you do run into a problem, you can set up a free appointment at any Apple Store to have them activate the watch for you, or you can call AppleCare (800-275-2273) for over the phone help.


Apple Watch Series 9: Customization and operation

As someone who upgraded from an older version to the Apple Watch Series 9, I really like the new ways to interact with the watch using the double-tap feature. Plus, the way the watch now displays information is far more accessible and efficient. When you swipe up from the bottom of the display, you get access to the redesigned Smart Stack, which displays app-specific information efficiently. 

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Jason R. Rich


Pressing the crown still gives you access to the app menu, while holding down the crown button activates Siri. Simply by rotating the crown button when viewing the main watch face, you can quickly view app-specific information from the Smart Stack. 

Pressing the watch’s side button quickly provides access to the watch’s icon-based function menu, while pressing and holding down the side button for a few seconds gives you access to your Medical ID information (composed using the Health app on your iPhone), as well as the ability to manually activate the Emergency SOS feature. From this screen, tap on the power icon in the top-right corner to turn off the watch’s power.

From the watch face you choose, at any time, you can also swipe downward (from the top of the display) to view recent app-specific alerts, alarms and notifications. Much of this interaction with the watch is the same as with older versions, but the hardware upgrades in the Series 9 make interacting with the watch more convenient and straightforward. 


Apple Watch Series 9: Final thoughts…

Is the Apple Watch Series 9 a big upgrade? No. There are some nice new features, not to mention the brighter display, faster processor and longer battery life, but whether you find these improvements worth the price of upgrade is a personal decision. I am personally pleased with my decision to upgrade. I was a bit disappointed, however, by the really low trade-in value I was offered by Apple for my older watch.

If you’re upgrading from an Apple Watch that’s Series 7 or older, you’ll notice significant performance improvements, along with access to new features. Plus, everything the screen displays will look sharper, brighter and more vibrant.

For someone who has never used a smartwatch in conjunction with their iPhone, or who has used a basic activity tracker in the past, you’ll quickly discover that the addition of the Apple Watch on your wrist adds a whole set of conveniences. And with the latest capabilities added to Apple Watch Series 9, there’s never been a better time to invest in and start using a smartwatch. 

Yes, I would definitely consider the Series 9 to be just an incremental upgrade from the Series 8, but if you already rely on the Apple Watch’s various features and functions in your everyday life, you’ll likely appreciate the faster performance, extended battery life, brighter screen and the new ways to interact with the watch that make it more efficient.

If you’re ready to order your new Apple Watch Series 9, follow these Amazon links to help you find the perfect configuration.

  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 41mm, GPS only, rubber or textile band) – $390 on Amazon
  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 45mm, GPS only, rubber or textile band) – $420 on Amazon
  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 41mm, GPS + Cellular, rubber or textile band) – $490 on Amazon
  • Apple Watch Series 9 (Aluminum, 45mm, GPS + Cellular, rubber or textile band) – $520 on Amazon

Why we like the Apple Watch Series 9

  • It’s versatile. Beyond just a timepiece, it’s communications, productivity, health, fitness, safety and entertainment tool. What it did before, it now handles more efficiently.
  • Between its hardware configurations, watch bands, watch faces and apps, Apple Watch Series 9 is more customizable than ever.
  • The enhanced performance of the S9 processor, combined with the brighter screen, better battery life, the enhanced capabilities of the WatchOS, and the improved preinstalled apps make the watch more reliable.
  • The vast selection of apps and accessories, including Bluetooth headphones or earbuds, give users plenty of options for how they can best enjoy the watch.
  • While Apple Watch Series 9 is a more powerful smartwatch than previous models, Apple has kept the pricing of the watch consistent with older versions.

Why we don’t like about the Apple Watch Series 9

  • For the watch to perform autonomously from an iPhone, the GPS + Cellular version of the watch is required. This means spending more money taking on the additional monthly fee (of about $10) for cellular service.
  • The Series 9 version of the watch is really only an incremental upgrade from the Series 8, so many users might not want the performance boost offered by the new model.

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