Review: Apple Watch Series 9 is elegant, powerful and packs a lot into a slim package

The Apple Watch Series 9 displaying the customisable home screen.
The Apple Watch Series 9. Photo credit: Newshub

Apple Watch Series 9 is a bright, powerful and elegant device featuring impressive functionality combined with some welcome green tech. 

As a recent Apple convert, I found the Series 9 gave me everything I wanted from a smartwatch in one slick package, even though its most tantalising feature won't be on our wrists for a few weeks yet. 

Starting at $750 for a base model, there are definitely cheaper smartwatch options out there; but those willing to fork out for a premium product will find it well worth the expense. 

I transitioned from a Galaxy Watch 5 Pro to using the 45mm aluminum Apple Watch Series 9 and the first thing I noticed was how light and comfortable it felt, weighing just 39g.

While the more adventurous types may enjoy the heftier feel offered by the Ultra model, how quickly I forgot I was wearing the Series 9 even while outdoors or exercising was a great indicator of its comfort. 

And for those particularly outdoorsy types, all of the Series 9 models are swim-proof as water resistant and dust resistant, as well as featuring a crack resistant front crystal. The standard Sport Loop band is comfortable, if not particularly eye-catching, but for users wanting a splash of colour Apple has paired with Nike to produce a more artistic range of straps.   

Personally I think the Nike bands look like what happens when you let young kids loose on blank walls with crayons, but I'm sure they'll work for someone. 

The screen strikes a nice balance between usability and clarity, boasting up to 2000 nits of brightness in direct sunlight and being able to go all the way down to 1 nit during sleep mode. With summer on the way, not having to shade my wrist every time I wanted to use the watch outside in bright sun was excellent.

Watch faces for the Series 9 are more expansive and offer an impressive degree of customisation. It affords not only stylistic choices such as fonts and colouring, but each segment of your home screen can be edited to include 'complications' - basically whatever information or app readout you use most frequently.  

Under the hood Series 9 uses a new S9 SiP chip with a GPU promising up to 30 percent more speed than Series 8, which was already miles faster than most other smartwatches out there. One thing enabled by that extra power is a smoother interaction with Siri, as the processing can happen onboard the watch as opposed to going to the cloud and back. 

Being able to read a text on my watch then dictate and send a reply in seconds was seamless and though Siri did occasionally struggle with my accent, it's exciting seeing us inch closer to a more naturalistic, hands-free way of interacting with our devices.  

The Apple Watch Series 9 reviewed by Finn Hogan for Newshub NZ.
Photo credit: Newshub

Unfortunately one of Watch 9's most exciting features in this vein, Double Tap, is not yet available in New Zealand. This enables users to control their watch through gestures and is an impressive step towards a motion computing future which sci-fi has long imagined and tech companies have long promised but not yet delivered. 

It's a disappointment for Watch 9 to lack such a cool feature at launch but considering everything else it offers and Double Tap arriving via update later this month, at least the disappointment won't be lasting.  

Overall, the speed and responsiveness of Watch 9 impressed me, even down to the small animation flourishes when scrolling through my apps or switching between functions. 

With regular use, I generally managed a full day of use between charges which is common for smartwatches with this level of functionality but I do wish there was a greater investment in battery life for such a premium product. Low power mode promises up to 36 hours at reduced functionality, but I found that a little optimistic during my time with the watch.   

While not a hands-on feature, one of the coolest aspects of Watch 9 is its total carbon neutrality when paired with a Sport Loop band, an early step towards Apple's goal of being carbon neutral as a company by 2030.

While Apple has used 100 percent recycled aluminium in Apple Watch cases since 2005, Series 9 has 100 percent recycled gold, tin, copper, tungsten and uses 100 percent recycled cobalt in the battery.  

Considering the global need for these metals could quadruple in the coming decades as green tech scales up, it's good to see Apple focusing on how they can be harvested sustainably.  

Outside of the health of the planet, the detail of your personal health the Watch 9 reads is impressive. Blood pressure, heart rate monitoring and ECG measurements are available on demand or to run in the background and automatically update your health app. 

For those concerned by the privacy implications of letting your watch know that much about your bodily functions, Apple makes a point of your personal data being encrypted to your device. 

And there isn't much more personal info you can give than when wearing a watch to bed and Watch 9's sleep tracker is the most detailed and accurate I've tried. As someone who struggles with sleep, there's nothing more insulting than having a terrible night's rest and then waking up to your device congratulating you on your excellent eight hours, so I love Apple's advantage here.   

The Apple Watch Series 9 displaying the customisable home screen.
Photo credit: Apple

The Watch 9's sleep tracker also doesn't gamify your sleep by giving you a score judging each evening's rest, as is the case with many other health apps I've tried. It's nice to have just the actual sleep data, not what your watch thinks of it.

On fitness function, I generally used the Series 9 for running and enjoyed the precise route mapping and metric scores it provided but the biggest innovation compared to older models is expanded options for cycling.

While I am not one of New Zealand's 730,000 cyclists, I'm sure the fact Series 9 can pair with Bluetooth cycling accessories and provides advanced, cycling specific metrics covering speed and cadence that will thrill many of them.

Even for the more sedentary user, Series 9's automatic exercise detection tracks all that activity you do each day without thinking, even if it's just a quick walk down the street so you feel gains even when not actively going to the gym.

The final standout for me was the synergy between Series 9 and my other Apple devices, particularly the precision of 'Find My' app. As someone who loses almost all my belongings multiple times a day, being guided to my Phone, wallet or Airpods using haptics was a god send.

The verdict 

I found little to dislike in my time with Apple Watch Series 9, outside of the fact I couldn't access one of its coolest features at launch and the occasional conversational hiccup with Siri.

Its combination of power, precision and elegant design make a strong justification for its price tag and a great addition to the Apple lineup.

Newshub was supplied an Apple Watch Series 9 for this article.