Apple Watch Series 9: What’s New and Hands-On

In addition to the new Apple Watch Ultra 2, Apple has also refreshed its regular Apple Watch lineup with the new Series 9. These units share a ton of new features, both from a hardware standpoint, but also a software standpoint. For example, both units got new brighter displays (albeit with different brightness levels), and both units got the same new Apple Silicon S9 chipset. And, both units got virtually identical sets of software updates.

Starting off with the hardware side of things, here’s what’s new:

  • New Apple Silicon S9 chipset, which Apple says has 5.6 billion transistors and is 60% more than before
  • New GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), which Apple states is 30% faster, allowing for faster rendering
  • New 4-core neural engine, which Apple states is twice as fast in machine learning applications
  • New far brighter 2,000 nit display (previously the Apple Watch Series 8 was 1,000 nits, whereas the previous/original Apple Watch Ultra maxed out at 2,000 nits, and the new Ultra 2 goes to 3,000 nits)
  • New display can also go down to just 1 nit, versus the previous 2 nits. Apple says that in turn drives a big savings in battery consumption due to the always-on side of things (of course, that battery savings is then spent on the faster processor bits)
  • New UWB 2 (Ultrawideband) chip, which increases finding of things (like your phone), including exact distance and direction, but also increased Homepod integration
  • New watch bands
  • Updated case made from 95% recycled aluminum (versus 0% prior)
  • Same battery claims as before, with “All Day Battery” being 18 hours in regular mode, or up to 36 hours in low power mode.
  • Same $399 starting price as before, shipping September 22nd

However, it’s these hardware components that then drive new software features, including:

  • New Double tap: This allows you to double-tap your index and thumb together, acting as a virtual button. You can answer a call, hang-up a call, snooze an alarm, take a picture from the camera, or any number of other custom actions (more on this down below). This is different than the gesture-based accessibility features that have been on units before (more on that later)
  • Siri now newly processes requests entirely offline (without cellular/WiFi) for things it can do locally
  • Siri can now log Apple Health metrics (purely via voice), including weight, period information, as well as respond to Health requests (e.g., asking for last night’s sleep stats) – available later this year in English and Mandarin

By far, the biggest new software feature here is Double Tap. Apple says the idea is that you may be holding a cup of coffee, or riding a bike, or otherwise having your hands full. By simply double-tapping your index and thumb together, it’ll trigger a button response, which varies based on the application/watch.

Apple says this feature leverages three core sensors: The accelerometer, gyro, and heart rate sensor. Specifically, they look at the tiny pulses using the optical HR sensor to validate the data they get from the gyro and accelerometer.

How double-tap responds varies based on what you’re doing in the watch. For example, if doing nothing and just on the watch face, a double tap will open up the list of widgets (called the Smart Stack on WatchOS 10). Whereas if a call is coming in, it’ll answer the call. And inversely, if on a call, it’ll hang up the call. Alarm ringing? It’ll snooze it. The double tap action is tied specifically to the primary button in any given app/scenario. Though not all apps do anything with it yet. For example, in sport recording modes, nothing happens.

In testing it out in the hands-on area, it works reasonably well. The first time I put different watches on my wrist I tended to need to adjust/tighten the straps a bit before it triggered, but once I found that ‘happy point’, it triggered flawlessly each time.

Note this is different than the accessibility-focused gesture-based feature that Apple has had in their watch. To begin, on the accessibility feature, that’s more limited in how it gets triggered, and is tied to specific components of the UI. Whereas double tap is running 24×7 to catch those double tap gestures. Further, 3rd party apps can leverage the double tap trigger points as well, and react accordingly. Again, there is overlap here, but it’s not quite as much as some think. Apple says the new S9 chipset is required to run this algorithm 24×7 to capture those actions.

On the new brighter display, it’s definitely brighter for sure. That’s most easily seen with the flashlight feature, albeit my Apple Watch Series 8 battery died shortly before I got to the hands-on area, so I’ll have to save that comparison for my review.

The heart rate sensor itself remains the same as last year, as does GPS – neither have changed. On the GPS side, that’s a bit disappointing. With so many other companies introducing multiband/dual-frequency GPS chipsets at this price point (or well below), it’d have been nice to see Apple go with multiband here like they have on the Apple Watch Ultra. Of course, as I continue to note: I don’t really care what GPS chipsets a company uses as long as it’s accurate. We’ve seen cases recently where some brands can make a non-multiband GNSS watch more accurate than another brand’s multiband watch. I just want accurate tracks, how a company arrives at that is up to them.

Apple talked a lot about the new Apple Silicon S9 chipset and being faster/better/etc. And that’s undoubtedly true for the many applications that Apple is leveraging it for (such as the offline Siri, etc…). However, in terms of just general watch speed and responsiveness, while the new chips are probably faster, it wasn’t something I could really notice in day-to-day use. But again, this is really more focused on other use cases.

There’s a huge slate of new straps, with a massive emphasis on recycled material. For example, the new Nike edition straps are all based on recycled materials (including from other old/used straps). Additionally, Apple will no longer make leather straps for any of their new products, instead going with alternative options. And even in the case of the Hermes branded Apple Watch straps, Apple won’t carry those in-store. Apple says this is because the environmental impact of leather at the scale Apple needs isn’t sustainable.

Comparing the updates on the Series 9 to the updates on the Ultra 2, I think it’s fair to say the Series 9 probably got a more meaningful upgrade bump than the Ultra 2 – namely in that display brightness doubling. Still, most of these changes are relatively minor from a new hardware/software standpoint. Apple talked a lot about how some of the biggest lifts here were more on the sustainability aspect of new components (and materials sourcing) to get to their goal of a carbon-neutral watch. That includes not just everything in the manufacturing chain running on clean energy, but also accounting for the daily charging requirements of the lifespan of the watch.

This is similar to what Suunto is doing, though Apple doesn’t specify in their documents how long that lifespan is. I’d think that’d be somewhat important in this equation to clarify. Still, if you read through the document, it’s legit impressive all the steps they’re taking.

Of course – the biggest features of the Apple Watch Series 9 aren’t necessarily the hardware ones, but all the new software features delivered by WatchOS 10, including the topographic maps, cycling power meter support, revamped user interface, and plenty more. All of these were previously outlined back in June at WWDC, Apple’s developer conference.

With that – stay tuned for the full in-depth review to see how things handle day-to-day with these new watches.

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen), Apple Watch Series 9 or Apple Watch Ultra 2 or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you shop with TPC (The Pro's Closet), you'll save $40 on purchases over $200 with coupon code DCRAIN40! The Pro's Closet has been a long-time partner of the site here - including sponsoring videos like my cargo bike race, as well as just being an awesome Colorado-based company full of good humans. Check them out with the links below and the DCRAIN40 coupon!

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
If you would like a profile picture, simply register at Gravatar, which works here on DCR and across the web.

Click here to Subscribe without commenting

Add a picture



  1. Cristian

    Still no 1-sec HR and HRV monitoring?

    HRV stress for me on Garmin is the most useful feature, as I can monitor how I recover during the day and squeeze another evening workout if I recovered well.

  2. Volker

    Are the topographic maps already also available for Europe? Or just only USA?

  3. ArT

    When to change appearance. I’m waiting because I won’t buy this childish look. When will there be a masculine look :).

    • Dave

      What do you it to have? A moustache?

    • Corey

      Personally a rectangular watch is a dealbreaker to me, looks and feels too much like a toy, or a miniature cell phone. One of my favorite things about my Garmin is that when I’m wearing the watch throughout the day, it looks and feels like a traditional timepiece. So it would be nice if Apple also offered a round watch – although, I do understand that will 100% never happen.

  4. TimmyB

    I am beginning to reach a crossroads in my tech life. On the one hand, I am passionately against cultism in ANY part of my life, and Apple is clearly infected with that (by their own design). However, I’m also tired of waiting for anyone in the Wear OS world to take performance seriously. Apple seems to have set their sights on Garmin, doing everything they can to compete with them in terms of athletic performance. Google/Samsung seem to do nothing but treading water, expecting that third-party devs are going to lead the way. Google’s partnership with FitBit (for me, anyway) has been a complete disaster. Instead of taking the best of FitBit and making the Pixel Watch simply killer, they seem to be scared of making it too good and hurting FitBit sales, so they keep it as mediocre as they can. It’s simply amazing how many different pieces I have to get to play together nicely just to do a treadmill run with step-cadence and music through Bluetooth headphones, while using an app where I can truly customize the display for my workouts! Seriously, at least five different things from five different manufacturers/developers! If one of those pieces decides to not play nicely . . .

    In a heartbeat, I would have an Apple Watch for their integration and performance. However, this would mean I have to switch to the iPhone and buy in 100% to their ecosystem. Not ready for that in any way but to admit that I’m even considering it is a massive jump for me. Please talk me off the ledge, Ray.

    • Dave

      I think that if you overcome the misgivings you might just find that you’re relieved – because it genuinely all does just work.

    • Paul S.

      I agree with that. I’m sitting here typing on a MacBook Air, with an iPhone, AirPods, and two AirTags in my pockets (cargo pants), and an AW Ultra on my wrist. Downstairs is my MacMini, a 13 year old MacPro, there are three HomePods in the house, two AppleTV’s. Everyone else in the house uses mostly Apple devices.

      They all work very well together. Not perfect by any means, but usually everything just works Sometimes I have to coerce my AirPods to connect to the device I want connected (sometimes the “automatically connect to the device you’re paying attention to” works, sometimes not). Getting ready for my new iPhone using the Upgrade program, I turned on iCloud backup on my current iPhone only to have it not work for some reason. (It complains about “missing files” but I still have no clue why missing files would prevent a backup. I backed up instead to my MacBook. I have a week to figure it out.) But usually, everything just works. All of the photos I take with my iPhone, plus the few I add to my iPhotos library by other means (primarily Zwift, which I do on my iPad mini) can be viewed on all of my devices with screens almost immediately. In general, iCloud just works.

      But that doesn’t mean Apple devices can do everything. I never use my Ultra for anything fitness related (you can’t prevent it from counting steps, you can prevent it from nagging you about it). I use Garmin devices for cycling, hiking, and cross country skiing. Garmin’s range is far more restricted, but it’s much better at what it does than Apple for that range.

    • Eni

      I have both a Samsung Galaxy Phone and an iPhone 13 (from work). Both have their pros and cons. Certain things just work like a charm with iOS, no hazzle (though over the years, the „no hazzle“ aspect has started to get a little bumby with iOS too…). Android isn‘t always as hazzle-free because it must integrate with so many third party devices, softwares, ecc. whilst Apple can concentrate on harmonising their own soft- and hardware (or maybe that‘s just Android‘s excuse, I dunno…). But Android allows for more customisation then iOS, at least in the areas I’m interested in. So, take some, give some.
      The Galaxy-Series has the better cameras, in my perspective. Seriously, when at work I need to make pictures in bad lighting, were it is imperative to zoom in in the picture and to recognise Details I can‘t get from the naked eye, all iPhones I’ve ever had were just not up to the task, far from it actualy. Even my old S10 still performs better then my iPhone 13… Sure, this is a very specific user-case scenario, but also when taking „normal“ pictures, my S10 beats the iPhone every time. Sometimes only by a bit, but most of the time by a lot.
      But aside from the camera, the real thing that keeps me from buying iPhones is the closed ecosystem… (I‘m old enough to remember when Apple always criticized Microsoft for the very same thing they now do themselves. And actualy in a much larger scale than Microsoft ever did).
      Sure, I can use many 3rd-Party accessories for iPhone too, but try using a Smartwatch with iPhone… Or Airtags, Airpods and other things without an iPhone (though, shame on you Samsung for doing the same thing with your Smarttags! Still waiting for a Tag that works at least across all Android-Devices, whitout the need of a 3rd-Party App).
      So yeah, I don‘t like closed (or too closed) ecosystems. I‘ve been using iPhones for 9 years now and still everytime buy an new(ish) Android Phone (so far only Samsung Galaxy, tbh) when the older one dies from age.
      But if you like the Apple ecosystem and don‘t mind the higher pricetag. Go for it. The Apple Watch is by far the best Smartwach there is, no doubt about it.
      I for myself -even if I was fully into the Apple ecosystem- still wouldn‘t buy the Apple Watch though. Or any other Smartwatch in any other ecosystem for that matter. Just because so far, none has come close to the Sports-Metrics from Garmin and I because I’d hate to recharge my Watch all the time. But this is a personal preference. Others don‘t want the metrics and/or don‘t need the longer battery life.

    • TimmyB

      Overcoming the misgivings is the difficult part. Thanks for the feedback, though. It is appreciated!

    • TimmyB

      Thanks for the honest assessment. It’s good to hear that Apple, despite the hype, is NOT as close to Garmin as I might have been thinking. This helps.

    • TimmyB

      Comment 10 was for Dave, comment 11 was for Paul. I didn’t realize they wouldn’t tag automatically.

    • TimmyB

      Eni, thanks for the detailed assessment. We sound very similar. I’ve been working computers since before the PC and I also care a lot about the sports side of the watch, particularly HR and GPS accuracy. Your post helps a lot.

    • ReadyKilowatt

      I’ll just pile on here too. As a Garmin user, I wish they would be more like Apple in pushing non-workout functions and interaction. As an Apple Watch user, I wish they would be more like Garmin in working better in an offline enviroment. And I wish there were better app stores for both.

    • Mr. T

      the workout app is garbage compared what Garmin offers.

    • TimmyB

      OK, I’m off the ledge. Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. What I truly wish for (and apparently, I’m far from being alone here) is for Garmin to simply add smartphone capabilities to their devices as they’ve already conquered the sport/performance side of things. No one has been able to explain to me why none of the Big 3 (Apple, Google, Samsung) can simply mimic what Garmin is doing, or why Garmin cannot simply add smartphone capabilities.

    • Paul S.

      Often Garmin can’t because Apple won’t let them. For example, Apple doesn’t let third party devices send texts through an iPhone, or answer/make calls, both of which you can do on an Apple Watch.

      I’ve often wondered whether Garmin’s reluctance to include LTE is due to the fact that they have Inreach, which works everywhere, not just where there’s cell service. Personally I’d guess that they’ll come out with high end watches (Fenix/Epix) which include Inreach radios before they include LTE. They control Inreach, and they don’t have to deal with the many cellular carriers that way.

    • Dave

      Each is protecting their own market, and focusing on what they know they do best.

    • Dave

      You can indeed answer an iPhone call on a Fenix. You just still have to talk through your phone to actually speak to anyone. InReach is great (I had a GPSMap 66i that I used for sea kayaking among other things), but it’s expensive and even the signup process requires a degree of user effort that is way beyond the satellite sos now included with iPhone in some countries.

    • Shoreline View

      I had been planning to replace my Garmin Vivoactive 3 with something like a Forerunner 965 this year, but heart issues led me to want Apple’s afib push notifications, so I ended up with the Apple Watch Ultra. The hardware is mostly excellent (although the wideband chip is surprisingly inept at paging the phone — very, very good at paging Airtagged items like keys though); but the software is something of a hot mess. At least Apple seems to be very rapidly improving the software, but the apps are fragmented, their fitness app is pretty useless and I’ve been using a third party app, Athlytic, to fill in the breach of determining whether I’m up to a workout or not and by how much. I think Garmin has the fitness thing much better thought out, between their handling of HRV and recovery data and Connect being available both on your phone and on the web, and expect they’ll make more of the Elevate 5 heart sensor in their latest Fenix and Epix Pro watches which brings them pretty much into line with Apple’s heart sensors on the hardware side. But the smartphone features in the Ultra are very nice; texting works beautifully, notifications work really well, taking phone calls without the phone is extremely helpful and has saved me on a number of occasions from missing important calls.

      For me, though, I think part of why the Apple watch works is I have a Garmin head unit for cycling, so that particular gap in terms of recovery data and simply making more thorough use of power meter data, HR chest strap data etc. is effectively filled by the head unit. And with the heart trouble on the mend, I can’t necessarily rule out going back to Garmin in the future even if they dawdle on things like afib notifications. On the other hand Apple seems to be moving their Watch OS forward quite quickly with regard to fitness and it appears to be an easier platform for third party developers to support and that’s leading to a lot more apps. One thing I don’t expect Apple to touch Garmin on in the near future is battery life; every time Apple upgrades the processor in the watch, it seems they use the extra power efficiency to add another feature rather than extend battery life (the latest being the increased display brightness and the double-tap feature on the new S9-powered watches) and I think this is a problem for serious endurance pursuits; Garmin, by contrast, pull out the stops for endurance, even if it does mean less pretty and less smooth graphics resulting from their low processor clock speeds.

    • Dr. Jones


      I understand your frustration with current WearOS/Android wearable options. But, sheesh. There’s been ONE Pixel watch. The second generation isn’t even out yet.

      Now, I don’t expect the 2nd gen to be an Apple Watch killer yet, but do give it some time.

      Samsung isn’t worth talking about, IMHO; they’ve only gone deeper down the “We’re going to try and build a closed ecosystem on top of Android” rabbit hole these last 5 years.

    • TimmyB

      My frustration is not with the hardware, it is with the lack of cohesion in the software, specifically the fitness/athletic side of the software. Google purchased FitBit, they have a great smartwatch in the Pixel with very good HR and GPS sensors, but they don’t want to make it “too” good because no one will buy the FitBit products when they can get all of it in the Pixel Watch. I have almost ZERO interest in the Pixel 2 (or 3 or 4…); this watch has enough power to do everything I want. Unfortunately, I have to make the watch (made by Google) work with a running app (made by a dev) and a music app (made by another dev) and a footpod (made by Zwift) and… Apple doesn’t have that problem. They actually put people into their software with a clear mission. There’s ZERO reason why Google can’t do the same, but they won’t. THAT is my frustration.

  5. Dennis

    Why no coros pace 3 review????every other has dropped their review