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Apple Watch Series 9 review: Faster chip, brighter screen, and new double tap option

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few days tapping my fingers together. No, I haven’t been fidgeting in another boring work meeting. I’ve actually been scrolling through Apple's (AAPL) new Apple Watch Series 9.

Let me explain.

Available Sept. 22, and starting at $399, the Series 9 comes equipped with a new feature that allows you to interact with the watch’s apps, notifications, and more by double tapping your thumb and index finger together. That’s not all, though. The Apple Watch Series 9 also gets a brighter display, a new S9 chip, improved Siri capabilities, and the ability to more easily use your watch to locate your iPhone than its predecessors.

I’ve been using the Series 9 for the past week, and whether you’re interested in grabbing your first Apple Watch or updating from a Series 6 or older, the Series 9 is the watch to choose.

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But if you’ve already got an Apple Watch Series 7 or Series 8, you’ll likely want to hold on to those for a bit longer. Don’t get me wrong, the updates to the Apple Watch Series 9 are welcomed. They just don’t justify ditching a one or two-year-old Apple Watch.

Double tapping

I’m a huge fan of the Apple Watch. I use it to track my daily movement and exercise goals and check the weather, and it’s the only reason I ever know when I’m getting a phone call or text message.

The Apple Watch Series 9 adds a number of new features including double tap, which allows you to control some apps and reply to texts with by tapping your fingers together. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 9 adds a number of new features including double tap, which allows you to control some apps and reply to texts with by tapping your fingers together. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

So I was excited to use the Series 9 and its new double tap feature. Available on both the Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, double tap is powered by the improved neural engine found in Apple’s new S9 chip.

The company says double tap will come to its latest watches via a software update next month, so you won’t be able to use it if you’re picking up a Series 9 or Ultra 2 before then. I tested a version of the watch with an early version of the feature installed for this review.

To use the double tap, you raise your wrist to wake the watch, then tap your thumb and index finger, or really your thumb and any other finger on your watch hand, together twice. When you double tap from the watch’s home screen, you’ll pull up the new Smart Stack view in watchOS 10.

To use the double tap option, simply tap your index finger and thumb together twice. (Image: Howley)
To use the double tap option, simply tap your index finger and thumb together twice. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

A collection of app widgets, Smart Stack gives you quick access to the weather, your upcoming meetings, the music you’re listening to, stock charts and more. Double tapping while viewing Smart Stack allows you to scroll from one widget to the next without having to swipe on the watch’s display or rotating the Digital Crown.

Listening to music? You can double tap to pause and play your content. Got a text? You can double tap to reply using voice to text. Sure you can easily do either of those by quickly tapping the display, but there are times when using both hands isn’t exactly possible.

I frequently find myself cooking and need to use my nose to tap the stop button on my watch’s timer app, because my hands are covered in grease or some other residue. There are also those times when I’m stretching before or after a workout and can’t get to a text because one hand is occupied.

The Apple Watch Series 9 gets a brighter display that's easier to see in direct sunlight. (Image: Howley)
The Apple Watch Series 9 gets a brighter display that's easier to see in direct sunlight. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

Importantly, double tapping doesn’t work when you’re exercising. Apple says the feature uses data from the watch’s gyroscope, accelerometer, and heart rate sensor to detect your movements, and working out throws off the watch’s ability to determine when you’re double tapping.

Improved Siri, precision finding for iPhone 15

Double tap may be the headline-grabbing addition to the Series 9, but the watch has a handful of other updates that are worth mentioning, as well. For instance, thanks to the S9 chip, Siri now runs natively on the Apple Watch Series 9. That means you’ll get faster responses when you ask Siri to do things like set a timer or start a workout.

If you ask Siri for something it has to search the internet for, however, you’ll still need to wait a tick for the assistant to give you a response. Apple is also adding the ability to ask Siri about your personal health data including things like how many steps you took in the day and even log your medication. But the feature, the company explained, won’t be available until later this year.

The Apple Watch Series 9
The Apple Watch Series 9 has the same design and styling as the Series 8. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

One of the Apple Watch’s best features is being able to use it to find your iPhone. Open the Control Center and tap the Ping your iPhone button, and your iPhone will ring out so that you can find it when it’s missing. In most cases, mine is usually stuck between my couch cushions.

With the Series 9 and iPhone 15’s new second-generation ultra wideband chips, your Apple Watch will now provide you with on-display directions pointing to your phone’s direction, making it far easier to find even if you can’t hear its ping.

If you use the Apple Watch in harsh lighting, the Series 9’s brighter display should also come in handy.

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Sign up for the Yahoo Finance Tech newsletter. (Yahoo Finance)

Apple says the screen has double the brightness of the Series 8. I’ve never had much of an issue seeing my watch in broad daylight, but a brighter display never hurts. Better yet, if you’re sitting in a dark room like, say, a movie theater, the Series 9 can drop its screen brightness to just 1 nit, a measure of luminance, to ensure it doesn’t bother anyone around you.

My one complaint about the Apple Watch Series 9 is that, despite its new chip, the smartwatch’s battery life is still limited to about one day. At some point Apple will need to improve the wearables battery to last more than that, especially considering you’re supposed to be able to use it to track your sleep, as well.

Still, the Apple Watch Series 9 is a fantastic smartwatch for iPhone owners. If you’re thinking about buying your first or upgrading from an older model, the Series 9 is a great option. Its design, style, and software are the best on the market.

Again, if you’ve got an Apple Watch Series 7 or Apple Watch Series 8, you don’t need to run out and upgrade to the Series 9. Yes, double tap is a fun addition, but it’s not a make-or-break feature. Instead, you might want to hold off until next year’s model to see what it has to offer.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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