No other smartwatch comes close to the Apple Watch.
I've tried quite a few and while some specialised fitness trackers may offer more intensive and perhaps more accurate tracking, they can't compete with other features like rich notifications and messaging.
Some watches may offer specific health monitoring options - perhaps even blood pressure - but can they turn my bedside light on and off and control my air conditioning throughout the house? Probably not.
While it's true Apple Watch may not have every single feature out there, it certainly has more in total than any other wrist-bound device I've ever used.
And yet, they keep improving.
The Apple Watch Series 9 looks pretty much the same as the Apple Watches of the past couple of years. In fact, even if you compare it side-by-side with the 2022 model, you'll be hard-pressed to tell which is which... unless you go for the Pink aluminium case, a new colour this year to go with Midnight, Silver, Starlight, (PRODUCT)Red or the stainless steel options of Silver, Gold and Graphite.
That's not to say there isn't a wide range of new bands to zhush things up a bit though - as usual there's quite a selection of colours, patterns and materials, including several in the Nike Sport Band range.
2023 is the year of FineWoven, as far as Apple is concerned. This is its more environmentally-friendly leather replacement - it has a convincing suede-like feel yet is actually made from 68 per cent post-consumer recycled polyester. What's more, when you pair your aluminium Apple Watch 9 with a 2023 Sport Loop, it'll actually be carbon neutral, thanks to 82 per cent recycled yarn in the band and recycled metals in the watch. Even the cobalt in the battery is 100 per cent not new.
Regardless of the similar size and shape, the numerous upgrades Apple has made to this year's watch start to become apparent the moment you turn it on. While the screen is basically the same size, the display is now practically edge-to-edge, effectively curving over the top, bottom and sides meaning the watch itself doesn't have to be any bigger to offer more screen real estate.
The display is also twice as bright as the Series 8, which is great news when exercising outside. On the other hand, when in Sleep Focus mode the display will dim right down to one single "nit" of brightness. That's great news for vampires like me who have to get up in the middle of the night to go to work, preferably without disturbing their partners.
But perhaps the most significant Series 9 improvement is the most invisible - the S9 SiP; the chip that controls the phone. This dual-core CPU seems incredibly powerful for a smartwatch and I was immediately impressed by the sheer speed and fluidity I experienced as soon as I started using this watch. Navigating around the new WatchOS 10 is lightning quick and apps open instantly.
The S9 SiP is more efficient too, although some of the power savings are perhaps soaked up by the brighter display - especially if you opt for always-on mode. However, I certainly have no issue getting through the day on a full charge. I then boost the battery while I'm getting ready for bed so can wear it again at night for sleep-tracking and the vibrating alarm. (Remember that "not-disturbing-the-partner" thng? Very important)
The other big news for Apple Watch Series 9 (and Apple Watch Ultra, which we'll cover off in a future review) is the introduction of Double Tap; simply pinch your fingers twice and the new watch is clever enough to recognise the unique wrist movements and changes in blood-flow. Double Tap can be programmed to activate a number of things; answer a call, play and pause music and yes, stop that 2:52AM alarm without having to fumble around for the right button.
This feature is coming to Apple Watch with the WatchOS 10.1 update, although I've downloaded the beta version to try it out. It feels a bit like a magic trick the first few times you use it and then it quickly becomes second nature. While the list of things Double Tap can do is varied - stop a timer or open your new Smart Stack of widgets for example - at this point it's still quite a short list. I'm assuming as more app developers get their heads around it, they'll add Double Tap features to their third-party apps.
I also assume Apple will add more gestures - perhaps single, triple or long taps. The reason I assume this is there's already the option to activate Assisted Touch, an accessibility feature that not only incorporates programmable taps and double taps but fist clenches as well. This is fun to try out but it's a lot more invasive on-screen as it works by highlighting any available actions whenever you look at your watch. Let's just say the new Double Tap is a more finessed way of going about it.
Apple keeps improving its Workout app, this year paying particular attention to cycling, with the ability to connect with a range of Bluetooth cycling accessories.
In fact, thanks to its second-gen Ultra Wideband chip, there are several new connectivity features that make life just that little bit easier. Conveniently, when you get close to your HomePod, your Apple Watch automatically brings up the Now Playing screen so you can control it from your wrist. That one always impresses the guests.
Less impressive is putting your phone down and forgetting where. Like the Watch 9, this year's iPhones speak the same Ultra Wideband language so when you use the FindiPhone feature from the Watch control menu, not only can you make your phone ring but you'll get a tracking display onscreen giving you the exact distance and direction to find your handset... even if it's between the couch cushions or in the jacket pocket of your suit hanging in the wardrobe.
That's yet another clear example of how Apple Watch is so much more than just a fitness tracker or a bunch of notifications on your wrist. With features like Double Tap, enhanced connectivity and a bigger, brighter display, it's a genuinely useful smart tool powered by a very impressive chip. All the more shame you can only use it with iOS handsets. Ah well, I guess if you want the best smartwatch, you'll just have to move to Apple.
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