The initial reviews for the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 are starting to surface ahead of their Friday release. Both devices are largely defined by the new S9 processor they house. This chip allows for some Siri functions to be processed right on the device and will support health-related queries later in the year. A newly introduced "Double Tap" feature enables users to engage with on-screen buttons by simply pinching their fingers together.
The display brightness for both models has been ramped up to 1000 nits—taking Series 9 to a luminance of 2000 nits and Ultra 2 to an impressive 3000 nits. For context, the first-ever Apple Watch had a maximum brightness of 500 nits, which was later doubled. Additionally, both the Series 9 and Ultra 2 models are breaking new ground with a storage capacity of 64GB, a leap from the previous 32GB. Plus, these watches come equipped with a more advanced ultra-wideband chip.
Apple Watch Series 9
Nicole Nguyen from The Wall Street Journal examined an early version of the Double Tap functionality and weighed it against a comparable feature on current Apple Watch models.
Double tap will come in an update rolling out next month. It’s useful for one-handed operation, while you’re holding on to a subway pole or cup of coffee. It also works while you’re wearing gloves.
A similar accessibility feature called AssistiveTouch is available on Series 3 models and newer. You can even double-pinch to dismiss notifications. In my tests, AssistiveTouch wasn’t always as responsive as double-tapping on the Series 9, but if you already have an Apple Watch, it’s worth enabling.
Victoria Song from The Verge discusses what could arguably be considered the standout feature of the Series 9 watch:
Pink is easily the best new color Apple’s introduced for the watch in years. First, it’s actually pink, unlike the green Series 7, which only looked green if the light hit just right. Second, this is the year of our queen and savior Barbie. Technically, it’s more Millennial pink than Barbie pink, but that’s probably a good thing. Normally, I kvetch about how Apple shies away from saturated color, but the extra subtlety here makes for a more versatile watch. Depending on the strap, you can either emphasize or de-emphasize the pinkness for whatever the situation calls for.
She notes, however, that the variation in screen brightness is less perceptible.
Kif Leswing of CNBC commented on the enhanced responsiveness of Siri, attributing the improvement to the new S9 chipset.
Indoors and outdoors, it’s difficult to tell the difference if you don’t have older models on hand for comparison. And even if you do, as I did, it can still be difficult to tell under certain lighting conditions.
The main thing I noticed is that on-device Siri feels much quicker when responding. In the past, I’ve avoided using my Apple Watch as a Siri interface because I found commands can time out with a weak Wi-Fi connection. I found myself preferring my Apple Watch over a HomePod or my phone for simple tasks like setting a kitchen timer, or quick questions like finding out when a particular game is on TV.
Brian Heater from TechCrunch comments on the recurring design style of the Series 9, noting however, that it is more environmentally conscious this time around.
The Watch’s design remains largely unchanged from the Series 8. The biggest change on that front is the notable fact that Apple is touting the wearable as its first carbon neutral device, owing to a number of different factories, including recycled materials, slimmed down packaging and carbon offsets. According to the firm, its claims are vetted by SCS Global.
Apple Watch Ultra 2
Brandon Menancio, contributing to Hodinkee, discusses the Apple Watch Ultra 2 through the lens of someone who appreciates traditional mechanical watches.
I wasn’t sure if I’d love it and eschew my beloved timepieces or just downright despise that it’s constantly tapping and reminding me of things that I’m already trying to avoid on my phone.
I only had the Ultra 2 for a little less than a week and with a product this feature-rich it’s nearly impossible to experience them all, but with the short amount of time I did spend with it I can honestly say that neither of the previously mentioned scenarios ended up coming true. I still miss my Grand Seikos and Tudors, but I can find some space in my collection for an Apple Watch.
Victoria Song of The Verge conducted an evaluation of the enhanced precision finding capabilities on the new device.
Precision Finding on the Apple Watch is similar to how you find AirTags with your phone. At first, you bring up the control panel and ring your phone like normal. Once you’re within range of your phone, you’ll see an approximate distance and some directional guidance. When you’re within six feet, you’ll hear another beep from your phone. […]
But as much as I love this feature, it requires that your phone also has the new second-generation UWB chip, which means it’s limited to the iPhone 15 lineup. So, if you plan on upgrading only your Apple Watch, this isn’t a feature you’re going to have right away. Also, for now, it’s limited to your phone only; you can’t use this to find an AirTag with your Series 9 or Ultra 2.
Her assessment of the two new watches is equally accurate:
But speaking frankly, Apple did not make these watches for folks looking to upgrade. It made them for people who don’t have an Apple Watch already. And it’s still true that the majority of people buying Apple Watches each year are new to the platform. For those folks, these are the latest and greatest. Well, until next year.
Brian Heater of TechCrunch points out that apart from the updated processor, the original and the new Ultra models bear a striking resemblance.
Neither new watch ultimately presents a big upgrade over their predecessor, and in both cases, it’s difficult to recommend an upgrade if you currently have the prior generation. That’s even more so the case with the Ultra, particularly given the product’s $799 starting price. […]
Of course, by doing so, you’ll be missing out on some welcome upgrades. Double Tap is at the top of that. Certainly there’s something to be said for the ability to interact with the device using a single hand when you’re out on a long run. The new S9 chip also offers increased speed and efficiency, due in part to the 4-core Neural Engine, which speeds up machine learning processing.
The Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 will be available in stores starting this Friday.
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