Apple Watch Series 9 Review: New Chip and New WatchOS 10 Health Updates

This week, the Watch Series 9 prompted me to say “pfffft” out loud. The official version of watchOS 10 dropped on Monday with a new feature called State of Mind. In the Health app, you can pick how often you want State of Mind to ping you, whether it’s at the end of the day or throughout the day. When prompted, you twist the watch’s crown to scroll through colors on a flower-shaped graphic to dial in exactly how pleasant or unpleasant you’re feeling, then answer a question or two about what the feeling is and why you’re feeling it.

I opted to let State of Mind ping me throughout the day. (If I let it ping me only at night, I would mostly say “tired.”) My wrist now buzzes throughout the day, and sometimes at the most inopportune times, like right when I’m lifting the blender down from the shelf. Another time, it buzzed in the middle of my frantic morning rush to get my 6- and 8-year-old kids fed, dressed, and off to school. I laughed heartily at the idea that I had time to log my feelings.

But then I stopped. Who was I? I’m not a paramedic. No one was coding on the table. Was my kid’s first-grade teacher really going to ruin his life if we arrived at 7:51 instead of 7:50? No. I logged my state of mind. Then I went to the bathroom. It’s OK to stop and take a minute. Maybe several. I might even finish my cup of coffee before sitting down to work!

All Aboard

All the Series 9 colors.

Photograph: Apple

Despite the occasional misstep, Apple has carved out a reputation for itself as a privacy protector. Beyond going toe-to-toe with agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation to protect its customers’ privacy, Apple has built a suite of products and services that are for the most part safer to use than the competition. When you log your health data in an iPhone or Apple Watch, it is encrypted on the device and accessible only to you. It’s also encrypted on its way to and from your iCloud storage. These layers of security let Apple offer ever-more-sensitive health-tracking features with each iteration of its products, like adding the ability to log your medications or track your menstrual cycles.

The new Watch Series 9, which is on sale and arrives in stores this week, is built around Apple’s new S9 chipset. This is the same processor inside the new Watch Ultra 2. The S9 chipset lets both watches process simple Siri commands on the device itself. When your voice commands don’t have to travel to and from the cloud to be processed by Apple’s servers, the watch can deliver what you’re asking for much more quickly. This scheme also theoretically makes your interactions more private. That level of protection is reassuring when you’re noting your mental state, marking down the days of your period, or logging your weight after stepping on the scale.

Double Tap will arrive on the Apple Watch via a software update in October.

Video: Apple

Another thing enabled by the S9 chip is a new interaction called Double Tap. When you swing your watch toward your face and tap your index finger and your thumb together twice, the watch registers this as something like a button press. By default it triggers the primary button currently on your watch screen. So you can use Double Tap to answer a call for example, or to hang up at the end of one. The ability to dismiss an alarm or swipe through your smart stack while your hands are full is a bonus. The feature—itself an extension of Apple’s accessibility software for its wearables—utilizes the watch’s gyroscope, accelerometer, and blood flow sensors to determine when you’re tapping your fingers.

Double Tap will be available via a software update in October, but Apple sent me a device with Double Tap enabled so I could experience it early for this review. The new feature comes with some limitations. If you’ve set up the AssistiveTouch features that let you pinch or clench your hand to control your watch, you won’t be able to use them with Double Tap. Assistive Touch must be turned off for Double Tap to work. You also can’t stop a workout mid-run, because there’s a lot of shaking and hand movement and just a lot of blood flowing all over the place. In my limited experience with the feature, I mostly liked using Double Tap to stop and start music on my HomePod Mini and to start and stop timers. Other functions, like responding to texts, were a little confusing. I’ll need more practice.

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