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Hands-on with the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9 (Updated)

By Kenny Yeo - 20 Sep 2023

Hands-on with the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9 (Updated)

Note: This article was first published on 14 September 2023 and was republished on 20 September 2023 was updated with further findings after having spent a few days with the watches.

Maybe you can't tell, but this is the new Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Alongside the new iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15, Apple also announced the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9. As anticipated, these watches are mostly iterative updates, but I managed to try them on for a bit and here’s what I found.

Visually, they look identical to their predecessors. The Apple Watch Series 9 is still available in both aluminium and stainless steel, while the Apple Watch Ultra 2 still sports a rugged titanium case. 

@hwztech A quick look at the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9. #hwz #hwzsg #apple #wonderlust #applewatchseries9 #applewatchultra2 ♬ original sound - HardwareZone

The biggest update to the watches is one that you can’t actually see and it’s their chip. Inside the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9 is the new S9 SiP (system in package). This is significant because Apple hasn’t actually updated the chip in its watches since the Apple Watch Series 6. Series 7 and 8 both used renamed versions of the S6 SiP from the Apple Watch Series 6.

At any rate, the new S9 SiP is said to feature 60% more transistors and delivers 30% better graphics performance. It also has a new quad-core Neural Engine that processes machine learning tasks up to twice as fast and enables Siri to process requests on device. This means common Siri requests are no longer hampered by poor Wi-Fi or cellular connection.

The new Apple Watch Series 9 in stainless steel.

The new S9 SiP also comes with a new ultra-wideband (UWB) chip, which Apple says will allow users to ping and find their iPhones (models with compatible UWB chips) with greater accuracy and precision. This is probably one of my favourite new features, although it will also require you to have one of the new iPhones, because it requires an iPhone with a similarly new UWB chip. With it, you can ping your iPhone and locate it with the same precision as you would with AirTags. See it in action below: 

@hwztech Precision Finding on the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 is awesome for people who have a habit of misplacing their iPhones. #hwz #hwzsg #apple #applewatchultra2 #precisionfinding #uwb #iphone15promax ♬ Animal baby - 上野燿

And after spending a couple of days with the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2, I can confirm that the new watches do feel appreciably faster than their predecessors. The difference isn’t night and day, but the new watches feel more responsive and animations, in particular, appear to be smoother. 

The most notable improvement, however, is Siri. Because of the new S9 SiP, the most common Siri requests can now be executed on-device. Since requests no longer need to go to the cloud, they cannot be slowed down by poor Wi-Fi or cellular connectivity. This works reliably and I found myself using Siri more to do things like start a countdown timer or workout. 

@hwztech A quick demo of the Double Tap gesture that’s coming with the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2. #hwz #hwzsg #apple #wonderlust #applewatchseries9 #applewatchultra2 #doubletap #smartwatches ♬ original sound - HardwareZone

The S9 SiP also enables a new gesture feature called Double Tap. This is triggered simply by tapping your index finger and thumb together. It can be used to answer and end calls, play and pause music, or scroll through the new widget stacks. I managed to try this new feature and it works surprisingly well. There’s no learning curve at all. Sadly, this feature won’t be available at launch and will only be enabled at a later date sometime in October.

The other notable update to these new watches is improved displays that get brighter. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 now has an eye-searing maximum brightness of 3,000 nits, while the Apple Watch Series 9 can go up to as high as 2,000 nits. Both can get to as dim as 1 nit too (handy in cinemas). But since we were indoors and in a well-lit environment, I couldn’t test these claims.

The new Nike sports band feature recycled plastics and are extremely colourful and funky.

As I’ve said earlier, these watches are iterative updates. And based on my impressions thus far, I don’t see any compelling reason for owners of last year’s watches to upgrade to them. The new features such as Precision Finding are undoubtedly nice to have and the S9 SiP does appear to be noticeably faster, but then I never thought my one-year-old Series 8 watch was slow or lacking in features. Perhaps the 

Maybe the S9 SiP will impress with its faster performance in the real world, or the Double Tap feature will prove game-changing. I’ll need more time to tell. In the meantime, stay tuned right here for my full review.

Pricing and availability

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch Series 9 are both available for pre-order now and will be available in retail on 22 September 2023.

Prices of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 start at S$1,199 and customers will be able to choose between the Alpine Loop, Trail Loop, or Ocean Band.

Prices of the Apple Watch Series 9 start at S$599 in aluminium and S$1,049 in stainless steel. It’s available in two sizes – 41mm and 45mm – and you can choose between GPS-only or GPS and cellular versions.

You can find the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 on Lazada, Shopee, and the Apple Online Store.

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