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Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Series 8: everything new and different

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Series 8 showing the ambient displays.
The Apple Watch Series 9 (left) and Apple Watch Series 8 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Apple’s huge iPhone 15 event has come and gone, and not only do we have a brand new iPhone 15 lineup, but we also have the Apple Watch Series 9.

But how does it compare to the previous generation? Is it worth the upgrade if you have the Apple Watch Series 8? Or, if you were considering getting your first Apple Watch, which would be a better buy at this point?

We break it all down here.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: specs

Apple Watch Series 8 Apple Watch Series 9
Materials Aluminum

Stainless Steel

Aluminum

Stainless Steel

Sizes 41mm

45mm

41mm

45mm

Colors Aluminum:

Midnight, Starlight, Silver, Product Red

Stainless Steel:

Gold, Silver, Graphite

Aluminum:

Midnight, Starlight, Silver,
Product Red, Pink

Stainless Steel:

Gold, Silver, Graphite

Display Always-on Retina LTPO OLED

1,000 nits peak brightness

Always-on Retina LTPO OLED

2,000 nits peak brightness, 1 nit lowlight

Processor S8 S9
Double-tap gesture Accessibility only Yes
Siri Wi-Fi or cellular data required On-device
Sensors Temperature sensor, blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor, and third-generation optical heart sensor Temperature sensor, blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor, and third-generation optical heart sensor
Battery life 18 hours 18 hours
Fast charging Yes Yes
Ultra Wideband U1 Second-generation Ultra Wideband chip with Precision Finding for iPhone 15

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: design

The Palette watch face on the Apple Watch Series 9.
Palette watch face Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The design for both the Apple Watch Series 8 and Series 9 is the same. This follows the tradition that Apple has kept for its mainline Apple Watch Series devices, including the Apple Watch SE.

You’ll find the classic square design with curved edges, along with either aluminum or stainless steel casing options. The sizing remains the same for both models, either the smaller 41mm or the larger 45mm option.

The Apple Watch Series 8 comes in four colors for aluminum: Midnight, Starlight, Silver, and Product Red. The stainless steel finish has three colors: Gold, Silver, and Graphite.

For the Apple Watch Series 9, we have the usual Midnight, Starlight, Silver, and Product Red colors for aluminum, as well as the new Pink color. This is a subtle pink finish, like rose gold, rather than a bright pink. The stainless steel option has the same Gold, Silver, and Graphite offerings as before.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: screen

A person wearing the Apple Watch Series 9, showing the Snoopy watch face
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Series 8 has an always-on Retina LTPO OLED display that reaches 1,000 nits of peak brightness. It comes in either 41mm or 45mm sizes,. The aluminum versions have Ion-X glass, while the stainless steel has sapphire crystal displays.

The Apple Watch Series 9 is very similar, also offering the always-on Retina LTPO OLED display, Ion-X glass for aluminum models, and sapphire crystal for stainless steel. It also comes in 41mm or 45mm sizes.

However, one of the big changes with the Apple Watch Series 9 is the peak brightness level, which now reaches 2,000 nits. This matches up to the first-generation Apple Watch Ultra, making it even more usable outdoors in bright sunlight. It also goes down to just 1 nit in low-light environments, so you aren’t blinded in the dark.

The Apple Watch Series 9 has the Series 8 beat in terms of brightness levels, so it’s the better pick overall, especially if you’re constantly in bright, sunny conditions.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: processor and software

The curved screen on the Apple Watch Series 9.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Here’s where things start to differentiate more.

Inside the Apple Watch Series 8 is the S8 chip, which is basically the same as the S7 chip in the Apple Watch Series 7, which was similar to the S6 in the Apple Watch Series 6 — you get the idea.

Apple’s finally changing things up with the Apple Watch Series 9’s new S9 chip. It uses a new chip technology that hasn’t been in the Apple Watch before, and it consists of 5.6 billion transistors and a GPU that is 30% faster than the S8’s. It also has a four-core Neural Engine that processes machine learning tasks up to twice as fast as before.

The S9 chip also allows the Apple Watch Series 9 to process all Siri requests on the watch itself. This means there’s no more need for Wi-Fi or cellular data for simple requests, such as starting a timer or beginning a workout, and it also comes with more accuracy when dictating text, such as a response to a message. Plus, you’ll now be able to ask Siri questions about your health data, like “How much did I sleep last night?” or “How far have I walked today?” and use Siri to log almost any piece of health information you could other enter into the Health app on your iPhone.

New double tap gesture for Apple Watch Series 9.
Apple

And with the S9, you can control the Apple Watch without actually touching the display with the new Double Tap gesture. Just quickly tap your index finger and thumb of your watch hand together twice to perform many actions and navigate through watchOS 10. The double-tap gesture can stop a timer, control audio, snooze alarms, answer or end phone calls, or even take a photo with your iPhone camera. Double Tap also opens the Smart Stack widget on the watch face, and you can scroll through them with the gesture.

The Apple Watch Series 9 also has a new second-generation Ultra Wideband (UWB) chip that enables Precision Finding for the iPhone 15 series. This assists you with finding a misplaced iPhone through visual, haptic, and audio guidance, similar to AirTags. The new UWB chip also means better integration between the Apple Watch and HomePod, allowing you to launch Now Playing to control HomePod media when you’re nearby. However, it’s important to add that, despite this new chip, the Apple Watch Series 9 still can’t locate an AirTag or other lost Find My item on its own; the new Precision Finding is solely for tracking down your misplaced iPhone 15.

Apple’s new S9 chip is a big deal in terms of improving the Apple Watch’s performance and efficiency. While the S8 system in a package (SiP) before it basically remained unchanged from previous generations, the S9 allows you to do so much more from your wrist. It’s an especially worthy upgrade if you are coming from an even older-generation Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: battery and charging

The Apple Watch Series 9 on charge.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Apple claims that the Apple Watch Series 8 can get around 18 hours of battery life on a single charge. This is pretty accurate and similar to previous iterations of the Apple Watch as well — you’ll have to charge it up by the end of the day.

Thankfully, the Apple Watch Series 8 is capable of fast charging, which means it can go from zero to 80% in around 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, despite the new S9 chip, the Apple Watch Series 9 does not see any meaningful change in battery life or charging speed. You can expect to get around 18 hours of battery life like before, and the Series 9 still has the same fast charging speeds.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: fitness and health tracking

Exercise ring closed alert on the Apple Watch Series 9.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Surprisingly, Apple made no changes to the Apple Watch Series 9 this year in terms of new health sensors. The sensors remain unchanged from the Series 8.

This means with both the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Series 8, you have SpO2 (blood oxygen) monitoring, ECG, 24/7 heart rate monitoring with high and low heart rate notifications, irregular rhythm notifications, low cardio fitness notifications, temperature sensors, and sleep tracking. Both watches can also detect if you take a hard fall and also have Crash Detection for car accidents.

Both the Apple Watch Series 9 and Series 8 can run watchOS 10, which has a lot of improvements for cyclists, as there will be new metrics, views, and experiences just for cycling. For hikers, watchOS 10 will have the Compass app automatically generate two new waypoints: Last Cellular Connection and Last Emergency Call. There is also a new Elevation view.

Both Apple Watches can also be used to track your mood, which is good for mental health, and the ambient light sensors can help you track time spent in daylight, which is beneficial for health.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: price and availability

The Nike Globe watch face on the Apple Watch Series 9.
Nike Globe watch face Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Series 9 starts at $399 for the aluminum version, with the stainless steel models starting at $749. It’s available for immediate purchase from Apple’s website and other major retailers and carriers.

With the Apple Watch Series 9 becoming available, the Apple Watch Series 8 is discontinued. However, you can probably find remaining stock at various big-box retailers at a discounted price.

Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Series 8: verdict

The Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Series 8 showing the screens.
The Apple Watch Series 9 (top) and Apple Watch Series 8 Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Series 9 is one of the biggest improvements that Apple has made to the wearable in years.

The S9 chip is a big deal, and rightfully so — Siri requests are now processed on-device, and the Double Tap gesture allows for one-handed control. The addition of a new, second-generation UWB chip makes it possible to use your Apple Watch to locate a misplaced iPhone 15 series (and later), similar to how you locate AirTags.

While the design and display look the same as before, the 2,000 nits of peak brightness makes the Apple Watch Series 9 much more usable outdoors in harsh sunlight.

The only odd thing about the Apple Watch Series 9 is that even with the S9 chip, there are no improvements made to the overall battery life. You still get the same 18 hours as before. While the Apple Watch Series 8 felt a lot like the Series 7 and Series 6 before it, the Apple Watch Series 9 feels fresh and new thanks to the S9 chip. Oh, and that pink color is simply beautiful.

But is all of that worth an upgrade from the year-old Apple Watch Series 8? That all depends on you. While the new S9 processor sounds impressive, the Series 8 is no performance slouch. Considering that and the very similar display, battery, and health-tracking experiences between the two watches, you’re probably fine waiting another year to see what the Apple Watch Series 10 has to offer.

The Apple Watch Series 9 is bound to be a fun upgrade if you’ve got the cash to burn, but if not, don’t fret too much about missing out on this one if you already have an Apple Watch Series 8.

Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
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