Apple Watch Series 9 Review: Why the Watch Isn’t as Useful as It Could Be
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Apple Watch Series 9 Review: Why the Watch Isn’t as Useful as It Could Be

It has a new double-tap feature and brighter screen, but latest model has same battery life the watches have had since 2015: 18 hours

By NICOLE NGUYEN
Thu, Sep 21, 2023 11:35amGrey Clock 4 min

If you asked me, “Should I upgrade my Apple Watch to the Series 9 this year?” I’d probably say no.

It’s a fine watch. It’s just not much better than the Series 8, which you can get cheaper, even refurbished right from Apple.

I have been testing the $399-and-up Series 9 for nearly a week. Available on Sept. 22, it includes a few upgrades, including a one-handed, double-tap gesture and a brighter screen. Apple says one version of it—the aluminum case with Sport Loop band—is carbon neutral.

Many things, though, remain unchanged from last year’s, including the health sensors and design. I’m most grumpy about the battery life. Back in 2015, Apple promised 18 hours. Today, Apple promises…18 hours. Eight years and a dozen models later, we still need to charge these watches daily.

The Apple Watch is the bestselling smartwatch in the world, but battery life is where competitors such as Garmin still have an edge. It’s what holds the Apple Watch back from true all-day/all-night/all-weekend usefulness.

Double tap and new features

The improvements to the Series 9 are internal, enabling new features that are nice-to-haves. There are no game-changers.

Double tap: The new watch senses when you pinch your thumb and index finger twice, in quick succession. The gesture triggers an action that varies depending on what you’re doing. If you’re playing a song, you can double-tap to pause or skip. For incoming texts, it starts a reply with voice dictation. For calls, it picks up the phone. For timers, it dismisses the alert.

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 4 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.

Offline Siri: Apple’s voice assistant can now process some queries faster and more accurately, because it doesn’t need to send the request to the server over Wi-Fi or cellular. You can set timers—even multiple timers in the WatchOS 10—almost instantaneously.

Brighter screen: The display goes up to 2,000 nits, up from 1,000 nits last year. If you don’t speak nits, that translates to a screen that’s easier to see outdoors on a sunny day. Its dimmest setting is also lower, way down to one nit. The Apple Watch adjusts screen brightness automatically based on ambient light, so the brighter screen isn’t noticeable in most settings.

Precision iPhone finding: I use my Apple Watch’s Find My iPhone ping basically every day, so I thought I’d like precision finding. When you’re within about 30 feet of the iPhone, you can see its distance and direction—similar to an AirTag. It’s nice for those who might be unable to hear the audible ping triggered by older models, but that never failed me. And this trick only works with an iPhone 15 model.

Stalled battery life

In its quest to make the smartwatch a jack-of-all-trades wearable with a high-resolution, multitouch screen, Apple has sacrificed battery life. The new S9 processor is 25% more power efficient than last year’s model. But over the years, the company has added more sensors, brighter screens and other energy-sucking elements.

During the watch’s recent unveiling, Deidre Caldbeck, the director of Apple Watch product marketing, highlighted the company priority: “This powerful custom silicon is what allows us to maintain all-day 18-hour battery life while adding new features and systemwide improvements.”

Garmin wearables, meanwhile, have lower-resolution displays that can last days. Some models have solar panels embedded in their watch faces, and can last weeks. It’s something I’m painfully reminded of every time I forget my Apple Watch charger on a weekend trip. Cue the gloating by my Garmin-wearing husband, who never brings his charger.

Apple often touts the watch’s health-tracking capabilities in marketing materials. For this to work, though, it has to be on your wrist—even at night, while you sleep. That’s tough when it needs to be charged once a day.

Charging wouldn’t be as problematic if the Apple Watch didn’t need its own proprietary puck to power up. (Garmin’s new Vivomove Trend is one of the first to work with standard Qi wireless charging.)

I’m not saying Apple Watches are useless without default multi day battery life. I wear mine so often that I have a squircle-shaped tan on my wrist. But a battery-life quantum leap is needed.

That could be coming next year. The Apple Watch was announced 10 years ago next fall, and that anniversary could mean a big redesign. According to a Bloomberg report, a new band system could make room in the watch’s case for more sensors—or, I hope, a bigger battery—and a switch to a more energy-efficient microLED display could lead to power gains.

How to get longer battery life

If you want the longest battery life right now, there’s the $799 Apple Watch Ultra. It lasts a day and a half by default. But even the new, modestly upgraded model is a bulky chunkster, especially on smaller wrists. Anyone else looking for a big Apple Watch change should wait until 2024.

Meanwhile, you can temporarily double the battery life by taking away power-draining features.

• Enable low-power mode: You can quickly enable low-power mode for set periods. Press the side button to open the Control Center, then tap on the battery percentage and scroll down.

Just beware: It does disable some of the lifesaving heart-rate notifications and the power-hungry always-on display. When double tap is available, low-power mode will also disable that gesture.

• Reduce workout sensor readings: Go to Settings > Workout, then tap Fewer GPS and Heart Rate Readings to enable. When in low-power mode, the watch won’t capture GPS or heart-rate data as frequently during outdoor workouts, further extending battery life.

You can also disable some functions. I managed to squeeze 48 hours out of the Series 9 by turning off the most battery-intensive ones, but it’s a trade-off:

• Double tap: When the feature rolls out to Series 9 models next month, you can turn it off. Go to Settings > Gestures > Double Tap to disable.

• Always-on display: Go to Settings > Display & Brightness. Tap Always On to disable.

• Background app refresh: Go to Settings > General. Scroll down to Background App Refresh to disable entirely or turn off for certain apps.

• Reduce display brightness: In Settings > Display & Brightness, you can adjust the default setting.



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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