The Apple Watch Series 9
A timepiece that helps you stay organized—and centered
We were pretty impressed that the tech journalists’ guide for the new iPhone 15, as reviewed in the most recent Landing Gear, ran to 26 pages.
Imagine your columnist’s awe, then, to see that Apple’s official user guide for the new Apple Watch Series 9 is 398 pages long.
This might suggest chronic over-complication, yet the extraordinary range of things the watch can do is no reason to be intimidated. Like nearly all Apple products, the Series 9 watch works fantastically well straight out of the box without the need to read anything. Every function we’ve used has been tweaked to perfection. Even if you take advantage of one-twentieth of the watch’s capabilities, it’s a wrist-borne control panel for your whole life that’s straight out of early science fiction.
We couldn’t hope to cover a fraction of the Series 9’s improved and new features, so, as we did for the iPhone 15, here are the standout observations from a few weeks with the new watch.
The screen is both brighter and dimmer than in previous models—brighter in sunlight, and down to 2,000 times fainter when you wear it in bed. Great as the previous model was at tracking sleep and a panel of overnight-health indicators, it was like wearing a tiny lighthouse. No longer an issue.
The fantastically useful ping function, for when the mother-ship iPhone has gone missing—most Apple Watch users known to Landing Gear ping regularly—now indicates in which direction your iPhone is hiding, and precisely how far it is.
There’s a feature called Compass Backtrack in the Compass app, which will help you retrace your footsteps if, say, you have left your car somewhere remote and gone for a walk. This was actually introduced a year ago, but it’s little known.
The new Double Tap feature lets you respond to notifications on your watch by tapping together your index finger and thumb. This detects both the slight wrist movement and the change in blood flow in the wrist. It’s designed for when you have one hand, or even no hands, free, such as when you’re holding a baby, and need to read an e-mail or answer a call. Double Tap is currently more interesting than useful, but it could grow on you.
Finally, we love the new Metropolitan watch face, which is so beautiful that we can’t stop looking at it. In rest mode, the numbers are just lines. Raise the watch or touch the digital crown and the lines morph into numbers, set out in a delightful retro style. The face allows for four customizable complications, one at each corner, so you might choose to have a readout of the temperature, your blood-oxygen level, steps you’ve walked, and the direction you’re traveling.
The Series 9 is miles ahead of any other smartwatch in production, and it’s hard to think what the team at Cupertino will do to improve on this one. But I expect they’ll think of something.
The Ring Pet Tag
A QR-code-powered name tag to ensure you never lose your furry friend again
If any company were to build a better collar tag for pets, you could almost predict it would be Amazon’s home-security arm, Ring. The new Ring Pet Tag is one of those technological advances that seems tame and unspectacular at first but gets more clever and practical the longer you think about it.
It’s nothing more than a personalized QR code on a standard collar tag—no GPS, no batteries. But if your pet is lost and a finder scans it, not only do they get information on the pet and a button to contact you but you get a reassuring notification that your pet’s tag has been scanned. On your Pet Tag app, you can also notify the neighborhood—or at least the neighbors who have Ring products—that your pet is on the loose.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 Earbuds
The headphone expert’s headphones
Your columnist has already chosen his current favorite wireless earbuds—the big, loud, brutalist Between 3ANC, from Brooklyn’s Status Audio. Ask many headphone experts for their top tip, though, and lately the answer is the WF-1000XM5, a tiny, lightweight new offering from Japan’s Sony. We’ve been trying them.
If, in car terms, the Status Audio product is a big shiny Hummer, the Sony is a delicate little Alfa Romeo or Lancia import in a tasteful gray. The sound is a little more refined and subtle, the sound level lower. We found the default audio profile a bit thin, but you can adjust it in the Sony app—called, simply, Headphones—to give it some more heft and grandeur. Tuned to our taste, there’s no question these are incredibly good, sonically.
But, yes, the Headphones app. We definitely don’t like this. It’s too gimmicky, too fiddly. Within minutes of setting the earbuds up, the app had us hilariously photographing our ears to fine-tune what Sony calls “360 Reality Audio.” It also had us saying “No, thanks” to a feature called Auto Play, to “deliver music and audio notifications at the right time for your scene.” It’s hard to overstate how much we don’t want this.
Another thing: Sony’s noise cancellation is widely hailed as being among the best. Your columnist has found it rather lacking, and almost undetectable at times. Even Status Audio’s, which is not highly regarded, seems better. Fortunately, however, we’re not of the view that noise canceling for earbuds is very important. When you have your ears completely filled with earbuds, not a lot of outside sound gets in anyway.
One odd thing is that with the Sony noise canceling on, the already excellent audio quality improved slightly, to this writer’s hearing. When asked, the company did not explain this.
Ultimately, we have long concluded that earbud preferences are very personal—and that like fine wines, headphones vary enormously and rather delightfully. The Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds are wonderful. They may just not turn out to be your favorites.
The Woodford Veneered Barometer 1622
It doesn’t have an app, but you’ll want to look at it all day
It’s this column’s firmly held view that analog technology, even non-electronic technology, is very occasionally superior in terms of ergonomics, functionality, and just plain satisfaction.
That’s why we love this old-school meteorological instrument, the Woodford Veneered Barometer 1622, which has a German mechanism and is hand-finished and encased in wood in a workshop in the English Midlands.
The Woodford 1622 is an aneroid barometer of the type most used since the mid–19th century, measuring barometric pressure by use of a flexible-metal vacuum chamber, rather than mercury.
Tap the glass gently and the needle physically jumps a fraction, indicating if it moves clockwise that the weather will continue to be dry or is getting drier. If the needle moves counterclockwise, it means rain will continue or is on its way. It’s simple, reliable, and, although it is indubitably technology, it’s pleasingly earthy and natural technology.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology