15 tips and tricks to master your Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is part fitness tracker, part miniature iPhone and entirely awesome.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
5 min read

The Apple Watch does more than just put notifications on your wrist. 


The Apple Watch's journey has been one of constant evolution. Originally positioned as an extension of your iPhone, putting apps and notifications on your wrist has slowly morphed into a full-out fitness device. Not only does it count your steps, but it can detect if you fall then call for help, monitor how noisy your environment is and even run an electrocardiogram -- directly on your wrist. Heck, there's even a chance that the Apple Watch, in combination with an app, can help prevent strokes.

As amazing as the medical features are, there's still plenty the Apple Watch can do that makes it almost like a miniature iPhone. For instance, you can install apps, interact with Siri, check the weather, sports scores or send a quick message. There's a lot to the Apple Watch, making it easy to miss features or settings, preventing you from using it to its full potential. 

Let's change that. Below I'll walk you through some basics, like how to keep the software up to date, how to use the James Bond-like Walkie-Talkie feature, run an ECG or point out settings you should change right away.

Read more: The best budget smartwatches under $100

Watch this: We tested the Apple Watch EKG against a hospital EKG

The basics

Update your watch. After unboxing your watch and pairing it to your iPhone , you'll want to ensure it's running the latest version of WatchOS so you can take advantage of the newest features. Read this to learn how to get WatchOS 7.

Icons and apps. Curious as to what those small icons that flash on your watch's screen are? Or what about Siri's Raise to Speak feature? We cover that, plus a handful of other tips.

After taking a dip, you need to get water out of the Apple Watch's speaker. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Notifications are a key smartwatch feature, and it's a feature you'll want to learn how to tame. Notifications can get overwhelming, especially when your wrist is beeping and vibrating for every Facebook like or Instagram direct. Learn how to manage your Apple Watch notifications.

Your watch is waterproof. You can swim with newer Apple Watch models, but it's a good idea to read up on what you can and can't do when it comes to getting your watch wet. 

Use theater mode. Ever see the button in Control Center with two masks on it and wonder what it is? That button activates theater mode. When enabled, your Apple Watch is silenced and your watch will not light up until you tap the screen. As its name implies, theater mode prevents your watch from lighting up while you're at a movie theater, but it's also helpful during meetings when you don't want any distractions. 


Fitness first. The Apple Watch can auto-detect certain workouts, track yoga workouts and store workout tunes from your favorite streaming service on the watch itself. Here are five of the best new fitness features in WatchOS 5.

Sleep tracking. With the release of WatchOS 7, Apple added a feature many Watch users have wanted for years: sleep tracking. You'll need to change your charging schedule to ensure you have enough battery life to get through a night of tracking your Z's, but your Watch will help you figure out when and how long you need to charge to make it. Read how to set up sleep tracking along with a couple of other features in WatchOS 7. 

Heart health. The Apple Watch continuously tracks your heart rate while you wear it throughout the day. There's a dedicated app to tracking your heart rate or conducting an on-demand reading. Read this to learn how to get the most out of the Apple Watch heart rate features. Also, check out why it's important to track your heart rate to reach your fitness goals.

Taking an ECG reading with the Apple Watch Series 4. 

Set up the ECG app. You'll need to have an Apple Watch Series 4 or later, running the latest version of WatchOS and an iPhone running iOS 12.1.1 or newer before you can set up the new ECG app. Once you're updated, using the ECG app is a simple task.

Hearing health. With the release of WatchOS 6 in late 2019, Apple added a new hearing health feature that monitors the noise level of your environment and will let you know if there's a risk of damage to your hearing. Here's what you need to know to use it.

Cycle tracking. Female health tracking hasn't received the attention it deserves, but that's changing with the addition of cycle tracking to the Apple Watch and the Apple Health app. Using the new tools, women can track their periods, keep tabs on symptoms and more

Extra features

Fall detection. The Apple Watch Series 4 and newer has a built-in fall detection feature that will identify when it thinks you have fallen, and after a few seconds of no movement, will call emergency services on your behalf. Fall Detection is a feature you'll need to enable, but hopefully never have to use.

Want to feel like Inspector Gadget? Then learn how to use the Walkie-Talkie app. Using the app is simple: Hold up your wrist, press and hold a button, talk, and let go. Just keep in mind that your approved contacts can start talking to you at any moment, so marking yourself as unavailable is key to avoiding embarrassment.


Walkie-Talkie mode on the Apple Watch is fun but can be embarrassing. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Unlock your Mac when wearing your Apple Watch. As long as you have a passcode set up on your Apple Watch, and a fairly recent Mac (2013 or newer), you can use your watch to log in to your Mac. On your Mac, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy and check the box next to Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac. Enter your Mac password when prompted. The next time you wake your Mac, your Apple Watch and Mac will talk to one another and sign you into your computer. It's pretty cool.

Check your AirPods battery status. You've surely opened your AirPods charging case next to your iPhone to check their current battery level. It turns out, you can check your AirPods battery life on the Apple Watch as well. Visit this link for tip No. 5, stay for all 19 AirPods tips.

Now that you've mastered your Apple Watch, check out all of the settings you should change on your iPhone to get the most out of it. We also have a roundup of AirPods' tips and tricks, or if you have the AirPods Pro, we've got you covered