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Apple Watch Tips: Change These Settings for a Better Experience

Try adjusting these settings to get the most out of your Apple Watch.

Lisa Eadicicco Senior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Expertise Apple | Samsung | Google | Smartphones | Smartwatches | Wearables | Fitness trackers
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.
Lisa Eadicicco
Jason Cipriani
9 min read
Apple Watch Ultra vs Series 8

The Ultra (left) and 45mm Series 8 (right).

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Whether you've been wearing an Apple Watch for years or just got one for the holidays, changing a few settings can make a big difference. For example, you can decide how you'd like to activate Siri, make your apps appear in a list view rather than a grid and set Portrait Mode photos from your iPhone as your watch background.

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The WatchOS 10 update that Apple launched in September also brings some new shortcuts, like widgets for quickly seeing activity progress or the weather. 

You'll be able to use these features and settings on any current watch model of Apple, including the Apple Watch SE, the Apple Watch Series 9 and the rugged Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Here's a look at the Apple Watch settings you should change to get the most out of your watch.

Adjust all of your Activity goals

With the release of WatchOS 7 in 2020, Apple added the option to change your goals for the amount of time you stand and exercise. Previously, you could only change your Move (or calories) goal. 

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So instead of using the defaults -- 30 minutes of exercise and a cumulative 12 standing hours a day -- you can change either one to fit your actual daily routine. 

This small change will make it possible for you to hit your own targets when you actually start your day, not when Apple tells you to. For example, if you use sleep tracking overnight and need to charge your watch more often in the morning, you won't feel like you've lost an hour of time needed to close those rings.

Open the Activity app on your watch, scroll to the metric you'd like to change and tap Change Goals. Make your adjustments for all three metrics and start closing those rings. 

Apple Watch showing activity rings

You now have full control over what it takes to close your activity rings. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Customize your widgets

Apple introduced widgets in WatchOS 10, which are modules that show tidbits such as the amount of time left on your current timer, the weather and news headlines. 

Widgets make it easier to see information at a glance without having to jump between apps, but they're only useful if they're showing the pieces of data you're actually interested in seeing. To edit and customize your widgets, start by swiping up from the clock face to access your widget stack. 

WatchOS 10 smart stack

Widgets in WatchOS 10.

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

Then, press and hold down on the Apple Watch's screen to enter edit mode, similar to the way you would edit apps the iPhone's home screen. You'll notice an empty widget with a plus sign now sits at the top of the stack. Tapping that widget will bring you to a selection of widgets to choose from that can be added to your stack. You can also tap the red minus symbol next to an existing widget to remove it when in edit mode. 

Turn on Low Power Mode when your battery is running low

Apple Watch showing low-power mode

Apple announced the Apple Watch's Low Power Mode as part of WatchOS 9. 

James Martin/CNET

If you have an Apple Watch Series 4 or later running WatchOS 9 or higher, you'll be able to use Low Power Mode. This preserves battery life by turning off the always-on display, limiting certain sensors and disabling features such as irregular heart rhythm notifications. To turn it on, open the Settings menu on your Apple Watch, scroll down to Battery and toggle the switch next to Low Power Mode. You can also press the side button to launch the Control Center from your watch face, tap the Battery shortcut and press Low Power Mode

So long, random screenshots

To take a screenshot on the Apple Watch, you press the Digital Crown and side button at the same time. It's a simple and convenient method, unless you're like me and find yourself frequently triggering it accidentally, filling up the Photos app with random pictures of your watch face. 

To turn off the ability to take screenshots altogether, open the Settings app on your watch or use the Watch app on your phone and go to General and scroll down until you find Screenshots. Tap this option and toggle off the switch next to Enable Screenshots for a clutter-free camera roll. 

Choose the Portrait mode photos you want to see on your wrist

You can set Portrait mode photos as the background for your watch face. But first, you have to dig into the settings in the Watch app on your iPhone. To get started, launch the Watch app and navigate to the Face Gallery tab at the bottom of the screen. Then, scroll down until you see the Portraits option. Tap the Choose Photos option under Content to select up to 24 photos that will rotate automatically when you raise your wrist or tap the screen. 

Apple Watch showing photos in Portrait Mode

Apple's new Portrait watch face lets you set photos taken in Portrait Mode as the watch's backdrop. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Keep the Apple Watch's screen awake for a longer period of time

There are times when you might not want your Apple Watch's screen to go idle right away. Perhaps you were in the middle of reading a long text message and got distracted, or maybe you want to keep an eye on your timer. Once you tap the Apple Watch's screen, it typically stays active for 15 seconds. But you can extend that to 70 seconds by launching the Settings menu on your watch, tapping Display & Brightness and choosing Wake Duration. Then select the Wake for 70 Seconds option. 

Stop every app from automatically installing

Every time you install an app on your iPhone, it will automatically install its Apple Watch counterpart if there is one. This can clutter up your watch's app grid pretty quickly, making it hard to find the apps you do want to use on your watch. 

In the Watch app on your phone, go to Settings > General and then slide the switch next to Automatic App Install to the Off position. You can also do this on the watch by opening the Settings menu, tapping App Store and toggling the switch next to Automatic Downloads.

From now on, you'll install individual apps on your watch by opening the Watch app on your phone, then scrolling to the bottom where you'll find a list of available apps. 

Apple Watch showing an animated face

The Apple Watch is so much more than a way to view your notifications. 

Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Silence those noisy notifications

Smartwatches can be useful for discreetly checking an alert or the time. But loud notifications can defeat the purpose. Turn on your Apple Watch's silent mode by pressing the side button to launch the Control Center. Then tap the icon that looks like a bell to trigger Silent Mode. 

You can also do this by opening the Apple Watch's Settings menu, scrolling down to Sound & Haptics and toggling the switch next to Silent Mode. There's also a volume slider for adjusting how loud or quiet incoming notifications sound if you'd rather not mute them completely.

Have Siri only speak out loud when you're wearing headphones

Siri can be useful for quickly setting timers, starting workouts or checking the weather from your watch. But you might not always want to have Siri speak out loud. You can easily change this so that Siri only provides audible feedback when you're wearing headphones. Open the Settings menu on your Apple Watch, scroll down to Siri and navigate to the Siri Responses section. Then tap the Headphones Only option. When your Bluetooth headphones are connected to your Apple Watch, you should now see the name of your headphones appear above the Siri volume setting in the watch's settings menu. 

Make text easier to read by increasing the font size

Reading notifications and news headlines can be difficult on a screen that's so small. Luckily, you can increase the font size on the Apple Watch to make things a bit easier on your eyes. To do so, launch the Settings app on your watch, tap Display & Brightness and scroll down to Text Size. Rotate the Digital Crown or tap the letters that appear on either side of the meter to adjust the text size on your watch. If you have the Apple Watch Series 7, Series 8, Series 9, Apple Watch Ultra or Apple Watch Ultra 2, you'll have more size options for enlarging the text, since those watches have bigger displays. 

Stop those annoying reminders to breathe

The Breathe reminder is designed to help you take a few minutes to clear your mind and control your respiration, potentially helping you feel more centered and calm. But if you're like me and never follow the prompt, take a few seconds to turn it off so you no longer have to be reminded to breathe. 

Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, then scroll down and tap the Mindfulness app option. Next, select Notifications off. (Note: If your watch isn't running WatchOS 8 or later, this will appear as Breathe instead of Mindfulness.)

Unlock your Apple Watch with your iPhone

Typing in your passcode to unlock your Apple Watch can be a pain, but there's an easier way to do it. You can choose to have your Apple Watch unlock automatically when your iPhone is unlocked.

Tap the Digital Crown and navigate to the Apple Watch's Settings menu. Scroll down to Passcode, and make sure the switch next to Unlock with iPhone is toggled on. Your iPhone will now also display an alert saying that your iPhone is being used to unlock your Apple Watch whenever you put this into practice. 

Two Apple Watch models showing passcode numbers

You usually have to type in your Apple Watch's passcode to unlock it. 

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Make it easier to find your apps

The honeycomb app grid looks great at first glance, but it can be difficult to find the app you want to launch, particularly if you have a lot of apps installed on your watch. Instead of in a grid, the watch can display all of your apps in an alphabetical list. 

Either in the Watch app on your phone or in the Settings app on the Watch, tap App View > List View. Now, when you press the Digital Crown to leave your watch face, you'll see a list of apps that you can quickly scroll through and find what you're looking for. 

Someone checking an Apple Watch app list while wearing the watch

See, doesn't the app list look better? 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Control when you'll see Siri

There are three different ways to activate Siri on your Apple Watch. You can raise your wrist toward your mouth and start talking, long-press the Digital Crown or use the wake phrase, "Hey, Siri."

I've found that I often accidentally trigger Siri when trying to check the time or read a notification while I'm talking to someone else (but my watch thinks I'm trying to talk to Siri). It's annoying, but it can be changed. 

Either in the Watch app on your phone or in the Settings app on the Watch, select Siri and there you'll find three buttons to control when you'll see Siri. Slide each button to the Off position for any of the options you don't want to use. 

Rearrange the Control Center

Just like Control Center on your iPhone, Control Center on the Apple Watch is where you go to quickly adjust settings like do not disturb and airplane mode and to activate the flashlight. 

You may find the default list of options in the Control Center isn't the best fit for how you use your watch, however, and you want to rearrange the list. For me, that means moving the Bedtime toggle from near the bottom of the list to the top. That way when I want to track my sleep over the weekend when I don't have sleep goals set, I can swipe up and tap the icon. 

You can launch the Control Center by pressing the side button on your Apple Watch. To change the order or hide some buttons in the Control Center, tap the Edit button at the bottom of the list. The icons will begin to jiggle and show a red minus sign to hide an option. Drag and drop the icons into your preferred order, or tap the red minus button to remove the option altogether. 

When you're finished, tap Done or press the Digital Crown on the side of your watch to go back to the watch face. 

There are plenty more Apple Watch features that are worth checking out. For example, the ECG app can help identify heartbeat irregularities, and you can even share your custom watch faces.

For more, check out CNET's list of the best Apple Watch bands and every iPhone setting you should change right now.