Three Apple Watch models with different bands

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

This story is part of 12 Days of Tips, helping you make the most of your tech, home and health during the holiday season.

So you found a new Apple Watch under the Christmas tree, and you’re not sure where to start? Luckily, the Apple Watch is already easy enough to set up and use. But changing a few settings can make it even more convenient.  

For example, you can decide how you’d like to activate Siri, select which apps appear in your dock, make your apps appear in a list view rather than a grid and set Portrait Mode photos from your iPhone as your watch background. You’ll be able to use these features and settings on any watch model that Apple currently sells, including the $249 Apple Watch SE, the $399 Apple Watch Series 8 and the rugged $799 Apple Watch Ultra.

Apple Watch Series 8

$399 at Apple

Apple’s WatchOS 9 update, which arrived in September, brought even more features to the Apple Watch Series 4 and newer. Additions include more detailed sleep monitoring and a new app for tracking medications.

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

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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 bottom and tap Change Goals. Make your adjustments for all three metrics and start closing those rings. 

Read moreBest Workout Subscription Apps

Apple Watch showing activity ringsApple Watch showing activity rings

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. 

Read more: Best iPhone 14 and 14 Pro Cases You Can Buy Right Now

Customize which apps appear in your dock

If you have a lot of apps installed on your Apple Watch, it can be difficult to find the right ones when you need them. That’s where the Apple Watch’s dock comes in handy. If you’re not familiar, the dock is essentially the iPhone’s app switcher, but for the Apple Watch. You can trigger it by tapping the side button, which pulls up a carousel of recently used apps.

However, you can also customize the dock to show any apps you want instead of your most recent apps. To do this on your watch, open the Settings menu, tap Dock and select the Favorites option. But I recommend setting this up in the Phone’s Watch app instead so that you can customize these apps.

Open the Watch app on your iPhone and tap Dock. Once the Favorites option is selected, you’ll see a list of apps divided into two sections: Favorites and Do Not Include. Favorites are the apps that are currently in your dock, while the latter lists all of the other apps on your watch that aren’t included. Tap the Edit button in the top right corner to customize the Favorites list to your liking. 

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, tap the Portraits option under the New Watch Faces category. 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 ModeApple 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. 

Read more: Best Apple Watch Apps

Apple Watch showing an animated faceApple 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 swiping up from the bottom of the screen 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 or Ultra, 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, this will appear as Breathe instead of Mindfulness.)

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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 numbersTwo 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 watchSomeone 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. 

This is a hidden feature that you should memorize right now. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Rearrange 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. 

To access the Control Center on your watch, swipe up from the bottom of the watch face, or when in an app you can long-press on the bottom of the screen until you see Control Center start to slide up, after which you just need to slide your finger up to access it. The same trick works to view your notifications from anywhere. 

Change the order, or hide some buttons in the Control Center by tapping 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 done, 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, there are new workout options for Pilates and Tai Chi 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.

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