How to work around Apple Watch being too dim to read

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Sometimes you just need to change Apple Watch settings to make the face readable, but there's also a bug that means it will sometimes appear too dim no matter what you do.

Whether or not you've got the always-on face of the Apple Watch Series 5, or Apple Watch Series 6, sometimes this happens. You turn your wrist to see the time and it is so dim that you can only just see that the face is on at all.

What's happened is that the ambient brightness sensor has decided you're in a dark place, so it can, or even should, show you the dimmest possible face. When you are in, for instance, a theater, you could be very glad that it does this.

But when you're not, it's exasperating. Apple Watch will sometimes spontaneously decide your environment is considerably darker than it really is, and there's no apparent pattern to it.

There is one workaround, and there is one setting that may help.

How to get the Apple Watch back up to readable brightness

  1. You've turned your wrist, and the screen is too dim
  2. Cover the face with the palm of your hand for a few seconds
  3. Take your hand away
  4. Tap on the display

Covering up the display turns it off, so you need that following tap to re-awaken it. In practically every case, you'll find that the tap makes the Watch check the ambient light level again, and get it right this time.

Just extremely occasionally in AppleInsider testing, it didn't work. Again, there's no apparent pattern to when it does or doesn't, but covering it up and then tapping again sorts it out.

You can also just cover up the face until it turns off, then twist your wrist to reactivate it. In either case, it's making the face wake up again on Apple Watch Series 4 or earlier, or it's making the always-on face brighten on later models.

It works. It's just extremely unsatisfying. And yet for now, that's the only practical way we've got to make the screen brighten to the correct level when it's gone wrong.

There is an impractical way, though, which you may need if the problem persists.

If the dim screen persists, force it to brighten

  1. Cover the Watch face until it goes off
  2. Using your iPhone, turn on the flashlight on your iPhone, and point it directly at the Watch
  3. Tap the Watch screen to wake it
  4. Turn off the flashlight

What this does is make the Watch's ambient light sensor believe that you are in an incredibly bright environment. So it maximizes the brightness of the face to help you see it.

This definitely does the job, but it only does it once. You can realistically juggle your iPhone torch and Watch face every single time the screen is too dim.

But at least it will show you that the problem is with the light sensor, that it's not your Apple Watch screen fading away.

Adjust Apple Watch brightness

The Watch is going to do what it likes and what it likes most is to save you battery power. So it's always going to aim to be as dim as it can get away with.

That said, you can give it a nudge by setting a kind of baseline level of brightness that you like. You can do this either on the Apple Watch itself, or on iPhone, but in neither case should you get terribly excited.

How to adjust Apple Watch brightness on the Watch

  1. On your Apple Watch, tap on Settings
  2. Choose Display & Brightness
  3. Tap on the left or right light icons to increase or decrease brightness

How to adjust Apple Watch brightness on iPhone

  1. On your iPhone, open the Apple Watch app
  2. Tap to choose your Watch
  3. Choose Display & Brightness
  4. Drag the slider left or right light to increase or decrease brightness

In both cases you also have options to do with the size of text that the Apple Watch will display, and whether it makes that text bold. The former only affects text displayed by apps, such as News, not the text on the face itself.

However, the latter, making text bold or not, does slightly increase the size and therefore bright visibility of elements on a Watch face, such as the date.

If the face keeps on dimming

Apple has no specific advice on what to do to fix this bug, but discussions on its support forums have surfaced some further possible options. They boil down to just restarting the Watch and updating its software, however.

Just as there's no obvious pattern to when the Watch will spontaneously misread the ambient light, there's also no known correlation between the bug and the model of Watch you have.

Yet since it is tied to that sensor switching on as you turn your wrist, perhaps this will all go away in further Apple Watches. Once the whole range has an always-on face, and once that face can be the same brightness the time, we may forget this was ever happening.

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