Apple Watch Ultra Bands
Critical: Apple Watch Ultra Review
I’ve spent the last couple of months testing each of the three new Apple Watch Ultra bands. At $99 a piece, they are expensive. So, for good measure, I also got some cheap rip-offs from Amazon between $6-$12 each and tested those as well.
TL;DR -All 3 designs are novel, all 3 designs look good and all 3 strap designs are suitable for sports usage. Apple’s bands ARE slightly better in quality than the rip-offs but I’m unconvinced it’s worth paying the $90 extra.
Table of Contents (Click to Expand)
Apple Watch Ultra Alpine Loop
As I watched the Watch Ultra Launch event, I thought to myself, “Wow, that Alpine band looks super cool“. Real-life usage didn’t disappoint…mostly. But I grew to like it a bit less after a few weeks of use. Here’s why.
The Alpine Loop is a cleverly designed single-piece strap. It has two fabric layers, the flat layer makes contact with your skin and the second layer is sewn to the first to form a series of about 28 small loops. A single clasp is then inserted into whichever loop corresponds with the desired circumference for your wrist. On smaller wrists, fewer of the loops will be visible and it’ll look a bit less cool!
A key aspect of the design is that it can accommodate very large wrists. Of course, few people have very large wrists. However, Alpine Adventurers may well want to wear their watches on the outside of their coat sleeve so that routes, compass headings, and impending meteorological doom are all easily visible. Some adventurers do need that feature however wearing it over clothing doesn’t do wonders for the quality of your optical HR readings 😉
This design has three flaws
- Hygiene: It gets dirty with only a few uses but can be washed easily enough
- Longevity: I like to wear the strap tight and repeatedly inserting the clasp into the same loop caused some stretching of the loop material. I’m guessing that at some point next year, the most commonly used small fabric loop will either tear or not look so good.
- Removal: I tend to unclip the clasp and then pull the strap fairly hard to quickly remove it. The material CAN handle that but the metal end of the strap smashes into the screen. It’s fine a few times but I wouldn’t recommend doing that daily!
This design will last many months. However, it won’t last forever and of the 3 new designs I would guess that this design will fail before the other two.
The cheap rip-offs seem to be a very similar quality but the mechanism that attaches to the watch isn’t as easy to insert in the Ultra and is not a perfect fit…it wiggles a bit after a few uses. For $10 I would be happy to use one of the rip-offs and I like the design.
Note: A strap extension is available to accommodate massive circumferences
Apple Watch Ultra Ocean Band
Of the 3 designs, this is the best one for sport, simply because it is the most hygienic. I generally like the looks of the Ocean Band and keep coming back to use it for sport because it is the least gross of the 3 if I fail to rinse it after an hour or so of sweating.
The Ocean Band is a 2-piece design. The novelty in the design comes from the multiple, dual-purpose holes that run through the band. On the smaller of the two strap pieces, the holes accommodate the single free-loop/free-ring, this can be easily moved to different holes the purpose being to stop the end of the other strap from flapping around when worn. The second purpose of the holes is to give the whole strap a good degree of flex. It’s hard to overtighten this strap as any initial over-tightening is released as the holes compress when stretched. Cool!
This is the best design to ‘automatically’ maintain a constant level of pressure on the wrist and hence probably the best for optical heart rate accuracy.
As the name suggests, this band was designed with water use in mind, specifically to go over a diving wetsuit or, I suppose, over a thinner triathlon wetsuit. I tried the latter and it’s fine. Again, you will not get any heart rate readings when worn over a wetsuit and you also will not be able to get a triathlon wetsuit quickly off in transition as a watch over the suit will hold the sleeve in place (don’t do that!).
Cons? I can’t think of any design flaws with this band. However its aesthetic appeal is a bit like Marmite…you either love it or hate it. I like it, but my partner doesn’t.
This must be the most durable and long-lasting of the three new band designs. We have to take it on trust that Apple used the correct materials to handle a harsh, sunny and salty marine environment plus the chlorine rigours of pools. Perhaps it might fade if not.
The cheap rip-offs are perfectly fine and, to me, appear to be of identical quality. On closer inspection, the moveable loop/ring is a more simple design than Apple’s and might be prone to coming off if the strap is pulled whilst still in the loop…but the strap itself would remain on your wrist. Maybe the cheaper rip-offs are made of inferior material that might degrade or fade more quickly. IDK.
Apple Watch Trail Loop Band
My partner and I both love the aesthetics of this design. I loved it when I saw it in the launch video and we still love the looks when we wear ours.
The Trail Loop band is superficially similar to a standard Apple Sport Loop Band (half the price!). However, the older Sport Loop band has a plastic end and this stops the end of the strap from ever detaching from the Watch. The trail Loop band, on the other hand, relies on the 4 pieces of Velcro and a tag sewn on the end of the band to each act as a barrier to the strap detaching itself.
The main benefit of the Trail Loop (and Sport Loop) design is that these velcro straps are infinitely adjustable and can easily be micro-adjusted in the middle of a run. On long runs, my wrists seem to get very slightly thinner and, of course, slipperier too. These loops are GREAT To quickly rectify that and are a doddle to instantly make a bit tighter when needed without stopping.
Cons: But there is a serious flaw here and I wouldn’t use this watch for Open Water Swimming or bike riding. Over time you will find that the adherence of the velcro will deteriorate (same on the older Apple Sport Loop bands) and that the velcro will become very slightly more slippery, perhaps from oil or other materials it accumulates. You run the serious risk that the strap will come off your watch. If you’re running you’ll probably feel it and catch it but when open water swimming you might suddenly find it plunging into the murky depths. Similarly when cycling the vibrations from roads or trails might compound the effect of ageing and if the watch falls off at 25mph there’s a good chance you’ll break it. I discount loss or damage from a watch falling off when running but that could also happen.
The cheap rip-offs are nowhere near as well-made as the Apple original band. At least the ones that I have aren’t. They look perfectly cool BUT these straps will come off the watch as the velcro patches do not stop the strap from threading through the gap behind the pin. Similarly, the sewn-on tags are not as good quality as those from Apple, mine is even sewn on fractionally off-centre. By all means buy one of these rip-offs if, like me, you think they look cool but don’t rely on them in sports. Get the Apple version for real sports usage.
Sizes and General Compatability
The bands will generally fit either 38/40/41mm watches or 44/45mm watches. So you can easily use these straps on older Apple Watch models. Indeed I’ll be using them on my Watch 6 which I still prefer to use as it gives greater accuracy than Watch 7 or Watch Ultra (I haven’t tested Watch 8 at all)
However, the bands come in 1, 2 or 3 lengths and three colours.
Alpine comes in 3 colours (orange, green & starlight) and 3 circumferences
- Small Band fits 130–160mm wrists.
- Medium Band fits 145–190mm wrists.
- Large Band fits 165–210mm wrists.
Trail Loop comes in3 colours (yellow/beige, blue/grey and black/grey) and 2 circumferences (only available in 49mm case size on apple.com)
- S/M Band fits 130–180mm wrists.
- M/L Band fits 145–220mm wrists
Watch Ultra Strap Alternatives
I’ve settled on these straps for my own usage across all Watch models: the 3 standard Ultra Straps, which are all great for their intended sports; the NOMAD Rugged Strap for a snug, hygienic outdoor fit; and the NOMAD brown/black leather straps for occasions that require a degree of elegance.
These band designs all look great and are superficially way more than fit for purpose. A copy band is OK to get for the Ocean and Alpine designs.
- Alpine Loop – Might not last a long time and gets dirty
- Ocean Band – Works a treat but you might or might not like the looks
- Trail Loop – Even the Apple ones quickly get dirty and don’t buy an inferior rip-off for any kind of serious sports usage…you risk losing your watch.
Very expensive but generally very good straps
Best Strap for Apple Watch Ultra
The Apple strap designs all look great and are superficially way more than simply fit for purpose. A copy band is OK to get for the Ocean and Alpine designs. Don’t get a copy of the Trail Loop for use in sports, you’ll lose your watch.
- Novel designs
- Sport-focused designs
Not Impressed? Check out some more bands for sport
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