Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review ❌ a pointless purchase? perhaps
Rugged, durable and precisely crafted, the Apple Watch ULTRA 2 lags way behind the Garmin Epix 2 for serious endurance endeavours and adventures. Worse than that it’s $100 more than its predecessor yet is essentially the same watch as that and now with the same software. It’s almost a totally pointless upgrade unless you’re buying ULTRA 2 for whatever future abilities might be announced in 2024 and beyond.
The latest Apple Watch sits atop Apple’s watch range, it’s a tad faster than last year’s model and is well and truly sturdier, longer lasting and more durable than Apple’s lesser watches. **If** its real purpose is to kill Garmin adventure watches like Epix and Fenix by introducing superior features then Apple fails big time. But as a watch for weekend warriors and occasional triathletes, it’s a highly competent watch and one that I recommend.
ULTRA’s digital crown is super chunky in a glove-friendly way, and the side button is well-protected. Combine that with last year’s new customisable action button and the whole package works well and relishes in that overall Apple feel. Better still, the eco-titanium case and scratch-resistant Sapphire glass are fit for even the most arduous of expeditions. The display has been slightly tweaked for ULTRA 2 and is now 50% brighter than before – don’t forget the display can be highly dimmed when in bed and also has a redshift mode to retain night vision.
Tip: Not for small wrists, it’s at least 4mm bigger than the 45mm Watch 9 in every dimension H/W/D
The latest Ultra is expensive, naturally, and only works with an iPhone. It costs $799/£799 which is considerably more than the entry-level Watch SE which starts at $249/£219 and the mid-range Series 9 for $399/£399. However, if you buy a top-end Watch Series 9 which also boasts a similar stainless steel case, scratch-resistant screen and 4G, then you are paying the same price as the ULTRA 2 (actually £/$50 less).
Here is a summary review and afterwards is comprehensive coverage of every sporting aspect of Watch ULTRA 2, some tips, and my recommendations of the best Watch apps to use for your sport.
Verdict: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - Best Apple Watch for your sports & weekend adventures
Build Quality & Design
Openness & Compatability
Apple Watch ULTRA 2 Opinion & Summary Review
Apple Watch ULTRA 2 is the best and most expensive Apple Watch. It’s a super-sized Watch 9 Stainless Steel/Sapphire with an extra button, a brighter screen and a significantly better battery life. Its large size and aesthetics are not for everyone, maybe it’s too big for your wrist or just looks too rugged an aesthetic for your taste.
Looks great, works well.
Apple is challenging Garmin’s dominance at the high end of the adventure and endurance sports markets but fails to deliver a sufficient level of pro-level features. Apple will never win at the elite end of sports tech. No problems. Apple will continue to eat into the other 90% of the high-end Garmin market.
Apple’s new Watch software for 2023 has several great additions, some here now and some planned in the months ahead. The problem with Ultra 2 is that every other Watch gets nearly the same features. So, buy the original Ultra and save yourself $/£100. You won’t notice Ultra 2’s brighter screen nor will you notice any real speed difference. All you miss will be the on-watch Siri and gesture control…and let’s face it, you won’t really miss those either.
- Awesome smart features
- most accurate wellness features
- very decent sports features
- a more practical battery life
- very well-made hardware
- entry-level sports sensor support (power cadence speed)
- 3rd party workout support
- requires an iPhone
- battery life is inadequate for real Ultra events and expeditions
- most sports features are good but lack details
- limited mapping and navigation at launch
Table of Contents (Click to Expand)
Apple Watch ULTRA 2 Review – What’s New
The new hardware features in ULTRA are extremely thin on the ground but the latest software features shared by all Watches have some important updates. Here is some more detail
- Now made with 95% recycled titanium
- New bands, colours & materials
- New processing capabilities – 60% more transistors, 30% faster graphics, new neural engine to process voice and gestures
- 50% brighter display at max, 50% dimmer at min. Flashlight mode boost
- UWB2 capabilities to find or link to other Apple devices
- On-Watch Siri can interact with Health
- Double Tap gesture control
- Batter capacity increased by 4%
and here are the new software boosts
- Smart widget stack access from watch faces with the digital crown (Excellent!)
- new Modular, Palette and Snoopy watch faces (meh)
- Bluetooth sports sensor support (power, cadence, speed) (Great)
- FTP detection and automatically calculated power zones (Cool)
- 3rd party workouts accepted eg from Training Peaks (Should be great)
- Offline Topographic maps with elevation (I’ll wait till I see them)
- 3D elevation view shows POIs and new automated POIs show the last cellular and emergency locations (#Shrug)
- Nearby trailheads shown (limited) (Could be good globally)
- Contact sharing with Name Drop
Apple Watch History – A Brief Timeline
There are likely over 100 million Apple Watches in use today and in 2020, sales of Apple Watch exceeded the entirety of sales in the rest of the watch industry.
Apple Watch has morphed from being a novelty wannabe fitness companion to the iPhone 6 (2014) to a genuinely good, smart sportswatch (2023). Here are the highlights of that journey
- 2016 Apple Watch 2 – introduces better GPS tracking, waterproofing for swimming and Siri
- 2017 Apple Watch 3 – adds eSim option
- 2018 Apple Watch 4 – gets next-gen oHR with ECG, Bluetooth 5, a 64-bit processor, an improved gyroscope and an improved altimeter
- 2019 Apple Watch 5 & SE – now gets a compass and always-on screen
- 2020 Apple Watch 6- adds UWB finding capabilities, new optical HR sensor and blood oxygen sensing (SpO2)
- 2021 Apple Watch 7 – gets dust resistance and increased case size
- 2022 Apple Watch 8, Ultra, SE 2 – Gets Bluetooth 5.3, 100m swimming/dive, Gen 3 optical HR, next-gen dual frequency GNSS/GPS, fast charging battery, new gyroscope, temperature sensor and altimeter
- 2023 Apple Watch 9, Ultra 2 – Gets UWB2, faster S9 chipset with gesture control and Siri processing
Ultra Gen 1 and Watch 8 are the statement editions for now. Ultra 2 is a modest evolution.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Design: Robust & Thoughtful.
This is a watch for the future.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 appears identical to the original Ultra yet remains radically different to the ubiquitous rounded case of the mainstream Watches.
The hardware is appropriate for many Ultra-like events, although at 2.2 ounces (61.3g) it’s already veered too far on the heavy side for some Ultra Runners. The lens and case are sufficiently scratch-resistant and the case edge better protects the glass. The screen is radiantly bright and the three evolved straps are excellent for sports.
The customisable action button is good when assigned to your favourite sports app and can even be used to trigger manual laps after your workout app has launched. Even when wearing gloves in cold weather, the digital crown is easier to use but now Watch Ultra 2 offers a tantalising new way to control it using hand and finger gestures.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Display: Big And Bright
Ranking high on the unnecessary scale, the display is 50% brighter than on the previous Ultra and 7% bigger than that on the 45mm Apple Watch 9. It has a beautiful and colourful screen and its touch functionality is also excellent.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Sensors + Connections
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has every commonly available sensor onboard plus a sometimes more precise UWB sensor that delivers excellent 2-way finding.
Apple’s Workout app adds the ability to pair to common sports sensors but more specialist sensors will require the manufacturer’s app. The glaring omission is the ability for Watch Ultra 2 to broadcast your heart rate whereas more serious cyclists would say a bigger omission is the ability to control the resistance and incline on some forms of gym equipment.
Alternative: Broadcast HR with Heartbeatz
Apple’s wellness sensors cover SpO2, Afib, skin temperature, and ECG/EKG. For athletes, there are more useful sensors like optical HR, dual frequency GNSS/GPS reception for position and speed, a barometric altimeter, and a magnetic compass.
Apple would then point out that 3rd party Watch apps support niche sports equipment like Stryd running footpads, FORM Smart swimming goggles, Core body temperature sensors, ActiveLook Heads-Up Display and more – sure Garmin supports all those but support from competitors Suunto, Coros and Polar is patchy.
Traditional sports sensors, Pro ones if you like, use ANT+ connections and Apple will never support those. But now Garmin remains as the only sports watch company of note to support ANT+, almost every other app and watch uses Bluetooth.
Apple also makes a big deal of its support for crash detection, fall detection, sleep stage tracking, menstruation tracking, HRV, and diving with EN13319 certification and every Apple Watch ULTRA 2 comes with an an-always-on LTE connection for internet access without a phone. Broadly speaking those are available on other serious smartwatches and, to a lesser extent, some sports watches.
Take Out: The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has just about all the capabilities it needs to support sensors and connections of every kind but serious athletes, the ones this watch is supposedly targeted at, might not have their needs met and will buy a Garmin. It really is that simple.
Apple Watch Ultra Comparisons and Sports Suitability
Note: Some images are from my original Ultra Review
I’ll look at the sports of running, cycling, swimming, triathlon and adventure hiking and tell you the gaps where the Watch Ultra 2 fails to deliver.
Q: Is Watch Ultra 2 Suitable for Running?
Yes, Watch Ultra 2 is suitable for training and racing up to a marathon-duration event but you might find it a little on the bulky side for an ultra. Apple has ticked off almost all the mainstream running features plus some of the esoteric ones like track mode, Running Power and Ground Contact Time metrics.
Heart rate zones and other zones are fully supported and can be used for pacing your efforts, and you are alerted if you leave your chosen zone. Other workout targets are easily possible based on calories, distance, pace, power and time. Even starting workouts with the customisable action button allows a single button-press start to a race after you’ve made sure your GPS is locked on.
Serious athletes can build and follow complex workouts and will soon have the same kinds of workouts available from 3rd party digital training plans to drop into calendars. as an example of what’s possible, you could create and follow this workout:
15-minute warmup with a power alert range of 150-200w: 5 repeats of 1km with a pace target of 4:00/km each followed by 3 minutes recovery; and then all followed by an open cool down.
Q: What Major Running Feature Will Apple Add Next?
A: The essential running features of Watch Ultra 2 are complete in Apple’s eyes. Expect to see improvements to the flow of the interface and the ability to better find and follow routes/courses.
Q: Is Watch Ultra 2 Suitable for Cycling?
A: Apple Watch Ultra 2 is suitable for keen cyclists but not competitive cyclists.
You can now easily connect to common cycling sensors and display core metrics. A small screened wristwatch is less than ideal as a cycling companion for serious cyclists and that’s perhaps why Apple added the ability to mirror your Watch screen onto your much larger iPhone screen.
An iPhone on the handlebars is a great display option for cyclists but if you are planning a 100-mile trail ride over an unfamiliar route then Apple’s Workout & Maps apps plus a fragile iPhone aren’t up to the task. Similarly, if you want to follow a structured cycling plan on an indoor trainer, Watch Ultra 2 won’t be able to control the workout.
Q: What Major Cycling Feature Will Apple Add Next?
A: Bike routes and directions will be improved. Resistance levels of smart trainers may become controllable. Safety radar/lights will be supported.
Suitability for Swimming (and diving) – Watch Ultra 2 Review
It’s a certified dive watch (to 40m) and is water resistant to 100m so you can feel pretty secure using it to swim in your local pool or lake. Stroke detection is more than good enough and outdoor swim GPS tracks are accurate enough, however, heart rate is often incorrect when swimming.
Q: What Major Swimming Feature Will Apple Add Next?
Q: Is the Apple Watch Ultra 2 Suitable for Triathlon?
A: Yes. Apple Watch Ultra 2 has some surprisingly good triathlon features, my favourites of which are the optional auto-transition feature which detects when you change from one sport to the next and it works reliably well. I am also impressed by Watch Ultra’s ability to create profiles for different kinds of multisport activities such as a duathlon, indoor pool triathlon or multiple training repeats of run+bike. So if you plan to do a tick-box triathlon, perhaps even a Half-Ironman then, hey, why not use your Watch Ultra 2?
Q: What Major Triathlon Feature Will Apple Add Next?
A: None. The features introduced for biking and running (above) will be all that triathletes need. At least that’s what Apple will think.
Suitability for Adventure Hiking
An adventure hiker has a backup of an iPhone, whereas an explorer has a backup of a physical compass and paper map.
Watch Ultra 2 is not suitable for involved hiking and explorers. I’ll clarify that: the physical hardware is great within the constraints of the battery life but the Apple Maps/Workout combo is not good enough, you will need 3rd party routing/mapping from another app like Footparh or Workoutdoors.
Apple’s intelligent POIs can direct you back to the last places you had emergency cell connectivity and connectivity to your provider. If you can’t get there, you have a loud emergency siren built-in.
Apple builds on the revamped compass watch face and adds Topo Maps and elevation contour but these features are incomplete.
Watch Ultra’s onboard sensors are all pretty good. An Altimeter, Barometer, and Magnetic Compass are great and you also get live weather updates. However, there is no navigable map natively on the Watch. As of 2023, Apple has added restricted offline maps to the iPhone which must be present for the Watch to share. Sure you can navigate in straight lines to specific points, or retrace your steps but it is not possible to follow a pre-loaded route unless you use a 3rd party app and/or your iPhone.
Q: What Major Hiking/Adventure Feature Will Apple Add Next?
A: It seems that Apple intends to focus its hiking support on popular and official trails rather than personally curated adventures. There is a lot promised that still hasn’t been delivered.
Deep Dive Apple Watch Recovery, Sleep & Stress Metrics
Apple Watch Ultra 2 can collect information for sleep, stress and recovery with HR, HRV, breath rate and temperature. However, it only provides rich insights into sleep and sleep stages. You will need a 3rd party app like Athlytic to show stress and recovery levels once you’ve enabled AFIB History (explanation).
Deep Dive: How does Apple make Watch Ultra 2 a true competitor in sports tech?
With caveats, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 already is a true competitor in sports tech.
It only lacks out-of-the-box niche sports features which its app store largely resolves. Your issue is to research and curate a collection of apps that do the jobs you want. Here are 10 or so top apps that will help.
The best Map App for Apple Watch Ultra
If you want to try and find a better map app than WorkOutdoors or Footpath then …good luck to you. I just can’t see how you can get better maps than this…
WorkOutDoors is one of the go-to sports apps with a vast array of other features. Just download it now. The app can run in display-a-map-only mode and you can easily toggle to it from, say, Apple’s workout app or from a complication on the Compass Watchface.
The best Tides App for Apple Watch
Tides is the best, free high/low tide app in my opinion, although you can’t always find a super-close measuring station to your precise location to get the exact tide status. But it’s good enough for me.
Its handy tide chart (sine wave) can be shown as a complication on some watch faces.
The best sunset/sunrise/phase app
Sundial is a pretty app that clearly shows most things related to sun and moon phases.
A Good Barometer App in the free version
I like the Barometer & Altimeter app to just give a simple and free one-pager for atmospheric pressure. I couldn’t find any watch apps that included a free barometric pressure complication although many were available in paid-for versions of apps (such as MyRadar and AltiBarometer)
This particular app also includes altitude info. However Apple now natively provides good elevation data so you might as well use that. You can easily add elevation as an extra screen to many profiles within Apple’s Workout app.
What’s missing here is storm alerting. You can get that in weather forecasting apps but it would be good to find a free one that alerts you to actual sharp drops in pressure when you are off-grid.
A Great Wind App
I love the Windy app. As well as giving a nice weather watch face and free wind complication, Windy also gives a great 2-day, fullscreen Wind forecast for free on your wrist. Even better it combines several wind forecasts together in an interesting circular chart format that shows the actual direction and strength of each forecast. Like this…
A great Weather Radar Map
I’ve used the free weather map view from the MyRadar app for quite a few years and there’s no reason to stop using it on Ultra 2. Sometimes a visual of approaching an intense storm brings home the reality of your situation more than a digit on a weather forecast.
Best sports & Adventure Apps for Apple Watch ULTRA 2
Apple’s own workout app and other features such as the compass are basic but good enough for most of us. These apps are the best apps for your sports and adventures on any Apple Watch
More Insights – FindMy and Sports – Using 4G/3G
My UK cell carrier is O2. They charge an additional £/$5/month for an Apple Watch data plan which, after a month, I am nowhere close to using the meagre data allowance. Had I downloaded music or other content it would have been different. Putting the galling additional cost to one side, I was very pleasantly surprised with the quality of the always-connected experience.
Using LTE/4G/3G decimates the battery life but once enabled your family can track your approximate location with FindMy. You should get great call quality and can easily call for help if needed without an iPhone. Whilst on my bike rides I can interact with my Google Nest doorbell via the Watch and I could probably even open my front door if I had a smart lock.
Tip: To lessen the battery consumption only turn on 3G/4G when needed.
Some bikes and other sporting gear are also being added to the FindMy network. However, that is more for loss prevention or recovery and won’t impact your workouts or adventures
Competitor Comparisons – Suunto, Coros and Polar
Suunto Vertical, Coros Vertix 2 and Polar Grit X all offer comparably rugged and excellently made alternatives to Apple and offer better sports-adventure features. None of them are as good as Apple Watch for smart features (iPhone integration) and they lag behind Watch ULTRA 2 for wellness features too. Thus if you want a dedicated sports/adventure watch to support your fitness and activities then those brands offer good alternatives. If you want the whole 24×7 package and restrictive battery life…get Apple
- When to opt for Suunto – Suunto’s strength is adventure-focussed, producing quality outdoor watches with great sensors
- When to opt for Garmin – Garmin has all the features. The leader for navigation and triathlon.
- When to opt for Coros – Coros is cheaper than Garmin with many high-level tick box features but sometimes the details are lacking
- When to opt for Polar – Polar’s strength is its runner-focussed, and fitness-focussed ecosystem.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 – What sets it apart from its competitors?
The main differentiator is that Watch Ultra 2 integrates awesomely with your iPhone, and it has simple and familiar ways to access the most often-used sports/adventure features. You don’t have to read a manual or learn about the minutiae of sports science, Watch ULTRA 2 is a simple add-on to your life that you will trust to do a good job.
Beyond that, the non-sporty uses for Apple Watch are excellent and cover things like music playback, payments, shifting many iPhone interactions to a more convenient place (your wrist), smart home control, FindMy, and an excellent sleep and wellness ecosystem that is probably the most scientifically accurate for consumers. Garmin either can’t do those or struggles or overly complicates interactions wherever possible.
Pro Use – The Garmin Killer?
Q: How does the Apple Watch 2 Ultra stack up against a top-end Garmin watch?
Apple Watch ULTRA 2 is absolutely not, nor ever will be a better-featured sports watch than a high-end Garmin Fenix or Epix. It won’t even match the richness of features on other sports watch brands like Coros, Polar and Suunto.
It will NEVER win those athletes who want all the fancy sports features as customers. That’s maybe 20% of the iPhone side of the market it can’t win.
Apple Watch ULTRA 2 absolutely is not sufficiently ULTRA to last a long enough time to support you on those long expeditions or ultra sporting events. ULTRA is a bad name for a watch that isn’t able to do Ultra things. That’s maybe 10% of the iPhone side of that market it can never win over.
You’ve done the math. Ultra 2 CAN ALREADY do what the vast majority of iPhone users need for their sports. And because the Apple Watch is a FAR superior smartwatch to Garmin, that is why Ultra 2 and Watch 9 will eventually decimate Garmin’s market share on iOS.
And you’ll be relatively happy about it because using an Apple Watch is a joy, not a convoluted burden. (I’m a heavy Garmin user BTW !)
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Accuracy & Performance Review – A Detailed Report
TL;DR – Best-in-class accuracy at times. Watch Ultra 2 occasionally lacks GPS accuracy where tall buildings are involved, and heart rate accuracy is always person-specific and use-case specific but I found it acceptable.
I have undertaken hundreds of hours of sports testing with Apple Watches over the years. Apple Watch Ultra 2 and its predecessor are amongst the most accurate sports watches available. In real-world use, however, you will notice no difference in accuracy between a Garmin Epix 2 and a Watch Ultra 2 or Watch Ultra 1.
That said, if you like, I can cherry-pick some results from my recent tests.
- Apple Watch Ultra 2 scores the second-highest-ever GPS score in a demanding 10-mile test. (#1 = Suunto Vertical)
- I would subjectively score Apple’s optical heart rate as 8/10. Other sports watches equal that, but none exceed it.
- YouTube’s Quantified Scientist claims good accuracy for SpO2 and sleep/sleep stages.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Battery Life: It’s OK unless you want to do an Ultra event.
Q: What is the Apple Watch Ultra 2’s battery life?
A: The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a battery life of up to 60 hours, but the GPS recording life is 12 hours max.
Scenario: Turn the display to 3,000 nits, start listening to streamed music, start a fast-moving gravel ride with tree cover, record your GPS position and set your map with Always-On display. You might get a 2-hour battery life. Luckily, 99.99% of you are sensible enough NOT to do that, and your real-world usage probably will require you to charge the Watch every other day or periodically drip charge it with the awesome fast charger.
Q: What is the lifespan of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 battery?
A: About 3 years, maybe less. My experience is that the Watch gets slower as its charge capacity drops toward 80%. Once you get below 80%, Apple will let you change the battery and that will cost about $/£100.
Apple makes thorough battery performance claims which can be summarized:
- Smartwatch Mode with varied usage including GPS: 36 hours
- Continuous GPS Workout Mode with maximum GPS accuracy: 12 hours
- Low Power Workout Mode: Implied to cover an average Ironman triathlon, about 15 hours
- Low Power Multi-Day Adventure Mode: 60 hours
If you limit recharging to 80% of capacity, the battery lifespan will be extended.
The multi-day adventure mode, as its name implies, is for a weekend adventure. It’s not for Ultra Runners who might undertake a 24-hour race or longer. The multi-day adventure mode significantly cranks down the frequency of GPS to one reading every two minutes, plus it cranks down heart rate too. This feature is USELESS for athletes but of some limited use to walkers/hikers/adventurers. ZERO Ultra runners will use it unless sponsored.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Specifications
- Case Size: 49mm
- Case Thickness: 14.4mm
- Weight: 61.3g
- Processor: S9 (new from S8)
- Storage: 64GB (up from 32Gb)
- Operating System: WatchOS 10
- Water Resistance: 100 metres (10ATM), dive-capable
- Sensors: HR, ECG, spO2, temperature, altitude+depth, mic, speaker, NFC, dual-frequency GNSS, magnetic compass
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi bgn 2.4 GHz and 5GHz, NFC, ultra-wideband U2 (new), 4G/eSIM
Let’s take a deeper look at two areas that many consider to be important – battery life and eco-friendliness
The Ultra 2 has a 4% larger battery capacity than the original ULTRA and a whopping 82.5% more than the Watch 9 (45mm). In real life that translates to almost double the battery hours.
When new, you easily get just under 3 days of day-to-day usage from one charge or could complete a mammoth 12-hour workout with continuous GPS recording. But when you turn the brightness up, or turn 4G on, those battery hours will come tumbling down. Worse still, you can expect the battery capacity to degrade by about 10% a year and once you get down to about 80% with Watch 9 you pretty much have to change the battery; the larger Watch ULTRA 2 will keep you going for an extra year but forget those 12-hour workouts as time passes.
Reality Check: Garmin Epix Gen 2 has a battery life that is 300% better than ULTRA 2. Epix gives continuous GPS recording for 30-42 hours, not 12.
Reality Check: ULTRA 2’s 90-minute fast charge and bigger battery *IS* a game changer. You will only have to put it on the charger every other day in many realistic scenarios.
Reality Check: You can’t do an Ironman triathlon or 100-mile Ultra run in less than 10 hours so you shouldn’t buy ULTRA 2. You will only be able to use it in a battery-saving mode of some sort for those kinds of events.
I used watchOS 10 from the early beta releases and it was noticeably slower than watchOS 9 from the get-go. However, the launch software was faster. The Ultra 2 adds back more speed and is definitely faster and smoother than recent Editions…however, it’s only very slightly faster. The extra speed does nothing to help my enjoyment of the watch.
The double-tap gesture is now available (beta) and that uses aspects of the new processor. Gesture recognition seems moderately more reliable than when I first used the accessibility gestures a couple of years ago. However the big difference back then was that the accessibility gestures quickly decimated the battery, that doesn’t seem to happen now.
Gesture control of the Apple Watch will become significant in the future and actions will be identical to those for Apple Vision. That’s why a huge chunk of the new processor is separated for dedicated gesture control. This is the tech future you might buy Ultra 2 to support along with the improved Siri support which will also morph over the years as AI extends its reach through Apple products.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 – FAQs
Q: Is the 2nd generation Apple Watch still good?
A: Yes Watch Ultra 2 is a slight improvement over the first generation model offering some modest performance boosts.
Q: What’s special about Apple Watch Ultra?
A: The only truly special aspect of Watch Ultra 2 is its close integration with the iPhone, no other brand can offer that. Other than that its capabilities as a sports Watch compare favourably with other brands.
Q: What is the battery life of the Apple Watch Ultra 2?
A: The headline battery life of the ULTRA 2 is misleading as it can only record 12 hours of sport with GPS. Battery life is longer than that including general usage.
Q: Is Apple Watch Ultra worth the upgrade?
A: It depends on what you are upgrading from but it’s certainly not worth the upgrade from the first-generation Watch. It makes a nice upgrade from Series 5.
Q: Is Apple Watch Ultra better than Apple Watch?
A: The Watch Ultra is no better or worse than the regular Apple Watch, it’s just different. That difference is reflected in the superior construction, larger size and longer battery life.
Q: Why is Apple Watch Ultra so expensive?
A: Watch ULTRA is priced in line with the stainless steel Apple Watch which has very similar hardware and is priced comparably to competitors like Garmin Epix 2 Pro. The Apple brand commands a premium price.
Q: Should I sleep with my Apple Watch Ultra 2?
A: Yes, absolutely do sleep with the Watch Ultra 2 as some of the nighttime metrics it collects are useful indicators of wellness and sporting readiness. It charges quickly, so rather than charging overnight a quick 20 minutes while you bathe or shower should be enough.
Q: Why is my ultra Apple Watch battery dying so fast?
A: Apple has no magic formula for battery life and if you crank up the screen brightness, record a GPS track, listen to music or use 4G connectivity then the battery will quickly die
Q: Should I charge my Apple Ultra watch every night?
A: Apple Watch Ultra 2 can be fully charged once every 2 days in normal usage and that takes just over an hour. It’s best to get into a regular routine and I would suggest partially sharing daily which will also increase the battery longevity.
Apple is committed to its eco credentials with the policy goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. Looking at the organisation from the outside it certainly exudes credibility and honesty in its eco policies which manifest in reduced packaging, recycled materials usage, generating renewable electricity and planting trees…lots of trees.
It certainly is possible to pick fault. For example not all Watch strap options are carbon neutral (yet) and planting trees is a temporary, nice-sounding but nonsensical solution with CO2 released when the tree dies.
Apple could sell its Watches without a strap allowing you to re-use an old one and could also design a user-replaceable battery. It won’t do either of those eco-friendly options for financial reasons.
Another eco-option would be for Apple to introduce Sapphire screens on all its watches. It doesn’t do that for cost reasons but unsuspecting customers simply don’t realise how easily base-level Apple Watch screens scratch and, guess what, soon enough you need to buy a new watch just for it to look nice.
The bottom line is that the most eco-friendly route is to keep your existing Watch. Buying new stuff is not eco-friendly!
Q: Is Apple green-washing?
A: Yeah, I think so, a bit. But it is making better attempts than many other companies to be eco-friendly.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review of the Reviews
Thanks for getting this far!
Other Apple Watch Ultra 2 Reviews by dc rainmaker, CNET, Engadget and those on Reddit and YouTube from the UK and beyond, all portray a similar story to what I’m giving here. Whilst I’m pretty much in your face saying ‘It’s not an Ultra Watch’ other reviewers are somewhat kinder and more nuanced. There does seem to be pretty universal agreement that this is the best smartwatch for sports and that the 3 new straps are great.
Perhaps the main thing to watch out for with other reviews on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is that many are written by non-athletes who have no idea how athletes use their tech and to varying degrees they applaud features because they are new rather than because they do the job properly.
Apple Watch Ultra Bands
Apple keeps the new strap designs from 2022, but this time round there are new materials and 3 colours.
These are all excellent straps but expensive at about £/$99 each when bought separately, however, they are a tad better made than the much cheaper Amazon replicas. The Ocean band is my favourite as it stretches nicely, fits snugly and can easily be kept clean – the same can’t be said of the Trail and Alpine Loops which, admittedly, do look better. Trail Loop is the easiest to wear and remove. Watch ULTRA 2 straps are fully compatible with older 44mm/45mm versions, my favourite old strap is a super-smart titanium link strap from Infinity Loops that suits formal attire.
Apple Watch Ultra: Should You Upgrade?
If you are considering an upgrade then ask yourself what needs to improve as your existing Apple Watch will probably get most of the new software features. Then, if you’re annoyed by your current Watch’s lack of a sport-specific button, a smaller screen, a shorter battery life, or a few scratches then Watch Ultra may well address all those annoyances.
The main problems for me against upgrading are
- size – Ultra 2 is notably bigger than your current Apple Watch
- cost – prices outside the USA are higher than a simple exchange rate conversion merits and there will be an extra cost for the cellular connectivity
- 24×7 looks – I like Ultra’s looks. However, the looks don’t translate well if you are looking for a watch to also wear in formal settings. Other Apple Watches can be used in those scenarios with a different strap and watch face.
Some Take Outs from this Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review
In many ways, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 represents a modest improvement over last year. It boasts slightly better, slightly faster internals.
However, the new processor’s true potential lies in the future rather than the present. Ultra 2 marks the first generation of the Apple Watch prepared for a new world of rich, AI interactions and other novel ways to engage with our environments which will affect sports and non-sports usage alike. This may sound far-fetched, but such a future is fast approaching. Apple Vision Pro (2023) was the first step for the company towards becoming a dominant player in augmented reality. The rehashed double tap gesture we see today on Watch Ultra 2 serves merely as a small nod towards Apple’s true intentions.
Apple clearly has its sights set on the future but the progress today towards a holistic sports offering covering running, cycling (triathlon), swimming, indoor fitness, hiking and diving is behind schedule. This year’s mission was to deliver a part of that mix with a competent cycling experience covering third-party workout support, mirrored iPhone display and power compatibility. It appears that they are making significant progress in this direction, with the workout support at an advanced stage. This will represent a promising addition for both cyclists and triathletes yet workout plans also cross over to the indoor fitness communities where Apple has introduced Stacks, essentially a daily workout encompassing disparate activity types.
Maps, routes and navigation are key parts of Apple’s plans to cater to weekend warriors of all types (hike, run, cycle) but its progress has stalled. Put another way Ultra 2 can’t do its job properly without Maps.
To compound that public shortcoming, Apple appears to have made no headway behind the scenes in connecting its technology to gym-like environments. Where is heart rate broadcast? Where is FTMS control for gym equipment? Where are more detailed fitness machine statistics and targets in Fitness+?
I’ve not touched on it in this sports-focussed review but elsewhere the Apple Watch cleverly integrates with Matter/Thread home automation environments and, in richer ways, with UWB2 technology to interact with other Apple devices (HomePod)
As Garmin proved, an open and integrated platform covering all sports is incredibly hard to achieve. Yet Garmin did it. Apple decided to re-invent several parts of Garmin’s and others’ efforts and sports and adventures are still a work in progress. Of course, Apple has embarked on a much more difficult task than Garmin did for sports, Apple intends to create a platform for digital life.
Each year Apple Watch becomes ever-more competent as it moves towards that vision. Sometimes we lose sight of the journey-to-date and I’ve not even talked about its excellence at music playback, NFC payments making audio calls, messaging and, oh yes, telling the time. And there we were, thinking that we only bought these sports devices to go for a run!
Pointless? Perhaps not.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Price, Availability & Discounts
Buy (Alternative): Garmin Epix Pro (Gen 2) from $899/£829
Remember that the stainless steel Watch 9 can also take an eSim/4G and has a Sapphire screen like the Ultra 2. It’s priced very similarly to Ultra 2, hence Ultra 2 is a significantly better-made and more durable watch than the Series 9 and SE models whose screens WILL scratch.
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