Apple Watch Ultra is the most expensive sports watch that can work only with iPhone, and this characteristic would be enough for the review results. However, I decided not to do it, simply because I do not fall into the category of users for whom this model was developed and I cannot fully appreciate it. I love to run, play soccer, and swim, but I’m unlikely to ever run an ultramarathon, and I don’t plan on conquering mountain peaks and exploring the depths of the sea just yet. For my needs, the Apple Watch SE, which I consider to be the most underrated and best smartwatch for most iPhone users, is actually more than capable. But it would be strange to completely pass by the Apple Watch Ultra, so after using the watch, I decided to write my impressions and share my thoughts on how the new model will affect the market and whether it will be able to compete with Garmin.
Design and materials
Apple Watch Ultra for the first time in many years brings a completely new design to the line of Apple watches, in which it is easy to recognize the corporate style of the company. In the development of the model, the same shape of a rectangle with rounded corners was chosen, but in a larger size, it is now 49 mm in height and 44 mm in width. The watch turned out not to be massive (after all, it all depends on the size of the user’s wrist), but rather large and with a thickness of 14.4 mm. It weighs in at 61.3 grams, although the Apple Watch Ultra feels lighter on the wrist than you’d expect given the specs.
Designed to compete with Garmin’s top-of-the-line models, the Apple Watch features an all-titanium body with sapphire crystal display protection and a ceramic bezel around the optical heart rate monitor on the bottom. The screen is slightly recessed into the body to better withstand possible shocks, and the traditional Digital Crown scroll wheel is hidden behind a protrusion to survive extreme conditions of use and has a pleasant tactile feedback when scrolling.
Do quality materials guarantee the longevity of the Apple Watch Ultra? It is difficult to say, the frames around the watch screen are thinner than in sports models of this class and sharper. It is quite possible that they may develop chips over time. In addition, although the frame is slightly higher than the display glass, it is still not as recessed into the body as in the same Garmin.
Another innovation in the design of the Apple Watch Ultra is an additional orange key to which you can assign a certain command, for example, start a workout or turn on the flashlight. A compromise solution for users who may switch to an Apple watch from Garmin, but for owners of other Apple Watch models, this is something new.
In general, it is worth noting that despite the larger size of the case, the Apple Watch Ultra does not look like a portable computer on the wrist, not least thanks to the well-thought-out design of the straps and the company’s traditional proven approach to creating dials.
On the very first day of use, it seemed to me that due to the greater height of the case, I would constantly bump into something or cling to the watch, but in reality nothing of the sort happened. Even sleeping in the Apple Watch Ultra turned out to be quite comfortable.
Based on the fact that the Apple Watch Ultra has premium materials and was designed for active sports, it is not surprising that the watch also received IP6X dust protection, WR100 water protection and certification MIL-STD 810H.
The watch came to me with an Alpine Loop fabric strap, which the manufacturer suggests to be used while climbing. It is made of two layers of polyester fiber, a synthetic material that looks like wool, but is much more durable. To fasten the strap, the manufacturer used a titanium G-hook fastener that attaches to special loops. Overall, the Alpine Loop is comfortable to wear, but it’s not very comfortable to take off and on due to the clasp, and it can catch on the laptop case and leave scratches when you’re working on it. Therefore, I would rather choose a regular fabric strap.
Apple Watch Ultra display
The watch has a rather large, as for this class of devices, 1.92-inch LTPO OLED screen with a resolution of 502×410 pixels and a peak brightness of 2000 nits. As in other Apple Watch models, except for the SE version, the display always remains on, reducing the brightness and refresh rate to save battery.
Without exaggeration, this is one of the best screens you can find in a smartwatch. It has a clear picture (338 ppi), deep blacks, and excellent viewing angles, and it does a great job of displaying information even in very bright light. That is, in principle, in any conditions, the user will have no problem reading the Apple Watch Ultra screen.
The company even added a new low-light mode to some watch faces. It is enough to turn the Digital Crown wheel down a little and such a dial becomes completely red, and as you know, red color has the minimum frequency perceived by the human eye, so it is more comfortable to look at it in complete darkness.
The high maximum brightness also allows you to use the screen of the Apple Watch Ultra as a flashlight, it is simply flooded with white light. And it is worth noting that it works quite well.
Speed and connectivity
Apple Watch Ultra is based on the new 2-core 64-bit Apple S8 processor, which is of course better than its predecessor. However, I didn’t notice a significant speed boost even compared to the 2020 Apple Watch SE, which runs on the S5 chip and does a great job. It seems that the manufacturer has reached the limit, after which it still makes no sense to increase the power of the processor because the range of tasks for smart watches has hardly changed in recent years.
Apple S8 also includes a W3 chip for wireless communication via Bluetooth 5.2, a Wi-Fi 5 module, as well as U1 to support ultra-wide range (wireless communication technology on short distances with low energy consumption), which can be used to find a watch if you accidentally lose it. In addition, Apple Watch Ultra has only one modification, so the user gets everything at once, including support for mobile communication and the Internet via LTE using eSIM. The latter is not yet supported by operators in Ukraine, so, unfortunately, by default, you will have to overpay for the version with mobile Internet, which you will not be able to use yet.
Like other Apple Watch models, the Ultra can also receive phone calls or simply play a sound signal, but not through one but two external speakers, which significantly increased the volume of the device, in Apple says up to 86 decibels. In practice, it can even allow to attract the attention of rescuers, if in an extreme situation it is not possible to call them by voice. As the company notes, the speakers at full volume should be heard from a distance of 180 meters.
The watch connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth and for the first setup and subsequent synchronization you will of course need an iPhone. The smartphone automatically detects a new watch nearby, so everything happens as simply and quickly as possible. All further settings can be changed in the Watch application, which is standard for the Apple Watch.
Deep integration into the Apple ecosystem is one of the advantages and at the same time a disadvantage of the Apple Watch Ultra. For example, the watch supports all notifications from the iPhone, many applications, changes its own settings according to the settings of the smartphone, in particular, if you have turned on silent mode on the latter. This is very convenient and creates a unified experience for all Apple devices. However, it also limits the choice, because such an expensive watch is bought for far more than one year, and this means that the user will not be able to use it with Android smartphones, even if future iPhones turn out to be less successful, or simply want something completely new.
Physical activity and health
The capabilities of the Apple Watch Ultra for tracking physical activity and health are no different from the Series 8. The watch offers the user daily to close all the rings, which are filled with steps taken, exercises performed and the number of minutes, held standing.
At the same time, it constantly monitors the heart rate, can determine the amount of oxygen in the blood, make a non-medical electrocardiogram, warn about low or high heart rate and arrhythmia, as well as measure body temperature. The latter feature is entirely new to the Apple Watch lineup and is only available on the Ultra and Series 8. It’s designed to improve tracking of women’s menstrual cycles.
In addition, the watch tracks sleep phases if you don’t take it off at night. I already mentioned above that, at first glance, sleeping with the Apple Watch Ultra may not seem comfortable, but in practice you quickly get used to it. Of course, if you are generally okay with the idea of sleeping with an electronic device on your arm, because I know that not everyone is comfortable doing it even with a small bracelet.
Overall, if you primarily need a watch to track physical activity, the Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t have any advantages over the more compact Series 8 models. which I will talk about below.
Opportunities for sports
Apple Watch Ultra was developed with an eye on people who are serious about sports, and for this the company implemented several additional features. One of them is dual-frequency GPS (L1+L5), which allows you to track distance and speed more accurately during running or other sports. This is especially important in the conditions of dense urban development, when tracking occurs with large errors, which can affect the accuracy of recording training or competitions, for example, if you run a marathon. And this is important for those who are more or less seriously involved in sports, not to mention professional athletes.
In addition, the watch collects more data during training. It provides the user with information about the heart rate zones, which allows you to understand how well the body can withstand an intense load and to stay in the desired zone. Active runners will also benefit from being able to add stride length and track ground contact time and vertical deviation to the training app on the Apple Watch Ultra to better understand your workout performance.
Another interesting metric is running power, which is a measure of how much work you do during exercise and how fast, and is expressed in watts. This allows you to better understand your physical condition and performance, along with other tools such as maximum body oxygen consumption (VO2 max).
In general, Apple Watch Ultra allows you to track many sports, not all of them have such advanced metrics as for running, but in general, the user can monitor his heart rate and see which khe burned the number of calories, not to mention the time.
Another feature of the Ultra model is better protection against water with the ability to dive to a depth of 40 meters. Together with the Oceanic+ app, which Apple developed together with Huish Outdoors, the watch can function as a non-professional diving computer. It provides the user with information about dive depth, time, tides and water temperature. Apple Watch Ultra also makes sure that the diver does not ascend too quickly.
In general, of course, Ultra can’t compete with professional devices in many ways, and it seems that Apple will be developing slowly for now, eventually improving tools for tracking various sports. So far, the watch is definitely better than other Apple Watch models, suitable for running, trail, and diving. It’s also safe to say that the user won’t feel like a beta tester, the Ultra is the same smartwatch/sport watch from Apple, just in a slightly different body and with some extra features. There will probably be more of them in the future, but for now we have to trust the company and its long-term support for its products. As, for example, with maps.
What about maps?
Apple Watch Ultra has a built-in LTE module and eSIM support, that is, it can keep connected to the Internet even if there is no smartphone nearby. Thus, in theory, the watch does not need offline maps, and in the event that the user finds himself outside the coverage area of mobile operators, Apple offers to use the marks in the compass, which allow you to mark your route and return back. In theory, everything is good, but in practice it is not as convenient as when offline maps are available. And here models from Garmin bypass the Apple Watch Ultra with their maps of almost the whole world, which can be used for navigation without access to the Internet.
Whether Apple will ever add such a feature is hard to say. It is not that the company is very good at making maps and spends some extra effort on it. Therefore, I do not really believe that Ultra will be able to compete with Garmin in the coming years.
When talking about a serious sports watch, you immediately imagine battery life of at least 30 days, but traditionally for Apple it is not so much about days as about hours. To be more specific, it is 36 hours of declared battery life during normal use and 60 hours in energy saving mode, which will appear later.
My short experience with the Apple Watch Ultra showed that if you don’t do sports, but just wear the watch and check notifications on it, it loses about 25% of its charge per day. And if, for example, you play basketball for 2 hours, it will lose 40% of its charge by nightfall. For the Apple Watch, this is a very good result, and it is not surprising that the watch has received so many positive reviews from people who switched to it from other Apple models. No magic here, just a 542 mAh battery, the largest of any Apple Watch.
In fact, it turns out that the owners of previous Apple watches are pleasantly surprised by the battery life of the Ultra, but Garmin users will not be surprised by this, on the contrary. That is, the competition in this regard is weak again. However, I would not write off Apple’s efforts, because many people simply do not need a watch to work for a month on a single charge, they will charge it at least every day in exchange for a fast operation and a convenient ecosystem. All this leads us to conclusions.
I don’t think Garmin has anything to worry about now, the company’s accumulated experience in sports watches and navigation allows its models to leave Apple Watch Ultra behind in many parameters. Apple itself will undoubtedly fight for this market, but it started with a soft entry into it, and will spend a few more years to understand how it works. Therefore, for now, the main audience of the Ultra version will likely be owners of other Apple Watch models who want to get familiar functionality in a new design, rather than those who are seriously interested in sports. Although I do not rule out that many people will be interested in just trying the new watch from Apple.
Which sports watch should I choose?
During the writing of this article, and it took me longer than I expected, I came to the conclusion that with a conditional $999 for a sports watch I would rather consider buying Garmin epix (Gen 2).
From the entire new line Garmin seems to me the closest competitor to the Apple Watch Ultra, because it also got OLED screen, not transflective, as in the Fenix series 7. The speed of the interface and the number of available applications here is, of course, less than in Apple watches, but everything necessary is present, including Spotify and support for contactless payments. Additionally, Garmin epix (Gen 2) work even with the always-on screen on one charge about 6 days, which is more than enough. And if you activate the screen only for lifting, then battery life increases to 16 days.