At $1299, the Apple Watch Ultra is Apple’s least affordable smartwatch. And yet there’s a value argument worth considering, plus a bunch of other great features, too.
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Design and features
Looking a little different from every other Apple Watch model out there, the single colour of the Apple Watch Ultra will draw attention, not just because it’s the biggest variation of Apple’s smartwatch.
Offering a slightly different design with less of the rounded top and more a flat edge, it’s a watch style that looks both more premium and more durable, possibly because it wins on both of those counts.
The body is made from titanium, one of the strongest alloys and the stuff they make aircraft from. Apple has a history with titanium, and once made computers from the material, but that was a long time ago. It’s even had titanium editions of other Apple Watch models in the past, so the use of titanium in an Apple Watch isn’t entirely new, though the Apple Watch Ultra is a brand new thing, because the size and style are different than the rest.
Bigger in just about every way, the Apple Watch Ultra is a 49mm smartwatch, larger than the maximum 45mm size of the Apple Watch Series 8, and moves away from the sleek curved edges of its sibling. It’s different again from the style of the Apple Watch SE, as well. Rather, the Watch Ultra is flat with a slim flat edge that runs up to where the glass sits.
It’s a design that looks different, and isn’t just about looks. The edge is designed to protect the sapphire crystal screen from damage, while the Digital Crown on the side is larger so you can use it even while wearing gloves.
The Apple Watch Ultra is a bigger Apple Watch in just about every sense, though the feature set is very similar.
The Watch Series 8 and Watch Ultra share quite a bit in common, with the same health features covering heart rate, ECG, SpO2 blood oxygen, temperature tracking, cycle tracking, while all those emergency crash, fall, and accelerometer for high g-force stuff is still here, too.
The Watch Ultra does sport a better GPS system, a loud 86 decibel silent to attract attention, a depth gauge for divers, and two speakers, so there are some changes, plus an extra button on the left side that can be customised, not to mention an improved durability rating and a larger and brighter screen. While the Watch Series 8 is rated for IP6X certification, the Apple Watch Ultra extends that to military standards, tested for MIL-STD-810H.
But because there are so many similarities, using the Apple Watch Ultra is just like using any other Apple Watch.
Press the Digital Crown on the side to load the menu, either the scrolling menu or the draggable treasure map of icons, while the button below that gives you the multi-task feature. With the new Wayfinder watchface made for the Watch Ultra, the digital crown supports a scroll up to turn the watch face to be a red, making it easy to look at (and quite cool) in the dark.
There’s also an extra button on the left that you can map shortcuts on, giving you just that little bit extra that isn’t on the Series 8 Apple Watch, even if much of what’s there is the same.
Featuring the same S8 chip found in both of this year’s Apple Watch models, you won’t be surprised to learn the Apple Watch Ultra has little to no lag in everything you do, and really just performs beautifully.
Fast and capable, this is a watch that handles its own, and doesn’t let you get lost behind either the clock, fitness tracking, or any app you plan to use. It’s a great extension of your phone on your wrist, and handy, too.
And it’s handy not just because of the performance, but also what it does. Heart-rate tracking is always happening, but you can jump into the SpO2 blood oxygen tracker should you need to, which will happen at times while you’re sleeping, as well. You can engage the electrocardiograph (ECG) when you need to, and while the watch is tracking your temperature, if you happen to be female, it can join the dots for ovulation tracking, though isn’t doing anything quite as useful for those of us who aren’t.
There’s crash detection here, too, plus an always-on altimeter, a depth gauge unique to this model, and more GPS technology to properly pinpoint locations and tracking when you go off trail. Frankly, there’s just so much in here that it boggles the mind, and Apple has really focused its sights on the adventurer and fitness fiend in this model.
Those of us who don’t go walkabout, skiing, and would be quite tame by comparison can still have a lot of fun with the Apple Watch Ultra, because it’s really just a better Apple Watch model.
Aside for that increase in durability, the screen is easier on the eyes not just due to the screen size, but also the brightness. Twice the 1000nits brightness of the S8 Apple Watch, the 2000nits Apple Watch Ultra is easier to look at in daylight, and looks fantastic at night, with an extra face that glows beautifully.
That extra button can have shortcuts mapped, and while you might not get a heap of use from it (because it’s dependent on what you do), the louder speaker is also great to have.
In short, while the Apple Watch Ultra is focused on a small niche of folks that go above and beyond for their fitness and extreme sports, the rest of us can find it perfectly awesome, too. It’s just a great update, and not just because of what it features, but also because of the battery life.
One of the more common and consistent complaints in our history of Apple Watch reviews has been the battery life. Apple sure makes a good looking smartwatch, but long battery life has never been a part of the Apple Watch model.
These things are lucky to hit beyond a day after a few months of ownership, all while competitors hit beyond. The Pixel Watch isn’t a great comparison, offering barely a day, but there are other competitors that have their life measured in days.
The Apple Watch S8 isn’t quite one of those, and while it can hit around 24 hours, you’re more likely to need to charge it nightly, or just when you get up in the morning.
Fortunately, there’s a bigger battery in the Apple Watch Ultra, enough to give you a day and a half used regularly, with a charge that night or slightly sooner, or over two days if you opt for low power mode. Turn off all the fun settings — always-on display, mobile — and you can get the Apple Watch to the two day mark, which is the best we’ve seen from any Apple Watch.
It’s still not the most amazing for any smartwatch, but in terms of Apple Watch battery brilliance, this is the best you’ll get.
The price is a totally different story. It’s not that the Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t deliver value, but more that it’s so expensive, you kind of need to compare it to the other Apple Watch models to point out where this model delivers value.
So let’s do just that, because believe it or not, it’s possible. The Apple Watch Ultra has a weird sense of value, but it is there, and you realise it when comparing it to the obvious competitor: its sibling, the Series 8 Apple Watch.
After reviewing the aluminium Series 8 Apple Watch, we’d have to say picking the better quality stainless steel model with sapphire glass makes a lot of sense, given it’s more durable than the aluminium equivalent, bringing a more resistant sapphire screen and more durable stainless steel body to the mix. And if you were to pick that model, you’re already paying at least $1099 for the privilege, compared to the $629 starting price of the aluminium model.
Weirdly, the more durable Apple Watch Ultra is only $200 more than the $1099 stainless steel Apple Watch Ultra, and so delivers value, so to speak.
Offering a bigger and brighter screen, more features, a titanium body instead of the stainless steel in the S8, and that same sapphire glass design, the Apple Watch Ultra is a better value technically than its $1099 stainless steel sibling.
Both are very expensive, that much is true, but the Apple Watch Ultra is closer to being good value compared to the premium S8 Apple Watch. We’re as surprised as you are.
What needs work?
It’s hard not to like the Apple Watch Ultra. There’s just so much going for it, even if value isn’t really an argument you can make for the model.
That price is just very much the feeling of “eek”, and while we know you can get watches that cost a lot more, $1299 seems like a lot of money for what is ostensibly a slightly bigger Apple Watch Series 8 with a more durable case and a better battery.
We’ll definitely say that the battery is worth it, though. Two days is great, but for the price, we’re still left wanting more. Three would be nice, and two is the very edge of what you can do, with the battery life on the Ultra more typically closer to 1.5 days.
There are more impressive batteries on other wearables still, which is kind of remarkable when you think about it. Sure, Apple has achieved the best battery life of any Apple Watch in the Ultra model, but more battery life would very much be appreciated. This is the “ultra” model, after all.
All we’re saying is that for the $1299 price, we’d love more juice. We’re not sure how Apple would throw it in, but it definitely would be nice.
As would another colour. It’s a very basic feature request, but you can find three colour finishes for 2022 Apple Watch SE, four colour finishes for the Apple Watch Series 8 aluminium, and four for the Apple Watch Series 8 stainless steel, yet only one for the Apple Watch Ultra. One look in a smooth titanium case.
Titanium can be coloured through an anodising process, and there’s definitely titanium jewellery around where the material is in another colour, such as black titanium. It’s just surprising there’s no other colour in the titanium Apple Watch model beyond the silvery gold titanium colour on offer. Maybe next year.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Colour and price gripes aside, there’s a lot of reason to consider the Apple Watch Ultra over the other models, with durability and battery life really the main reasons.
You may not use the feature set to its full extent and you might not get the same use as someone who plans to go on a big hike or sets out in the snow. There are definitely people this watch is focused on who aren’t your every day iPhone and Apple Watch wearer. But even if you’re not those people and happen to be a mere mortal watch wearer, the Apple Watch Ultra brings with it just that little bit better Apple Watch experience to keep you going for longer.
It’s the better Apple Watch hands down. Recommended.