The Apple Watch Ultra is the best version of the Apple Watch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you.
The Apple Watch is about to celebrate its eighth anniversary, but aside from getting a more refined design and faster internals, not much has changed on the outside.
The screen got a little bigger, and cascaded over the edges of the chassis, and Apple has continued to introduce new bands, but there’s little else of note – there’s still a rounded square design, a Digital Crown, and a side button. That is, until the Apple Watch Ultra debuted in 2022.
It’s not a drastic overhaul of the product line (and maybe it didn’t need to be), but it’s a feature-packed watch that sticks to much of the successes that came before while adding plenty of new tweaks focused on hardy adventurer types looking to push tech to its limit.
So, what’s new? While the Apple Watch Ultra certainly conforms to the standard Apple Watch design paradigm for the most part, its diversions are what makes it special.
Take the chassis itself, for example. It’s made of Titanium (no longer available on the standard Apple Watch models), but the shape is different, too. Rather than the display spilling over the sides, it offers a solid border.
I initially worried this would make the display feel a little smaller, but in all honesty, the 49mm OLED panel feels as unrestricted as my prior Series 7, without feeling significantly larger than the 45mm. It doesn’t even feel significantly heavier, but coming from the Stainless Steel model was bound to be easier than anyone moving to the Apple Watch Ultra from an aluminium option.
That screen is beautiful, too, with twice the brightness of the standard Apple Watch Series 8. It’s easy to check in direct sunlight, and really makes the most of watchOS’ tradition of black background – colors are vivid, text is easy to read, and the UI has space to breathe thanks to the size of the display.
The biggest win, for someone that’s been charging an Apple Watch daily for a few years at this point, is the drastically improved battery life. 36 hours pales in comparison to Fitbit and other competitors, but it's double the prior 18-hour battery life and can be extended further with low power mode.
While I’ve not been able to test it, the 100m water resistance rating and a built-in depth sensor make the Apple Watch Ultra a great portable dive computer.
Another Apple Watch Ultra feature you won’t find elsewhere is the new Action Button. Given how Apple is so keen on trimming down physical buttons, I was surprised to not only see a new one crop up, but just how well it’s integrated into watchOS.
By default, the button can trigger the impressively loud emergency siren if held for a few seconds (don’t worry, you can turn it off), you can also use it to switch exercise within a triathlon, clock a lap time, or open an app.
With a little more work, however, you can use it to run any Shortcut, and Apple’s automation suite is here in full force – I’ve set mine up to open a small menu to pick my most-used workout types.
It’s something that the community is likely to have plenty of fun with throughout the coming months, and if you’re a big automation user it could be just the push you need for the Ultra.
It’s important to stress that even if you’re not looking to use the Apple Watch as a dive computer in the ocean, or to track your hike to the tallest peaks in the world, it’s still a very, very good device to keep on your wrist.
Just like the Series 8, it offers the new crash detection functionality to identify if you’ve been in an accident, and the temperature sensors to help identify when a user may be ovulating.
It’s also packing the latest S8 chip, meaning it’s snappy to switch between apps. In daily use, I’ll flick between apps, track workouts, listen to music or podcasts from the watch itself via Bluetooth, and use it to triage notifications, and I’ve not experienced any slowdown at all.
For $799, the Apple Watch Ultra is a sizeable upgrade on the regularly priced $399 Series 8. If you’re looking for the kind of features that an adventurer would need – or you’re desperate for that Action Button -- it's absolutely worth the larger price tag. If not, the Series 8 has plenty of power to help you track your health without breaking the bank.
With that said, if you’re looking for the best of the best in the Apple Watch lineup, this is the way to go - the Apple Watch isn’t massively different in terms of its core usage and potential, but the Ultra is simply the best version of it.
You can buy the Apple Watch Ultra here for $799, or for $33.29/month for 24 months.