I love a big watch, and I seriously miss the days of oversized timepieces dangling off everyone’s wrists. Once smartwatches took over, it became more about utility than aesthetics, which is why the 49-millimeter case on the Apple Watch Ultra caught my eye. It’s Apple’s biggest and baddest watch yet. While it doesn’t look like the accessories from the early-to-mid 2010s, it does satisfy the “big watch” requirement — and it’s compatible with your iPhone, which is a big plus if you’re an Apple user. But is the Apple Watch Ultra Worth an $800 upgrade? Here’s who might see the value in a pricey upgrade.
Although the size is what drew me in (other Apple Watches tap out at a 45-millimeter case), the Apple Watch Ultra is truly a fitness watch. The company hypes it as the perfect choice for endurance athletes, touting features like its 60-hour battery life, meant to withstand two 7-hour hikes during a weekend camping trip. But even if you’re not headed to the mountains at the crack of dawn on a Saturday, Apple Watch Ultra might have some attributes that pique your interest.
If you’re a runner who’s looking to amp up your training, the new brightly colored Action button might be your new best friend. Watch Ultra is the only Apple Watch with the new button on the left side of the watch face, and it has a few handy uses. You can program it to automatically start any exercise, like an outdoor run, and eliminate the “3... 2... 1...” countdown. You can also use it to move through customized workouts, like high intensity interval training (HIIT): you simply press the action button to move through the segments of your workout.
One of the handiest features of the Action button I found while testing the watch is the ability to pause your workout by simultaneously pressing the Action button and the digital crown, or pressing the Action button and the button right below the crown. It might sound like a simple upgrade, but the ease with which you can precisely pause a workout without swiping through your screen with sweaty fingers (I used it on very humid Chicago days) is a definite upgrade. On other Apple Watches, you can pause by simultaneously pressing the digital crown and the button below it on the same side, which isn’t the easiest or most natural movement during a workout.
An Action button itself probably isn’t worth the almost $800 the Apple Watch Ultra costs, but it is a nice touch.
Improved Water Resistance
Athletes looking to take their workouts in the water to the next level will like the WR100 water resistance, which is double what you’d get in the Apple Watch 8. Apple says it’s great for high-speed water sports (think kitesurfing or wakeboarding). As you go deeper with the improved water resistance, you can keep track with the Depth app, which has a depth gauge to accurately let you know when you’ve reached maximum depth. The Depth app automatically starts when you go past 3 feet, and you can also see stats like water temperature and how long you’ve been under water.
If water sports are top of mind, you’ll want to make sure you order the watch with the specialized Ocean Band. It’s specifically made for the water, and it’s designed to stretch over wetsuits.
Better Battery Life
Is $800 worth more battery if that’s all you’re buying it for? I’d err on the side of no, but that depends on how much a longer charge is worth to you. In testing the Watch Ultra, the battery life has been one of the high points. I’ve only needed to charge it sporadically, but I’ve also not tested it in the most extreme conditions.
Apple says you can get 36 hours of use on a full charge, which takes into account your regular workouts and eight hours of cellular connectivity (Apple Watch 8 tops out at 18 hours). Apple Watch Ultra drops to 18 hours if you have your watch connected to cellular on LTE all day. In an update coming later in the fall, you’ll be able to get 60 hours of charge when using a new low power mode — the conditions which Apple touts are perfect for that weekend camping trip or a triathlon.
Precision athletes will be hype about the dual frequency GPS. Other Apple Watches only use an L1 GPS frequency, but the Watch Ultra utilizes L1 and L5 GPS frequencies, which combine to better measure the actual distance of your workout, especially in dense city areas where GPS signals can be interrupted by impediments like skyscrapers.
Apple Watch Ultra comes with the same crash detection as Apple Watch, and it can detect G forces up to 256 Gs. The watch will automatically call emergency services if it detects you’ve been in a crash and you don’t respond to the prompt asking if you’re OK. Exclusive to the Apple Watch Ultra is the emergency siren: It’s programmed to emit an 86-decibel siren (which can be heard up to 600 feet away) in the universally recognized SOS pattern, and it will continue for hours until help arrives. You can press and hold the Action button for 5 seconds to activate the siren when help is needed.
There seems to be some debate on the aesthetics of the Apple Watch Ultra, but as I tested it out with my yellow Ocean Band, which I did strategically pair with an outfit that included a top with yellow accents, I got plenty of compliments on the Watch Ultra. Since it only comes in one size and one color (49 millimeters and Natural Titanium), there aren’t too many customization options on the case itself — and if you have very small wrists, you may notice the heft and size.
I usually wear the smallest size Apple Watch with a 41-millimeter case, but I didn’t find it too hard to get used to the size of the Watch Ultra. After a few minutes into my first run, I didn’t really notice it. Although, sleeping with the Apple Watch Ultra on did take some getting used to.
To make the Watch Ultra your own, you can choose from three specialized bands: the Ocean Band, the Trail Loop, or the Alpine Loop. The latter two are meant for outdoor adventures and endurance athletes, respectively.
Other Watch Ultra Features
Along with exclusive features, like the Action button, six rows of metrics displayed while working out (as opposed to five on other Apple Watches), and WR100, the Watch Ultra includes upgrades previously seen in Apple Watches. You’ll get the Always-On Display, Compass Backtrack, the new dual temperature sensor, and more.
Apple introduced the dual temperature sensor in Series 8 and Watch Ultra, and it tracks your wrist temperature nightly to detect fluctuations from average measurements during sleep. Your body temperature deviates from the baseline due to factors like exercise and jet lag as well as physiological factors like menstrual cycles. Using the temperature data can provide improved period prediction dates as well as retrospective ovulation estimates.
The company will also release an update later in 2022 that’ll let your Watch Ultra automatically detect when you’re near a running track, and you can even choose which lane you’re using for the most precise distance.
Should I Buy The Apple Watch Ultra?
Compared to other Apple Watches, the Watch Ultra is very impressive, but there are plenty of sport watches out there that can do similar things (and some for a lower price). If you’re just starting out your exercise regimen, you might not need the Watch Ultra. Models like the new SE and Series 8 can provide the basic workouts you need — for a fraction of the price (as low as $249 and $399, respectively).
Apple devotees who are already very active and are looking to take it up a notch might more seriously consider the Watch Ultra, since it’s already compatible with an iPhone and can do everything you already love in an Apple Watch.
If you don’t plan to use the workout or adventure upgrades in Apple Watch Ultra, you’ll have to consider how much you’re willing to pay simply because it’s the largest or has the best battery life. This is Apple’s first offering of a pro series sport watch, and if the other Apple Watches are any indication, the tech company will only keep improving on the technology.
That said, it currently is the biggest and most advanced Apple Watch, and if you want to be an OG Watch Ultra user, you can buy the new Apple Watch Ultra for pre-order ahead of its Sept. 23 release for $799.
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