It shouldn't come as a shock that most of us here at Android Police are using Android smartphones and rocking Wear OS watches. Even so, we like to keep an eye on what's happening across the industry — including in Apple country. To that end, we wanted to give Apple's newest, flashiest wearable a spin.
The Apple Watch Ultra isn't for everyone, but it's a tantalizing purchase for even the laziest Apple diehards (like me). I'm active, but I don't dive into the cold reaches of the San Francisco Bay, nor am I ever in strenuous wilderness situations that would warrant a more protected, chunky smartwatch. Having used the Apple Watch Ultra as my single and only smartwatch for the past month and a half, it's grown on me. So much so that it would be difficult to return to my more meager Apple Watch Series 6.
Of course, the Apple Watch Ultra isn't flawless; some might even consider it overkill, and they'd be completely correct — but it's the premium look, feel, and experience I've wanted from the Apple Watch ecosystem for some time. (And, no, those absurdly expensive ceramic Apple Watches of many years ago don't count.)
If you're a non-mountain-climbing, shark-avoiding, ultra-marathon-fearing person, and a huge Apple fan, you won't need convincing to purchase the Apple Watch Ultra. But, if you're here now, you're probably still on the fence or curious if the Apple Watch Ultra is for you. Either way, that's fine. It's a big watch and a big purchase. Let's dive in and see if the Ultra makes sense for you.
The Apple Watch Ultra is a big beast of a smartwatch, and one of the best buys you can make if you're bought into the Apple ecosystem and you want the biggest watch they make. Even if you're not a fitness freak, there's plenty to love about this beautiful, bright smartwatch.
- Brand: Apple
- Heart Rate Monitor: Yes
- Notification Support: Yes
- Battery Life: 36 hours standard; 18 hours LTE
- Operating System: watchOS
- Onboard GPS: L1 and L5 GPS
- Customizable Strap: Yes
- Display Size : 49mm (1,185 square mm)
- Water Rating : 100 meters (resistance)
- Sizes: 49mm
- Colors: Titanium
- Display: Always-On Retina OLED display
- CPU: S8 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor
- Storage: 32GB
- Battery: 542 mAh
- Connectivity: LTE and UMTS
- Health sensors: Blood oxygen, electrical heart (ECG), optical heart, skin temperature,
- Price: $799 starting
- Strap: Alpine, Trail, or Ocean Loop
- Dimensions: 49mm by 44mm by 14.4mm
- Weight: 61.3g
- Audio: Dual speakers
- Mobile payments: Apple Pay
- Workout detection: Yes
- Exercise modes: 21 default, numerous customizable
- Gorgeous, bright screen
- Better water-resistance and durability for outdoorsy folk
- The biggest Apple Watch you can buy (so far)
- Incredibly useful workout button
- Not enough software uniqueness compared to the Apple Watch 8
- Might get annoying to sleep in
- Can't opt out of cellular functionality (to save cash)
- No other color configurations (for now)
Apple Watch Ultra: Design, hardware, what's in the box
The Apple Watch Ultra is big, badass, and beautiful. But I don't think even ten thousand words could help a tentative person buy this 44-by-49mm watch. To put those numbers into perspective, the Apple Watch Ultra is significantly larger than even the 45mm Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. It's the biggest watch Apple's ever made, with a 26% increase in surface area compared to the largest Apple Watch Series 8 (38-by-45mm) and a 50% increase over its smaller, 35-by-41mm sibling.
And, yes, you can still keep your old Apple Watch bands if you upgrade. Apple was smart to make the Watch Ultra backward compatible with every larger-sized band you already own (for a 42mm to 45mm Apple Watch, that is).
Not only is the Apple Watch Ultra's face large, but it's thick, too. At first, I found that to be the most jarring aspect of the watch's design. An extra 2mm over the and 4mm over the Watch Series 8 might not seem like much on paper, but the Ultra's bulk is undeniable. I think this, more than anything else, makes the watch a dubious look for some wrists.
I absolutely recommend you hit up the Apple Store and try out the Apple Watch Ultra on your wrist before you shell out $799 to make it official. After all, you're paying the price of two Apple Watch 8s for a single device, so it should look amazing and feel comfortable. I'm 6'5", and even though I have fairly skinny wrists, the Apple Watch Ultra didn't bother me at all. I loved the slightly larger size of the watch, and I wish Apple had made this form factor much earlier in its smartwatch's lifecycle. When I let my 5'4" partner try on the watch, she thought it looked absurd — she said she wouldn't even want the larger watch as a gift.
The Apple Watch Ultra's larger size isn't just a potentially polarizing fashion statement. I've also read plenty of owners talk about how the watch's chunk factor makes it less appealing for everyday use, such as during a regular workout on the treadmill or even as a sleep-tracking device.
Even though Ultra weighs anywhere from 10-20gs more than the Apple Watch 8, it didn't feel burdensome. I've done all kinds of workouts without even noticing the Ultra's extra heft, and I've even managed to wear it to bed without having a princess-and-the-pea-like moment of panic. I can see how its larger size could be annoying for some, but it wasn't for me. You probably won't get this level of clarity in your brief time with the Ultra at the Apple Store, but I still think it's the best method to figure out whether the watch's larger size will work for you.
Aside from its larger size, the best part of the Ultra's design is that its screen can now hit up to 2,000 nits brightness, or double that of the Watch 8. I never had any issues staring at my old-school Watch 6 in the sun, but the Ultra's Retina OLED display looks phenomenal for everyday use. I can almost guarantee you'll see brighter displays in the regular ol' Apple Watch lineup someday, but you might not be willing to wait for it. And I wouldn't blame you at all.
The Ultra's larger form factor is more than likely due to all the tricks Apple has to employ to make the device's titanium case completely water-resistant up to 100 meters. That's great for swimmers and divers, but not so great (irrelevant) for those who hate cold water, like me. Nevertheless, the watch's case still gives off a feeling of elegance over function. I just wish we could have had different colors at launch, although color customization should arrive in a future version.
The watch's larger crown is easy to manipulate because it's now built into a portion of the case that juts out; however, I wish it wasn't adorned with a large orange circle. While this matches the brand-new orange Action button on the watch's opposite side, having an orange crown forces you into a color scheme that doesn't gel with every watch band. A more neutral color would have been easier on the eyes as well.
The Ultra comes with an extra speaker that makes phone calls, notifications, and announcements sound brighter and clearer than the Apple Watch Series 8. Still, though, Apple refuses to allow you to play music through your watch's speakers. I understand if the company is concerned about how that would affect battery life on a standard Apple Watch, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to blast tunes from the Ultra on your wrist if you really want. Otherwise, the speaker upgrade — while nice — feels like a wasted effort.
As far as apps go, the Watch Ultra is as fast as its other recent smartwatches. And that makes sense, given that its S8 chip uses the exact same CPU as what you'd find in its S7 or S6 chips. Tech-talk aside, I've never once encountered a performance issue with my regular ol' Watch Series 6, so I can't envision how noticeable a performance upgrade would be in everyday use. For example, transferring data from a connected iPhone to the Apple Watch still feels like it takes forever, and that's the biggest performance problem Apple's watches have yet to solve.
As you might expect, the Watch Ultra supports the same style of fast charging that Apple introduced with the Watch Series 7, and you get one USB-C charging cable/puck in the box. Also included is the band you selected, which I recommend trying on at the store before choosing. You'll have to pick up your own adapter (that supports USB-PD of more than 5W) or buy one of Apple's adapters, which will set you back another $19 for the most basic 19W version. That's not a huge ask when your watch costs $800, but it's just one more thing you'll have to deal with if you want to take advantage of the Ultra's speedier charging capabilities.
Apple Watch Ultra: Display
The Watch Ultra runs a 410x502-pixel display, more on account of its 1.92-inch size than anything else. This puts its pixel density right in line with the Apple Watch Series 8. And even though you're not getting any fantastical upgrade to pixel density in this Ultra edition, that's fine because it's already at 337 pixels per inch. Anything more would be overkill (and likely not even noticeable). You're getting ever so slightly more pixels than Samsung's flagship, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, but on a display that's about half an inch larger and rectangular.
As mentioned, the display's biggest selling points are its massive size compared to all previous Apple Watches — and its brightness, which I never thought I'd need that much, but now I can't see myself living without. The watch has a useful, always-on display, which is pretty much standard for every Apple Watch nowadays except for the "SE" version.
You can turn that off in Settings if you don't like it; switch to the Ultra's "night mode," which requires you to use the Wayfinder watch face and spin its crown to turn the screen elements a vibrant red. The red mode only affects the Wayfinder face, though. Unfortunately, every UI element on the watch doesn't turn some spooky shade of red for easier visibility, which would look awesome.
Apple Watch Ultra: Software and performance
WatchOS is a polished operating system that's speedy, responsive, and packed with useful features for all Apple Watch owners. If you've used an Apple Watch before, you should be familiar with the basics by now. What you get in WatchOS is what I'd consider a standard-to-advanced offering for fitness and outdoor enthusiasts, covering everything you'd expect to find on the biggest Android competition, Samsung's Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.
Apple's health tracking and location mapping implementation is good, but not great. If you need fine-grain information like, say, the "stamina-tracking" capabilities you'll find on Garmin watches, the sweat-tracking features of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, or more advanced offline capabilities and mapping for all of your off-the-grid hiking, Apple's Watch isn't the perfect solution. I'm actually surprised it's not; you would think that a premium watch, specifically designed for more intense physical activities, would be able to show manually inputted waypoints or step-by-step tracking on an offline map.
And that brings me to a second point: Many of the fun features in the Apple Watch Ultra are already things you can get on other Apple Watches. For example, the ever-useful Compass Backtrack feature, which helps you retrace the steps of any trip you're on (similar to the waypoints that you can manually drop at any point), isn't exclusive to the Ultra. You can do it right now on an Apple Watch Series 6.
WatchOS is a polished operating system that's speedy, responsive, and packed with useful features for all Apple Watch owners.
Crash detection? Probably something you won't want to enable at the moment, given its tendency to misfire when you're doing something like riding a roller coaster, but that's also a feature you'll find on the latest Apple Watch SE. Low Power Mode? Any watch that runs WatchOS 9 gets it, too. Also, the Ultra is better for tracking your location outside due to its dual-frequency GPS that gets great results in tricky environments. But the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro supports GPX for hiking and biking (but not running), which is a lovely improvement over Ultra's compass app.
I was surprised by how much the Ultra felt like my Series 6 (or the Series 8 I borrowed) for regular use. Even my fitness journeys didn't feel like they had extra information or useful settings to mess with. Apple has created a pretty homogeneous experience in WatchOS; I'd argue that an Ultra upgrade is more of a hardware improvement than a software one.
That's not to say that the Ultra is deficient. Hardly so. It just doesn't feel extra-special on the software side of things, and I expected it to have more premium or exclusive offerings given its design and price. The inclusion of a customizable Action button on the side of the Ultra is probably the most noteworthy extra that you'll find yourself using. Still, in its infinite wisdom, Apple has already decided what actions you're allowed to assign to that button. It gets the basics — workouts, waypoints, the flashlight, a stopwatch, et cetera — but it forces you to design your own iOS shortcut if you want to trigger anything that isn't on Apple's list.
Apple could be a little more extensive here, but I suppose the company assumes you'll use Siri for anything the Action button cannot do. However, it's great that you can use the Action button to perform other actions, like helping you pause your workout entirely without having to swipe around your watch awkwardly. You get similar functionality in the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro's home button, but no customization whatsoever for its back button.
If anything, I'm sad that other watches in Apple's lineup can't customize any buttons on their cases the same way (so far). Apple loves to keep things simple, but it's a real time-saver to be only a tap or two away from starting a workout on the Ultra. Now, if only you could hold down the button to trigger a device-wide night mode…
Apple Watch Ultra: Fitness tracking
There's not much to say about the Ultra's fitness-tracking capabilities that couldn't be ascribed to any Apple Watch running WatchOS 9. Aside from the just-mentioned tricks the Action button allows you to perform during your workouts or the compass-driven waypoints you can drop (or have automatically created) during your outdoor journeys, the Ultra performs just as well as any modern-day Apple Watch for fitness. And, of course, you get a little bonus "Depth" app to automatically provide real-time details about your swims and dives; you won't find a comparable app built into the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.
As a HIIT fan, I love that you can now view heart rate zones when you're working out, but that's a WatchOS 9 benefit, not something exclusive to the Ultra. The Ultra's built-in sensors are basically identical to what you'd find in the Apple Watch 8, which allows it to track your blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and wrist temperature. If you're outdoorsy, an always-on altimeter can show your vertical movements and give you a good idea of why a hike totally wrecked your legs — but again, that's not an Ultra-exclusive sensor.
Apple Watch devices are incredibly capable and accurate fitness trackers, and the Ultra is no exception. I prefer Apple's more accurate stats tracking to the heart-rate monitor I'm encouraged to wear at my local Orange Theory. And Apple's corresponding Health app makes it incredibly easy to view progress and trends. I'd also probably be happy enough with the tracking capabilities of the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro on the Android side of things, too, even though it's missing some interesting stats like heart rate variability (HRV) — a key metric that helped me figure out my cold was actually COVID-19.
If there's any criticism to be had for the Ultra, it's that it doesn't offer much above and beyond the standard Apple Watch for the layperson. If you're not diving, you're basically working with an Apple Watch 8. I think it would have been amazing, albeit technologically challenging, for Apple to add one or two of the "pie-in-the-sky" health-tracking dreams into the Ultra, such as real-time glucose monitoring or blood-pressure measurements. That technology still seems a bit off, so I get it.
If you're an average-to-aspiring health nut, however, you'd be fine with a cheaper Apple Watch 8 if fitness-tracking within Apple's ecosystem was your first and primary concern. And while other comparably priced fitness trackers can offer different slices and dices of data, including recovery-tracking that you'd find on something like Garmin's Fenix 7, none are as well-integrated into Apple's ecosystem as, well, Apple's smartwatch.
People on the more extreme end of the fitness spectrum will have to decide whether having different stats and analysis is worth trading away a smoother experience and better integration with other Apple devices or services. But for regularly active people like me, the Ultra (and WatchOS) does a good-enough job tracking everything we need to know.
Apple Watch Ultra: Battery life
Because I love to track all the things, I typically wear my Apple Watch all the time. And when I did that with an Apple Watch 6, I'd usually have to find time every single day to slap it on the charging stand, as it would barely make it more than a day or so of sustained use. The Apple Watch Ultra gives you a bit more wiggle room with its bigger battery, but it will not give you the sustained week of usage that you might get from other smartwatches and fitness trackers. I'm not sure Apple will ever get to that point, given the technological complexities of WatchOS and Apple's constant desire to balance size against functionality.
You get about the same amount of uptime as Samsung's Galaxy Watch 5 Pro: roughly two solid days of use before you have to think about charging. (To Samsung's credit, its smartwatch's battery is slightly larger than Apple's.)
The Apple Watch Ultra supports fast-charging which means it'll take about an hour to give you an 80-percent charge if your watch is dead. I found that plugging in the Ultra while showering and getting ready for the day was usually enough of a top-off, and the Ultra's larger longevity meant that I'd be fine until the next day if I forgot.
Apple Watch Ultra: Should you buy it?
The Apple Watch Ultra's biggest selling point for average- to semi-athletic Apple fans is that it's got the biggest, brightest screen you'll find on an Apple Watch right now, with all the excellent features of the (half-priced) Apple Watch 8 and a better battery. If it was $600 instead of $800, the decision would be a lot easier.
For double the price of an already-capable Watch 8, you'll want to try on the Ultra and see how it feels before you pull the trigger. And if you're willing to jump ship to Android, you'll pay a lot less ($400) for a slightly smaller watch that's nearly as good, Samsung's Galaxy Watch 5 Pro.
Unless you're doing a lot of extreme outdoorsy stuff, and would benefit from its increased durability, better GPS tracking, or dive-tracking, there's not a ton beyond the physical design of the Ultra watch that sets it apart from what Apple already offers. And since the Ultra watch is cellular-equipped by default, you might end up paying for functionality you don't need (if you're not planning to pay your carrier for the privilege of extending cellular access to your smartwatch, that is).
I love the Ultra's noteworthy extras — the screen and size, the Action button, and the bigger battery — but the specialness of the smartwatch mostly centers on its hardware which is a tougher sell for $800. That said, the Watch Ultra is just enough of an upgrade over the Watch Series 8 (or older smartwatches) to justify the purchase for an average person who likes big watches. But Apple just barely squeaks over the line for those of us who don't have sub-40 average resting heart rates.
Buy it if…
- You want the biggest, brightest watch Apple makes
- You're an outdoorsy person who would actively benefit from the Watch's unique, fitness-themed features
- You're tired of charging your normal Apple Watch every single day
- You're planning to extend your cellular plan to your smartwatch
- You've physically tried on the Apple Watch Ultra
Don't buy it if…
- You own anything from an Apple Watch 6 to an Apple Watch 8 and are content with its features and form
- You don't mind more complex fitness tracking, even at the expense of compatibility with other Apple devices.
- You need a watch that can last a full week on a single charge
- You stick to one or two specific outdoor activities and need a device whose features are built exclusively for them
Q: How does the Apple Watch Ultra compare to the Apple Watch Series 8?
There's not a lot of difference on the software side of things between the Apple Watch Ultra and the Watch Series 8. If you're a person who likes staying fit, tracking your stats, and having general workout features articulated and recorded in a clear, simple way, you'll have the same experience on either of Apple's latest and greatest smartwatches.
The Watch Ultra takes this jack-of-all-trades functionality and extends it ever so slightly by giving outdoor enthusiasts new bands to use (that would also work on the larger Watch 8), extra water resistance and software for diving, stronger GPS accuracy, and a built-in siren. But, generally speaking, if you stick to the trails and don't own any scuba gear, you'll probably be fine with an Apple Watch 8 for your fitness pursuits.
The Watch Ultra's design offers a compelling new alternative for those who want a bigger, brighter screen on their wrists and a few extra fun nuggets to play with. The Ultra's Action button is so useful that it should come standard on any Apple Watch (and Apple should allow you to do even more with it). In addition, the Ultra's dual-speaker setup sounds better for phone calls and announcements. And, of course, the Ultra feels like a more durable watch, as it should, given its slightly bulkier Titanium case. It's the big watch Apple's needed to make for years, but it's entirely a matter of personal preference if you like how it looks on your wrist more than a 41- or 45-millimeter variant.
Q: How does the Apple Watch Ultra compare to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro?
This is a bit of an unfair comparison because there's no reason an Android loyalist would ever have any interest in an Apple Watch. If you're sticking with your Pixel or your Galaxy forevermore, you should not buy an Apple Watch. Full stop. No iPhone, no Apple Watch. Similarly, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, an excellent Wear OS smartwatch in its own right, doesn't work on iOS at all.
The only reason I've brought this up is that the Apple Watch Ultra's chief competitors are hyper-specific fitness-tracking devices, not general-purpose smartwatches. And even then, you're going to experience some compatibility issues when bringing a not-Apple-Watch to Apple's playground.
For example, Garmin's Fenix 7 at least works with the operating system (via a Garmin app), but you won't get the same level of easy integration that you would find on an Apple Watch. That means no App Store apps, to start; heck, you won't even be able to reply to iOS messages using your watch. You'll have a fine experience, but not an exceptional one. If the watch's fitness-themed capabilities are more important than that and better for your needs and workouts than what the Apple Watch Ultra provides, it's a great alternative, but it won't be a perfect experience compared to what Apple has already cooked up for you, that is.