Review: Apple Watch Ultra is bigger and better for battery life

Ever wished the Apple Watch had better battery life and could compete with some competitors (like Garmin’s top watches) for extreme sports activities?

That’s basically what the new Watch Ultra is: an extra-sturdy, bigger battery, a new flagship for those who already like the Apple Watch’s features and interface.


Price: €999

Pros: twice the battery life of the regular Apple Watch, very durable, brighter screen, some extra features for extreme sports

Cons: Battery life still weaker than rivals, looks hefty on slim wrists


In Ireland, the Watch Ultra will most likely appeal to those who dive, engage in activities in extremely cold weather, take off the grid for remote hikes or tend to get their watch bumped around a bit in their daily work routine.

It will of course also be of interest to Apple Watch fans who simply want the biggest and best gadget on offer.


The Apple Watch Ultra has a 49mm display, which is larger than the 45mm screen on the 8 Series watches

I’ve used it as my daily watch for the past three weeks, most of which have been in urban areas. I also took it to one of the most remote parts of Ireland for a weekend, which I will detail below.

But since I’m used to the Apple Watch, for the most part, it’s just naturally fitted into my day-to-day life. That means using its fitness and health sensors, music controls, message notifications, alarms, and payments in stores. (For my review of Apple’s Watch Series 8 and the new features there that also apply to the Watch Ultra, click here.)

The biggest differences I noticed right away were the Ultra’s battery life, screen size, and tactile functionality.


Watch Ultra has a flat display

The Ultra has a 49mm display, which is significantly larger than the largest (45mm) Watch Series 8. This makes it easier to see and read things, especially outside in the sunshine, as the screen is twice as bright as it is on any other Apple Watch. The screen is also flatter than other Apple Watches and designed to be less prone to bumps or hits. And it’s a bit thicker too. The bottom line is that on my slender wrist it’s a bit beefier than any other Apple Watch I’ve worn. However, it’s no bulkier than most competing high-end adventure watches from Garmin, Coros or Polar, which also herald something from your wrist.


Watch Ultra (left) versus Watch Series 8 (right). Photo: Adrian Weckler

I wouldn’t exactly call it elegant, but that’s clearly not the Watch Ultra’s role; In fact, I don’t think you can claim that a smartwatch is actually “beautiful”. For those who aren’t too keen on the IT accessory look, the risk of it veering a little too much into Ironman wristop chic is mitigated by its compatibility with any other Apple Watch strap, past or present, or Band significantly softened. of which I have more than a dozen. (It comes with a choice of ‘Alpine Loop’, ‘Trail Loop’ or ‘Ocean Band’ straps; mine was a soft yellow-beige Trail Loop that held up to a long, sweaty singles match of tennis pretty well. )


The Apple Watch Ultra comes with your choice of Alpine Loop, Trail Loop, or Ocean Band straps

Because it’s larger (and thicker), its buttons and crown are easier and more tactile to use. Yes, I said “buttons”; The Watch Ultra has an additional “action button” on the left side that can be configured for a variety of purposes. As I walked and ran around Dublin City I found it to be a very handy one-click shortcut to different things on different days; Its real usefulness might be even better in bitterly cold environments where you’re gloved and can’t handle multiple clicks, swipes, and taps.

The other main difference that is immediately noticeable is the battery life. This is the first Apple Watch I’ve ever had that comfortably lasts an entire weekend without a charge. Officially, the Watch Ultra’s battery is said to last twice as long – around 36 hours – as the Series 8 and SE models. In practice, it was mostly two to three full days that I used it. It actually took me over four days when using “Low Power Mode,” a new watchOS feature that doubles the battery life of any Apple Watch by turning off things like heart rate and blood oxygen tracking, as well as the always-on watch display. As I mentioned before, this is a brilliant battery-conserving feature as you can still use it to do just about any other day-to-day thing you could possibly want, like payments and playing music and navigating. It’s not like the more extreme “power reserve” mode the watch offers when the battery is low, giving you no access to any of the watch’s functions other than telling the time.

Still, the Watch Ultra is nowhere near the battery life of some of its direct competitors in the extreme sports market. A Garmin Fenix ​​Pro is easily enough for 10 days (or more), as are the top models from Coros, Polar and Co. The Watch Ultra is simply twice as good as all other Apple Watches. For some people that will be a big draw, whether they’re skiing in minus twenty degrees or not.


Check out Ultra (centre) versus Coro’s Vertix (left) and Garmin Fenix ​​6 Pro Solar (right). Photo: Adrian Weckler

Officially, this Watch Ultra can be used at (Celsius) temperatures of up to minus 20 and up to 55.

I haven’t had a chance to test any of these areas, but it’s likely that battery life will be slightly reduced at the extreme low end.

Given some of the situations Apple thinks the Watch Ultra is suitable for — extreme cold and water activities — using the Watch Ultra over an article of clothing like a wetsuit or polar sleeve is doable. While this obviously blocks the health sensors, other measurement tools (like tracking and activity counters) still generally work well, especially given the larger crown and buttons.

Even if you’re not in extreme environments, the Watch Ultra is designed to help you in situations where cellular support is limited (or non-existent) and you rely more on GPS. It shares the new Compass Waypoint and Backtrack features with other Apple Watches, but adds a bit more accuracy in dual-frequency GPS. As it turns out, this will likely be more helpful in built-up urban environments, like dense cities with tall skyscrapers (and where you don’t have your phone with you and don’t have a cellular plan to watch).

But I did something of a test in an area of ​​Ireland that has very limited cellular signals over significant tracts of terrain – Cork’s westernmost Beara Peninsula.

The hundreds of square kilometers of coastline between Castletownbere and Kenmare are seeping in and out of cell phone signals. I turned off mobile data on my paired iPhone and went for a walk in the Moorish hills around Kilcatherine. It seemed to work pretty well.

With all the Ultra’s flagship features, is it worth paying twice the price of a Watch Series 8 for a watch?

If you just want everyday watch features and don’t care about charging it daily, maybe not. It should be noted that the surcharge is not that high compared to some variants of the Watch Series 8. For example, the 45mm Watch 8 in stainless steel costs €899. Technically, the Watch Ultra (with its bigger, brighter screen, titanium case and other added features) doesn’t look expensive in this particular comparison.

However, like all of Apple’s other products this year, the Watch Ultra’s price in the euro zone is far higher than the dollar price due to the strength of the US currency. So while it costs $799 in the US, it’s a whopping €999 here.

You’re also paying a premium for the built-in cellular capability that comes standard with the Watch Ultra, a feature not yet available in Ireland. (You can save about $40 on the Watch Series 8 if you opt for GPS only.)

Overall, though, this is a pretty big step up for Apple in the functionality of its Watch lineup. While pricey, this is a smartwatch that you can definitely take with you for a few days or attend your Ironman competitions without really worrying about running out of juice. And in general, the Apple Watch is just better than any other brand at many things. Review: Apple Watch Ultra is bigger and better for battery life

Fry Electronics Team

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