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Apple Watch Ultra Review: Worth It Or Nah?

by Dewi Safitri

Saturday morning, I woke up with the Apple +Watch Ultra, charged up to 100% battery, and drove to practice. I had Ultimate Frisbee practice out in New York. A lot of people don’t realize how many calories you burn during a three-hour practice, but there you go! Finished that, drove home, and then went about the rest of my day. I ended that day going to sleep with about 69% battery. Nice! Then I slept with the watch on for Sleep Tracking. Sunday morning with a 60% battery, I drove into New York City again and had another practice. That day was a little hotter as the sun’s baking a little more. Three more hours, and 2000 calories later, that was over! I drove home, went about the rest of my day again, and then I slept with the watch on for Sleep Tracking. I Woke up on Monday morning and drove to the studio.

Now it’s Monday morning, 11:00 AM at the studio and I currently have 20% battery left. It’s pretty good! The battery long lasts for that two days, two nights, and into the third day. Which is far better than I’ve ever been able to get out of any other Apple Watch, period! But let’s rewind for a second. So we knew something like this was coming. We knew there was gonna be an upgraded, ruggedized Apple Watch in some way, and I think a lot of people sort of assumed it would be called the Apple Watch Pro. But instead, we got this thing and it’s called the Apple Watch Ultra. The thing is though, it would’ve been totally reasonable and probably kind of perfect if they had also called this the Watch Pro. That’s just because of the way Apple treats the word Pro nowadays, Apple’s tossed the name pro around the highest-end versions of almost all of their products. iPhone Pro, MacBook Pro, AirPods Pro, iPad Pro, and Pro Display, and each of these expensive devices have some set of features that a smaller fraction of the population can take advantage of and use.

Now, whether that makes you a Pro or a hardcore user, an enthusiast, or a wannabe pro, what is a Pro AirPods user anyway? That’s a debate for another day, but it’s the same thing with this Apple Watch Ultra. I’ve been using it for about a week now, and the way I think about it is, there’s a core group of people for which the Apple Watch SE covers all of their needs, and that’s like most of the population. But then there’s an additional group a little bigger than that, for which the standard Apple Watch, which is now Series 8, covers all of their possible uses. so, you know, it adds the always-on display, the different sizes, et cetera, it’s already a versatile smartwatch but there are still some people around the outskirts, for whom the regular Apple Watch still wasn’t enough, and Apple naturally still wants those people.

So this is an $800 watch that has some extra premium features and specs that are amazing, and overkill for most people. Like the ones in the middle of my illustration but it’s attractive for the most extreme users, the adventurers who go on serious hikes, go diving, run marathons, or do triathlons. So, there are three main things that they added to this watch over the regular one which is ruggedness, features, and battery, and they all kind of go hand in hand. For ruggedness, well, it’s pretty obvious! they just beefed this thing up, so it’s now much bigger, 49 millimeters diagonally, but it has the shapes and materials now of a watch that should be much harder to break. It’s a titanium case with a ceramic back. It has much bigger buttons that don’t have quite as much travel as I expected, but they are easier to press with gloves. 

There’s the bigger crown, and then the crown guard on the side here, it’s a very distinct look. The display at the top there is a flat sapphire crystal, instead of the normal curving over the edges, with this slightly raised lip around the screen. so it’s protected from corner impacts. To me, it’s pretty huge, like this is a pretty massive watch. I will say it is not nearly as heavy as it looks, which is pretty nice! but it does visually stand out for a couple of reasons. One, this is the only color, so this is the exposed titanium, and it looks very silver, I wish it came in black because black is slimming like you can make a black watch look smaller with a black band, but that would admittedly require black paint, which would probably get like scratched, and then the silver would show through, and then it would look pretty gnarly after a while, so I get it, maybe they could anodize it.

I don’t know, but a big silver watch on a skinny wrist looks big. Just like you see here, this is a big watch to me. Someone who wears pretty much only smartwatches, right? And smartwatches are kind of weird shapes sometimes like it’s a computer on the wrist type of a look. It’s sort of just a block, but in the overall watch world, the Apple Watch Ultra is nowhere near the biggest watch you’ll see. Some people have very used too much larger watches on their wrists, especially those people on the outskirts I was talking about earlier. They’re fairly used to wearing some of these massive Garmins, Suuntos, or even specialized activity-specific equipment, like dive computers. That’ll make the Apple Watch Ultra look compact. So the whole like this-watch-is-huge thing is very much up to context! There are a lot of watches that are bigger than the Apple Watch, but they are watch-shaped, they’re circular up front. And then they have a taper around the wrist at the top and the bottom, so they don’t look like they stick out nearly as much, even though they do.

Where the Apple Watch just doesn’t taper at all, it’s just like a block. So yeah, the computer on the wrist thing! I don’t know, I don’t mind the aesthetic. I just wish it came in black, that would’ve been nice! I wonder if ColorWare is gonna be able to paint these things. Anyway, that’s the build quality, but the other two things that make the Ultra, perfect ultra are the battery and capability. Battery being pretty simple, it’s a much bigger watch and it has room for more battery inside, but we’ll get to that in a second! The capabilities just come in the form of extra features. So the extra microphone and extra speakers for better audio quality in windy environments and the dual-frequency GPS for more accurate and reliable GPS in tougher settings like forests, or cities between skyscrapers. The WR 100 water resistance rating for submergence is up to 100 meters. The new 2000 nits max brightness for this display, which means it’s the most visible outdoors that I’ve seen a smartwatch OLED, plus it makes for a nice flashlight if you need it. And most importantly, the new extra button! that bright international orange-colored button is called the action button, and it can be mapped to, right now, any one of these eight things.

I currently have mine to just open the new Workout Selector. I pick the type of workout and then hit the action button again to get it started. Once you’re in an activity, there’s again a layer of customization to what this action button can do. So maybe marking segments or laps inside a track workout or marking when you switch from the bike to the run in a triathlon, all kinds of stuff like that. I did feel like I accidentally pressed it a lot just because of the way I grabbed the watch, and adjust the crown. But I pretty quickly got used to that too. I think the most noticeable thing that this Apple Watch has over other Apple Watches is gonna be the battery life. As I said from the beginning, two full days and two full nights with plenty of room to spare. That’s easily better than, it’s roughly double what I was able to get out of my Apple Watch Series 7.

The thing is while that is a massive improvement for an Apple watch, it’s still nowhere near the other highest-end watches. Many of them are expected to go weeks, months, or even years without even thinking about charging. To bring the comparison to the table today we have the Casio Pro Trek, which has solar charging but has never been charged. It has virtually infinite battery life, it didn’t even come with charges. In this watch world, two-day battery life is not that impressive. But that brings me to the ultimate question with this Ultra, which is how are you going to be using this watch? If you’re one of these people on the outside here that doesn’t use an Apple Watch, Apple was trying to find a reason you didn’t use it and add the features or capabilities to make you want to use it now! Because they wanna bring you into the ecosystem! So some of these people over here like these are frequent scuba divers, and they’ve been using dedicated dive computers ranging from giant watches to tablets on the wrist to track depth and directions, and a bunch of other safety metrics underwater.

Now the Apple Watch Ultra has added that WR 100 water resistance, up to 100 meters. There’s a new dive app to track some pretty basic stuff, like depth, and give you times for safety stops on your way back up for recreational diving, and things like that. But then Apple also partnered with a third-party company for this Oceanic+ app that’s coming later this year. That seems to do everything that the pro dive computers do, including air integration, pretty much the only thing it doesn’t do that some extreme technical divers might want is tank pressure monitoring and depth monitoring past 40 meters. Now some of these people way over here, these people are adventurous hikers, not the normal beaten-path casuals finding popular hikes on Google. I mean these people are going off and carving their path for miles and miles in the middle of nowhere sometimes for days at a time. 

The Watch Ultra’s got now a bunch of navigation-related features, there’s dual-frequency GPS for more accurate pinpointed GPS, even in challenging locations. But then the new Compass app is pretty impressive. It lets you set unlimited waypoints so that you can navigate back to them at any time. And you can track your exact walking path with a backtrack feature in case visibility is difficult, or you need the watch to guide you back to where you came from. There’s also a super loud 86-decibel siren that can play from the new speaker system if you find yourself completely lost with no one around, and yes! It is impressively loud! You can hear it from probably a quarter mile away, and there’s a new way finder watch face by default that sort of puts all this stuff right at your fingertips, including a live compass that’s super smooth.

I think a lot of people will just leave this face on all the time, even if they don’t need it. But then some of the other people up over here are ultra-endurance athletes and of course the name sort of speaks for itself here. Honestly, the Apple Watch just didn’t last long enough for these people’s Ironman races, ultra-marathons, and Spartan races. So the new Watch Ultra’s got a dual-frequency GPS, which is huge. And the action button is nice too, but the significantly improved battery life is huge for these. Now, it’s not gonna last a week or a year, like some of the stopwatches or simpler ones do, but now it’s just about double the battery life of the standard Apple Watch. And it’s finally up to the task of some of the most extreme GPS-heavy endurance athletes. And even if it isn’t Apple has mentioned that there’s this battery optimization setting feature coming later this year, that it’s not the Low Power mode. That’s already existing in the watch, but it’s an extra setting within Workouts to ping GPS and heart rate less often. In a normal workout for me which is it’s a disc sports workout for ultimate practice, it’s measuring heart rate constantly, like every few seconds. Which is super helpful! you can see how quickly you recover, and you can see when you’re in certain heart rate zones during the course of practice. But if you’re running like 100 miles, or something ridiculous, you don’t need multiple pings every minute. You just need a broader sense of how it’s going, so that’s a helpful feature for these people. Also when you turn that on, it should essentially triple the life of the Apple Watch. Apple says up to 60 hours. I don’t have it yet, ’cause it doesn’t exist. I can’t tell you exactly how well it does, but that’s a useful feature. They even have a trio of new $99 bands for this watch for these activities. So there’s a Trail Band, which looks kind of sick. 

Then the Alpine Loop, and the Ocean Band. As a reviewer, I wanna test all these activities. I guess I gotta run an ultra marathon now, and scuba dive, but I can’t remember the last time I was 10 meters underwater. So I can’t test all of this stuff, but I actually reached out and heard directly from these people on my podcast, a Waveform podcast. I had on a diver, an ultra runner, and an alpinist. And so we asked them about the risk computers they currently use, and whether or not they think this Apple Watch Ultra is good enough to replace them. And through those conversations, one by one, they each came to the end with basically the same conclusion which is that yeah, looks like they kind of did everything that they were looking for out of an Apple Watch. And then there’s me, you know! I’m a tech reviewer and an Ultimate Frisbee player. So turns out the normal Apple Watch is enough for me. As I said, a normal ultimate workout or any sort of training we do is typically just a ton of heart rate readings. There’s not a bunch of GPS pings or elevation tracking or anything like that, so it’s not super demanding. But still, on the ultra, I get to reap the benefits of the battery only running down 20% during practice, instead of 40%. The more accurate GPS readings and the brighter screen are kind of nice to have for other activities. Maybe the occasional bike ride, or a hike, or stuff like that, and it might be better for you too.

It’s one of those things where I think generally if you have to ask, you probably don’t need it. But it reminds me of the ROG Phone like that thing is complete! Complete overkill for almost every human on the planet with all its crazy gaming features and absurdly high-end specs. All those features for gaming also happen to make it better for media and regular use. It’s the same thing here! This is technically speaking the best Apple Watch they’ve ever made. It’s got the longest battery life, the biggest, brightest display, the best microphones, and speakers, and it’s the most accurate trekking package yet! I mean, if your wrists are big enough, then yeah, you can do daily this too. it’s kind of put itself in this unique category where it’s replacing some of these extreme like dive computers or GPS watches that you’d normally take off when you’re done with your workout, but it’s an Apple Watch through and through at the end of the day, you can wear this thing every single day.

I just don’t know if you can like dress this thing down as much as you could a regular Apple Watch. For a fun fact! I wore the Apple Watch Series 7 at midnight with my tux at the Met Gala and it didn’t look insane to me anyway. It all works out, great. But yeah, this one just because it’s so, it just sticks out, it’s massive all the time, you can’t hide it as much, you might have a little more trouble with that. But hey, if you know what you’re getting into, the ROG phone is pretty good. If you know what you’re getting into, the Apple Watch Ultra is a pretty good Apple Watch. So that’s been it. Catch you guys in the next one, peace!

Source: https://youtu.be/HjEqOWjTkHE

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