Apple Watch Ultra review 7

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

The Apple Watch Ultra is the perfect wearable for those dedicated to outdoor sports like running, hiking and diving, with better durability, longer battery life and dual-band GPS providing more accurate tracking data. It’s pricey, and the accompanying straps need work, but it’s still a very capable option that’s actually cheaper than some competitors.

Please review with in detail below.

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Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors


Though the Apple Watch Series 8 is a perfectly fine smartwatch for everyday fitness tracking, it’s not really suited to more extreme outdoor sport with its delicate design. Apple’s response? The Apple Watch Ultra, a new rugged version of the Apple Watch tailored to explorers and endurance athletes with a particular focus on running, hiking and diving.

It’s much more expensive than the Apple Watch Series 8 at $799/£849, and it’s not the perfect wearable, but benefits including the longest battery life of any Apple wearable, dual-band GPS and waterproofing down to 40m still make it a tempting buy for some.

Design & build

  • Bigger and bulkier than a standard Apple Watch
  • Much more durable and resistant to weather
  • New straps could be improved

The Apple Watch Ultra may still have that signature Apple Watch look, but it’s certainly more robust and durable than the sleek Apple Watch Series 8 with a larger, stronger case, a totally flat display and new straps designed for extreme exercise.

Let’s start with the case itself; it’s the largest Apple has made to date at 49mm, compared to the 41mm and 45mm variants of the Series 8. It’s also made of titanium in place of the aluminium or stainless steel on the cheaper Watches, allowing the watch to be both durable and relatively lightweight. It does still weigh 61.3g, around double that of the Series 8, but the weight isn’t really that noticeable in everyday use.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

What is noticeable, however, is the added bulk. It’s a bigger Apple Watch in just about every way, and with a width of 14.4mm, you might struggle to fit it under some shirt cuffs. It’s also much more noticeable when wearing the Watch to bed – a potential dealbreaker if you’re into sleep-tracking analytics.

The side button and digital crown are present and accounted for, though sit slightly further out, semi-encased within an extrusion of the case. That does make it harder to turn the digital crown quickly, but it’s not really a dealbreaker – just something to get used to.

The real excitement takes place on the left side of the Watch Ultra, which features a new Action button. It’s bright orange, or International Orange as Apple calls it, to help it stand out from the titanium case, and can be assigned to various functions from initiating a workout to accessing the Compass app, turning on the flashlight and launching the Backtrack navigation features (more on that in a bit!).

If you do use the action button to initiate workouts, it can also be used to pause and end workouts without interacting with the display, perfect for winter jogs when you’ve got gloves on. It can get accidentally activated on occasion, but the benefits outweigh the potential for accidental activation for me.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

The extreme sport-focused Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t simply look the part either; the smartwatch is tested to military-grade MIL-STD-810H to better protect it against shock and use in both high and low temperatures, high altitudes, and freezing conditions. There’s also an upgraded sapphire crystal display to help protect against scratches and other knocks.

It also has better water resistance certification that allows it to be used at a maximum depth of 40m, perfect for scuba diving.

With a focus on extreme sport comes new straps, tailored to either running, hiking or diving. The nylon Trail Loop is the lightest of the bunch, designed for runners and athletes, the Ocean Band is designed for use in the water and the Alpine Loop strap, which I was provided for review, is tailored to hiking.

Reader, I really don’t like the bright orange Alpine Loop strap. Sure, it feels lightweight and comfortable, but so does my standard silicone strap that ships with the Series 8. The material means it’s much more breathable than the standard Watch straps, which should be a benefit for long sweaty hikes, but there are plenty of downsides too.

The biggest is that it gets dirty very quickly, and to a noticeable level too, seemingly hoovering up every spec of dirt as I went about my daily life. It’s not as easy to put on as the standard silicone strap either, with an odd hook attachment that goes into one of many tiny loops on the inside of the band. It’s also not waterproof, so it gets a bit damp if I get it wet when washing my hands, and it means I can’t wear it in the shower either.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

The Watch Ultra is compatible with 41mm and 45mm straps for the Series 8, so I’d recommend picking up one of Apple’s entry-level silicon straps for everyday use and only using the dedicated Ultra bands when you’re doing what they were designed for. It’s what I did during my time with the Watch Ultra, anyway.

Display & audio

  • Bigger, higher-res display looks gorgeous
  • 2000nits brightness makes outdoor use easy
  • Dedicated siren speaker alongside standard speaker

The upside to a larger case is a bigger display, eking out a smidge more screen space than the 45mm Apple Watch, though with an increased 410×502 resolution making everything seem that little bit crisper. It’s also a totally flat display in place of the curved display of recent Watches, encased within the titanium frame.

While that’ll likely better protect the display against side impact, it does make the bezels on the display that much more noticeable than those of the Series 8, which seem to disappear within the curve.

It’s not just a slightly bigger, higher-res display either. The key feature here is the 2000nit maximum brightness, 2x that of the Series 8. That makes the Ultra easy to use, even in bright outdoor sunlight, and the watchOS torch function is much handier with that bright display too.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

There’s also a new dual speaker setup on the Apple Watch Ultra, hidden beneath the grille on the left side of the body. While the top speaker is the same as that on the Series 8, designed for phone calls, incoming notifications and other watchOS sounds, the bottom speaker is totally new siren speaker.

Apple says that it can be heard as far away as 600ft, ideal for emergency scenarios (especially when hiking), and while I can’t confirm that, I can say that it’s very loud indeed.

Smart features & watchOS

  • Comes with all the same improvements as Apple Watch Series 8
  • watchOS 9 is among the most capable around
  • No need to choose between great fitness tracking and decent software

While the design of the Ultra is tailored to extreme sports, the Apple Watch experience is very close to that of the Series 8, complete with the same dual-core S8 processor and W3 and U1 chips as the flagship, along with the same new features including Car Crash Detection. You do get cellular connectivity as standard on the Ultra though, unsurprising given the nature of the wearable.

That familiarity also extends to software, running the same version of watchOS 9 as the Watch Series 8, so expect a very recognisable software experience, complete with customisable watch faces with third-party complications, Apple’s signature app grid view and exceptional everyday performance.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

As you’d expect from an Apple Watch, everything feels responsive and instant, be it tweaking the colour of the watch face or opening the Weather app to check for upcoming rain. There’s a plethora of third-party apps designed for the Watch that further extend functionality, far more than that of any Android-based competitor, and you can either install from the Watch itself or the companion app for iPhone.

There’s also impeccable notification handling, allowing you to not only see but actively respond to incoming notifications without your phone, the ability to use Apple Pay from your wrist is handy and music services like Apple Music and Spotify allow you to save music locally so you can listen to music without your phone or an active internet connection.

Siri is also very helpful on the wrist, and I find myself using it more often on the Watch Ultra than I do on my phone because it’s so accessible – you don’t even have to press a button, just raise to your mouth and speak.

It’s arguably the best smartwatch operating system around, and it truly gives the Apple Watch Ultra an edge over popular rugged smartwatches from the likes of Garmin and Casio that tend to fall flat when it comes to functionality beyond health and fitness tracking. With the Ultra, you really are getting the best of both worlds.

Health & fitness tracking

  • New dual-frequency GPS
  • Backtrack for off-road hiking
  • New Diving app for divers
  • Everyday health and sleep tracking

Of course, it’s all about the health and fitness tracking when it comes to the Apple Watch Ultra, with new dedicated hardware and software tailored to extreme sports.

The big headline feature that’ll appeal to runners, hikers and cyclists is the addition of dual-frequency GPS. The tech works via L1 and L5 frequency GPS bands and when combined with Apple’s new custom algorithm, it can deliver more precise positioning data in challenging areas like forests or built-up cities.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

While I can’t say I went for a run in a dense forest – there aren’t many of those in London – I can attest to the accuracy of the GPS tracking when jogging on the street in built-up areas. Looking back at the heatmap automatically generated by the Apple Watch Ultra, it tracked my regular jogging path perfectly. In fact, that goes for most of the metrics provided by the Apple Watch when running, including my heart rate, cadence and average pace.

Those metrics are all broken down both on the Apple Watch Ultra and the Fitness and/or Health app for iOS depending on which you prefer to use. It can also bring in other metrics from other apps that feed into the Health app to provide a more holistic overview of your health and fitness. That’s no different from the standard Apple Watch, but it’s worth noting here.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

All that aside, there are other features unique to the Apple Watch Ultra that should benefit hikers. As well as a new Compass app that provide you with three views to get a better idea of your surroundings in the great outdoors, but what’s handier is the new Backtrack feature. As the name suggests, the Apple Watch Ultra will guide you back to your starting point on long off-path hikes – as long as you set up the precise location tracking mode before you begin, that is.

With seriously upgraded water resistance from the Watch Ultra, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that water sports are a focus. In particular, the Apple Watch Ultra can double up as a dive watch for scuba divers that includes both a depth gauge and water temperature sensors, with the Dive app automatically appearing on-screen once you’re deeper than 1m.

Those that want a more in-depth experience can always opt for the Oceanic+ app that essentially turns it into a fully-fledged Dive Computer.

Aside from that, it’s pretty much business as usual for an Apple Watch, offering the ability to track all kinds of exercise, all-day fitness tracking, ECG monitoring, blood oxygen monitoring, body temperature monitoring, cycle tracking and the vastly improved sleep tracking introduced in watchOS 9 that allows it to better compete with most other fitness trackers.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

It doesn’t delve too deep into the weeds with data and analysis compared to the likes of the Garmin Venu 2 Plus, but unlike plenty of brands including the ever-popular Fitbit wearables, Apple doesn’t hide any of its health data or fitness features behind a monthly subscription.

Battery life

  • Longest battery life of any Apple Watch
  • Can squeeze almost three days out of a charge
  • Longer to charge than standard Apple Watch

Whatever it is you’re up to, I can guarantee that the Apple Watch Ultra will last longer than any other wearable in Apple’s collection – and by a long shot too.

The Apple Watch Series 8 tends to last for around 24 hours with minimal use and no GPS-powered workouts, which is better than the promised 18 hours but not that great for multi-day use.

The Apple Watch Ultra, on the other hand, can comfortably last for a couple of days before needing a top-up. To give you an idea of the battery life on offer, I took the Ultra off charge at 5pm on Friday and it didn’t run out of battery until 4pm on Monday.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Admittedly that’s without any workouts over the weekend (don’t judge me!) and the battery does run down quicker the more you work out, but it’s a two-day device at a minimum. The relief of not having to charge my Apple Watch every day is welcome, and for the first time, I don’t constantly check my battery levels throughout the day.

You do have the option of enabling the new Low Power Mode that Apple says extends use to around 60 hours but doing so will reduce the frequency of heart rate and GPS data sampling during workouts, so I’d only advise using it if you know you won’t be near a charger for a while.

With the biggest battery in the Apple Watch collection, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that it takes a little longer to charge via the (nicely braided) puck charger in the box. In testing, the Apple Watch Ultra achieved just 28% in 30 minutes, compared to the 69% from the Series 8. A full charge takes around 90 minutes depending on the charger you use.

The longer charging times mean it’s not quite as convenient to quickly charge before bed, but with much longer periods between charges, it’s a worthy sacrifice.


Though some may wince at the $799/£849/€999 price tag of the Apple Watch Ultra, I’d argue that it’s actually quite cheap for what’s on offer – especially when you consider that some outdoor fitness rivals like the Garmin Enduro 2 cost as much as $1,099/£929.99, and you get cellular connectivity as standard.

Of course, you’ll have to be really dedicated to exercise to go for the Apple Watch Ultra – that or the long battery life – as it does cost around double that of the 41mm and 45mm variants of Apple Watch Series 8, which come in at $399/£419/€499 and $429/£449/€539 respectively. If you just want an Apple Watch for notifications, on-the-wrist apps and access to Siri, one of the cheaper Watches in Apple’s collection may suit you better.

If you are tempted, you can buy the Apple Watch Ultra from Apple itself alongside US retailers like Best Buy and the likes of Amazon in the UK.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Built for the great outdoors

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry


The Apple Watch Ultra might just look like a bigger, more rugged Apple Watch, but there’s more to it than that. It’s not only more durable but boasts a number of improvements specific to the high-end Watch that benefit outdoor sports enthusiasts, from the extreme temperature resistance to the improved water resistance capabilities.

The new Action button is a welcome addition that I hope makes its way to the standard Apple Watch, providing a handy way to access key functionality without the touchscreen, and the dual-GPS is a real game-changer for those that like to wander off the beaten track.

Sure, it’s bigger, bulkier and weightier than the standard Apple Watch, but if you’re looking for something that’ll take a knock or two and last days on a single charge, the Apple Watch Ultra is a solid premium option. However, if you’re only looking for an Apple Watch for day-to-day use, the cheaper, slimmer Apple Watch Series 8 may prove more tempting.

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