Apple Watch Ultra Hands-On: Everything you need to know!

Today, Apple announced the biggest change to its Apple Watch product lineup since its launch, announcing the new Apple Watch Ultra, which is aimed at endurance athletes. This new watch has longer battery life, an extra button, a larger digital crown, dual-frequency GPS, a redesigned compass, night mode, dive computer mode, and much more. It’s Apple’s first attempt to compete with the likes of Garmin and others in the endurance sports watch market.

However, that’s not the only watch Apple announced today. They also announced a revamped Apple Watch Series 8, which adds a temperature sensor to improve cycle/ovulation tracking. Also, added crash detection for vehicular driving (it already has sports-focused crash detection). Also, this watch has a new low power mode that doubles the battery life.

And finally, there’s a slightly updated Apple Watch SE (now second-gen), which updates the internal chipsets and adds fault detection, all while lowering the price.

With that, let’s dive into the Ultra model first in this post, with the Apple Watch Series 8 and SE in two more posts momentarily.

Specifications of the Apple Watch Ultra:

This is Apple’s newest line of products, going by the name of Apple Watch Ultra and designed specifically for the endurance athlete and adventure crowd. I’ll review the watch below, but first, a quick list of key differences:

– Increased screen size to 49mm
– New titanium case with sapphire crystal display
– Added a new button, called Action Button, designed for glove use.
– Larger size of the rotating digital crown for the use of gloves
– Increased water resistance to WR100 (100m) for scuba use
– Added extra speaker for louder outside volume
– Now has three microphones for wind-canceling audio
– Added 80db alarm siren, for emergency use/attention
– Cellular is built into every Apple Watch Ultra
– Increased standby battery life to 36 hours, or up to 60 hours in low power mode
– Added low power training mode, which Apple says can handle an Ironman race (with GPS).
– Increased screen brightness to 2000 nits
– Added temperature sensor to improve cycle tracking (also in Watch 8)
– Added revamped compass app with track option
– Added a new dive computer mode, along with an association for a dedicated dive computer app
– Added vehicle crash detection (also on Watch 8/Watch SE 2nd Gen)
– Price is $799 USD, ships September 23

All of this is in addition to all the existing Apple Watch-related features.

Apple Watch Ultra Handy:

So, let’s break down all of these things individually. First up is the titanium case, with a sapphire crystal front (similar to most high-end watches), with a new, larger 49mm display, the largest Apple Watch to date. Here it is compared to an Apple Watch Series 8 (45mm).

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New button added, the so-called Action Button, while the digital crown has been increased, both designed for use with gloves. You can use the action button to start the race precisely (instead of the 3-second countdown), as well as switch sports in a triathlon or set laps.

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Later in 2022, Apple will add Track Running mode to ensure laps are recorded accurately. This sounds similar to what we’ve seen from COROS/Garmin/Wahoo in recent years.

They then added an additional speaker for louder volume, while also having three simultaneous microphones for better audio quality (mic quality) by using those microphones for wind cancellation. This is similar to what most action cameras on the market do.

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Also, as part of this new speaker arrangement, there’s a new 80db emergency siren in case you need to alert people nearby (for example, if they run off the road).

cell phones built into every Apple Watch Ultra, with 36 hours of battery life on a single charge, or up to 60 hours of battery life with a new battery configuration launching later this fall. There’s also a new low-power training mode that they claim will be able to (specifically) do an Ironman event on a single Apple Watch charge. However, there are no details yet on what exactly is reduced in that low-power training mode (in other words, what sacrifices you have to make), more on that soon.

Apple Watch Ultra includes a new multi-band/dual-frequency GPS chipset in both L1 and L5. Multiband is potentially useful in deep urban environments, as well as cliffs and other satellite blocking scenarios. In doing so, they joined the COROS/Garmin/Huawei camp when it comes to increased GPS tracking accuracy. Of course, this is something I’m looking forward to putting to the test in the coming weeks. As we’ve seen with other multiband implementations, accuracy can range from amazing to meh.

There is a new watch face called “Way Finder”, which has a built-in compass.

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However, the biggest thing here is actually the revamped compass app. That app does more than just be a compass, it also includes the ability to save waypoints, navigate backwards with a Back Track, and otherwise keep track of where you’ve been using GPS when you’re out hiking/ hike. I can tap to save any point I want, give it a label name and color, and then refer/navigate to it later.

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For divers, they’ve added a WR100 rating, including a new depth gauge app that displays water temperature, time underwater, and current depth. It has been certified to EN13319 for dive computers. However, they have also teamed up with Huish Outdoors to create a dive computer app, called the Ocean+ Dive App, for recreational diving, down to depths of 120 feet:

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This includes a complete dive app that covers the most common dive features you’d find in most recreation-focused dive apps. Includes decay limits, climb/descent rates, and a safety stop. The app is designed to use the new button and digital crown with gloves, so you won’t have to worry about all the touchscreen mess underwater. That app is coming later this fall.

Finally, each of the three Apple Watch Ultra editions comes with one of three different Loop watch straps. These are the Ocean Loop (left), the Trail Loop (center), and the Alpine Loop (right). I show them extensively in the video above, along with the different colors they have for each.

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Trying on these watches quite a bit for the best part of 2 hours, my absolute favorite is the Trail Loop. The Ocean Band is also good. However, I am not a fan of the Alpine Loop. More specifically, I’m not a fan of putting it on and taking it off. I think it looks brilliant on its own, or once on my wrist, but it’s a solid PITA to take on and off. Perhaps that improves with a longer duration of use.

Apple Watch Ultra is priced at $799 (one model only, but different bands) and will be available starting September 23 (order today).

To wrap:

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Apple Watch Ultra makes it clear that Apple is getting into that outdoor/ultra/adventure realm. The hardware features they added around ease of use in harsh conditions like snow/rain/underwater will set them on a course to clearly start making gains in this realm.

Keep in mind that the realm of outdoor/ultra/adventure living is massive, not only in the market, but more specifically, in the app. I mean, there are myriad use cases here, and Apple seems to be dipping slightly into a lot of them. Take, for example, the triathlon or ultra running scenarios. Here, they provide the foundation for those sports and the ability to use Apple Watch Ultra to successfully complete those activities. However, Apple falls short of the depth of sports analytics and deeper fitness software features that you’d find on watches focused on endurance sports.

The assumption, of course, is that Apple’s app ecosystem can develop some of that, which is definitely true. In other areas, though, Apple seems willing to do that for itself, even for ostensibly niche things like running power and running efficiency metrics. This is obviously just the beginning of Apple’s interest in deeper outdoor-focused sporting adventures, so they have to start somewhere on that huge list, and the Apple Watch Ultra seems well poised to begin that journey.

Stay tuned for a full in-depth review in the future!

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