Apple’s improved the Apple Watch Ultra 2 in small but significant ways… but its price point is still going to be a barrier for most.
|Improved display||It’s expensive and not as configurable as other Apple Watches|
|Action button is great||Little reason for first gen Ultra owners to upgrade (or get that jealous)|
|S9 processor is faster||Double Tap still a bit of an unknown quantity|
|Buy The Apple Watch Ultra 2!||Buy On Amazon|
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is Apple’s best smartwatch, and it’s not even close.
However, it’s also a smartwatch that I find a little baffling… if only because the Apple Watch Ultra it’s replacing was already a damned fine smartwatch for the action crowd, and it didn’t entirely feel like it was in need of updating.
There’s no doubting that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is better, but the improvements are marginal, and as a result it doesn’t feel quite as exciting as the original Apple Watch Ultra did.
I guess that’s a nice problem to have if you’re Apple, however, because otherwise (and excluding the price, which remains eye-watering) it’s a very similar experience for the most part to the Apple Watch Ultra… which brings me right back to it being Apple’s best smartwatch.
Put the Apple Watch Ultra 2 next to the Apple Watch Ultra and you will be genuinely hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. The screen size remains the same at 49mm – there’s no “small” sized Apple Watch Ultra – the thicker digital crown remains the same, the orange action button remains the same. It’s all the same… same… same… sort of.
The big difference in design terms lies in the brightness of its OLED display.
The original Apple Watch Ultra’s display had a peak rating of 2,000 nits, but for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 it’s been boosted up to a maximum of 3,000 nits.
There are situations, especially for the more rugged use case scenario that Apple likes to talk about for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 where that extra brightness could come in serious use. If you’re the spelunking type, or diving in certain situations, then the ability for the screen to get very bright in flashlight mode could have some real benefits.
For my purposes as a mostly-desk-bound middle aged tech journalist, I just appreciate that it’s brighter and easier to see in direct sunlight. I did try the flashlight out under my desk, and it works well enough.
In the gloom under my desk, there is only the shining brilliance of the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
It’s probably the same in subterranean caves and the like, but with less danger of being eaten by a grue.
One tip here: Don’t test a very bright smartwatch under your desk and then turn your wrist towards your eyes when it’s cranked to maximum brightness. Learn from my painful eye-searing mistakes.
The default bands – Alpine Loop, Trail Loop or Ocean Band – are pitched very much at the active crowd, though it does still share the same connection mechanism as the cheaper Apple Watches, so you can mix and match to a reasonable effect. Some bands do look a little odd next to the Titanium casing of the Apple Watch Ultra 2, however.
One nice note here for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is that it’s made from a claimed 95% recycled Titanium, compared to no recycling for the original model. Pair that up with the Alpine Loop or my preference, the Trail Loop (both of which are carbon neutral) and you’ve got a device that’s much friendlier to the planet. That’s not a reason to update from the OG Apple Watch Ultra, though – the environmentally smart thing to do there is use it until it can be used no longer and then upgrade and recycle.
Like the Apple Watch Series 9, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 runs on Apple’s new S9 processor, promising 25% faster CPU speed and 30% faster GPU calculations over prior generations. Newer processors should be faster, but I do have to say that it’s not as though the Apple Watch Ultra felt like a “slow” watch to start with.
That S9 processor does enable a few new features, however. Like the Series 9, you get precision finding of iPhones… as long as you’re sporting an iPhone 15, that is. It’s not that it can’t find older iPhones, but it lacks the ultra wideband chip on both sides to enable actual directional location work rather than just relying on a sound playing when you try to find your missing smartphone.
The Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is superb — but it’s the same exact thing as on the Apple Watch Ultra.
Also like the Series 9, you get Double Tap, the new “headline” feature for the Apple Watches this year that lets you perform specific actions with a double tap of forefinger and thumb relative to the context of what’s on your watch at that moment.
Interesting in theory, and I say in theory because it’s a future watchOS feature still only in beta builds at the time of writing. I do try to avoid reviewing beta software where feasible, because there’s too many gotchas if something isn’t work that might get fixed… or not at all. That’s a wait and see operation.
The above was true when I wrote that paragraph, but it is now available as part of watchOS 10.1. Here’s my hands-on impressions:
The S9 chip also enables on-device Siri processing, which should be faster than relying on your phone, as well as suitable for when you have no signal and just want simpler functions like timers to start. It’s neat enough if you’re into the whole digital-assistant-on-your-wrist thing, though I’m not personally a big fan.
|Apple Watch Series 9 review|
The other side of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is its functionality specifically for extreme endurance athletes. It’s Apple’s most durable Apple Watch, designed equally for folks who do ultramarathons or multi day hikes, or indeed those who like diving beneath the ocean waves in search of Atlantis.
Spoiler: Atlantis isn’t there. They moved out ages ago.
That’s all well and good and clearly gives Apple a position against the likes of Garmin in the serious fitness watch category… but it’s 100% not what I do.
Just so the Apple Watch Ultra 2 wouldn’t get sad, I let it have a swim in my bird bath.
Tip: Don’t do this. Imagine how mortified you’d be if a bird swooped in and stole it.
It’s fine after retrieval (though the Trail Band is soggy and icky to wear…)
Just as with the GoPro Hero 12 Black and GoPro Hero 11 Black, I’m stuck being that guy who doesn’t use the extreme sports part of a watch, but still appreciates what it can do as an everyday timepiece. Reading around the web, I’ve certainly hit few complaints from the folks who do that kind of activity if it’s your thing.
Apple rather famously never actually offers specifics on Apple mobile device battery capacities, instead preferring to talk in terms of expected usage time. For the Apple Watch Ultra, that was stated as being good for up to 36 hours of normal use.
For the Apple Watch Ultra 2 with its brighter display and S9 chip, Apple states it as being good for… up to 36 hours of normal use.
While Apple does specify what it means by “normal use” – it’s apparently “180 time checks, 180 notifications, 90 minutes of app use, and a 60-minute workout with music playback from Apple Watch via Bluetooth, over the course of 36 hours” – your actual usage will naturally vary.
The regular Apple Watch models like the Series 9 are all stated as 18 hour battery lives, and my experience over a year’s testing of the OG Apple Watch Ultra easily beats that… and so does the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
I can generally get to a two day limit with the way I use the Apple Watch Ultra 2, which I guess means I check it less than Apple thinks is normal, but not much further than that. This gets interesting I suppose if you are a long-distance hiker or similar needing even more power, though you can dial the power usage and capabilities in low power mode as needed.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 recharges via the standard Apple Watch Charger cable; while it’s Wireless it’s certainly not Qi-compatible. You’ll have to provide your own power on the other end of the supplied charging cable. I did test with the Belkin BoostCharge Pro Fast Wireless Charger for Apple Watch + Power Bank 10K which worked nicely if you did need a quite portable charging solution.
Apple Watch Ultra 2: Alex’s Verdict
I stated in the intro that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is Apple’s best smartwatch, and that is true.
However, at $1399, it’s not inexpensive.
By way of comparison, the Apple Watch Series 9 will only run you from $649, and the Apple Watch SE can be slapped onto your wrist for as little as $399.
That does make the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a luxury if you’re not also using it to swim with the sharks. It’s a great device, I love what I can do with the action button and the brighter screen is a definite plus too. But that price point does make it a phone for those with either deep sea ambitions, or deep and spacious wallets.
For the rest of us, it would be great if Apple could do what it’s done with the Apple iPhone 15 Plus and develop an Apple Watch Plus – which is to say, an Apple Watch in the larger 49mm form factor without the scuba protection and the like at a slightly cheaper price point.
How about it, Mr Cook? Maybe in 2024?
Apple Watch Ultra 2: Pricing and availability
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 retails in Australia for $1,399
|Buy The Apple Watch Ultra 2!||Buy On Amazon|