Live Science Verdict
The Apple Watch Ultra isn't for everyone, but it should be the blueprint for the Apple Watch going forward — particularly in terms of battery life.
Big, bright display
Customizable action button
Improved battery life
Battery life still not as good as some competitors
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The original Apple Watch has long held the top spot on our list of the best fitness trackers, but Apple changed things up in 2022 with the arrival of the Apple Watch Ultra.
To set expectations, there's little the Ultra can do that the significantly cheaper Series 8 can't. However, anyone that dedicates a significant portion of their life to exercise or braving difficult conditions will appreciate the changes.
The screen is larger and twice as bright, while the rugged construction is surprisingly comfortable despite our initial concerns. In fact, upgrading from a stainless steel Series 7 to the Apple Watch Ultra was barely noticeable at all.
If you can justify the price, it's the first Apple Watch to come with a more than respectable battery life too, lasting twice as long as the Series 8. Keep reading to find out how it performed in terms of accuracy and performance.
Apple Watch Ultra: Price and release date
The Apple Watch Ultra arrived worldwide on September 23, 2022.
It costs $799 and there's currently just one size available — 49 millimeters (mm) — unlike the standard Apple Watch which comes in two sizes.
Apple Watch Ultra: Design and display
The Apple Watch Ultra certainly raised some eyebrows at its unveiling, with many worrying if it'd be too bulky or akin to a sci-fi wrist communicator from an eighties movie.
In reality, it's much less noticeable for regular Apple Watch wearers than it looks. At just over 61 grams (g), it's a little under 10 g heavier than the 45 mm Apple Watch Series 8 in stainless steel. The positive is that the titanium body feels much more durable and even after the occasional knocks on door frames and desks, it's not shown any visible marks.
The 49 mm display is recessed ever so slightly under the titanium ridges around the sides, and while it's still a familiar rounded square, it's more than just a size difference. There's still optional always-on functionality, but it now goes up to 2000 nits of brightness so it's legible in the harshest weather conditions. It’s much more durable too.
Sadly, much of watchOS 9 has barely shifted to take advantage of the new space, but here's hoping Apple can find more to offer than a lot of black space.
One very positive addition is the new Action Button. We'll cover it shortly, but it's on the opposite side of the device from the standard side button and the Digital Crown and is a metallic orange color.
Apple only offers the Apple Watch in titanium (silver) but there are a trio of band options, each with their own colors. Our unit has the green Trail Loop, but there are Alpine Loop and Ocean Band alternatives. And, yes, existing bands connect in the same way as they have since 2015.
Apple Watch Ultra: Features
On the surface, the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra do the same things. Both offer an extension of the iPhone, with access to the App Store that makes them much more capable than the likes of competitors such as Fitbit.
Crash detection and a temperature sensor (both new additions in the Series 8) are included, but the Apple Watch Ultra improves on most core aspects. For example, the display is brighter and you can swim as deep as 100m. With the right apps, it can even pull double duty as a dive computer.
The Ultra has double the battery life too, furthing highlighting how much of a battery issue the standard Apple Watch has. While 36 hours is still far behind the weeks of battery life found in Fitbit and Amazfit options, being able to complete a workout, go about our day, track sleep and then find it with another full day's worth of battery is a huge help — and you can extend it with some tweaking in the settings.
In terms of new features for more challenging conditions (not found in the standard Series 8), there's a built-in Siren that can be heard from up to 180 meters away and the aforementioned new Action Button.
So, what does this do? Well — a little of everything. Apple offers a series of presets, such as starting a favorite workout, setting a waypoint or starting a dive, but with iOS Shortcuts you can set it to do anything. We've got it set to open a menu with options for messages, tasks, and more. Holding the button triggers the siren too, but you can turn this feature off.
Apple Watch Ultra: Performance
As you'd expect from an Apple Watch, the Ultra version is an excellent tracker when it comes to fitness.
While we've traditionally used Strava to map our runs, Apple's own Workout app has received some neat new tricks with the latest version of watchOS. For one, it can now track stride length following a brief period of calibration, as well as ground contact time.
The workout screen is more customizable, meaning you can add the metrics that are most important to you. The Action Button can also log your current time, switch between exercises in a triathlon and plenty more.
As has become tradition, location tracking is great with the Apple Watch Ultra and the inclusion of dual-band GPS means that it's more accurate when triangulating your position between buildings — ideal for users that run urban marathons.
Apple Watch Ultra: Verdict
The Apple Watch Ultra is an easy recommendation for ultra-marathon runners and rock climbers, but for the vast majority of customers, it offers features and a rugged design that isn't likely to be necessary.
Still, if you're looking for the best Apple Watch around, then the Apple Watch Ultra's combination of refined features, a customizable button and improved battery life are well worth the price of admission.
Apple Watch Ultra: If this isn't for you
Naturally, if you're looking for the same functionality as the Apple Watch Ultra but with a less rugged design, the Apple Watch Series 8 is a great alternative.
In fact, the features added to that watch (crash detection and a temperature sensor for menstrual cycle tracking) are slim enough to warrant giving the Series 7 a look if you can find it cheaper.
Lloyd Coombes freelance tech and fitness writer for Live Science. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as in computer and gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews, Space.com, Dexerto and TechRadar. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games as Editor in Chief at GGRecon.com. He also covers board games and virtual reality, just to round out the nerdy pursuits.