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Apple Watch Ultra Review: The Smartwatch That Goes the Extra Mile

There's not much this watch can't do.

Rating: 8/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $799
Apple Watch Ultra being worn on man's left wrist at the gym
Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

The Apple Watch Ultra offers no illusions about what it is. Its rugged, no-nonsense design targets physically active lifestyles and tech enthusiasts who love personalized data and don’t mind paying a premium. The Ultra isn’t for everyone, but those that can utilize all of its features will love it.

The late 1960s marked the start of the electronic watch revolution with the invention of the electric quartz watch. Electronic watches have been evolving ever since, culminating in the Apple Watch Ultra, which is more modern wearable than timepiece, although it does a bang-up job with that functionality as well.

As long as you go into the Apple Watch Ultra not expecting a traditional watch design, something better embodied by the Series 8 or SE (2nd Gen), I think you’ll like what’s on your wrist.

Here's What We Like

  • Rugged
  • Great display
  • Action Button frees up display space
  • A better overall Apple Watch experience

And What We Don't

  • Might be too big for some
  • No non-LTE option
  • High price

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Getting to Know Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra box contents spread out on table
Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

  • Materials: Titanium, ceramic, and sapphire crystal back
  • Dimensions: 1.7 x 1.9 x 0.6in (44 x 49 x 14.4mm)
  • Weight: 2.2oz (61.3g)
  • Display Specifications: 410 x 502px, 1185mm sq display area
  • Display Brightness: Always-On Retina LTPO OLED, up to 2000 nits brightness
  • Chips: S8SiP with 64-bit dual-core process, W3 wireless chip, U1 chip ultra wideband
  • Storage: 32GB

The Ultra comes in Apple’s usual minimalist white packaging. In the box is the watch body, 3.3ft (1m) braided Apple Watch Magnetic Fast Charger to USB-C cable, and your choice of band/loop. Unlike other Apple Watches, the Ultra only comes in the single 49mm Titanium Case style with GPS + Cellular connectivity.

When purchasing the Ultra, you choose between three watch band types in different colors. One is the Alpine Loop, which is marketed for outdoor adventures and features a G-hook to help ensure a more secure fit. The second is the stretchy Trail Loop, Apple’s thinnest band yet, marketed for endurance athletes and featuring a pull tab for making quick adjustments on the go. The third is the flexible Ocean Band, which is marketed for water sports and features a titanium buckle with an adjustable loop. In my box was the Black/Gray Trail Loop in the Medium/Large size.

After charging the watch, sliding both ends of the band into place, securing it to your wrist, and pressing and holding the side button, you’re greeted with intuitive onscreen setup instructions to pair it with your iPhone. As long as you have an iPhone 8 or newer with iOS 16 or newer, the Apple Watch Ultra will work. I had no issues pairing it with my iPhone 14 Pro Max and importing the settings from my previous Apple Watch Series 7 (GPS) 45mm.

Style and Fit: Big and Purposeful

Apple Watch Ultra being worn on man's left wrist outdoors
Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

The existing Apple Watch design through the Series 8 is a proven one. Whether you get the 41mm or 45mm watch size, it’s relatively sleek, extremely well-balanced, and comfortable, especially when paired with your favorite band. With the Ultra being upsized to 49mm and ruggedized, I was frankly expecting a watch that was too big for its own good.

While there’s no denying it’s a comparatively large watch, I never really felt the Ultra was too large. It’s definitely not quite as comfortable as the 45mm Series 7 I was used to, due in part to the added depth and weight, but I never found it particularly unwieldy or clumsy either.

Girl's arm showing right side features on Apple Watch Ultra
Right side features with watch shown on a teenage girl’s wrist for scale. Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

The physical layout, including buttons, has seen a similar update over previous Apple Watches. On the right side, from top to bottom, is a hole for the Depth gauge/Water Temperature sensor, the Digital Crown dial/button, the first Microphone cutout, a Side Button, and a second Microphone cutout.

On the left side, from top to bottom, is a hole for the third Microphone, a speaker cutout, the Action Button, and the Speaker/Siren divot. The Digital Crown and buttons are all larger than those on other Apple Watches to make them easier to work with when wearing gloves and are satisfying to use even when you’re not.

Girl's arm showing left side features on Apple Watch Ultra
Left side features with watch on a teenage girl’s wrist for scale. Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

The display, which is flatter, more vibrant, and easier to see overall than previous Apple Watches is slightly recessed from the bezel. The extra real estate is definitely appreciated. Of course, this is not to say the other Apple Watch screens are bad in any way—the Ultra’s is just noticeably better with double the peak brightness of the Series 8’s.

The Ultra’s dual speakers are rated at 40% louder than the Series 8’s single speaker, and in my own usage, I’ve definitely noticed the additional punch. Of course, you’re still dealing with a speaker system on a watch, so don’t expect miracles when it comes to fidelity. Similarly, the three-microphone array with beamforming outperforms what the Series 8’s single microphone is capable of, but is no substitute for something that’s not crammed into a watch body.

Here’s a recording direct from the Voice Memos app using the Apple Watch Ultra’s microphone array:

The nylon weave Black/Grey Trail Loop is easy to adjust, but I don’t find it as breathable as my previous perforated fluoroelastomer Nike Sport Band from my Series 7. Oddly enough, for a sports band, I found the Trail Loop also stays wet for far longer after swimming or taking a shower than the Nike Sport Band ever did.

Fortunately, most bands are interchangeable and cross-compatible between watch models, so I’ll have no issue switching back to my preferred Nike Sport Band. This nearly limitless variety of interchangeable watch band options is one of the biggest strengths of the Apple Watch ecosystem and one of the key differentiators versus other smartwatches and wearables.

The Best Smartwatches of 2022

Best Smartwatch Overall
Apple Watch Series 8
Best Budget Smartwatch
Amazfit GTS 2 Mini
Best Fitness Tracker
Garmin Venu 2
Best Smartwatch for Battery Life
Fitbit Versa 3
Best Smartwatch for Kids
TickTalk 4
Best Android Smartwatch
Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
Best Smartwatch Overall
Apple Watch Series 8

Special Features: Ultra Over Series

Apple Watch Ultra being worn on man's left wrist outdoors
Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

  • GPS and Cellular: LTE and UMTS
  • Navigation: L1 and L5 GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Bluetooth version: 5.3
  • Functions: Compass, Altimeter, High-g accelerometer, gyroscope
  • Sensors: Ambient light, Water temperature, Depth gauge
  • Health: Blood oxygen sensor, Electrical heart sensor, Third-generation optical heart sensor
  • Resistance: Water resistant (up to 100m), IP6X dust resistant, MIL-STD 810H

By default, every Ultra comes with cellular LTE connectivity, something that costs extra for other Apple Watches’ separate LTE-enabled models. The Apple Watch can share the same phone number as your iPhone and be completely independent to, for example, make calls or stream audio to your Apple AirPods when your phone is no longer in Bluetooth range.

In my case, since I have a business line with T-Mobile, I had to call to activate the LTE feature manually. Since the regular price for me was $10 extra per month, or $5 extra per month if I signed up for autopay, I chose not to activate the feature. I’m glad it’s there if I ever have a need in the future, but I certainly wouldn’t have minded a lower-cost GPS-only option as is available with other Apple Watches.

Compared to an Apple Watch Series 8, the Ultra has some extra features, but whether they’re worth both the bigger size and at least an $800 price premium, is debatable. The Ultra has a larger and brighter display, double the water resistance, MIL-STD-810 certification, display edge protection, double the potential battery life, precision dual-frequency GPS, water depth gauge, water temperature sensor, 86-decibel siren, and a Dive computer app.

Otherwise, you’re getting the same overall experience, including all of the same health sensors and features, like blood oxygen monitoring and fall detection, that make the Apple Watch experience a standout.

Apple Watch Ultra, left, compared to an Apple Watch Series 7 (45mm), right, on a table
Apple Watch Ultra, left, compared to an Apple Watch Series 7 (45mm), right. Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

My favorite exclusive new feature is the programmable Action Button, which frees up display space so I can show an extra complication onscreen. I set my quick access to workouts, which I like as it somehow feels less tedious than going through a complication. While it’s nearly at peak physical buttons, I can see the potential for one or two more buttons near the top or bottom of the watch face, or, if moving the speaker, an extra button above the current quick launch button.

Of course, it’s important to reiterate the Ultra’s physical improvements over other Apple Watch models, particularly when it comes to a smartwatch ostensibly designed for an active lifestyle. Although only minimally distracting, my previous Apple Watches always got a noticeable scratch or two within the first week of usage.

In comparison, my iPhone 14 Pro Max’s screen has proved a champ at resisting scratches or other damages, even to the point of me no longer using a screen protector, so I had high hopes for the Ultra. I’m happy to say that even after more than a month of active usage and a few accidental hits, my Ultra is still completely free of any marks either on the screen or case.

The Best Apple Watches of 2022

Best Apple Watch Overall
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS, 41mm)
Best Apple Watch Overall
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS, 45mm)
Best Budget Apple Watch
Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen, 40mm)
Best Budget Apple Watch
Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen, 44mm)
Best Apple Watch with Cellular
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular, 41mm)
Best Apple Watch with Cellular
Apple Watch Series 8 (GPS + Cellular, 45mm)
Best Apple Watch for Durability
Apple Watch Ultra
Best Starter Apple Watch Band
Apple Braided Solo Loop

Battery Life: It Can Do This All Day (And Night)

Apple Watch Ultra being worn on man's left wrist outdoors
Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

  • Battery: Lithium-ion battery up to 36 hours (low power mode), up to 18 hours LTE
  • Power: USB-C magnetic fast charging cable

With my usage pattern, including frequent notifications and recording workouts, my Apple Watch Series 7 45mm was almost always down to 10 or 20% battery at the end of each day with an Always-On screen. With the exact same usage patterns, plus the addition of compass usage and steps retracing, I’m happy to say that my Ultra’s battery has been around 80% at the end of each day.

Because I had to charge my previous Apple Watches each night, I never used the sleep tracking features. With the Ultra, it suddenly becomes a lot more practical and a feature I’ve enjoyed exploring, despite the watch’s extra bulk. However, I still come back to the lack of overall comfort with the Trail Loop, so definitely make sure you have a good band if you’re going to use the Ultra for sleep tracking.

Even with heavy usage of all features, including LTE, you can expect around 18 hours of battery life. Enabling low power mode, disabling the Always-On display, or toggling the “Fewer GPS and heart rate readings” option can gain an impressive battery life increase to as much as 60 hours, though for more practical usage expect around 36 hours. Either way, it’s an impressive feat for a smartwatch and further justifies some of the extra bulk.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Apple Watch Ultra waterproof?
The Apple Watch Ultra is water-resistant up to a depth of 100m. You can feel safe swimming, showering, or taking on the occasional unexpected splash with the Ultra on your wrist.
Can I use Apple Watch bands from previous watches?
+
Yes, Apple Watch bands of the past are compatible with the Apple Watch Ultra, as long as the size matches (i.e. Medium or Large bands).
Do I have to pay extra for LTE service?
+
Yes, LTE will cost an additional $10 a month or $5 a month with autopay enabled (select carriers). You do not need to opt-in for LTE service if you don’t want it.
 Can I pair the Apple Watch Ultra with my Android smartphone?
+
No, the Apple Watch Ultra is only compatible with iPhone models 8 or newer running iOS 16 or newer.

Should You Buy the Apple Watch Ultra?

Apple Watch Ultra being worn on man's left wrist outdoors
Bill Loguidice / Review Geek

Like the iPhone, AirPods, and frankly, just about any other modern device that is at least a few versions in, the Apple Watch Ultra is not a quantum leap for its category. What it is, however, is a more rugged version of arguably the best smartwatch and wearable ecosystem on the market.

Whether the Apple Watch Ultra’s improved ability to resist damage and small, but notable list of exclusive features is worth the greater bulk and significant price jump over a Series 8 probably depends upon activity level and budgetary constraints. If you’re very active and don’t mind the high cost, you’ll likely find even more uses for the Apple Watch Ultra than other Apple Watch models, particularly given the dramatic improvements in battery life.

I know I’m personally looking forward to exploring more activities and actions like sleep tracking and water temperature sensing that I’ve either avoided before on other Apple Watches or could only do with other devices. If you’re able to take the Apple Watch Ultra plunge, I suspect you too will be going down a similar path of discovery with use cases that you haven’t been able to seriously consider before. Of course, none of that changes the fact that for more casual users or those who have no need for the Ultra’s exclusive features, the Series 8, or even SE (2nd Gen), are better values.

The bottom line remains that outside of its relatively large size and undeniably high price, the Apple Watch Ultra is easily one of the best wearables to date for anyone with a recent iPhone. In fact, the combination of and integration between an iPhone 14 Pro Max, Apple Watch Ultra, and AirPods Pro 2 (2nd generation) make a compelling and powerful case to switch from other mobile platforms to iOS.

Rating: 8/10
Price: $799

Here’s What We Like

  • Rugged
  • Great display
  • Action Button frees up display space
  • A better overall Apple Watch experience

And What We Don't

  • Might be too big for some
  • No non-LTE option
  • High price

Bill Loguidice Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice has more than 25 years of experience writing for a variety of major publications including How-To Geek, Review Geek, Physician's Weekly, TechRadar, PC Gamer, and Ars Technica. He has written over a dozen technology books for major publishers including Wiley, Pearson Education, Taylor & Francis Group, and Elsevier. Read Full Bio »