Apple Watch Ultra: What you need to know about the new “Pro” tracker
The Apple Watch Ultra is the top wearable in Apple’s latest line of wearables, sitting above the base Apple Watch SE 2 and Apple Watch 8. But with it looking a lot like its siblings at first glance you may be justifiably wondering what specific perks it brings to the table.
Here to help clear up the confusion we’ve created this guide detailing everything you need to know about the Apple Watch Ultra.
What is the Apple Watch Ultra?
Apple describes the new Pro as being a new smartwatch “designed specifically for exploration, adventuring and endurance.” This means it’s designed for hardcore runners, triathletes, divers, hikers and extreme sports athletes. This puts it in direct competition with the recently launched Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, that we reviewed in August and Garmin’s Fenix 7, which is the best fitness tracker for serious athletes we’ve tested this year.
Despite it’s Ultra branding Apple has confirmed the Watch Ultra will retail for $799. This is incredibly competitive considering its direct competition from Garmin, Polar and Cortex retail for roughly the same price. Sadly the pricing isn’t quite so competitive in the UK, with Apple charging £849 for the Ultra.
Release date and pre-order
The Ultra is available for pre-order now but will only ship on 23 September. This means Apple Watch Ultra is set to launch after the base Apple Watch 8 and new Apple Watch SE 2 which are both set to ship from 16 September.
The Apple Watch Ultra has been designed to be significantly tougher than the base Apple Watch 8. To do this Apple’s built the device’s 49m case out of aerospace Titanium. The case is thicker and features a larger bezel that wraps around the Ultra’s flat sapphire glass screen in a bid to help protect it from damage. In line with this it’s the only Apple Watch currently available designed to meet the MIL-STD 810H military ruggedisation standard and feature IPX6 dust resistance. Apple Watch SE 2 doesn’t feature any formal ruggedisation standards and the Apple Watch 8 is only iPX6 certified, by comparison.
For people in extreme conditions, like snow, the Watch has been designed to survive “below zero” and up to 130 degree environments. Water resistance is listed at 100 meter depth resistance. This makes it twice as water resistant as past Apple Watches, on paper. These are ruggedisation stats we normally only see on dedicated ultramarathon and extreme race trackers, like the Garmin Epix 2.
Controls wise it’s also very different. The biggest change is the addition of a new customisable action button that accompanies the digital crown. The left hand side-facing action button is programmable and can be used to activate various apps or activities. At the launch event Apple showed it being used to change activities during a triathlon and activate a new a 86db emergency siren that, according to Apple, can be heard 180 meters away. The crown also has a noticible protrusion below it which is used to store a few things including new mics and speakers.
The a second speaker aims to offer higher max volumes and accommodates the siren function. To back this up it also features three mics for “clarity on calls” even in windy conditions.
Apple Watch Ultra straps
The Ultra has different strap options to the base Apple Watch 8 and SE 2. Specifically you can choose from Alpine Loop, Trail Loop and Ocean Band options.
The Alpine Loop option is a the base cloth band being marketed as the one for most people. IT features a woven orange fabric strap and custom clasp mechanism that’s designed to make it quick and easy to adjust the fit on the fly. Trail Loop is designed for hikers and features a mixed colour elastic band that’s designed to remain comfortable, even during longer hikes or runs. Ocean Band, as you’d expect, is the option being marketed at divers, surfers and swimmers. The band has a twin clasp design and water resistant strap.
Apple hasn’t revealed all of the Ultra’s specs. But it has offered a few interesting stats. These include that it will offer:
- “The brightest display ever seen on an Apple Watch,” with a quoted max 2000 nit brightness. To put that in context peak HDR performance usually on requires 1000 nits max brightness and most of the fitness trackers we test struggle to get of 600 nits. The screen also has a new “red light” readability mode that’s designed to help the watch remain legible at night an in adverse conditions.
- Dual GPS solution for L1 and L5 GPS, for increased accuracy. This is similar to what you’ll find on the Garmin Forerunner 955 and should let you get much better distance and location tracking in difficult areas, like streets surrounded by high rise buildings.
- The Watch will run on the same chipset and WatchOS 9 software as the base Apple Watch 8. This means it won’t be any more powerful. The upgrades instead focus on ruggedisation and activity tracking.
- Every model offers cellular connectivity. Apple’s confirmed there is no WiFi only version of the Ultra.
- It has “the longest battery life ever seen on an Apple Watch”. Apple hasn’t revealed the Ultra battery’s mAh count but it quotes it as offering 36 hours normal use and 60 hours if you use a new low-power setting, which is set to launch “later this year£. This is significantly longer than the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, which offered around 18 hours GPS activity tracking and two days regular use when we tested it.
Feature and fitness tracking
The biggest developments differentiating the Ultra from the base Watch focus on fitness and activity tracking. At its base it features all the same features including heart rate monitoring, ECG and Blood Oxygen tracking, plus Apple’s new woman’s health/fertility tracking as well as fall and crash detection.
But on top this it has cool things like a new feature that lets it tell if you’re at the start of a run trail you’ve saved to it and some innovative GPS features. These include a more developed compass app with advanced precision views. These include a new orienteering view that shows the position of things like your tent, which can be marked on the watch. There’s also a backtrack feature that looks very similar to what you find on the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. This lets it create waypoint marking dropping points along the your route that you can follow to find your way back when lost.
Apple’s also added a few advanced post workout tracking metrics. The most important we saw was more advanced heart rate zone tracking that during Apple’s looked similar to what you get on Garmin Wearables, giving you detailed breakdown of how long and what benefit you got from various parts of your workout.
Other additions for runners include Running Form and Running Power. Running Form is a similar feature to the coaching service seen on the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro. It offers details on your stride length, ground contact time and vertical oscillation to help you identify weaknesses in your form and potential ways to improve your running efficiency. Running Power is a custom metric designed to measure how much effort you are exerting during each run. The data in theory can then be used to spot when you’re over straining. It sounds a lot like Garmin’s Training Effect metric and body battery, which where two of our favourite features on the Garmin Fenix 7 when we reviewed it.
For divers there even more new features. The Watch Ultra has been designed to offer features equivalent services to an EN13319 dive computer standard. For divers the Oceanic Plus app is pre-installed which offers in-depth insights on things like depth, pressure, location and safety warnings as need on things like decompression rate.
How it compares to the competition
We haven’t reviewed the Apple Watch Ultra yet, but you can see our opening thoughts on how it compares to key rivals using the below links.