The Apple Watch Ultra 2 strikes a great balance between powerful outdoor features and being an excellent smartwatch companion. It’s also just an Apple Watch power user’s dream, and offers all the latest gesture features, a gorgeous titanium build and, finally, an end to battery anxiety. For true adventurers and athletes Garmin still rules, but the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a top pick for everyone else.
- Top screen
- Excellent sports tracking
- The best Apple Watch
- Fitness tracking feels dated
- Lack of performance analysis
- Mapping rolling out slowly
- Water-resistant to a maximum of 100mThis remains the best Apple Watch for diving
- Action buttonGives you quick access to apps and feature
- Upgraded internalsS9 chip enables new Siri and gesture features
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 comes just a year after the original, and shows that Apple sees its big, outdoor Watch as a key member of its line-up.
The Apple Watch SE has only had two updates in four years, so many were slightly surprised to see the Ultra 2 receive a fairly minor update, just a year after the original was launched.
The screen has been overhauled and is now 33% brighter, but the real magic comes from the upgraded S9 chip, which adds a Neural Engine for machine learning tasks. The fruit of that update is largely yet to land on the Watch – with the new gesture control and health Siri requests all slated to land later this year. So judgement will have to be reserved on that for now.
So this review is a work in progress, but the aim is to make sense of the Ultra 2 for those perhaps new to the range.
The price stays at $799/£799, which puts it in the upper range of the sports and outdoor watch market. It’s a direct rival for the likes of the Garmin Fenix 7 and Garmin Epix (2nd Gen), which is hugely popular with serious adventurers and affluent weekend warriors who want something serious on the wrist. The latter is the prime market for the Ultra.
Design and screen
- The design remains the same as the previous Watch Ultra
- Brighter display is fantastic in bright conditions
- Improved environmental credentials
Put the Apple Watch Ultra and Ultra 2 side-by-side and you’d have to have a pretty good eye for smartwatches to detect any difference. They are practically identical – apart from some small but important differences.
The first is that the case is made from 95% recycled titanium – so it has vastly improved environmental credentials. It’s also carbon neutral if you get one of the new Alpine or Trail Loop band – a great step in the right direction.
The screen has been given a boost to 3000 nits, up from 2000 nits and this is a decent visual boost. It’s noticeably brighter when viewed side-by-side with the original – and that’s something, considering our reviewer raved about the brightness and quality of the Ultra display last year.
WatchOS 10 heralds the new Modular Ultra watch face, which has the potential to hold an absurd amount of complications for the ultimate power user. It’s a bit busy for my liking – but I can see people really enjoying it. And having fresh options is never a bad thing.
There’s also the new Snoopy watch face – which is actually delightful. I don’t really hold any particular affection or nostalgia for Snoopy, but the watch face is fun.
It’s still rated for diving with a 10 ATM rating, and the Oceanic+ app has been updated to include free diving. I’m not a diver, so I’m not going to attempt to make recommendations here, but this aspect of the Ultra 2 (and Ultra) just got stronger.
Performance and Software
- Upgraded chip offers improved performance
- Siri is much faster
- Many features ‘coming later this year’
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 debuts with watchOS 10 – which brings a host of new features. Of course, watchOS 10 rolls out to the original Ultra and every Series of Apple Watch back to Series 4. But there are a few Ultra specifics.
The Compass app has some new features, and it will now log the last place you got cell reception in case you need to make an emergency call – as well as showing the elevation of your trek.
You will also be able to access TOPO maps, which is a huge boost to the navigation chops of the Ultra 2. But these are US only for the foreseeable, starting with just California. So it’s a very limited rollout that’s going to take a while to really be effective. If Apple can get topography and trail maps worldwide, it would be a colossal shot in the arm for the effectiveness of Ultra 2.
Of course, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 offers the App Store and Apple Pay, two top notch services that elevate the smartwatch experience – and are unchanged here from every other Apple Watch model.
The biggest addition to the Ultra 2 is the new S9 chip, with its Neural Engine that allows for machine learning tasks to be handled on the Watch, rather than in the cloud. This allows for three main benefits: a new gesture control, on-watch Siri, and Siri health integrations.
The problem? Most of these features are “coming soon” so they’ve been unable to be properly tested.
I tried the new double-tap feature at Apple HQ, although it wasn’t enabled on my review unit. There is a slight learning curve, as you need to raise-to-wake the watch before making your double-tap pinching gesture. I got to grips with it fairly simply, and honestly, this could be my favourite Apple Watch feature for years.
It feels futuristic to use and offers a glimpse into a world of future wearables, where interacting with the screen isn’t as necessary. It’s great for dismissing timers and calls – but summoning the new Smart Stack glances from the gesture felt really cool. And it brought that feature to life in a new way.
Again, I couldn’t fully test the new Siri health functionality – but this review will be updated with findings as the features are released.
However, I did find that Siri is now better overall. The processing done by the Neural Engine has made Siri noticeably less deaf, and it was better at picking up what we said. We still had some issues if we stumbled on words, and often a pause for thought meant that Siri assumed we were done and fumbled the task. I did find the raise-to-speak gesture a little fiddly, and often when I started speaking Siri wasn’t listening. It was best to use the ‘Siri’ wake word regardless.
The addition of Ultrawideband chip also means you can use Precision Find to find your iPhone – which works sweetly as you’d expect. The watch is a good place to get directions as you hone in on your smartphone – but I was slightly disappointed that the support didn’t extend to the AirPods Pro 2.
That’s mostly due to compatibility between the two USB chips. However, on Apple Watch the feature works from the same Ping My iPhone function from the control centre, not in the Find My app.
Tracking and Features
- Great for a range of sports
- Lacks performance analysis and recovery metrics
- Plenty of sensors and extra features
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is an impressive sports watch – and with watchOS 10 gets a host of new support for cycling power and cadence meters, with functionality that will also turn your iPhone into a bike computer, displaying metrics from the Watch.
That’s great for cyclists, just like last year’s raft of running dynamics, power metrics, track support and other features boosted the experience for runners.
It means that when it comes to the actual tracking of sports, the Apple Watch Ultra is more than a match for the best Garmin smartwatches. It offers a wealth of sports modes, robust (if nowhere near world-beating) battery life, and the power of the App Store to fill in any holes in the out-of-the-box feature set.
It’s aimed at the trekking, ultra-running, biking or outdoors enthusiast – but those users who can admit that they don’t quite need the battery life or staying power of a top Garmin.
I will come onto battery life in detail, but it can’t keep up with the likes of the Fenix 7, which can offer 40 hours of GPS tracking and a month of smartwatch battery life.
You get three days at most from the Ultra, and that’s before any workouts have been tracked. But for those without families or commitments who dream of taking on 100-mile Ultra marathons, but actually might get one day in the Cotswolds (if they’re lucky) this is more than good enough.
The issue – and the thing I missed most – is the lack of performance analysis and recovery metrics. Even as a moderately able runner, I missed the Training Load, Training Effect, recovery scores and big focus on VO2 Max – all of which are helpful to analyse training, but a great way to feel good about improving fitness.
While the Apple Fitness app does show VO2 Max (which largely matched Garmin’s estimates), there’s not much analysis that will scratch the itch of people used to poring over performance data. The average running pace and exercise minute trends feel simplistic, and we feel Ultra users will demand more.
When it comes to navigation, the Compass app isn’t exactly the rich mapping experience you might dream of, but is effective. It will show your heading and route, and you can set waypoints to navigate to, if you plan ahead.
What’s more, it will automatically mark the position of your parked car and the last known location of cell reception, and you can navigate back to these with a tap – or back to your starting location. It’s hardly a rich navigation experience, but it works. And you can use third party navigation and mapping apps on Apple Watch, including the likes of Komoot. So as ever, the versatility of Apple’s platform wins out.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 features multi-band GNSS – which is super accurate GPS tracking that uses both L1 and L5 bands. In my side-by-side tests against the Garmin Epix, I found the Apple Watch Ultra to be extremely robust in very challenging conditions, and I found the same performance again on the Ultra 2. Put simply, if you’re looking for GPS accuracy, then the Ultra 2 is one of the best you can get.
In terms of health tracking everything is carried over here from the Ultra and Series 9 – and there are no changes to report.
You get ECG and high/low heart rate monitoring – which is the core of the health tracking system. Add to that the Fall Detection and Car Crash monitoring, and the Apple Watch has the potential to be a lifesaver.
Apple Health tracks pretty much every metric you could ever think of – but it’s more of a data collection repository than an analysis of wellness. However, it’s good at showing long term trends, but you’ll have to do all the interpretation yourself.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn’t cover the same ground as Whoop, so there’s no analysis of daily wellness metrics against established backgrounds. And it feels the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is more focused on lifesaving features than wellness metrics.
It uses the classic three rings for active minutes, calories and stand hours – which is still a good motivator. But I can’t help feeling the Apple Watch, in general, is starting to feel a little stale now. Especially when compared to how rivals are interpreting HRV data to try and advise users on readiness and recovery.
WatchOS 10 also adds the ability to log moods within the Mindfulness app. It’s much more detailed than expected, not only with the range of moods, but also feelings and triggers tracked.
As ever, the data goes off to the madness of Apple Health to be logged, but once you’ve located it (it’s easy just go to Health > Browse > Mental Wellbeing > State of Mind > Show in Charts) you can plot moods over time. It will also cross-reference with your levels of activity, sleep, time in daylight and more.
It’s actually really helpful – and I couldn’t be generally more sceptical about this type of mindfulness feature.
The Apple Watch will track sleep, but it’s one of the more simplistic systems out there. It was only introduced on the Apple Watch Series 6 and then was given an upgrade to offer sleep stage data in watchOS 7.
It’s still very basic sleep tracking – and that’s not a bad thing. I have tested it extensively and it’s accurate – and stacked up very closely to the Whoop 4.0. I also used the Ultra’s sleep tracking with a new born, and found that it kept up well with the wakeful periods.
When Apple launched its sleep tracking, it put a big focus on consistency, which is displayed within the sleep app. Given that consistency is a big part of good sleep, we were fans of this approach – and we do feel that Apple missed a trick in not building a new type of sleep tracker around consistency.
- Excellent battery life compared to the other Apple Watch models
- However it doesn’t compete with some of the best smartwatches for endurance
While Apple promises 36 hours of battery life, I got way more than that in my testing.
On average, I got around 50-60 hours – and I found that the Ultra 2 usually lasted into a third day of use before needing charging, including the tracking of sleep. That includes an hour or so of workout tracking, so not a huge amount.
GPS battery life is quoted at 12 hours, which feels correct from my testing. That includes full use of multiband GNSS, the most accurate tracking, and the always-on display. Using Low Power Mode ups that to 17 hours with full multiband GNSS and heart rate tracking.
It’s nowhere near the likes of the Garmin Fenix 7 and Epix 2 – but you get so much more in general usability, the App Store, Apple Pay, and the general usability of the OS.
For some people, the battery life will simply not be enough – and those people should obviously look elsewhere. But for most people, 17 hours of constant multiband GNSS tracking will do the job, even if they do need to pull the charger out at the end of the day.
Should you buy it?
You should buy it if you want the best Apple Watch
This is the best Apple Watch you can buy. It has a great screen, excellent battery life and plenty of tracking features.
You shouldn’t buy it if you picked up the first Apple Watch Ultra
The changes over the original model are minimal and there’s little in upgrading if you picked up the first Apple Watch Ultra.
If you already own an Apple Watch Ultra then there’s little reason to upgrade. But if you’re choosing between an Apple Watch Ultra and a top-end Garmin Epix or Fenix – then the Ultra 2 is still a fantastic alternative. It’s a powerful workout tracker and decent outdoors watch, that’s just as good day-to-day. It’s also the best Apple Watch you can buy.
There are a few negatives. Battery life is an obvious one – even it comfortably beats other Apple wearables. But top-end Garmins will also provide more insights into your performance, fitness and wellness. And that’s an area Apple is starting to lag.
But with the App Store, services such as Apple Pay, Apple Music, and general wearability, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is still up there with the best smartwatches and worthy of most people’s money.
How we test
We thoroughly test every fitness tracker we review. We use industry standard testing to compare features properly and we use the watch as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Compared against rival devices
Heart rate data compared against dedicated heart rate devices
Worn as our main tracker during the testing period
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Yes, a magnetic USB-C cable is included however you’ll need to provide your own plug.
An alternative to GPS that was originally developed in Russia. In the absence of GPS, some smartwatches can utilise the GLONASS framework to determine a user’s location.