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Apple Watch 8 vs Apple Watch Ultra: What’s the difference?

The Apple Watch Ultra is the iPhone 14 makers first attempt to create THE ultimate smartwatch for hardcore athletes that enjoy taking part in the odd ultramarathon or two.

But with it still holding the same iconic, pebble shaped Apple Watch design we’ve seen for years, you may justifiably be wondering what specific features and upgrades it has to differentiate it from its sibling, the Apple Watch 8.

To help clear up the confusion we’ve created this early versus guide detailing the biggest differences between the Apple Watch Ultra and the Apple Watch 8.

Editor’s Note: This is a very early versus based on our expert knowledge of the industry and the information Apple’s given on the two wearables. We’ll update this page once we’ve had both watches in for testing and can give a more detailed summary of how the Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch 8 compare with real world use.

One costs a lot more than the other

The first difference you’ll notice between the two is that the Ultra is a lot more expensive than the Watch 8.

Apple has confirmed the Watch Ultra will retail for $799 in the US and £849 in the UK. By comparison the base Apple Watch 8 Bluetooth version will retail for £419/$399. The cellular version (US only at the time of writing) will cost $499.

The UK Ultra pricing in particular is fairly aggressive, pushing the watch into the same territory as dedicated, top end trackers like the Epix 2 and Fenix 7 Solar.

Both watches are available for pre-order now but the Ultra will launch a lot later than the Watch 8. The Watch 8 is set to ship on 16 September while the Ultra will arrive on 23 September.

Apple Watch Series 8 (5)
Apple Watch 8

The Apple Watch Ultra has a very different design

The Apple Watch 8 looks very similar to past Apple Watches, featuring a pebble shaped main chassis, crown control and variable refresh rate OLED screen.

The Ultra has a slightly different design. Specifically, it’s been designed to be far more rugged featuring a large 49mm case that’s built of Titanium and can survive at extreme sub zero temperatures and heats as high as 139 degrees.
The chassis has a larger bezel that wraps around the Ultra’s flat sapphire glass screen. The wider bezel aims to help protect the screen from damage when engaging in extreme sports, like mountain climbing. Apple claims it’s “twice as water resistant” as the base Apple Watch 8 which has a 50 ATM water resistance.

In keeping with this trend, the Ultra is the only one of the two that’s been built to MIL-STD 810H military ruggedisation standards and features IPX6 dust resistance. The Watch 8 only carries IPX6 certification, by comparison. The military ruggedisation means the Ultra should be much tougher and easily survive the odd encounter with a rock while climbing, based on our experience testing other devices that meet the standard.

The Ultra’s larger chassis also features an extra speaker and 3 mic setup which Apple claims is louder and offers clearer voice audio during calls than the base Apple Watch 8. The screen is also quoted as being twice as bright featuring a quoted 2000 nit max brightness. To put that in context that makes it twice as bright as some of the best TVs we test.

As a final major differentiator, the Ultra features an extra “action” button that you won’t find on the base Apple Watch 8. Housed in the crown this is a customisable control that can be set to enact various actions. At the event Apple showed it being used to change sport when engaged in a multisport activity and activate a custom siren, which Apple claims is loud enough to be heard 180m away.

Apple Watch Ultra (6)
Apple Watch Ultra action button

The Ultra features longer battery and a more advanced GPS

The Ultra also features “the longest battery” ever seen in an Apple Watch, with the firm quoting it as offering 36 hours regular use (GPS) and 60 hours if you take advantage of the wearable’s new low power mode. The Watch 8 by comparison only features a quoted “all day” battery life.

GPS and sports tracking is also more advanced on the Ultra. For starters it features more advanced distance tracking featuring an advanced compass with “precision views” for things like your campsite and a track back feature. The latter works like the feature we tested on the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro and uses the more advanced GPS to automatically plot markers on your route that you can then follow back if lost.

The Ultra offers more advanced fitness and dive tracking

Apple’s loaded the Ultra with a number of activity and dive tracking powers you won’t find on the Watch 8. Highlights include more advanced heart rate zone tracking, Running Form and Running Power. The heart rate zones look similar to what you’ll find on recent Garmin tracker and the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro, offering tailored breakdowns of how long you spent in each zone during your workout and what benefits it brought.

Running Form is a similar feature to the coaching service seen on the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro that aims to identify and help you fix issues with your technique. Running Power aims 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.

For divers the 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.

Outside of this they share the same core internals

Despite the design differences, outside of its fitness tracking services the Ultra and Watch 8 share the same core DNA. Both run using the same silicon and WatchOS 9 software. This means you’ll get the same consumer app library and wellness features on both. Highlights include advanced heart rate monitoring, ECG and Blood Oxygen tracking, plus Apple’s new woman’s health/fertility temperature tracking as well as fall and crash detection.

Apple Watch Ultra vs Apple Watch 8 specs

You can see a breakdown of the Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch 8’s confirmed specs and features in the table below.

UK RRP
USA RRP
EU RRP
CA RRP
AUD RRP
Manufacturer
Screen Size
IP rating
Waterproof
Size (Dimensions)
Weight
Operating System
Release Date
Colours
GPS

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