Apple Watch Ultra review roundup: Not just for extremophiles


Apple Watch Ultra review roundup: For extremophiles
The Apple Watch Ultra is for those looking for adventure.
Photo: Apple

The first reviews of the Apple Watch Ultra praise the rugged smartwatch’s large display, its new Action button and its longer battery life. But a debate brews about whether the wearable is too big — there seems to be no agreement on this.

Anyone considering whether Apple’s sports-oriented smartwatch is right for them should read on. As the reviewers point out, this isn’t just for fans of outdoor adventure.

Apple Watch Ultra reviews

Unveiled earlier this month at Apple’s Far Out event, Apple Watch Ultra is the company’s boldest smartwatch yet. The bulkier design — the first to really stray from the look of the original Apple Watch — brings new features aimed at endurance athletes and adventurers. However, it also appeals to smartwatch lovers who crave a bigger screen and extended battery life.

Apple Watch Ultra arrives in stores Friday. Here’s what the first reviews say.

Yes, it’s big, but it feels smaller than expected

Apple Watch Ultra certainly isn't small.
Apple’s latest wearable isn’t small.
Photo: Apple

The Apple Watch Ultra is undeniably a hefty device. But several reviewers says it’s not too large. “In photos, the Watch Ultra dwarfs my wrist. In person, it feels smaller than some of the 45mm to 47mm round watches I’ve tested,” said The Verge review.

“When taking the Ultra out of the box for the first time, I thought it was going to be too large and heavy for my wrist. But it’s deceptively light to wear, thanks to its titanium construction,” noted the CNET reviewer.

Not everyone agrees, though. “The 49mm titanium watch face looks ridiculously large on my wrist,” the CNBC reviewer wrote. “I realize the big size is the tradeoff for a longer-lasting battery, but the Ultra just doesn’t feel like it was created for a woman’s wrist.”

Even the reviews with positive comments on the size also noted that the device will be too large for some people.

Love that super-size screen

The Ultra features specially designed watch faces that take advantage of the additional area.
The Ultra features specially designed watch faces that take advantage of the additional area.
Photo: Apple

As noted, the Apple Watch Ultra’s case measures 49mm. That means this is the largest Watch screen Apple has ever made … part of the reason the wearable is so bulky.

“The display has increased to nearly two inches across and is far brighter, so the extra information you can see is beautifully legible,” noted TechRadar.

“The larger screen is great for readability,” said The Verge. “I’ve got bad eyesight, and a big screen means I can crank up the font size so it’s easier to read.

Multiday battery life

The large size makes room for a bigger battery, and the Apple Watch Ultra runs for longer times between recharges. In fact, one review said the battery performs even better than advertised.

“The Ultra’s 36-hour battery estimate is also a bit conservative; if you’re not partaking in a triathlon, you’re likely going to get closer to 48 hours. And that’s without low-power mode enabled,” said The Verge review.

Many reviewers didn’t do battery life testing, just quoting Apple’s estimate.

Ready. Set. Action!

A highlight of the Apple Watch Ultra is the new bright orange Action button that performs different functions in different apps.

“Next to the larger capacity battery, this is my favorite new hardware feature on the Ultra. It’s going to be hard to go back to an Apple Watch Series without one,” said CNET.

TechRadar called it “a big orange symbol of change that the Apple Watch was in desperate need of.”

Climb every mountain. Ford every stream.

Apple Watch Ultra: For extremophiles: Apple Watch Ultra includes a wayfinder, elevation tracker and an 86-decibel siren.
Apple Watch Ultra includes a wayfinder, an elevation tracker and an 86-decibel siren.
Image: Apple

The features covered up until now would help any user, including those planning to wear the device to nothing more grueling than a meeting. But that’s not the target audience of the Apple Watch Ultra. Apple’s video preview shows people climbing mountains and running through deserts while using the wearable.

The Ultra features dual-frequency L1+L5 GPS for more accurate location tracking. TechRadar tested that feature in a dense, urban environment. “While there were a few moments where apparently we plunged through buildings, most of the time it tracked us to sidewalks even under heavy tree cover, or spotted us changing sides of the road,” the publication wrote.

The Compass app allows users to mark waypoints they want to remember the location of. Backtrack can be used to return on the same route. The Verge tested these features during a hike in the mountains.

“I dropped Waypoints in the area where we parked, the state park visitor center, and several restrooms, and the Compass app showed the distance and direction back to each,” noted its reviewer. “I mostly didn’t need Backtrack — which helps you retrace your exact route — but I was happy to have it when we briefly got lost.”

But this is Apple’s first attempt at a Watch for extreme athletes, and it’s not yet ready to go toe-to-toe with companies with years of experience.

“The Ultra might not match the sports and mapping features on a higher-end Garmin, Coros or Polar watch, but the tight integration with iPhone might be worth more to you,” said CNET.

Video reviews

Marques Brownlee got more than two days and two nights of use out of the Ultra. He talks about this and more in his video review.

And CNET published a video review in addition to its written one.

Apple Watch Ultra is available now

The Apple Watch Ultra starts at $799, and can be preordered now from the online Apple store. The only version has a 49mm display, is made of titanium and has built-on LTE wireless networking.

That’s much more than the base model Apple Watch Series 8 costs, but it’s the same price as the titanium Apple Watch Series 7 despite the additional features.

Shipments are scheduled to begin September 23, but Apple has sold out of its prelaunch supply. An order placed today won’t arrive before the week of November 3.


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