Apple Watch Ultra

The Apple Watch Ultra stole the show at Apple’s September 2022 iPhone event, introducing a new tier of wearable for adventurers, divers, and extreme sports fans. Even if you don’t need it, there are some compelling reasons you might still want an Apple Watch Ultra.

Up to 36 Hours Battery Life

The Apple Watch Ultra is the biggest Apple Watch the company has ever made. As a result, there’s more room in the chassis for the battery. This means Apple has been able to increase the standard quoted battery life on a single charge from 18 hours on the Series 8 to 36 hours on the Ultra.

This figure applies when you’re in the proximity of an iPhone and not doing an awful lot. If you’re using the Watch away from your iPhone on LTE/4G alone, that drops to 18 hours. This is still impressive, considering the Series 8 only manages that when paired with an iPhone all day long.

But there’s more, with a new battery optimization feature arriving later in 2022 that could see as much as 60 hours on a single charge.

Large New 49mm Case With a Better Display

The Apple Watch Ultra is a chunky wearable with a new 49mm case size (up from the 41mm and 45mm options available for the standard Series 8). On top of this, it features a new flat sapphire front crystal display which Apple claims will help better protect the glass.

Apple Watch Ultra

Apple claims you’ll get 27% more screen area than the Apple Watch SE, but only 7% more than the Series 8, which now has an edge-to-edge display with tiny bezels. If the 45mm Apple Watch Series 7 or 8 already feels big, consider trying out the Ultra at an Apple Store before you open your wallet.

In addition to the width, the Apple Watch Ultra is also heavier and thicker than the Series 8. It’s 61.3g compared to 38.8g on the 45mm aluminum model (or 51.5g on the stainless steel model). It’s also 14.4mm thick compared to 10.7mm thick on both models of Series 8.

In addition to the screen’s size, it’s designed to be more readable in extreme conditions. Apple Watch Ultra features a “Night Mode” with a glowing red display and black background that’s easier to read in low light conditions. And, to be more readable in direct sunlight, the display can be twice as bright as any Apple Watch at 2000 nits.

Apple Watch Ultra's night mode.

A Rugged Titanium Body

If you’re a fan of Apple’s titanium finish on the Series 7 and earlier, you may be disappointed to hear that the Series 8 only comes in aluminum and stainless steel. If you want a titanium watch, you’ll need to opt for the larger and more expensive Ultra instead.

Apple Watch Ultra titanium case

In addition to an ultra hard-wearing titanium case, the Ultra has seen a bit of a design overhaul with new raised edges to protect the display from knocks, flat glass, and a larger notched Digital Crown for easier use while wearing gloves. The new design looks a bit more aggressive and sporty, though remains practical in terms of its intended use.

Three New Bands

The Apple Watch Ultra is compatible with existing Apple Watch bands, at least it is if you have a 44mm or 45mm Apple Watch (there’s no specific mention of the Apple Watch 42mm). On top of this, Apple has designed three “new” bands for the Apple Watch ultra, each with a particular activity in mind.

There’s the Alpine Loop, a band that Apple has designed for “outdoor adventurers” that promises to be comfortable and rugged. It uses a titanium fastener that Apple terms the “G-hook” to secure the Apple Watch Ultra to your wrist. It’s available in dark green, bright orange, and off-white “starlight” finishes.

Apple Watch Ultra band selection

Also available is the Trail Loop, Apple’s light and stretchy band designed for “endurance athletes” that closely resembles the existing sports loop. You can quickly slip it on or off and make small adjustments using the velcro design. Apple claims it’s the thinnest band they’ve ever designed, available in blue-gray, black-gray, and yellow-beige finishes.

Finally, there’s the rubberized Ocean Band, designed for water sports like swimming and diving. It has a titanium buckle that’s adjustable for a secure yet comfortable fit. Apple has designed the band to stretch and flex, perfect for slipping over a wet suit. This one comes in “midnight” black, white, and yellow finishes.

All three designs match the natural titanium finish of the Apple Watch Ultra at the point of fastening.

More Accurate GPS Performance

More accurate GPS performance means more accurate metrics about your performance, which is why Apple has included dual-frequency (L1 and L5) GPS functionality in the Apple Watch Ultra. The newer L5 GPS frequency provides better performance in sub-optimal conditions where trees, tall buildings, or dense bushland can interfere with reception.

This can help both in the wilderness when hiking through the woods or when tracking a run through the urban jungle. It’s perfect for hikers, cyclists, and runners who are looking for even more precise measurements, regardless of where they are in the world.

100m Water Resistance

Regular “dumb” watches have had 100m (and more) water resistance for a long time, but it’s taken Apple a decade to bring the feature to its wearable. The Apple Watch Ultra doubles the 50m water resistance seen on the Series 8 to 100m, complete with a depth gauge (on the Depth app) and water temperature sensor.

Apple Watch Ultra Depth app

Just like the Series 8, the Ultra also has IPX6 dust resistance against particle ingress.

A Dedicated Action Button

Perhaps the most radical design decision Apple made was to add a new button on the left side of the Apple Watch Ultra, termed the Action button. This button can be programmed to do a variety of things, including controlling your current workout, setting a compass waypoint, starting specific apps, setting your heading during a dive, and more.

Apple Watch Ultra Action button

This button is big and bold, easy to hit while wearing gloves, and very visible due to its bright orange color. It’s also used to trigger another new feature.

A Siren to Draw Attention

You can press and hold the Action button to trigger an 86-decibel siren on the Apple Watch Ultra. This is ideal for attracting attention in thick bushland or deep snow, whether you’ve become separated from your friends or you’re waiting to be rescued.

This siren makes use of the new dual-speaker setup, which also includes a triple microphone array. This gives you enough volume to be found by emergency services but also better audio input and output when making phone calls, taking voice memos, and talking to Siri.

Cellular as Standard

With an Apple Watch Ultra, you don’t need to decide whether or not to opt for the cellular model since cellular is included as standard. You’ll need to make sure your carrier of choice supports this service, and you may even be charged a small extra fee per month to use it (though you can make good use of the Ultra without cellular if you can’t access the feature).

Apple’s decision to opt for cellular on all models presents an interesting choice if you were already considering a high-end Series 8 with LTE. The stainless steel cellular 45mm Series 8 with Sports Band costs $749, while the Ultra is only $50 more at $799.

A Dive Computer on Your Wrist (Coming Later)

Apple will also be launching an app called Oceanic+ which requires a subscription and turns your Apple Watch Ultra into a fully-fledged dive computer on your wrist. It’s rated for scuba and free diving down to 40 meters, allowing you to plan your dive, get instructions and warnings, and see post-dive data that’s saved to your logbook.

Apple Watch Ultra Oceanic+ subscription app

You don’t necessarily have to use Oceanic+ to make use of your Apple Watch Ultra underwater, though, as the new Depth app is included on all models and is ideal for snorkeling and swimming to see how far you’ve dived and how long you’ve spent underwater. It will even activate automatically each time you submerge.

Don’t Forget the Series 8

While the Apple Watch Ultra may be desirable, the Apple Watch Series 8 is still a better fit for most use cases. It’s cheaper, lighter, packs in new temperature and sensors for use with Crash Detection, and there are more color options and bands available.

Apple also announced the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro at the same event. They’re also useful for being out in the wilderness with their new emergency SOS via satellite feature.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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