A few days ago, I was in Hauz Khas neighbourhood in Delhi where I lost count of folks sporting the Apple Watch Ultra, regardless of their athletic mindset. Forget Delhi, more and more people I meet are wearing the Ultra. There are a few reasons behind it. First, the Apple Watch has been motivating users for years now and it’s time for an upgrade to something bigger and greater. Second, battery life is long enough to attract new customers. Third, it’s smart wearable luxe that distinguishes itself from the many smartwatches in the market. I am the kind of person who goes on coffee runs rather than the activity many look forward to every morning… something to do with parks and tracks, yet, I would like to have the Ultra.
The ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness depending on the situation and change happens quickly
The latest version is Apple Watch Ultra 2, which I have been testing for 10-odd days. In terms of design, it’s almost the same as the first edition but there is a big upgrade when it comes to the chipset. Here’s the deal. There are millions and millions of Apple Watch users globally who wanted to see how the Ultra performs in the first year before opting for one. Second, when you buy an Apple Watch, you don’t need to upgrade every year or even two or three years. Plenty of users who bought an Apple Watch three-four years ago will upgrade this year and they may opt for the Ultra 2 (in case they want something different, there is the new Apple Watch Series 9). Third, you can get a lot out of the Ultra 2 and it’s definitely evolving to be the do-it-all Apple Watch rather than just a pure sports watch. And this is where the Ultra 2 leans into Sir Jony Ive’s (the former chief design office of Apple) original idea of the Apple Watch — smartness meets smartwatch.
Brightens up the day
You have a good degree of customizability with the widget stack
The Ultra 2 comes in 49 millimeter size and the casing is eco-friendly. It’s an interesting aspect of the new watch. The latest edition paired with an Alpine Loop or Trail Loop features 95 per cent recycled titanium, compared with no recycled titanium in the first Apple Watch Ultra. There is a new logo on Apple Watch Ultra 2 packaging that indicates models that are carbon neutral.
It’s the biggest and most durable Apple Watch you can buy but it’s also the brightest screen on any Apple device, hitting a maximum 3,000 nits. You read that right. It’s one thing to say 3,000 nits but it’s very difficult to explain the actual benefits. Visit a store and use the flashlight on the Ultra side by side the Ultra 2. You can give brightness a boost by turning the digital Crown. Remember, 3,000 nits is extremely bright for an AMOLED display even in super bright conditions. It’s incredibly easy to see your workout metrics if you’re, say, open-water swimming or you’re in a high glare environment.
Also note, the new display can reduce to a minimum brightness of just one nit so that it can be used at night. It reduces battery consumption drastically, allowing the watch to use extra battery power in other departments. Why is this required? If you wear the Ultra 2 to sleep, you don’t want to dazzle your partner with a bright screen at 2am. I didn’t have any issues about the brightness or the dimness of the screen on the original Ultra and things only get better with the Ultra 2.
The Ultra 2 shares the same brand new S9 SiP as the Series 9 and that helps bring to life a new double tap gesture and on-device Siri processing with the ability to access and log health data privately and securely. Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a new four-core Neural Engine that can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast as the original Apple Watch Ultra.
The double tap feature at work; look at the icon on top of the screen
First, a disclaimer. The new double tap feature is coming this month but I had the opportunity to experience it at the launch of the device in Cupertino. With double tap gesture, users can easily control Ultra 2 using just one hand and without touching the display. Basically, tap the index finger and thumb of the watch hand together twice to quickly perform many of the most common actions on the Ultra 2, like skip tracks, reply to a message, start timers and countless other features. When you are carrying packets or walking the dog, one hand remains occupied and that’s where double tap comes into play.
Precision Finding on the Apple Watch is similar to how you find AirTags with your phone. It first gives you an estimate of how far you are away from the phone
You can see an icon at the top of the screen to show double tap has been invoked. There are dozens of different actions you can do in first-party apps and for third-party apps it will generally perform the default action. Sounds like Assistive Touch? That’s been on the Apple Watch for a while. Double tap builds on that but it is a separate feature that’s on by default and in my experience, it’s very accurate. Once the feature is available, we will have a review of it as far as the workout app is concerned.
Siri, always around
Charge the Apple Watch Ultra 2 with your iPhone 15
The new chip also supports on-device Siri, so you can ask for more things but most importantly if you’re outdoors you can use it with no Internet connection. For example, to start a workout or setting a timer, Siri does not rely on Wi-Fi or cellular networks, resulting in quicker and more reliable responses. The powerful Neural Engine also makes dictation up to 25 per cent more accurate. Say you’re on a trail with no signal, you can now add a waypoint or mark a segment with your voice. You’ll also be able to ask Siri for health data but that doesn’t roll out until later in the year. For example, a user can ask how many hours of sleep they had the previous night or for progress on closing their Activity rings.
I did a couple of tests side by side with the first Ultra to see a tangible difference in performance. Message dictation is faster but the biggest upside is the level of accuracy, especially with my Kal Kahn accent.
Where is my iPhone 15?
The second-generation Ultra Wideband chip allows you to find things, notably your phone. More importantly, you can do it based on proximity to the device. Precision Finding offers distance and direction, as well as visual, haptic, and audio guidance to a misplaced iPhone 15, even if it’s in a different room or a user doesn’t remember where it’s been stowed. Once the Ultra 2 is within Bluetooth range it’ll go ahead and give you the exact directions to find the missing device.
In terms of watchOS 10
It’s difficult to look at Ultra 2 without talking about watchOS 10 because it brings a lot of updates that address what we wanted on the first generation Ultra. There are two cycling features that come in watchOS 10. The first is support for Bluetooth accessories like power meter pedals and the other one is seeing your live activity on the iPhone screen so it essentially can replace a bike computer.
A new logo on Apple Watch Ultra 2 packaging indicates models that are carbon neutral
If you have power meter pedals, you can connect to the Ultra 2 through Bluetooth settings. Jump on the bike and start a cycling workout. You’re going to see a live activity pop up on the iPhone screen; tap and all your data will be before you. If you have an accessory connected it’s going to support things like functional threshold power as well as your cadence and your power zones as well. You can learn about the power of your cycling workouts by viewing Power Zone information on your Apple Watch. Power Zones are based on an estimate of your functional threshold power (FTP)—available after you connect your Apple Watch to Bluetooth-enabled cycling accessories. By monitoring your Power Zone, you can make your cycling workouts more efficient and challenge yourself to improve your fitness.
The biggest advantage may not necessarily be only data, it’s a safety feature because when you’re on a bike, the last thing you want to do is keep raising your wrist to see workout stats.
I am usually fine with having any watch face but this year, there is something special — Modular Ultra. It’s very well designed. You can have the time nice and big if you don’t want all the complications in the middle. You can change what metric appears around the edge of the display with seconds, depth or elevation. It’s a watch face that can offer you the most complications, customised for sports, outdoor adventures, and ocean and water activities. A mention should also be made of night mode on this watch face; the watch face now activates automatically using the ambient light sensor, so you don’t need to turn the digital Crown to activate it.
All that battery power
You must be wondering why not a Garmin, which has fantastic battery life. First, having the Ultra 2 is a bit like having an iPhone on the wrist, which means you can do many things from the watch without having to take out the phone. Second, what matters to you most: Finding joy in undertaking an activity while changing from one Bruce Springsteen album to another without making compromises on data that Apple Watch constantly offers or to be just given multiple data points that Garmin is known for? Gym, outdoor runs, pub runs, social events… the Ultra 2 blends in perfectly.There’s not much new on battery life as the Ultra 2 lasts the same as before. The official rating is up to 36 hours with regular use but I found I can get almost 2.5 days out of the Ultra with lighter use, something like one to two short workouts, no music playback and no tracking sleep. There is a low power mode that has a couple of different ways you can calculate run time, and it can take battery life to 72 hours.
Should you buy it?
Like the first Ultra, this too charges up fast. And like the first generation, the Ultra 2 has a customisable action button, siren, fall and car crash detection, ECG, temperature sensor, diving features, precision dual-frequency GPS, and built-in LTE. It shares the same heart rate sensor, so accuracy is excellent.
The Ultra 2 has expanded operating altitude so it can go deeper and higher. Skydiving anybody? The big question is should I upgrade from the first Ultra? The answer is simple: Ultra 2 is not exactly meant for those who are already using the original Ultra but it can make a world of a difference if you are looking to upgrade from a two/three-year-old Apple Watch; for them, it will be a compelling upgrade.
The Ultra 2 gets sleep tracking right and it comes with 64GB storage, which is a big deal, especially for offline music. It has been designed for extremes and has been tested for use across the largest range of altitudes for any Apple product, from 500 meters below sea level and up to 9,000 metres. You can even charge it using the iPhone 15. Thank you USB-C.
Many people who are buying an Apple Watch are new to the platform. And they will certainly be awed by this lean, green, fitness machine.