There are two things that Apple has managed to do, in one fine swoop, with the Apple Watch Ultra. The existing Apple Watch users finally have an upgrade to move on with. Secondly, this makes an even bigger lifestyle statement. An aspirational twist too if you may. But the real reason Apple made the Watch Ultra is to have a proper rugged wearable, weaning away the traditional Garmin smartwatch users, for instance. The two scenarios we’ve illustrated, are incidental.

You’ll know almost immediately, the seriousness of this quest. This is a big Apple Watch, there are no two ways about it (luckily, we love big watch dials, and this is right up our alleyway). It’s more rugged and durable. At least that’s what Apple insists is the case. There’s a configurable action button on the Watch Ultra, which should get you going with outdoor activities quickly.

Also Read: Is Garmin Epix 2 the definitive smartwatch for activity tracking, for now?

Battery life has been seriously upgraded – spoiler alert, it is double the stamina compared with other Apple Watch iterations. Mind you, it is fairly standard for the Apple Watch Series 8 to get through a day and a half of usage with ease, on a single charge. The Watch Ultra, with its bigger battery, does a full day more. That’s not just positive news for the outdoors, but also gets you more versatility with sleep tracking without having to rush to juice it up again, either side of the bedtime.

It is designed for the extreme fitness audience, complete with a rugged titanium case and stronger sapphire crystal display. Perhaps you wouldn’t have to adorn this screen with a protector, while staying awake at night with worry and eventually buying an Apple Care pack. There’s the IPX6 dust resistance and the water resistance rating of up to 100 meters.

If you look closely enough, you’ll notice that unlike other Apple Watch generations that have always used displays that curve around the edges, the Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t. That’s to give it more protection from possible side impacts and keep a thick enough layer of the titanium bezel on all sides.

Even if you are comfortable with the 45mm size of the Apple Watch (that’s the biggest in that portfolio), this is still heftier. We quite like how the Watch Ultra is sculpted – the extended positioning of the crown and Action Button, as well as the strap accessories, of which there are many (Alpine Loop and Ocean Band really stand out, while the Trail Loop is a bit muted in a visual comparison).

The biggest advantage of the 49mm size is a big screen, which is ideal for quick glances on the metrics while in the middle of outdoor activity. And this is a much brighter display too, visibly so.

While it is visually the biggest standout element of the Watch Ultra, replete in the International Orange, the Action Button does a lot of things and is customizable. You can configure this to launch an app on the Watch Ultra (Workout, Shortcuts, Flashlight, for instance; support for third-party apps comes later in the year). Within each app that already works with the Action button, there is a second layer of controls once the app is opened.

If you’re out and about on a trek, for instance, this can be used to mark waypoints on the compass and then deploy backtrack to retrace your steps. Pressing and holding this activates the emergency siren (that’s incredibly loud, mind you, at more than 80 decibels). It did elicit some worried looks from the unsuspecting folks nearby, who were subjected to our real-world test of a fairly powerful distress warning.

Apple is hoping to eliminate navigation dark zones with the inclusion of the precision dual-frequency GPS (this uses L1 and L5 frequencies) in the Watch Ultra. We were not able to test this out in our experience, because nowhere we took this (urban areas or the comparative wilderness) had any issues with GPS reception on any of our other devices either.

And that neatly takes us to the features we haven’t been able to test, which is the depth gauge and the diving functionality. There’s a water temperature sensor as well, which adds to the data such as duration under water and the maximum depth achieved.

This brings us to the next question. Is the Apple Watch Ultra as serious as a Garmin Epix 2, for instance, on three critical aspects?

First and foremost, is the battery life. If you’re one of those real enthusiasts who probably head out for hiking, trekking, or rafting for a week at a stretch, the Garmin watches (including the Epix 2) make more sense because of the longer stamina. But anything that falls within the Watch Ultra’s 36-hour (or 60-hours with the upcoming Low Power mode), your choice widens.

Second, the connectivity options. The Watch Ultra only comes with cellular connectivity (replicating your phone’s eSIM is the way to go to remove the connectivity tether with the iPhone), which should add value for some users. Garmin doesn’t offer that option just yet, which may just be a welcome break from the incessant connectivity in our lives.

Then there’s the utility of built-in maps to track your outdoor activity (the advanced GPS should help) with the standout feature being Backtrack, to retrace your steps through the unknown (even with no cellular or GPS connectivity – that’s the real value-add). Garmin watches have a slightly more complex way of getting maps (and subsequent updates) in place on the watch.

We do step away from the Apple Watch Ultra review with one key observation – it is getting there in terms of being a rugged, multisport and multiactivity watch for the enthusiasts. But it is not there just yet – the more focused rugged multisport watches still give more data (though the argument here could be easing the complexity for the wider demographic), and also mostly have much longer battery life to go with it.

That said, nothing (not even Garmin’s slick Epix 2) comes close to the Apple Watch Ultra in terms of the ease of use – that’s a mix of the watchOS, the interface, data that’s put forward without complexity and the Action Button which brings a lot of tasks within the realms of a single-click.

Mind you, the Apple Watch Ultra does look expensive when the 89,900 price tag flashes in front of you. Compared with the Garmin Epix 2 (that’s 1,11,990), the Watch Ultra offers significantly more versatility. And when compared with the Suunto 9 Peak (around 74,999), the Watch Ultra has a lot more available on tap.

The thing is, the Apple Watch Ultra will not just be incredibly comfortable outdoors. It’ll also make a pretty solid style statement the rest of the time too. A nice thing to show off, for a tech enthusiast with a healthy paycheck. A slick wearable for the party this weekend. It is that, we suspect, will make up the larger chunk of the demographic who’ll splurge on an Apple Watch Ultra. The outdoor sport routine comes along, incidentally.


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