Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review: The Apple Watch I’d Buy Isn’t the One I Need

Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review: The Apple Watch I’d Buy Isn’t the One I Need

  • The best display in a smartwatch.

  • A too conservative evolution, even for Apple.

  • Some positive autonomy surprises.

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Apple Watch Ultra 2

In 2022, I tested the Apple Watch Ultra, a device that marks a before and after in the Apple Watch family. I proposed the review with specialized sportsmen to check the new features related to the dual-frequency GPS, diving modes, etc.

A year later, Apple presented a minor evolution, so it makes sense to focus this article on what has changed and what has not. I’ll tell you in advance that there aren’t too many advances, although there are some arguments for betting on the new generation.


APPLE WATCH ULTRA 2 (2023)

CASE

49 mm

Sapphire crystal

Ceramic back

Titanium frame

DISPLAY

Retina LTPO OLED

1.99 inches

3,000 nits peak brightness

502 x 410 pixels

PROCESSOR

Apple S9 SiP

4-core Neural Engine

PowerVR GPU

STORAGE

32GB

OPERATING SYSTEM

watchOS 10

CONNECTIVITY

eSIM

WiFi 5

Bluetooth 5.3 LE

NFC

Chip U2 (UWB)

SENSORS

SpO2

Optical heart rate sensor

ECG

Accelerometer

Gyroscope

Altimeter

Dual-frequency GPS

Compass

Ambient light sensor

VO2max

Temperature sensor

WATER RESISTANCE

IP6X Certification

100 meters

MIL-STD 810 military certification

Recreational diving up to 40 meters

BATTERY

36 hours of autonomy

Up to 72 hours in economy mode

OTHERS

Emergency call function

Fall detection

Car accident detection

Triple microphone

Customizable rotating crown

PRICE

$799

Apple Watch Ultra 2 [GPS + Cellular 49mm] Smartwatch with Rugged Titanium Case & Blue Alpine Loop Large. Fitness Tracker, Precision GPS, Action Button, Extra-Long Battery Life, Carbon Neutral

Design and Display: Smartwatch Excellence

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The Apple Watch Ultra is still a reference in terms of design and display. On the first aspect, there is not much to say: this watch is the same as last year. The case is of titanium, which makes it particularly shock resistant. The right side has room for the crown and the main button, while the left is reserved for the action button. The only change from last year is that everything is made of 95% recycled materials.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 case Don’t expect any design changes with the Apple Watch Ultra 2. There are none.

If you’re wondering if there’s a noticeable difference between recycled and non-recycled materials, the answer is no. How much effort Apple puts into achieving carbon neutrality is another matter. But from a user’s perspective, this watch is just as premium as last year’s.

The screen and bezel are at the same height, which makes it easy to hit the panel during workouts. Fortunately, the panel layer is sapphire, and after a year of using the Apple Watch Ultra, I can guarantee that it’s impossible to get even the slightest scratch on it.

It is still a huge watch and not for all wrists. The weight is not annoying, but the width is one of its weak points compared to some of its direct competitors. The orientation is sporty, and the design contributes to the robustness. Nevertheless, I would have appreciated more effort to reduce the width.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 display The 3,000 nits of the panel are a joy.

As for the screen, the main innovation is the brightness. This year, it goes up to 3,000 nits, the highest ever for a smartwatch. Is this noticeable compared to the 2,000 nits of the Apple Watch Ultra? Slightly. The previous model looked great in the sun, and the new generation improves the display even more in harsh lighting conditions. Note that the automatic brightness work is simply perfect, quickly adjusting to ambient light and being able to go down to 1 nit, better than many LTPO panels we see in top phones.

The oleophobic layer still has room for improvement. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a watch that gets fingerprints easily, and in a product with a price tag of almost $1,000, it's a little annoying to wear it dirty all the time.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 fabric strap The trail loop is still as beautiful as it is easy to get dirty.

This Apple Watch Ultra 2 comes with the new Loop Trail strap in orange and beige. It is carbon neutral, comfortable to wear, and made of nylon. I also got to test the Alpine Loop in blue. These fabric straps are especially eye-catching. However, they take a while to dry.

Action Button Is Still Imperfect

Apple Watch Ultra’s action button

Last year, I criticized the Apple Watch Ultra’s action button. It is easy to press it accidentally when we practice sports that require an Olympic bar (by bending the wrist too much, it ends up pressing the button). Similarly, its operation could be much improved. Nothing has changed about this button, so my position remains the same.

The main function of this button is to provide direct access to essential functions such as workouts, stopwatch, flashlight, landmark marking, etc. In my case, I use it as a button to activate the workout because it is a quick way to achieve this purpose.

The operation of the action button could be improved. There is not much consistency in what it does when pressed.

The main problem is that there is still nonsense as the action button starts a workout but not being able to stop it. When we are exercising and press the button, it marks a segment. Except for running and interval training, this is a very useless feature.

The action button is still an interesting addition to activate shortcuts, start functions quickly, and save time. But considering that we are talking about Apple, the margin for improvement in usability is still too extensive.

Performance and Health: An Undisputed Industry Leader

Apple Watch Ultra’s display

Performance is one of the considerable changes in the Apple Watch Ultra 2. After years of the Apple S8, this new generation debuts the S9 SiP. This processor has a new dual-core CPU with 60% more transistors than the previous generation. It also debuts a neural engine up to twice as fast.

The actual translation is that the response is even more immediate than before. If the Apple Watch Ultra is fast, the Ultra 2 is the next level. App opening times, menu navigation, interface fluidity... This watch is on par with an iPhone 15 Pro Max in terms of user experience and is the most powerful smartwatch now. The internal memory has also been doubled to 64GB.

Apple Watch Ultra’s different screens

As usual with Apple Watch, health monitoring is accurate and easy to use at the interface level. It is a wrist computer that continually connects data from the Health and Fitness apps between the iPhone and Apple Watch.

The main new feature is the next-generation Ultra Wideband (UW2) chip, also found in the iPhone 15 family. This means that when we use the Apple Watch Ultra 2 with one of the latest iPhones, we get a much more accurate mobile search.

The new UWB 2 chip for precision search is useful... but with the audible warning, we performed the same function (a little less comfortably).

Again, a detail that I consider testimonial and unimportant since the sound search that we have had for years is usually more than enough (although not as accurate and colorful in terms of interface as this new high-precision search).

Another great new element is the double-tap gesture. This feature has been confused with the accessibility mode, which does something similar, though not the same (in fact, it is even more limited). This new double-tap mode is only available on the Ultra 2 and its sibling, the Series 9. By bringing the index finger and thumb together twice, we can perform different actions.

  • Open the Smart Group from any watch face and scroll through its widgets.
  • Answer and end phone calls.
  • View a message in a notification, scroll through longer notifications by double-tapping again, answer with voice dictation, and send a message.
  • Pause, resume, and stop a timer.
  • Pause and resume a chronometer.
  • Snooze an alarm.
  • Play and pause music, podcasts, and audiobooks.
  • Switch to the new elevation view in the Compass app.
  • Take a picture with an iPhone using the remote camera in the Camera app.
  • Start or stop automatic workout reminders.
  • Perform the main actions of notifications, such as replying to a received message in a messaging app and moving reminders, even in third-party software.

How does the Apple Watch know when we touch our fingers? The new Neural Engine processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and heart rate sensor. All these sensors work together, and the watch’s algorithm can detect these small movements, as well as changes in blood flow caused by bringing both fingers together.

From a technical point of view, this is a pretty spectacular feature, and it is quite helpful when performing particular actions, such as answering a call, quickly pausing music, or snoozing an alarm. However, it is an “on/off” function that only allows us to turn things on and off, while the accessibility mode lets us navigate the entire interface.

Playing Sports With the Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Watch Ultra 2 measures

I will be brief in this section as there is not much new regarding sports measurement. In my case, I practice functional sports daily, so I use it to monitor my daily workouts. I also asked my colleague Javier Lacort, a regular runner, to share some screenshots with me to re-evaluate the accuracy of the GPS. But before talking about metrics, we must point out something.

I’ve run into the same problems I had last year: there are third-party apps that continue to outperform the Apple Watch’s native apps. My colleague Lacort had to do a measurement cycle with the Apple app (something he never does) to show you this data since he uses third-party apps.

Apple needs to improve its native workouts. Third-party apps for mainstream sports like running or hiking are better.

For example, while we have dedicated modes for running or hiking, they are far from what apps like WorkOutDoors or Strava can offer. It is also not as complete when it comes to measuring recovery when compared to apps like Athlytic.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 graphics The graphics are still very complete, although it is time to take a leap forward.

While the Apple Watch is one of the most complete and accurate trackers of active calories, altitude, elevation, etc. for various sports, it needs specialized applications for the most popular sports.

As someone who makes a living typing in front of a PC (with the constant wrist movements that typing entails), I’ve got a recurring problem: it imitates steps and movements.

For years, I’ve seen the watch congratulate me on reaching my goal of standing... sitting in my desk chair. I’m also aware that it counts more steps than I made (there are days when I can barely move and I’ve reached my goal of burning 300 calories, which is simply impossible).

Apple Watch Ultra 2 running maps

As for the dual-band GPS, it is still spectacularly accurate. It can accurately detect the terrain where we are exercising and later recall the areas where we have been. One of the advantages of the Apple Watch is that it automatically detects whether we are walking or running, making it easier to activate the training mode.

A minor but annoying and curious bug I have had with the Apple Watch for years is that it recognizes my bike rides as bike workouts. I start riding, and after a few seconds, I get the notification: "It looks like you're exercising." Despite the anecdote, it is always appreciated when the watch recognizes our movement to start the measurements.

Autonomy: The Best Battery on an Apple Watch

Apple Watch Ultra 2 autonomy

Apple promises up to 36 hours of use with the Apple Watch Ultra 2 or over a day. In my experience, the number goes further, closer to three days of regular use and up to a week of use if we use the Low Power mode. Apple Watch OS, like WearOS, is an operating system with its applications, so the power consumption of watches with these systems is always high.

Low Power mode changes everything. It is possible to reach a week of intensive use without depriving us of notifications or measurements.

As with the previous model, the Low Power Mode is still a stroke of genius on this watch, as it inactivates the always-on mode, limits connections (all notifications are still received), and measures health-related parameters less frequently (although it still measures 24 hours a day). In other words, it reduces the measurement load a bit in exchange for .... double the autonomy.

I’ve been traveling a lot these months, and it is a relief to leave home knowing I won’t have to go to the charger for four or five days. I have been using, in a very stable way, 30% per day. If you are one of those people who turn the watch off at night to sleep, we are talking about 20% per day, which is enough for a week’s use without having to go into sleep mode.

As for charging times, it takes just over an hour and a half to charge. I do not miss faster charge since I usually charge it at night when it has about 20% left, although it is still one of the aspects to improve.

Apple Watch Ultra 2, Xataka’s Opinion

Apple Watch Ultra 2 aps

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is an evolution that is, in my opinion, too much of a continuum. As a user of Apple ecosystem products, I have no problem with modest evolutions. However, the feeling with this watch is practically the same as I had until a few weeks ago with the Apple Watch Ultra.

The main new features have to do with a faster processor, which is appreciated, but we already had a pretty fast Apple Watch Ultra. They continue with a panel that shines up to 3,000 nits, another outstanding leap, but not as noticeable in everyday life as it might seem concerning the 2,000 nits. It also has improvements to the ultra-wideband chip for more accurate iPhone searches and a dual gesture system that is just OK.

After a year of using the Apple Watch Ultra and analyzing its main goal, I have the feeling that it has not fully achieved its purpose. The Ultra surname came to bring the “most extreme Apple Watch” to the table. The reality is that beyond the diving capabilities, there’s nothing you can't do with any other Apple Watch.

The Ultra has become the aspirational Apple Watch. The most expensive, the one with the best screen, and the one with the longest battery life. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the final price (even though it’s dropped this year) only confirms what I thought last year: the Apple Watch Series 9 would be my choice.

9,2

Design 9,25
Display 9,75
Software 9
Autonomy 9
Interface 8,75

Pros

  • The display remains the maximum reference for a smartwatch.
  • The autonomy is slightly improved. In Low Power mode, we still have a week of use.
  • The best experience in terms of ecosystem and integration with the phone in a smartwatch.

Cons

  • No evolution in design.
  • The innovations come in dribs and drabs compared to last year.
  • Beyond sapphire and titanium, the Series 9 remains the best value for money.


Apple Watch Ultra 2 [GPS + Cellular 49mm] Smartwatch with Rugged Titanium Case & Blue Alpine Loop Large. Fitness Tracker, Precision GPS, Action Button, Extra-Long Battery Life, Carbon Neutral

This device was provided by Apple for review purposes. You can consult our corporate relations policy.

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