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Do you really need the Apple Watch Ultra?

The new Apple Watch Ultra is designed to be a true tool watch, and also boasts of a better battery life. But is it the best active smartwatch for you?

The Apple Watch Ultra.
The Apple Watch Ultra. (Courtesy Apple)

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It’s impossible for a fitness writers or recreational endurance athletes to ignore the tech-packed behemoth that is the new Apple Watch Ultra. Much of it is marketing, of course, but the wearable does have many uses for people who lead an active lifestyle. 

The enthusiasm is certainly not unwarranted as this is the first proper watch from Apple that can be used by athletes without the battery dying on them midway through a hike or a full marathon. None of the previous generations of the Apple Watch could have survived even a half Ironman but the Apple Watch Ultra, in theory, is capable of lasting the full distance. 

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And as this is Apple, the design and looks are certainly cutting edge. This one looks a lot more rugged and is made of titanium, one of the hardest and lightest metals around. Apple has redesigned and made the crown bigger, and it is now protected by a raised crown guard. The flat crystal on top is sapphire, which is stronger and more scratch resistant than a mineral crystal. Apple have used a dual GPS system for more accurate geo-tracking, and have also included a depth gauge and safety features such as a siren and crash detection. 

The Apple Watch Ultra display is the best in business and the touch screen interface is excellent—two things the competition will have to catch up with. The Apple Watch Ultra can now measure stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, training zones and other such advanced metrics, which have been standard on Garmin and Coros for years. It is also a gigantic watch at 49mm.

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But all this comes at a price: 89,990 to be precise. That’s an exorbitant price tag for a watch that at this point in time doesn’t even last the 60 hours in the low power mode that was claimed in the company’s September event. Currently, the watch lasts a meagre 36 hours in normal use. The 60-hour low power mode feature is “coming soon” as per the Apple website. So, as of today, you are still unlikely to be able to track an endurance race with the Apple Watch Ultra. Compare this with any Garmin GPS smartwatch, even the entry level ones, and you see a huge gap as far as battery juice goes. And when you throw Coros, which dons the wrist of the world’s fastest marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, into the mix, even the like for like Garmin models pale in comparison in the battery department. And both Coros and Garmin GPS smart watches are a lot cheaper and have multiple options to choose from, by way of features. 

However, the biggest challenge that the Apple Watch Ultra faces is not in its hardware or pricing, but in its companion app on the phone. The Garmin Connect app has improved tremendously over the years and, is arguably the best out there today. Recently, I took my Apple Watch SE and the Garmin Forerunner 255 music together to track a training run. I synced both the watches with the phone so that the apps had the latest data from the run before opening the two apps to compare the data. 

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Each and every advanced metric (stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, training zones for example) that the Apple Watch Ultra can track, the Garmin devices already do, and you can view them in the app. With the Apple Watch Ultra, the app still doesn’t display this data. 

In addition to this, the Garmin app also shows you how long you ran, walked and stood still. The Apple Fitness app still doesn’t let you design workouts, which is essential for anyone training for a race, ride or a swim. At this point in time, you have to custom build your workouts on the watch, which is not the easiest thing to do, especially if it involves more than a handful of steps, like speed repeats or interval training.

In time Apple will surely fix these issues, but for now Apple Watch Ultra is merely a very expensive watch that holds a lot of potential and is unlikely to perform everything it promises till its companion app improves.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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