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Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Bigger, brighter, better and outdoorsy

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is more ‘smartwatch’ for the money, though there’s little to tell it apart from the first Watch Ultra

By tapping the index finger and thumb of the watch hand together twice, users can perform many of the most common actions on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
By tapping the index finger and thumb of the watch hand together twice, users can perform many of the most common actions on the Apple Watch Ultra 2. (Apple)

It’s an Apple Watch – on steroids. That’s how the Apple Watch Ultra was first launched last year: strapped onto the wrists of daring adventurers trekking up snow-capped peaks, plunging to the depths of the ocean and everywhere in between – in essence, taking the everyday Apple Watch to depths and heights yet unseen by the average consumer grade smartwatch.

A year down, we have the Apple Watch Ultra 2 ( 89,900), an iterative upgrade with some welcome specs upgrades, a few new features, all just a bit better than before (first-gen Ultra owners needn’t apply). Yet, what is the Apple Watch Ultra 2 like for a first-time buyer, whether you’re an intrepid explorer or even if you’re not? We try and answer the biggest questions about Apple’s biggest Watch yet.

What’s to like about the Watch Ultra 2?

Brighter screen: For most folks, the biggest step up will be the significantly larger display, which makes its presence felt in the most mundane of moments – viewing more widgets on the new Modular Ultra watch face, quickly glancing at map directions or even while using the on-screen keyboard - everything benefits from the bump up in size. Yet, for something that is meant to live its life outdoors, the other bump up - from 2000 to 3000 nits screen brightness – is even more visible each time you want to quickly check your workout stats or walking directions when you’re out in the sunny outdoors. And when it’s dark, the brighter screen allows for a more capable flashlight even as its ability to go down to a single nit makes it possible to operate the watch in bed, without disturbing others in the room.

Also read: Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review: Vanity popsicle, velvet revolvers

Faster internals: Apple Watches have never really lacked in performance, but the new S9 chip has enabled tasks that once needed to be sent to Apple for processing to happen completely on device, sans any connectivity of any sort – on-device Siri requests for launching an app or starting a timer, for instance.

It also enables the marquee feature this year: Double Tap – a thumb-forefinger double-pinching gesture performed on your watch hand that lets you receive calls, play/pause music, tap buttons on the screen – all one-handed. Super handy when your hands are dirty or otherwise preoccupied, but it does take some getting used to.

Finally, a new ultra-wideband chip allows precision location of your paired Apple iPhone 15 series phone faster. On-board storage has been doubled as well.

All-round improvements: Folks who intend to push this watch beyond the weekend hikes and swimming pool laps I put this through (hey, I tried!) will be happy to note that the Ultra 2 goes a few steps further than last year’s model – right from vastly improved operating heights (9000m) to better depths, on land and out in the sea (-500m and 40m).

It’s also built to withstand extreme temperatures (-20 to 55° C) and other environmental hazards, so it handily goes places you won't take a regular Apple Watch. Battery life, with the brighter screen and the added on-device processing grunt, still gets you a solid two days on a single charge, with the always-on-display and GPS on for walks – that’s roughly double the regular Apple Watch. Endurance athletes can expect about 12 hours of GPS use without any loss of function.

Premium design: Apple’s retained the original Ultra’s design in this version, yet made the switch to 90% recycled titanium for the 49mm case which, when paired with the new bands and more eco-friendly logistics/packaging, allows Apple to claim ‘carbon neutral’ status for this year’s watches.

Even otherwise, the Watch Ultra is still a good-looking wearable, with the matte titanium case and the premium sapphire display, and compatibility with all existing Watch bands.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is displayed during the 'Wonderlust' event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 12, 2023.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is displayed during the 'Wonderlust' event at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 12, 2023. (Reuters)

What could be improved?

Unchanged design: It may look every bit the premium smartwatch that its price suggests, but there’s little to tell it apart from the Apple Watch Ultra 1, and maybe some visual flair – such as applying subtle hues to the titanium case like the iPhone 15 Pro series – would have been a nice touch this year.

It’s still a chunky smartwatch, a fair bit heavier than the standard aluminum model though not quite that much heavier than the stainless-steel variant. This may be a deterrent for some, particularly if you wear your watch overnight for sleep tracking and alarms. I’d absolutely recommend you try one on for size before ordering, women in particular since it’s only available in a single, 49mm case size. Also, because it’s somewhat pricey. Pricey not for what you get for the money – a rugged, do-it-all, cellular-connected Apple Watch - but in absolute terms.

The good news is that whether you pick up the Series 9 or the Ultra 2, you’ll get the same watchOS10 features and fitness tracking. But one could have expected Apple to add in an exclusive software feature or an additional fitness sensor to differentiate the Watch series, much like it does on the iPhone.

Battery life: You don’t need to pack in the charger for overnight trips, but sure, compared to a lot of outdoorsy watches for which battery life is measured in weeks rather than days, battery life on the Watch Ultra 2 is lacking. Of course, none of the competitors are as suited to daily wear, leave alone the level of integration with your iPhone – the Ultra 2 is simply more “smartwatch” for the money. This is an extremely capable smartwatch first that has added ruggedness, instead of the other way round. The Ultra 2 also has the rest of the ecosystem going for it, something Garmin just cannot match.

What’s it like for normal folks?

Every single Watch Ultra visual will lead you to believe this is for hardcore outdoor enthusiasts, yet plenty of folks I know who have picked a first-gen Ultra up are anything but. As much as the size may be polarizing for some, many prefer chunkier wristwatches, and the added durability and reduced nicks and scratches to the case/display are a bonus.

That bigger screen (with all the extra screen elements) and bumped up brightness can soon get very addictive, as does the convenience of the customizable Action button to trigger quick actions. And, of course, the Ultra 2 gives you a bit less battery anxiety if you don’t charge it overnight, which is a strong reason enough for most who plan to wear it daily (instead of on occasion).


Let’s be clear. The Apple Watch is the best smartwatch around (provided you have an iPhone), and the Watch Ultra improves it in many meaningful ways. If you're deciding between the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and a regular Apple Watch, it will come down to how outdoorsy you are (or plan to be) and whether the ‘Ultra’ features are worth double the price. Or for that matter, how much you value the added battery life, the bigger, brighter screen and the ‘big watch look’, the latter a big factor for folks with big wrists on which the regular Watch looks rather tiny. If the budget isn’t constrained, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 becomes surprisingly easy to justify.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.

Also read: Apple Watch Series 9 review: For the first-time Apple Watch buyer

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