Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review – Business Insider

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Since the Apple Watch Ultra was announced in September 2022, it’s become my go-to wearable. I was hooked after getting a taste of its 36-hour battery life, big, bright screen, and highly useful Action Button. So when Apple announced the Ultra 2 just one year after the original’s debut, I questioned whether there were enough improvements to warrant an upgrade.
For existing Ultra owners, the quick answer is no, but there are new features worth noting: a new, faster processor; Double Tap Gesture for improved accessibility; expanded altitude and depth sensing; and watersports tracking for scuba and freediving.
The Ultra 2 is a no-brainer if you’ve been eyeing the original but held out for something more — it’s now the best fitness tracker Apple sells and one of the best smartwatches. Ultra 1 owners may want to do a trade-in if they value the new features. Ultimately, the Ultra 2 remains a niche smartwatch; most people will be well-served by the Apple Watch Series 9, which also has the same processor and Double Tap Gesture.
The Ultra 2 is Apple’s biggest smartwatch that features the highly useful Action Button, has multi-day battery life, and has a rugged design that’s perfect for athletes.
The Ultra 2’s hardware is identical to the first Ultra, but this isn’t bad. The rugged titanium exterior is one of its strong suits, and it has a tougher and larger screen than the rest of the Apple Watch lineup.
Unfortunately, that also means the Ultra 2 remains bulky and heavy, but those are tradeoffs for a watch with such a solid build quality; it’s designed to be worn in harsh environments. In our experience of wearing the original Ultra daily, we’ve accidentally banged it against various surfaces many times, yet it has endured without a scuff.
The Action Button also returns, which was one of the highlights when it was introduced in the first Ultra. It functions the same, too, as it’s able to start or stop a workout, open the stopwatch app, or activate the flashlight, among others. The minor bummer is that there’s nothing new to tout.
Still, the Action Button is a game changer because it allows me to wait for the GPS to sync before I start a workout, which helps improve the watch’s overall accuracy. As a health and fitness enthusiast, this hallmark feature is why I prefer the Ultra over the regular Apple Watch.
The Ultra 2 is also compatible with a variety of interchangeable bands, though it’s worth noting that Apple decided to go away from leather in all of its products. The decision is part of a larger initiative by Apple to be carbon neutral by 2030. The Ultra 2’s manufacturing is carbon neutral when paired with the new Trail Loop or Alpine Loop strap. If you prefer leather, you’ll need to look at third-party options.
The most significant hardware upgrade is the new S9 chipset that debuted in the Ultra 2 and Series 9. Apple claims the new chipset is up to 30% faster than last year’s S8.
The difference is subtle when I compared the Ultra 2 with the Ultra 1, but I noticed how quickly it responded to swipes and screen presses. This included texting, opening apps, accessing fitness stats, or navigating the interface.
Is it enough of a performance boost to warrant an upgrade from the original Ultra? No, not yet. The Ultra 2 will have the advantage in the long run, especially when the operating system and apps get more power-hungry, but Ultra 1 owners can sit this one out.
The S9 is also the driving force behind the useful new Double Tap Gesture (also available on the Series 9). This gesture control allows users to interact with the central button in an app, like answering a phone call or snoozing an alarm, by tapping their thumb and index finger together twice.
This is a beneficial feature for Apple Watch users who may have a disability or who are unable to interact with the wearable with another hand. The gesture does take some getting used to in terms of sensitivity, but it’s very easy to use once you get the hang of it.
S9 also powers the new on-device Siri digital assistant, debuting on the Ultra 2 and Series 9. This allows the watch to process Siri commands without an internet connection. For instance, I often used this to start a workout or to ask Siri how much sleep I got the night before. Each functioned quickly and provided another way to use the watch hands-free. This is in public beta, though it should be widely available toward the start of 2024.
The Ultra 2 launch coincided with the release of WatchOS 10. The user interface and apps have been redesigned to use more of the display. This is noticeable in how much more info is presented onscreen.
For instance, the activity recap screen that pops up after a workout now features a small X in the top left corner to exit, whereas the old app design required you to scroll to the bottom. It’s a subtle change but one I found to positively impact my overall experience.
A new useful feature is Smart Stack, which lets you customize a series of widgets accessible on the home screen. If you use Smart Stack on an iPhone, this will look familiar, albeit designed for a smaller display.
I set mine up to quickly access the current weather, my daily calendar events, and my fitness stats. This is also where I often used Double Tap as the gesture allowed me to scroll through each Smart Stack widget.
Note that the new software-based features are within WatchOS 10, so you’ll find them in any Apple Watch that supports this latest operating system.
Like the original Ultra, the Ultra 2 is the best fitness tracker in Apple’s lineup. It offers accurate and quick GPS, tracking capability for various activities, and a durable, rugged design. New and exclusive to the Ultra 2 are watersports tracking like freediving, scuba diving, and wakeboarding.
It also has the brightest screen of any Apple Watch, as it can reach a maximum brightness of 3,000 nits. That’s 50% brighter than the original Ultra.
The difference was negligible indoors, but when I was outside in bright, sunny conditions, the Ultra 2’s screen was easier to read. Plus, it’s just more vibrant overall. I appreciated this in the middle of a workout as the brighter screen made it easy to read fitness data like my current running pace or mileage.
But the best part about the Ultra 2 as a fitness tracker is how well it performs. This was a highlight of the original Ultra, and the Ultra 2 functions the same. It syncs GPS quickly, which allows it to accurately track pace and distance during activities, and its Action Button is incredibly practical for starting and stopping workouts. Plus, with longer battery life compared to the Series 9, I never had to worry about it dying, even if I was out on a long bike ride.
It also has a higher altitude and lower depth sensing than the Ultra 1, as it’s able to go down to 500 meters below sea level and 9,000 meters above sea level. (For reference, the peak of Mt. Everest is 8,848 meters above sea level.) It has a water resistance rating of 100m, too.
The Ultra 2 is an excellent health tracker, too. It offers heart rate and blood oxygen monitoring, in-depth sleep tracking, and sound exposure notifications. These all function the same on the Ultra 2 as on the original Ultra and Series line.
Although the battery life of the Ultra 2 didn’t change compared to the original Ultra, it’s still one of the highlights. I would consistently get at least two, if not three, days out of the watch before recharging it. 
Even when I frequently used GPS or enabled the Always On display, I still got almost two full days of battery life. If I needed juice in a pinch, I could throw it on the charger for about 30 minutes to get a full day’s worth of battery. It also needs just an hour and a half for 100%.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the most full-featured wearable in Apple’s lineup, but because it’s such a specialized product, it’s not for everyone. This isn’t to say the Ultra 2 isn’t worth buying, but rather that it caters to a smaller crowd than Apple’s other wearable, the Series 9.
Before purchasing, the main questions you want to consider are: Will you use all the advanced features the Ultra 2 offers? And do you already own a first-generation Apple Watch Ultra?
If you answered yes to the first question and don’t yet own (but want) an Ultra-class Apple Watch, you should buy an Ultra 2. Yes, it’s expensive at $800, but if you use the watch to its full potential, it’ll be a valuable and worthwhile investment.
If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, consider the Apple Watch Series 9. It’s the best Apple smartwatch for most people and offers many of the premium health and fitness tracking features found on the Ultra 2. On the budget end, we recommend the Apple Watch SE (2nd Gen).
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