I'm a relatively recent but super-enthusiastic convert to Apple Watch.
The more I use it, the more I love it and the less I enjoy changing to other wearables when it's time to review them.
Like any well-designed piece of tech, what makes Apple Watch so great is the way it makes your life easier - not more complicated.
By seamlessly integrating with your phone (and other devices) the many features on offer just work... and work well. Even something like swapping out bands is just so easy - and has been for generations.
This inevitably poses the question; when you have a near-perfect product, do you risk ruining it by trying to improve it?
Let's find out.
I didn't have the opportunity to test the first Apple Watch Ultra last year, so it was with eager anticipation I unboxed the 2023 version, Apple Watch Ultra 2.
My review device was equipped with a choice of bands; Alpine Loop (in Blue) and Trail Loop (Orange and Beige). While both these options are designed specifically for the Apple Watch Ultra, any band from the 44/45mm Apple Watch range is compatible and vice versa. The carbon-neutral Alpine Loop is particularly impressive - a comfy combination of polyester and spandex with a titanium G-hook to hold it in place. There's no stitching to come apart; the entire band has been woven together into one continuous piece. You know those action movies where the hero is thrown off a building and he's miraculously saved by his watch strap catching onto something and somehow supporting his entire body weight? I reckon this is probably the one you want to be wearing.
The Watch Ultra 2 is also titanium, in its natural, silvery-grey colour with a brushed finish that seems very tough and scratch-resistant - as is the sapphire crystal display. This is one of the few smartwatches I've tested I haven't managed to damage in any way within the first few days of wearing it.
It isn't just swim-proof, like the other Series 9 Apple Watches, it's rated water resistant to 100m, can be used for scuba diving down to 40m and has been militarily tested against shock, vibration, freezing and extreme heat. The Watch Ultra 2 carries an IPX6 dust resistance rating (which I haven't even heard of before) and can withstand altitudes of up to 9,000 metres and down to 500 metres BELOW sea level. In short, this watch is many times tougher than I am.
Like the Series 9 Watch, the Ultra 2 is run by Apple's latest S9 SiP processor in combination with its 4-core Apple Neural Engine and 64GB of onboard storage. And yet, it seems to run even faster and smoother than the standard Apple Watch - although perhaps that's just my imagination. And like the new iPhone 15 series, there's a second-gen Utra-Wideband chip for enhanced connectivity and to take full advantage of Apple's new Precision Finding feature.
The extra battery life you get by moving up to the Watch Ultra 2 is definitely impressive. The Apple website suggests you'll get through 36 hours under "normal use" and up to 72 hours in Low Power mode. As we all know, there's no such thing as "normal use" - but I've been wearing it constantly, with Always On Display activated, using GPS for daily exercise and all my notifications activated. The battery life claims stack up - perhaps not a full three days if you're really hammering it but you'll coast through a weekend no problem. The included USB-C magnetic fast-charger seems to top things up pretty rapidly too.
Speaking of GPS, that's another Ultra boost over the standard Series 9 Watches - the Ultra 2 uses dual-frequency GPS for more precise positioning. This should give you the confidence to trust the compass app completely and let it guide you back to your starting point using Retrace Steps if you do get lost. In fact, if you're out in the wild and things go really sour, not only do you have all the safety features Apple Watch has already made famous - fall and crash detection, automatically calling emergency numbers - but there's even a siren that'll blare from the Watch Ultra 2's dual speakers. I've tested it. It's both loud and annoying.
The Depth app comes pre-installed on the Watch Ultra 2 and can be set to launch automatically when submerged. This clearly displays not only current depth but also maximum depth, water temperature, duration underwater and current time. It's not a full-featured dive computer, although you can easily download one - for either scuba or free diving.
The great thing about the physical design of the Watch Ultra 2 is the controls are bigger - the scroll wheel especially. You can use them underwater or with gloves on and... oh yeah; there's a whole other button.
Just like the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, the Watch Ultra 2 has an Action Button - except this one is big and orange. It can be programmed for any of a growing list of functions and shortcuts, or perhaps just to launch your favourite app. In some cases, the Action Button has multiple uses. For example, it can fire off your favourite workout with a single press. You can then mark each new segment of your workout with another press. This is great news for multisport athletes who now no longer have to try and control their watch with wet or sweaty fingers on a small touch screen.
Let's not forget Apple's ingenious new Double Tap gesture I've been trying out on the Watch Series 9. The Ultra Two can do this trick too and as I expected, more and more developers are making use of this new feature in WatchOS 10 - pinching your thumb and forefinger together now activates the primary control on dozens of apps with more to come I'm sure.
The much larger 49mm watch means a much larger display and Apple has definitely made the most of it with the new Modular Ultra watch face - rows and rows of customisable complications, including the option of a real-time compass widget which can be swapped out for all kinds of other useful options like Google Maps, a Now Playing media controller or maybe just your calendar. Not only can you physically fit more info on this bigger screen, it's brighter too - brighter than ever. Up to 3000 nits in fact. If you think that sounds like a lot of nits, it sure is. 50 per cent brighter than the original Watch Ultra and it also gets nice and dim when it's dark. The Modular Utra watch face makes use of this to automatically enter a preset night mode if you like.
Or you could go with Apple's much more simple Snoopy watch face and get a laugh every time you check it.
This is a genuine marvel of modern technology and it all fits comfortably on your wrist - well, hopefully. Sadly, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 still only comes in one size, so if you're not into a chunkier bit of wrist-wear, you might be out of luck here. For everyone else, there's a lot to like. A whole lot. And you don't have to be a free diver or a mountaineer to get your money's worth; who doesn't want a tougher watch with better battery life and an extra button?
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