Apple Watch Ultra Review: Bigger, Better, & Perfect For The Everyday Athlete
— Updated on 23 March 2024

Apple Watch Ultra Review: Bigger, Better, & Perfect For The Everyday Athlete

— Updated on 23 March 2024
Nick Kenyon
Nick Kenyon

Last week in Cupertino, California, Apple announced the most significant update to its smartwatch to date – the Apple Watch Ultra. It’s bigger, it’s better in a lot of ways and it’s the most expensive regular production Apple Watch that has ever been released. If you’re thinking about making the investment, there are a few things you need to know, which I’ll cover in this Apple Watch Ultra review.

Apple Watch Ultra Review Summary

In essence, the Apple Watch Ultra is a smartwatch for athletes. Most of the changes and updates to it are designed to make it more functional, robust and versatile as a smartwatch that you can wear anywhere. It’s got a larger titanium case than previous generations, a bigger and brighter screen, longer battery life, improved functionality for extreme and endurance sports and a trio of great new straps.

To put the Apple Watch Ultra in context against the standard edition Apple Watch, think of it as a 4×4 off-road vehicle compared to a zippy city car. It’s more technically focused and more robust, and if your arm can survive the conditions you’re in, chances are the Apple Watch Ultra will survive too.

Apple Watch Ultra Review – Table Of Contents

  1. What Is The Apple Watch Ultra?
  2. First Impressions On The Wrist
  3. New Apple Watch Ultra Features
  4. Who Is The Apple Watch Ultra For?
  5. Apple Watch Ultra: The Verdict
  6. Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Apple Watch Ultra?

Apple watch ultra review

When compared to the previous Apple Watch Series 7 and the new standard Series 8 (announced in conjunction with the Ultra last week), almost everything about the Apple Watch Ultra has been tweaked or entirely redesigned. From the larger case of the watch and its freshly designed straps to the hardware beneath its surface and the improved functionality of the software, nearly everything has been reconsidered to be as functional as possible for the everyday adventurer.

RELATED: Why The Design Of The Apple Watch Is Slowing Down As It Gets Better

If you consider that most smartwatches have relatively similar functionality when it comes to messages, calls and notifications, Apple has been working hard to split itself from the pack with a better offering around everyday health and fitness. It’s impressive, to say the least.

On the health side, the Apple Watch Series 4 (2018) was able to perform an FDA-approved ECG measurement on your heart, while the Apple Watch Series 6 (2020) introduced new lasers in the back of the watch to measure blood oxygen levels (which were even able to indicate otherwise asymptomatic cases of COVID-19). On the fitness front, the Apple Watch Series 5 (2019) offered specific tracking of yoga, surfing and stand-up paddle boarding workouts, which very nicely complimented the existing suite of workout tracking options that include running, cycling, weights and more.

With the Apple Watch Ultra, Apple has taken the fitness and sports angle to a whole new level, not just for those who enjoy a run around the park on their lunch break, but also for folks who spend their weekend hiking, diving or any other endurance activity. The Apple Watch might enjoy a 36.1% market share in the smartwatch space, more than triple its nearest competitor in Samsung (10.1%), but it definitely makes sense to double down on the points of difference that have made it such a compelling product.

First Impressions On The Wrist

The Apple Watch Ultra is a big piece of kit. There’s no side-stepping the increased case size of 49mm, which is up from the largest Series 7 which measured 45mm across its case. Apple has worked to minimise how large the Apple Watch Ultra feels by making the case out of lightweight aerospace-grade titanium (not seen since the sports-focused Apple Watch SE Series 5), but if you’ve got a smaller wrist or prefer a more discreet smartwatch, this is definitely something to consider.

From the friends and colleagues that I spoke with about the new case size, the consensus was split. A couple of people thought it was far too large to wear every day, but agreed it was practical for hiking or running when a bigger data screen is easier to read at a glance. On the other side of the table, I spoke with a talented runner whose everyday watch is a Suunto 9 that applauded Apple for making a watch that was, “finally a decent size.” If or not you’ll like the new size will boil down to what you’re used to wearing and how big your wrist is.

Early impressions of the new straps offered with the Apple Watch Ultra are extremely positive. Once again, Apple continues to do more than almost the entire Swiss watch industry to innovate their straps, with the release of the Ocean Band, the Alpine Loop and the Trail Loop (the thinnest Apple Watch band to date). I’ve been wearing the Apple Watch Ultra switching between the Alpine Loop and Ocean Band (I’m yet to try the Trail Loop) and both are simple to adjust, easy to get on and off and impressively comfortable on the wrist.

Apple watch ultra review

As far as using the Apple Watch Ultra features go, it retains much of the intuitive layout and operation of previous generations, with the additional functionality of the new programmable Action button alongside the bigger digital crown. You’re able to set the Action button to activate one of a bunch of different commonly used apps including the torch, timer, workout app and more, which is a handy addition to the Apple Watch Ultra.

New Apple Watch Ultra Features

As I’ve mentioned, the larger case is the most obvious update to the Apple Watch Ultra, but the sportier new silhouette gives room for a whole host of great new features. A larger case has allowed Apple to create the biggest and brightest Apple Watch display (2000 nits) ever seen on an Apple Watch, making it easier to read in bright sunlight. The screen is also flat and protected by a small lip that rises up from the side of the case, which is a change from the elegantly curved display of the Series 7.

The digital crown is around 30% larger than previous generations, making it easier to manipulate while wearing gloves or with sweaty fingers while working out. In addition to the updated digital crown, another solid update is the L1 and L5 frequency GPS antennae built directly into the bezel of the Apple Watch Ultra, which delivers more accurate GPS tracking for maps and while exercising. This is especially useful if you’re running in built-up environments where tall buildings or trees might block standard satellite signals.

Microphones and speakers have also been improved in the Apple Watch Ultra, which now features three mics to better isolate your voice against background noise such as wind, while there are now two speakers that make the Apple Watch Ultra 40% louder than the standard Series 8. The speakers are also used by the new siren function that you can activate by holding the Action button down, which is to make it easier to find you if you get lost in the wilderness and can be heard up to 180m away.

Battery life has also been significantly improved in the Apple Watch Ultra, which is nearly double the previous generation to 36 hours of normal use and up to 60 hours of battery life on low power mode. This was one of the weaknesses of the Apple Watch when compared to other smartwatches on the market, and while not yet market-leading for battery life, it’s a sizable step in the right direction.

The new straps are another great new addition to the Apple Watch catalogue. My favourite new strap is the Alpine Loop, which looks like two pieces of fabric stitched together, but is actually a single textile that has been cleverly woven to feature horizontal openings where you insert the titanium buckle. In a friendly move by Apple, the trio of fresh straps are reverse compatible with all 44mm and 45mm Apple Watch models.

Another interesting design detail of the Apple Watch Ultra straps can be found in the Ocean Band, which offers a quiet nod to the original designer of the Apple Watch, the Australian industrial designer Marc Newson, who had launched his own watch brand called Ikepod before joining Apple. The tube-like structure of the sports strap is reminiscent of the rubber strap of Ikepod Sea Slug, the first sports watch from Ikepod and a fitting design element to find in the first true sports Apple Watch.

“I can’t say for certain that the Apple Watch designers drew inspiration from the Ikepod Sea Slug,” said Christian-Louis Col, the current owner of the Ikepod watch brand. “However, even if it’s a coincidence, it’s great to see Marc Newson’s design fingerprints remaining as the Apple Watch continues to evolve. Marc truly was ahead of his time when it came to his conceptual designs for everyday products and his watch designs are a perfect example of this.”

Finally, Apple has made a number of changes that make the Ultra an excellent companion for hiking or diving enthusiasts. For hikers, the Apple Watch Ultra offers the Compass Waypoints and Backtrack functions, which respectively allow you to mark a GPS point on the map and track towards it using the compass, and retrace your hiking path if you get lost using GPS data.

For recreational divers, the Apple Watch Ultra features a built-in depth app that tells you your current depth, the temperature of the water, your duration under water and the maximum depth you reached. This is made possible thanks to the redesigned case construction, which is now guaranteed 100m of water resistance (double the Series 7) and certified to the EN13319 European Dive Computer standard.

Who Is The Apple Watch Ultra For?

Apple watch ultra review

The Apple Watch Ultra isn’t going to be for everyone, mostly because of its size. For folks who are used to smaller smartwatches, like other Apple Watch models, Fitbits or some Garmins, the 49mm size of the Ultra is going to take some getting used to. Likewise, for people with smaller wrists, or simply those who want to wear their smartwatch every day under the cuff of a business shirt, the Apple Watch Ultra is probably going to be a little too large to be practical.

However, for people used to wearing mid to larger-size smart or mechanical watches, the size of the Apple Watch Ultra shouldn’t be an issue. I’d even be willing to wager there’s a large group of potential Apple Watch Ultra owners who would be specifically attracted to it because of its utilitarian, purpose-built design. It’s a sport watch, after all, and it wouldn’t be very good if it wasn’t specifically designed for those activities and the conditions associated with them.

At the end of the day, the highly capable Apple Watch Ultra is likely to find its most ardent enthusiasts in the sport and fitness world, either in people who are professionally active as athletes, personal trainers or coaches, or with anyone who lives an active lifestyle and enjoys trail running on the weekend as much as lying on the couch. So if you love the functionality of your standard Apple Watch, but find yourself switching it out for your Garmin when you’re training, the Ultra gives you the both of best worlds.

Apple Watch Ultra: The Verdict

Wrapping up this review, the Apple Watch Ultra is the most significant update since Apple’s entry into the smartwatch game back in 2015. It’s big, it’s sporty and it makes an undeniable statement on the wrist. With all of the same everyday functionality that we know and love, combined into a fresh and feature-packed new design, the Apple Watch Ultra is a proper sports smartwatch for anyone who loves getting active.

The Apple Watch Ultra arrives with an RRP of $1,299 and will be available for sale from the 23rd of September.

Apple Watch Ultra Review – Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the Apple Watch Ultra cost in Australia?

If you want an Apple Watch Ultra in Australia then you’re looking at a price tag of $1,299.

What's the difference between the Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Series 8?

The Apple Watch Ultra is the off-road version of Apple’s smartwatches, built to handle any environment or physical activity. The Apple Watch Series 8 is your ideal everyday smartwatch, perfect for work and play.

Is the Apple Watch Ultra worth buying?

The Apple Watch Ultra is an excellent smartwatch, but it is the largest watch Apple has ever made. If you’re happy with its size on your wrist, then it has a larger and brighter screen, 36 hours of battery life, a customisable Action button and better features for fitness and extreme sports.

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Nick Kenyon
Nick Kenyon is the Editor of Boss Hunting, joining the team after working as the Deputy Editor of luxury watch magazine Time+Tide. He has a passion for watches, with other interests across style, sports and more. Get in touch at nick (at)


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