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The new high-end Apple Watch is larger and more durable than the standard Apple Watch Series 8, which was also announced at the event, with features made for scuba divers, outdoor adventurers, and endurance athletes like marathon and triathlon runners. Unlike past Apple Watches, which have robust fitness features but are primarily “lifestyle” watches for all kinds of people, the Apple Watch Ultra is a more niche “outdoor” watch for people who want specialized support. And with a much higher price—$799, versus $399 for the GPS-enabled Series 8—it’s the kind of gear that you should learn a little more about before picking one up. We’ll eventually have a full review of the Apple Watch Ultra, but here’s an early look at the advanced tech inside.
Bigger and tougher
Apple Watch Ultra is big. While the difference between the 45mm chassis of the Watch Series 8 and the 49mm Watch Ultra may not sound substantial, it should feel positively huge to standard Apple Watch users. Keep in mind: Apple expanded the case size by 1mm with the Watch Series 7, and that made a very noticeable difference.
It’ll also have a much thicker chassis to incorporate new components, including a larger, louder speaker and a three-microphone array to improve voice clarity when making calls on the watch in less-than-ideal conditions. The Watch Ultra only comes in one hardware configuration, which includes cellular connectivity, so the expectation is that people will want to use the Watch Ultra to make calls at any time.
Presumably, the larger case also allowed Apple to give the Watch Ultra a bigger battery, which it estimates will last up to 36 hours on a single charge, or up to 60 hours with a low-power feature (available later in the fall).
The redesigned watch will also feature some design tweaks for the sake of durability, and usability in extreme conditions. The titanium case extends up to cover the edges of the sapphire crystal display to minimize cracked edges. The Watch Ultra is rated to operate on-wrist at temperatures as low as minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, or as high as 131 F. It’s also IP6X and MIL-STD-810H certified—a military-grade durability rating used for many “rugged” tech products—indicating it’s prepared for some conditions, including rain, humidity, immersion in sand and dust, freezing, shock, and vibration, among others.
The buttons—yes, plural—are also getting an overhaul. The Digital Crown is larger and features grooved notches to make it easier to manipulate with a gloved hand. There’s also a second input: a large customizable “Action” button, that will allow you to start tracking workouts and perform other functions quickly. For example, triathletes can switch from running to cycling to swimming by simply pressing the button.
Last, but not least, Apple has created three new, activity-specific Apple Watch Ultra bands—the stitch-free hook-clasped Alpine Loop Band, the wetsuit-ready rubber Ocean Band, and the ultralight stretch Trail Loop band.
Built for survival
The Apple Watch Ultra offers some specialized features, many of which seem designed with safety and survival for hikers and climbers in mind. It uses a more precise “dual-frequency” GPS tracking that allows the watch to maintain tracking when you’re surrounded by tall structures or mountains.
As part of watchOS 9, the Watch Ultra will feature a redesigned version of the compass app that allows you to set waypoints, like your home, your camp, or your car, and allow you to orient yourself in relation to those locations. It will also be able to use a feature called backtrack that can use GPS to create a path retracing your steps in real-time. If you find yourself fully lost or hurt, the larger speaker can now play an ultra-loud 86-decibel siren that sends a distinctive SOS alarm (audible up to 600 feet away).
During the day, the display is brighter, up to 2000 Nits, which should make it easier to see regardless of glare. It also features a night mode, which turns the whole interface red, making it easier to see without interfering with your own night-adjusted vision.
The Apple Watch Ultra also seems to be an especially useful tool for divers. It’s waterproof up to 100 meters (WR100) and has an EN13319 depth gauge certification for diving accessories. Using a new depth app, you’ll be able to see your depth, time underwater, and max depth. In conjunction with an upcoming app, Oceanic+, the Watch Ultra will reportedly work as an effective dive computer, letting you plan and share dive routes and providing safety stop guidance.
Plus the best of Apple Watch Series 8 and watchOS 9
In addition to all of its exclusive changes, the Apple Watch Ultra will feature all of the upgrades in the upcoming Apple Watch Series 8. Most notably, that means new motion sensors that can detect if you get in a car crash and automatically call for help. They include a gyroscope and a highly sensitive accelerometer. Even the Watch Ultra’s built-in barometer plays a role in detecting crashes by detecting pressure changes typically associated with airbag deployment. There is also a temperature sensor that improves menstrual cycle tracking and enables ovulation tracking through the Health app (information Apple stressed is encrypted on the watch and only accessible with a user’s passcode/Touch ID/Face ID).
Since the Watch Ultra is a sports watch, it’s also worth noting that watchOS 9 will offer improved tracking for runs, including stride length and vertical oscillation, as well as more advanced workout data views. (These were announced earlier this year, and will be coming to all watchOS 9 compatible watches.)
What does all this mean?
Apple Watch Ultra will have a lot of new features that the Apple Watch Series 8 won’t. Some of these features will be helpful for most people, like a bigger battery, brighter screen, and dual-frequency GPS. Many of them, though, are highly specific and are really made for people who are very devoted to intense fitness training and fairly advanced outdoor activities like off-trail hiking, scuba diving, and climbing. Will the Apple Watch Ultra be the best, most feature-rich Apple Watch? Quite possibly, yes. And, at double the price of a GPS-only Series 8, it may be too niche for the average person.
At a glance, the people who should get most excited are iPhone-using fans of multisports smartwatches from brands like Garmin and Suunto. Those brands already make watches with many of these features, but their flagship watches cost even more than the $799 Apple Watch Ultra and don’t offer the same level of connectivity and convenience as an Apple Watch and iPhone working in sync.
The question remains: Is the Apple Watch Ultra worth buying? We will hopefully get our hands on the Apple Watch Ultra in the coming weeks, so we’ll have a full review with our thoughts on whether or not it’s worth that higher price. In the meantime, the Apple Watch Ultra is available on Amazon for $799.