Big day today, people: Apple announced its most rugged and capable Apple Watch variant, the Apple Watch Ultra. The new outdoor version of the popular wearable addresses some of the most pressing issues I rambled about a few months ago, like adding an extra button, so the watch can be operated with gloves on/during workouts, but this supercharged Apple Watch can't quite take on Garmin and its vast selection of outdoor and dive watches. Not yet, anyway.
What is the Apple Watch Ultra? Is it the best Apple Watch? The new wearable introduces a 49mm titanium case and flat sapphire front crystal; it also features the biggest and brightest Apple Watch display yet. It has a customisable Action button and the best battery life of any Apple Watch, reaching up to 36 hours. I assume this is in smartwatch mode, not when the new dual-frequency GPS is turned on.
There is a new low-power setting which can extend battery life to reach up to a whopping 60 hours. This disables some less essential features but leaves other tracking features intact. A new Wayfinder watch face is designed specifically for the larger Apple Watch Ultra display and includes a compass built into the dial, with space for up to eight complications. Apple Watch Ultra also brings three new bands – Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, and Ocean Band; many cool features, as you can tell!
The Apple Watch Ultra is powered by watchOS 9, which includes new advanced running metrics like Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, Vertical Oscillation, and Running Power. There are new Workout Views, such as Segments, Splits, and Elevation, to provide metrics at just a glance, and thanks to the larger display, Apple Watch Ultra can now show six data fields at once. Not too shabby!
There is also a new Multisport mode, ideal for triathlons, duathlons, or activities with any sequence of swimming, biking, or running – this includes autodetection to easily switch between workouts. Maybe I'll have to add an Apple Watch to our best triathlon watch guide soon?
Into the night
The Apple Watch Ultra also packs a punch in the outdoor department. The new Compass Waypoints feature is pretty cool: you can mark a location or point of interest directly in the app by pressing the Action button or tapping the Compass Waypoint icon, which drops a waypoint that can be edited by tapping the icon that appears. The Compass Waypoint complication updates dynamically in real-time with both the direction of the waypoint as well as the approximate distance.
My favourite thing is the Night mode, which you can activate by turning the Digital Crown. This makes the interface red for better visibility in the dark when using the Wayfinder face. As for ruggedness, the Apple Watch Ultra is certified to the relevant aspects of MIL-STD-810H, used for military equipment and popular among rugged equipment manufacturers.
The Apple Watch Ultra is even more competent as a dive watch. It's said to be the perfect choice for water sports, including extreme activities like kitesurfing and wakeboarding, along with recreational scuba diving to 40 meters with the new Oceanic+ app.
To support these underwater adventures, Apple Watch Ultra is certified to WR100 and EN13319, the latter of which is an internationally recognised standard for dive accessories, apparently, and includes stuff such as depth gauges. Utilising this new depth gauge, the watch features a Depth app which displays time, current depth, water temperature, duration underwater, and max depth reached. Users can program the Action button to instantly launch the Depth app.
Should Garmin be worried?
I was ready to be disappointed by the Apple Watch Ultra, but it got me excited instead. That said, I don't think Garmin should lose their marbles looking at it – the Apple Watch Ultra isn't the complete outdoor package just yet.
First of all, it isn't cheap (£849 in the UK); you can get a Garmin Fenix 7X or a Garmin Epix Gen 2, and the Epix Gen 2 has an AMOLED display and, well, actually decent battery life. Garmin's dive watches – like the Garmin Descent Mk2 – also have a way longer battery life, albeit a less attractive MIP display.
Secondly, the Apple Watch Ultra must prove its prowess as a rugged watch. I get it that it has been certified and can be used for diving – pretty cool, by the way – but it looks quite delicate to me, at least in the pictures. There is a reason why wearables such as the Garmin Instinct Solar come in tough rubber housing.
And, of course, there is the battery life. Apple is right to assume outdoor people love a long battery life, but 36 hours in 2022 isn't long battery life. I appreciate that the Apple Watch Ultra has a bright screen, but so does the Huawei Watch GT Runner or other smartwatches with week-long battery power.
All that said, I'm excited to give the Apple Watch Ultra a try. It's an exciting concept, but Apple needs to offer more than okay battery life and an extra button to get people to abandon their Garmin watches en masse and pick up an Apple Watch Ultra.
If you're interested in getting one for yourself, people in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, the UAE, the UK, the US, and more than 40 other countries and regions can order Apple Watch Ultra now, with availability in stores beginning 23 September 2022. For more info, visit Apple today.