Apple Watch Ultra 2 review in a sentence: Apple updates its rugged Ultra line by slapping on a brighter display, adding a faster chip, introducing new ways to interact with your watch and expanding on the already impressive feature set. Colour me impressed!
No matter how many rumours I’ve read about the upcoming Apple Watch Ultra 2, secretly, I didn’t think Apple would actually release a new rugged wearable this year. The original Apple Watch Ultra was a big deal, a whole new wearable concept from the most popular smartwatch manufacturer. I gathered Apple will do the same thing it did with the Apple Watch SE line and put the Ultra on a by-yearly release cadence.
Yet, here I am a year after we first learned about the release of Apple’s first rugged wearable, testing the Apple Watch Ultra 2 in the Italian Dolomites to see if the successor lives up to my sky-high expectations. It’s a familiar experience, wearing the Ultra 2; it looks almost like the spitting image of its predecessor. But under the hood, the upgrades made the new watch faster, brighter and more intelligent than the original Ultra.
[Read our full comparison of the two watches here: Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra.]
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: price and availability
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 was announced in September 2023 and is available to buy now directly from Apple UK, Apple US and Apple AU for a recommended retail price of £799/ $799/ AU$ 1,399. The Ultra 2 is cheaper in the UK, the same price in the US, and more expensive in AU (£849/ $799/ AU$ 1,299) than the Apple Watch Ultra was when it came out.
Like its predecessor, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is available in one colourway with three strap options: Alpine Loop, Trail Loop and Ocean Band. Each of these comes in three different colours. Check out T3’s best cheap Apple Watch deals roundup for the latest offers right now or our best Apple Watch guide for alternative options.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: specifications
- Finish: Natural Titanium
- Display: LTPO OLED Always-On Retina display with a 3000-nit maximum brightness and 410 x 502 pixels resolution
- Dimensions: H49mm, W44mm, D14.4mm
- Weight: 61.4g
- Storage: 64GB
- Processor: S9 SiP with 64-bit dual-core processor, 4-core Neural Engine, Second-generation Ultra Wideband chip
- GNSS: Precision dual-frequency GPS GPS, GNSS, Galileo, BeiDou
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n), Bluetooth 5.3
- Water rating: WR100 water resistance, EN13319 standard for dive accessories
- Dust rating: IP6X dust resistant
- Durability: Tested to MIL-STD 810H
- Battery life
- Up to 36 hours (normal use)
- Up to 72 hours (Low Power Mode)
- Up to 12 hours (Outdoor Run with GPS)
- USB-C fast charging 0%-80% in about one hour
- 0%-100% in about 1.5 hours
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: design and build quality
For the casual onlooker, the physical difference between the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the Apple Watch Ultra seems negligible. It’s the same 49 mm case size, the same button layout, and almost identical band options to choose from. Scratch the surface a bit, and you’ll reveal some pretty significant changes, like the brighter LTPO OLED screen, which has a maximum brightness of 3,000 nits – incredibly bright for a small screen (well, small compared to smartphone displays). It’s said to be 50% brighter than its predecessor.
Another improvement to mention is the green credentials of the wearable. When purchased with the new Alpine or Trail Loop, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is Carbon Neutral certified, thanks to its recycled titanium case, which extends up to surround and protect the flat sapphire front crystal from edge impacts.
A titanium guard also protects the Digital Crown to help prevent accidental rotations. The Digital Crown is big with coarser grooves, and the side button is raised so that both can be easily used even when wearing gloves.
The new sustainable approach deserves its own article, so I won’t discuss it here too much. All I’ve got to say is that it’s an admirable effort from Apple to put its products on a greener path at scale, but I’d like to see more, especially at the end of the product’s lifecycle.
The most impactful hardware change isn’t visible to the naked eye: it’s the new S9 System in Package (SiP). The new processor boosts performance and capabilities, including the new double tap gesture, on-device Siri, and more. It’s the same processor powering the Apple Watch Series 9 and the most powerful chip in Apple Watch ever. The S9 SiP has a dual-core CPU with 5.6 billion transistors – 60% more than the Apple Watch Series 8 – and a GPU up to 30 per cent faster.
As a result, interactions are buttery smooth, and I experienced no lag when I used the Ultra 2.
One quick note about the straps. I used the Ocean Band with the first Apple Watch Ultra, which I found to be the most comfortable for sleeping. However, the redesigned Alpine Loop is super comfy and incredibly lightweight, making it my go-to strap for the Apple Watch Ultra 2. It’s one of the carbon-neutral loops and is made from two textile layers woven into one continuous piece without stitching, reducing chafing and irritation.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: (new) features
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 comes with all the features of its predecessor, some of which are specific to the Ultra series of watches (e.g. Action Button, Precision Start, Siren, etc.). It’s also the premier Apple Watch to enjoy all the new WatchOS 10 upgrades, including the latest hiking and cycling features. Of course, WatchOS 10 features will trickle down to older Apple wearables, so they are far from exclusive to the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
What’s unique to the latest Apple Watch cohort is the Double Tap gesture, On-device Siri, Precision Finsing for iPhone and HomePod Media Control, as these require the S9 SiP mentioned above. The feature most people are interested in is, of course, the Double Tap gesture. This provides a fun (and accessible) way to interact with your Apple Watch Ultra 2, although compatible apps will be somewhat limited initially. (Read more about the Apple Watch Double Tap feature.)
On-device Siri is an exciting addition. Thanks to the more powerful Neural Engine, Siri requests that don’t need information from the internet, like setting a timer or starting a workout, no longer go to the cloud, so they can be processed faster.
Apple found that most Siri interactions belong in this category. The new voice assistant feature goes beyond basic commands. For the first time, and once this feature is enabled later this year, you will be able to access your health data with just your voice.
You can ask Siri questions like how long you slept, your average walking heart rate, or how you’re doing on your Move ring. You can use Siri to log health data like your weight, period, or medications and access data from third-party apps and devices that use HealthKit, like connected blood glucose monitors.
Similarly to gesture control, this new function isn’t mind-blowing and only replaces a few taps, but it shows great potential for the future. Once Apple fine-tunes its algorithm, I’m sure we’ll be able to use Siri to give us health trend updates, training recommendations, and more, similar to Whoop’s new AI-based Whoop Coach feature.
Precision Finding for iPhones only works with the latest generations of Apple smartphones, so it’ll only be helpful for those with an iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro (so, not me). I assume future iPhone generations will be able to utilise this feature, so watch this space.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: health and fitness tracking
I’ve been an avid Garmin watch user for years and still love them to bits. I own a Garmin Fenix 7X, and whenever I’m not testing a new wearable – which doesn’t happen often – I use that watch for training. Last year, the Apple Watch Ultra had a massive impact on how I use smartwatches and managed to push the Fenix 7X off my wrist, maybe not for good, but for now.
Then came the Apple Watch Ultra 2, coupled with the latest performance updates of WatchOS 10, and now I’m thinking: do I need a Garmin watch for the amount of training I do? Don’t get me wrong; pros should still use a dedicated running watch or multisport watch, at least, until Apple finally releases a watch with decent battery life (more on battery life below).
But for people whose main personality trait isn’t the sport they do in their free time, the health and fitness tracking capabilities of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 are more than enough. Not just enough – excellent. Apple’s heart rate sensor has always been accurate, and although, from what I can tell, the LED array hasn’t been updated since the last generations, I was more than happy with the readings from the original Ultra and more than happy with the same readings provided by the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Dual-frequency GPS is spot on, and thanks to the action button and the fact that now you need to confirm before you end a workout (which prevents accidental tapping), the Ultra 2 is a reliable training partner.
Naturally, the new watch incorporates all the running, cycling, and hiking features most Apple Watches should have, such as the Track Running mode and new cycling metrics, but is it any good underwater?
Well, I didn’t get to test it yet, but the Apple Watch Ultra 2 can be used for freediving, unlike the original Ultra that could ‘only’ do scuba diving, as part of the Oceanic+ app updates.
There are tons of diving updates, both software and hardware, allowing you to capture and share your underwater adventures more easily. For example, Apple will soon release an Oceanic+ Dive Housing for the iPhone, letting you take photos underwater. This is useful since the Oceanic app will make it easier for you to share your dives, as browsing your log book with all your drives is much easier now.
Interestingly, Apple didn’t talk much about another performance upgrade to the Apple Watch Ultra 2, which I think is more useful for some people than the new diving features. The operating altitude range of Apple Watch Ultra 2 has been increased to -500-9000 meters (-1640 feet to 29,500 feet), which exceeds the current standard of other Apple Watch models of 0 meters to 3000 meters and the widest altitude range of any Apple product. This helps the Apple Watch Ultra 2 live up to its full potential and might make it more appealing to alpinists or athletes training at ridiculously high altitudes.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: battery life
I mentioned this in my Apple Watch SE 2 review, but I believe battery life is almost part of Apple’s marketing strategy. Unlike most wearable manufacturers, who’ll try to increase the battery performance of their wearables at each iteration, Apple does the opposite. Instead of elongating the time the Apple Watch Ultra 2 can operate on a single charge, the company updated the processor – which, in theory, would reduce power consumption – and added more features, almost to keep the battery life where it was before.
The official battery life of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is 36 hours of ’normal’ use, which is increased to 72 hours in Low Power Mode. In my experience – this is based on empirical testing – the Ultra 2 can function for slightly longer than its predecessor, around two days, before the battery depletes completely.
It’s still a far cry from some AMOLED wearables, such as the Huawei Watch GT 4 or the Garmin Epix Gen 2, but acceptable from an Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 charges pretty quickly (0%-80% in about one hour, 0%-100% in about 1.5 hours), so I don’t mind the short battery life. I can see it being a slight issue for people who might want to go off-grid for longer, but for suckers like me, it’s more than enough.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: verdict
Until two weeks ago, I wasn’t sure if we would see an Apple Watch Ultra 2 this year; now, I can’t imagine not having it wrapped around my wrist. If you liked the first iteration, you’ll love Apple’s latest rugged wearable offering. It’s prettier, more intelligent and faster than before without any price increase. A no-brainer update for those who had an older Apple Watch and were thinking about updating to the Apple Watch Ultra last year but didn’t.
If you do have an Apple Watch Ultra, it’s really a matter of justifying paying the same amount you did last year for the new version. I’d argue that if you kept your Ultra in decent condition, it’s worth trading it in for the latest version, which isn’t just good for your wallet but also the planet.
Some of the new features weren’t available to test at the time of writing (e.g. Double Tap), so I’ll update this review later once I used the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a bit more. That’s not to say the watch didn’t impress me – it really did. Can’t wait to take on more adventures and see if we can push each other to our limits to see who breaks first. It’ll probably be me.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: also consider
T3's best outdoor watch guide has tons of recommendations and Apple Watch Ultra alternatives.
The Huawei Watch Ultimate is one of these. It's a premium wearable with a similarly hefty price tag to the Ultra 2 that will certainly delight its owners with its beauty and features, even if they aren't Arctic explorers. If you want a smartwatch that does it all, consider this wearable. Read my full Huawei Watch Ultimate review.
If sustainability is your main concern, check out Suunto's Vertical. It has excellent mapping features, long battery life and excellent build quality. The added solar charging option is also a step in the right direction for the Finnish brand. The CPU could be faster, and the screen brighter, but overall, the Suunto Vertical isn't the worst option for outdoor navigation. Read my full Suunto Vertical review.
For a cheaper option, the Coros Apex 2 Pro is your best option. It offers an updated heart rate sensor, dual-frequency GPS chip, plenty of trail running and outdoor sports features, rugged titanium and sapphire glass design, an okay touchscreen display, and a lot of training support via the Coros app and the Coros EvoLab. It might not be as premium-looking as the Apple Watch Ultra 2, but for this price, that isn't an issue. Read my full Coros Apex 2 Pro review.