Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: the smartwatch world’s best screen ever

 Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: One minute review

The original Apple Watch Ultra was the most radical redesign to the watch that Apple has ever attempted. It was something entirely new, a great innovation, one that was celebrated, and the best Apple Watch we'd ever seen. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is also very good, because it’s mostly the same watch.

It has a brighter screen (Apple’s brightest screen ever, in fact) but Apple’s new S9 SiP chip and the watchOS 10 operating system are what’s bringing most of the changes. The S9 chip, just like it does on the Apple Watch Series 9, allows for a selection of new features such as the impressive hands-free Double Tap control. This innovative new gesture allows you to start workouts, dismiss timers, answer calls and more, all hands-free.

A smattering of other features, including Siri, no longer needed to connect to the cloud, while a couple of alterations to the Depth app round out the changes. It’s also stepped up its eco credentials, with recycled materials both inside and outside the watch. New bands also share this ethos, with an increased emphasis on sustainability fostering new design.

However, when it comes to the Apple Watch Ultra 2’s core mission - an Apple Watch to take with you into the wilderness and under the sea - very little has changed. There has been no battery life extension, new workout functionalities, or navigation innovations you can’t also get on the original Ultra thanks to watchOS 10. It’s still an amazing Apple Watch - probably the best, in fact, from a specifications perspective, and a definite contender for our best smartwatch guide - but it’s falling into the same cycle of small annual updates as the standard Apple Watch models.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Specifications

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Price and availability

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
  • $799 / £799 / AU$1,399

  • Only one model

  • Available now

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is available now. Your purchasing journey is pretty straightforward, in comparison to the Apple Watch Series 9: while the Apple Watch Series 9 comes with a whole host of choice attached to it (which color? Which size? Which band? GPS or cellular?) there’s just a single Apple Watch Ultra 2 to choose from.

You get one size, 49mm, and one color: it is standard Titanium, despite the rumors we’d be seeing a Black or Midnight version. It packs LTE cellular connectivity as standard. The only meaningful choice you need to make while buying it is which band it comes with, but we’ll get to those in more detail in the Design section below.

If the $799 / £799 / AU$1,399 price for the Watch Ultra 2 is too high, or you don't need the extra adventure-focused features, you can of course look at the Apple Watch 9 range instead. It's at a similar price point to the original Ultra, so there's no giant value-depreciating markup here.

It's an expensive device, but with its premium titanium build, LTE connectivity, and advanced features you won't find outside the Ultra series, it's not awful from a value perspective – costing roughly the same, or less, than many premium Garmin devices designed for the same sort of adventures.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Design

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
  • Recycled Titanium casing

  • 3,000 nit Retina Display screen

  • Otherwise identical

At first glance, just like the Series 9, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is more or less identical to its predecessor. Both share the same solid titanium body, the protruding casing housing the digital crown and the side button, and the now-iconic orange Action button. Microphone and speaker placement also match the original exactly.

The key differences to look out for concern the screen and the bands. First off, the screen is even more beautiful than on the first version, capable of putting out an impressive 3,000 nits of brightness at full blast. It’s Apple’s brightest screen ever, the refresh rate is like water falling off a duck’s back, and it’s definitely Apple at its peak. It’s probably the best smartwatch screen I’ve ever seen in person from a purely technical standpoint.

This world-beating screen is brought to life with a new customizable Ultra-exclusive watch face, showing the seconds ticking away around the screen in a very clever fashion. Meanwhile, your favorite complications - for instance movement rings, a weather widget, temperature, and a compass setting - can be mixed-and-matched to display on the watch face itself.

It’s a smart alternative to the Wayfinder watch face from last year, and looks particularly great in Night Mode - although, if I had to make a choice right now, the Wayfinder still looks better.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review

However, that’s pretty much everything we can say from a software design perspective, as most of the innovations present here are part of watchOS 10, which is also available on other Apple Watches. It’s a shame there’s nothing new or unique about what you can do with watchOS 10 and the Ultra 2’s Action button: it’s still programmable, able to map to different functions, but there’s no exciting new feature using the button this time.

The bands are driven by the same environmentally friendly message that dominated this year’s Apple releases. Like the original, three straps are available for the Ultra 2: Alpine, with a g-hook fastening, a nylon Trail strap, and a flouroelastomer Ocean band for dives.

I got to handle the Trail strap, and the design has been slightly tweaked, with a more rounded, clean end to it. Like the Series 9’s sport loops, the nylon band is made with some recycled wool now. The Alpine and Trail bands are emblazoned with a circle of green leaves on the packaging, signifying they’re part of Apple’s carbon neutral scheme, and this will also be made clear online. The watch’s titanium casing is also made from 95% recycled titanium, an impressive number if nothing else.

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Features

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
  • Last year's excellent adventuring suite

  • New Double Tap gesture

  • Night Mode switches on automatically

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 still has the same stand-out adventuring features its predecessor did, such as next-level GPS tracking, using the Action button to emit a warning siren for assistance, durability in high and low temperatures, and the Oceanic+ app, which turns the watch into a working dive computer. If you want to check that one out, we had a real diving instructor test the Apple Watch Ultra to see how it did.

The Depth app, which is different from the Oceanic+ as it’s Apple’s in-house dive function, allows you to access logs of previous dives more easily on the watch now. It also supports free diving, although I’m unlikely to give that a serious go before I fully review the watch. The original Ultra’s slick, infrared-looking Night Mode had to be switched on manually with the digital crown, but it now turns on automatically thanks to ambient light sensors under the screen.

That’s it for adventuring gear, but in terms of other new features, the Double Tap gesture is the big winner here. Although it’s not available until October and I wasn’t able to try it on the Apple Watch Ultra 2, I was able to have a go with the feature on the Apple Watch Series 9, which uses the same chipset and sensor array.

For those not in the know, by raising the watch as if you’re going to check the time and pinching your fingers twice, you can activate whatever widget or app you have open at any given time. If you’ve got a workout loaded up, you can start or finish it, for example. I tried answering a phone call, dismissing a timer, and scrolling through the new watchOS 10 widget stack using the feature, and it’s very impressive and easy to get to grips with. This could easily have been a useless gimmick, but Apple has made this a feature you’ll probably use daily.

Other new stuff involves the S9’s use of its Ultra Wideband technology to improve the Find Devices functionality. If you use an iPhone 15, which is also equipped with Ultra Wideband, you can see not only the direction of your phone, but also how far away it is from you in feet. My live demonstration was great, but of course, at the moment it’s predicated on you having access to both new devices. Ultra Wideband can also be used to control music on your Apple HomePod if you’re nearby, which is useful, I guess - but this isn’t a watch for staying at home. This is a watch for the great outdoors, and I would have liked to see more innovation here.

Nevertheless, with so many outstanding features from last year's Ultra and previous Apple Watches, it's hard to mark an Apple Watch down too much for being "more of the same".

  • Features score: 4/5

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Performance

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review
  • Battery performs as expected

  • Brighter screen a pleasure

  • Accurate and fast GPS 

Since filing my hands-on review of the Ultra 2, which was based on just a few hours using the smartwatch, I’ve been testing it more thoroughly, wearing it on several runs, during strength training workouts, while sleeping and otherwise putting it through its paces, paired with an iPhone 13 running iOS 17. As in my Apple Watch Series 9 review, I won’t go too much into the changes ushered in by watchOS 10, save for saying I’m slightly disappointed that a new functionality for the Action button hasn’t really come to light.

Instead, I want to focus on what the watch does well, which is pretty much anything you task it with. It’s big, it’s hardy and it lasts for longer than a standard Apple Watch. If it weren’t for the size and weight of the watch, I’d say sleep tracking is a viable prospect, but not everyone is going to want to wear this chonker overnight. It tracks my sleep well enough, and offers an accurate breakdown of my sleep trends, but it doesn’t turn that into useful guidance in the way Fitbit and Garmin devices do with their Readiness scores.

Activity tracking is a genuine pleasure. Brisk walks are logged onto my activity and movement rings automatically, and the rings themselves are an easy way to see, at a glance, whether I’m hitting my goals for that day. The Apple Watch’s workout modes can be set up so that you can start a workout with the Action button, which is great for runners and skiers wearing gloves, or anyone with sweaty hands that aren’t conducive to using a touchscreen, but the real pleasure for me is using the Strength Training workout profiles to build myself Custom Workouts with rest and work segments.

You can switch between segments with a press of the Action button, so no wiping your touchscreen with sweaty fingers. This is the first smartwatch I’ve worn which I feel is genuinely useful in a gym environment; with others, strength training feels like an afterthought.

Running is also a joy, with the watch retaining last year’s more-accurate-than-ever GPS and watchOS 9’s running power innovation. The ambient light sensor switching to Night Mode automatically, a change from last year, is especially effective to avoid dazzling your eyes during winter evening jogs. The brighter screen is also a nice option to have, although in my experience I’ve never needed more than 2,000 nits from a watch to help myself see it clearly, even in direct sunlight.

Apple Watch Ultra 2
Apple Watch Ultra 2

Battery life performs as described, 36 hours or even longer, and that’s including a 45-minute run thrown in there. It’ll be a pleasure to use if you’re coming from a standard Apple watch, but a two-day charge is still a stark difference compared with some of the sportier Garmins, with which the Ultra shares so much DNA. The battery is still far too short-lived to take on multi-day camping or trail events, unless you put the watch in low-power mode.

The main changes facilitated by the watch’s S9 chip, the Double Tap and the new Find Devices feature, are fantastic. I trialed them in the Apple offices, but at the time of writing they’re unavailable for use, and are due to arrive on the Watch Ultra 2 and Apple Watch 9 later in the year. The improved Find Devices feature using the Ultra Wideband frequency is extremely accurate and intuitive to use, and although it’s only available when combined with the iPhone 15 series right now, it feels like future proofing.

Double Tap, on the other hand, has the potential to change the way you use your Apple Watch on a daily basis right now. This simple gesture will be very useful if you’re in a position in which you don’t want to touch your watch, whether that’s cooking, exercising in the gym, or even something truly out there like skiing. Just like the Action buttons, the multiple applications of the feature (it activates whatever the main action is on whichever complication you have open) keep it very useful, and it was fast and responsive during my initial tests.

  • Performance score: 4/5

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Scorecard

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Should I buy?

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