Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: What’s the difference?
Apple Watch Ultra 2
Our top choice
Although almost identical in appearance, it is what’s under the skin that ensures the Apple Watch Ultra 2 comes out on top here. There’s no getting away from the fact the S9 SiP chipset makes it faster and opens the door to a handful of new features, including the very cool double tap gesture functionality.Pros
- 50 per cent brighter 3000 nit display
- New Freediving features
- Precision finding with iPhone 15
- No increase in battery life
- Styling remains the same
- No new sensor tech
Apple Watch Ultra
Still a great watch
Upgrade to watchOS 10 and you’ll still benefit from a raft of new Apple Watch features, including topographic maps, cycling workouts and a new Night Mode. The OG Ultra’s design is essentially the same, the battery life is still better than Apple Watch and most of its great outdoors and fitness features remain unchanged.Pros
- Packed with sensors
- Still tough
- Great fitness features
- Lacks native Siri commands
- Older processor
- No double-tapping
Apple chose its September keynote in sunny Cupertino to announce the launch of its second generation Apple Watch Ultra. The rugged, outdoors-focused smartwatch took the fight to the likes of Garmin, Suunto and Polar when it was launched late in 2022, promising a more rugged design that the Series watches and features that would support an active and adventurous lifestyle. Well, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is arguably more rugged than ever – tested all the way from 500 metres below sea level to the highest 9,000 metre peaks to ensure it performs in the toughest environments.
Does that mean you need to ditch your Apple Watch Ultra and upgrade today? Or is it worth bagging a bargain and investing in the original that will inevitably benefit from discounted pricing? We go head-to-head with the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the first generation Apple Watch Ultra to find out.
Price, availability and specs
The most expensive Apple Watch Ultra with cellular functionality retailed at $849 when it first launched at the tail end of 2022, but seeing as it has now been usurped by an updated version, prices have dropped across the board, with many retailers offering it at $799. In the UK, we’ve found that retailers are already discounting the original Apple Watch Ultra, with the likes of John Lewis and Currys offering it at £669, so it is likely the price cuts will continue.
The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is priced at $799/£799, so without any discounting applied, the two generations are on an equal footing at the moment. Customers 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 2 today, with availability in stores beginning 22 September.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 Apple Watch Ultra Brand Apple Apple Case Material Titanium Titanium Sizes 49mm 49mm Display 1,185 sq mm, 410×502 pixel resolution, 3000 nits 49mm 1164sq mm, 502 x 410 pixel resolution, 2000nits CPU S9 SiP W3 chip, U1 chip Connectivity GPS & Cellular GPS & Cellular Durability IP6X rated, MIL-STD-810H tested, EN13319, 10ATM IP6X rated, MIL-STD-810H tested, EN13319, 10ATM Software watchOS 10 watchOS 9 Health sensors Body temperature, Blood oxygen, Optical heart rate, Electrical heart rate, 86dB siren, Depth Gauge Body temperature, Blood oxygen, Optical heart rate, Electrical heart rate, 86dB siren, Depth Gauge Strap Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, Ocean Loop Trail Loop, Alpine Loop, Ocean Loop Dimensions 49 x 44 x 14.4mm 49 x 44 x 14.4mm Weight 61.3g 61.3g Mobile payments Apple Pay Apple Pay
Design and build
Apple is more of an “evolution, not revolution” kinda guy, which means massive disappointment for those expecting wholesale changes in design and build of the Apple Watch Ultra. The same 49mm titanium case exists, housing the same Digital Crown and over-sized Action Button. The key difference here is environmental impact, with Apple using 95 per cent recycled titanium for the case, rather than zero recycled material in the original model.
There is one way of ensuring passers-by notice your new watch and that’s by investing in one of the all new Apple Watch Trail Loop and Alpine Loop bands, which are now carbon neutral, contain over 30 per cent recycled content and feature a stylish new design.
The display remains the same 49mm, 410 x 502 pixels covered in sapphire crystal glass for protection, but Apple claims a new Modular Ultra watch face is the first to use the outermost edge of said display to present real-time data, including seconds, altitude, or depth. This clever use of the real estate effectively makes the display feel larger than the original model, while it offers the most complications of any Apple digital watch face, so users can customise this for sports, outdoor adventures, and ocean and water activities.
Perhaps more importantly, Apple has boosted the brightness of its display in Apple Watch Ultra 2, which now offers 3000 nits, as opposed to the 2000 nits produced by its predecessor. This is huge, considering we found the original Apple Watch Ultra to be one of the brightest and clearest outdoor GPS smartwatches we’ve ever used. A 50 per cent brighter screen will make the second generation ever easier to see in direct sunlight, or when diving to the depths of the ocean.
Apple kept it very simple with the Watch Ultra line-up and continues to do so with the second generation offering. All watches come with cellular capabilities and the only option on the table for the consumer is what Band to choose.
Again, Alpine, Trail and Ocean feature here, with each boasting its own unique merits. Alpine being the option for climbers and hikers, Trail a more workout and running-friendly band, while Ocean is for those who mess around in the water regularly. The price remains unchanged, no matter the band you choose.
Again, Apple hasn’t integrated any new sensor technology into Apple Watch Ultra 2, which is understandable seeing as the original packed pretty much everything you ever need. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 manages to cram in the same altimeter, compass, blood oxygen sensor, electrical heart sensor, optical heart rate sensor, high G accelerometer, high dynamic range gyroscope, ambient light sensor, water temperature sensor, depth gauge and body temperature sensor. Phew, that made us pretty breathless just typing it all up. But long story short, it brings the hardware chops to track pretty much every fitness and lifestyle metric going.
The key difference between Apple Watch Ultra 2 and its forerunner is a new double tap gesture, which customers will also find on Apple Watch Series 9. This is made possible by Apple’s faster Neural Engine (itself facilitated by a new chip) and allows users to control their watch using the index and thumb of the hand the watch is worn on. Users can tap the index finger and thumb of their watch hand together twice to quickly and conveniently perform many of the most common actions on Apple Watch Ultra 2. Double tap will also open the Smart Stack from the watch face, and another double tap will scroll through widgets in the stack.
During a workout, double tap controls the primary button, so it can be used to stop a timer, for example. Outside of workouts, it can play and pause music or snooze an alarm. The gesture can be used to answer and end a phone call, take a photo with the Camera Remote on Apple Watch, or even switch to the new Elevation view in the Compass app to see the relative elevation of saved waypoints.
This is arguably the biggest talking point in Apple Watch Ultra 2’s launch, as it now packs the powerful S9 SiP chip that was also announced for Apple Watch Series 9. According to Apple, it is the most powerful chip it has produced to date and facilitates the aforementioned double tap gesture and on-device Siri capabilities, with the ability to access and log health data privately and securely.
On top of this, Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a new 4-core Neural Engine that can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast as the original Apple Watch Ultra. This means users can harness the power of Siri without the need for Wi-Fi or cellular networks to start a workout or set a timer, for example.
The powerful Neural Engine also makes dictation up to 25 per cent more accurate and Siri can be used to access data from the Health app for health and fitness related queries. You can now ask Siri how much sleep you’ve had or set a waypoint when out hiking using natural speech.
Like Apple Watch Series 9, Watch Ultra 2 runs on watchOS 10, which brings with it a whole host of new features – some of which will please fitness fans. Bluetooth connectivity is enabled for power meters, speed sensors and cadence sensors for cyclists, while topographic maps in the Maps app now show contour lines and elevation details. Two things that were desperately required if Apple wants to eat into Garmin’s sales.
A new Night mode can be automatically activated thanks to clever use of the built-in ambient light sensor, as well as the ability to measure time spent in daylight, for all of those desk-dwellers severely lacking vitamin D. Bespoke to Apple Watch Ultra is the Oceanic+ app, which is a boon for recreational and scuba divers. Freediving has now been added to said app with new screens that show things like heart rate, depth and elapsed dive times.
The built-in Depth app also now saves a log of each underwater session, so users can review the most recent sessions on Apple Watch Ultra or view the complete history of all dives with a GPS entry point in the Fitness app on iPhone.
Unfortunately, Apple hasn’t addressed the battery life elephant in the room, which some off-grid outdoor enthusiasts bemoaned when the original Apple Watch Ultra was launched.
Through previous software updates, Apple has managed to eke the most out of its rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which offers up to 36 hours under mixed usage, or 72 hours in a low power mode. It is still the longest battery life of any Apple Watch, though.
Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: Should you upgrade?
It might sound like it is stating the bleedin’ obvious, but if you are buying new, you may as well opt for the Apple Ultra 2. The screen is twice as bright, there’s the intuitive double tap gesture control and the upgraded chipset means it unlocks a bunch of handy Siri functionality and generally runs a lot faster.
Throw into the mix the fact Apple is on a drive to cut its emissions and prove a much greener company by 2030, and you also have the environmental benefits of purchasing a watch that uses largely recycled materials in the manufacturing process.
Apple Watch Ultra 2
Although almost identical in appearance, it is what’s under the skin that ensures the Apple Watch Ultra 2 comes out on top here. There’s no getting away from the fact the S9 SiP chipset makes it faster and opens the door to a handful of new features, including the very cool double-tap gesture functionality.
That said, if you already own and Apple Watch Ultra, we would really struggle to suggest you fork out the extra money for a small handful of new features. Simply upgrading to watchOS 10 will unlock plenty of new features, such as the topographical maps and third party sensor connectivity. Two things we thought were missing during our early reviews of the device.
Apple / Pocket-lint
Apple Watch Ultra
A great alternative
Upgrade to watchOS 10 and you’ll still benefit from a raft of new Apple Watch features, including topographic maps, cycling workouts and a new Night Mode. The OG Ultra’s design is essentially the same, the battery life is still better than Apple Watch and most of its great outdoors and fitness features remain unchanged.