When you start to wear an Apple Watch Ultra, people notice straight away.
That's a big deal because, since the Watch launched in 2015, it's become ubiquitous – so ubiquitous that it's hard for new models to stand out.
That's why Apple has really stepped up its game with the surprise release of the Ultra, touted as a "rugged" evolution of the Apple Watch designed for adventure sports.
But even if (like me) you're a city dweller who rarely does anything more extreme than walk to the gym on rainy days, you'll appreciate this sturdy, highly capable and just plain beautiful new incarnation of the Apple Watch.
Pros of the Apple Watch Ultra
The Ultra is a premium Apple product, so there are a lot of pros. Starting with its upgraded, statement-piece design: it's chunkier than standard Apple Watches but retains their sleek look.
The 49mm screen is also noticeably bigger, sharper and brighter, and can pack in an incredible amount of information – that's handy if you're glancing at it on the ski slopes or in the middle of an ultramarathon (more on that later), but it's also lovely to look at in everyday use. Even humdrum email notifications look terrific on this thing.
I became dependent on this new button within a week of wearing the Ultra.
(If you're a fan of Apple Watch complications – aka the little widgets that display information on the screen – set aside some time to play with the new Wayfinder watch face, which crams in an impressive eight complications.)
Probably the standout hardware feature of the Ultra is the new, bright orange Action button (yes, Apple, famous for removing buttons, has added one) on the side of the device. It can be customised depending on what you most use your Watch for – I set it to start (or pause) my workouts, and became dependent on this new button within a week of wearing the Ultra. It's really useful.
Now, a confession: in the time I wore the Apple Watch Ultra to write this review, I didn't take it diving or ocean swimming, mountaineering, bushwalking or anything that could be considered "extreme" (it didn't even rain when I walked to the gym). However, Ultra comes with a slew of new features targeted to these kinds of activities.
For outdoorsy types, precision GPS allows you to set navigation waypoints in the redesigned Compass app, and its chunky buttons can be pressed even in thick gloves; and for aquatic types, the Ultra is fit for kitesurfing and wakeboarding, while its new Depth app reveals all the metrics you need while diving as deep as 40m.
(A soon-to-be-released Oceanic+ app promises to turn the Ultra into a dive computer.)
Garmin, which has a rep for making the hardiest smartwatches, must be casting a concerned eye at Apple's latest offering.
And the Apple Watch has always been lovingly crafted for runners, who can add even more metrics – up to six at once – to the Ultra's supersized screen. This is a Big Deal if you're a fitness nerd constantly craving more, richer data about your workouts.
Cons of the Apple Watch Ultra
The deep customisation offered by the Ultra means more time required to set it all up, and it's a little fiddly to sort out your preferred metrics (as well as to wrap your head around what new features like "heart rate zones" are actually telling you).
Expect to spend a bit of time googling new features if you want to get the most out of a new Ultra – however, that customisation is optional, so you can start using it without much fuss as soon as you strap it onto your wrist.
The other notable con, as with any premium Apple offering, is the price: the Apple Watch Ultra starts at $1,299.
That's on par with the cost of rival adventure smart watches, but hefty if you really only need a device that tracks everyday activity (in which case, you might want to consider the Apple Watch SE – from $399).
Is the Apple Watch Ultra worth it?
If you regularly explore extreme environments: yes, the Ultra is fantastic bit of kit for you. If you're not an adventurer but you have a chunk of cash to burn on what really is Apple's most beautiful Watch yet: yes, its crisp screen really is a thing to behold.
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