Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: What should you buy?

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra
(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra differences are rather significant. While the Apple Watch Series 8 is more or less an iterative update, the rugged Apple Watch Ultra is unlike any smartwatch we've seen from Apple before — it figures to be the largest and longest-lasting Apple Watch ever.

Apple announced both devices at the Apple Event on September 7, and both available now for pre-order. So you might be wondering how these two devices compare compare. Reviewing the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra side-by-side, you'll see differences in design, features, battery life and, of course, price.

There's perhaps one group of potential customers that should buy the Apple Watch Series 8, and another group that's better suited for the Apple Watch Ultra. Based on our first impressions and the key specs, here's how an Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra comparison stacks up. These could be two of the best smartwatches of the year, after all.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Specs compared

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch Series 8Apple Watch Ultra
Starting price$399$799
Cellular Optional ($100 premium)Yes
MaterialsAluminum, stainless steelTitanium
Sizes41mm, 45mm49mm
Always On DisplayYes (1000 nits)Yes (2000 nits)
Water resistance 50 meters100 meters
Health sensorsTemperature sensing, ECG, heart rate, blood oxygenTemperature sensing, ECG, heart rate, blood oxygen
Safety featuresEmergency SOS, fall detection, crash detection, compass backtrackEmergency SOS, fall detection, crash detection, compass backtrack, 86 decibel siren
ConnectivityNFC, WiFi, LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS (L1)NFC, WiFi, LTE, Bluetooth 5.3, GPS (L1 + L5)
Battery life18 hours (36 with low power mode)36 hours (60 with low power mode)

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Price

Price is one of the foremost differences between the Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra. The Apple Watch Series 8 starts at $399, as many of the best Apple Watch flagships before it. Cellular connectivity is a $100 premium for both the 41mm and 45mm sizes.

The Apple Watch Ultra costs $799, only coming in one configuration with Cellular support. Though it's rather expensive in comparison, we'll note Stainless Steel, Titanium or Edition models of the Apple Watch have been as expensive (or more expensive.) 

Check out our guide to Apple Watch 8 preorders. You can preorder both watches now, with availability for Apple Watch Series 8 starting September 16 and availability for Apple Watch Ultra starting September 23.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Design

There's no mistaking these watches for each other based on design. Unlike the Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch 7 design, which is practically identical, the Apple Watch Ultra design delivers a totally new look for Apple's smartwatch lineup. It's pitched as prepared for adventures across all kinds of terrain. 

Apple Watch 8

Apple Watch 8 (Image credit: Future)

Most notably, the Apple Watch Ultra has a titanium 49mm case — it's the largest-ever Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Series 8 comes in 41mm and 45mm sizes (both in aluminum and stainless steel), with the Apple Watch Ultra making the 45mm Series 8 look small side-by-side. The Ultra also has a flat display, while the Series 8 screen maintains a soft curve.

Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra (Image credit: Future)

Buttons are another visible difference, with the Apple Watch Series 8 donning the expected digital crown and side button on the right side of the chassis. The Apple Watch Ultra meanwhile, has a larger digital crown with more pronounced grooves that's now situated in a protruding extension with the regular side button. On the left side there's an added action button that can quick-launch an assigned feature, as  well as a visible speaker grille.

Both the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra can be customized with the best Apple Watch bands, though the Ultra does feature a unique collection of straps that look optimized for specific outdoor sports. 

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Features

We'll start with what's not different between the Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra features. Both watches run watchOS 9, have the new skin temperature sensor, new crash detection emergency function, a familiar set of communication options, support for the best Apple Watch apps, a complete suite for fitness tracking and more. At their foundations, they're similar devices.

Both watches even get the redesigned compass app, which now lets you save waypoints and retrace your steps with a track back feature. But getting into what's different, you'll see only the Apple Watch Ultra has the latest GPS protocol (L5), promising the most precise location data of any Apple Watch yet. 

Apple Watch Ultra

Apple Watch Ultra (Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch Ultra also has a new siren app, leveraging the speaker we mentioned in the design section to ring an 86-decibel alarm. It can apparently be heard up to 180 meters away. Even if you know how to use the Apple Watch in case of emergencies, this siren offers some added peace of mind.

There's also a Depth app exclusive to Apple Watch Ultra. It can automatically start measuring a dive below 3 feet, with the device being waterproof up to 100 meters or twice the depth of the Apple Watch Series. 8. Apple is working with Huish Outdoors to turn the Apple Watch Ultra into an on-wrist diving computer, too. It's a bit niche, but some of the best Garmin watches for diving have an audience, so we imagine the Apple Watch Ultra will as well.

Still, the Apple Watch Ultra seems like it has the best features for people who have a passion for outdoor activities. The special software features are almost entirely dedicated to activities like hiking, mountain climbing, trail running and water sports.

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Battery life

Apple Watch 8 low power mode

Apple Watch 8 (Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra battery life might be a decision-maker for many customers, outdoor sports enthusiasts and average users alike. The Apple Watch Ultra lasts 36 hours with normal use, doubling the 18-hour estimate of the Apple Watch Series 8. That's more than two days of stamina, which is something we've wanted from the Apple Watch for a long time.

With the new Apple Watch low power mode, which disables battery-draining features like the Always On Display and automatic workout tracking, the Apple Watch Series 8 lasts up to 36 hours and the Apple Watch Ultra lasts up to 60 hours. 

Apple Watch 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Outlook

The Apple Watch Ultra is undoubtedly a more interesting smartwatch than the Apple Watch 8. With that said, the Apple Watch 8 will be the better smartwatch for most people. The Apple Watch Ultra is best for those who would benefit from the outdoor sports features, or who can justify spending $300 for twice the battery life and larger screen. 

Next: I just ran 10 miles with the Apple Watch Ultra — and this feature is a game changer. I have also tried all of the Apple Watch Ultra bands — and this one is the best.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.