When the Apple Watch Ultra first launched, there were two features that caught my attention: 1) a bigger display and 2) a longer battery life. Now, after using the Apple Watch Ultra for about six months, those things definitely stand out from my experience, but there’s plenty of other features that impressed me — and also ones that I haven't used much as I thought I would.
I never presumed I’d use the Apple Watch Ultra to its full potential. That said, it’s a beast of a smartwatch, and certainly the most full-featured Apple-manufactured wearable. Whether it's for fitness tracking, connectivity or safety, not a day has gone by that I haven’t used the Apple Watch Ultra in some capacity.
Is it the best Apple Watch yet? Definitely. But is there room for improvement? Of course. It is a first-gen device in a way, after all. Let’s take a closer look at my pros and cons of the Apple Watch Ultra, 6 months later.
New design has pros and cons
The Apple Watch Ultra’s design is certainly eye-catching. It’s a huge smartwatch, among the biggest I’ve ever tested. The flat, 49mm display gives me so much real estate to see my notifications, follow map routes, have fun with face complications, and — my personal favorite — get an extra metric for my workouts. Whatever kind of activity I’m doing, I can always see my progress or heart rate easily at a glance.
That said, the big Apple Watch Ultra isn’t always comfortable to sleep with. I still do, since I like to track my sleep stages, but sometimes I take it off in the middle of the night when it’s irritating me.
I don’t think it pairs with my personal style, either. I wear a lot of dainty jewelry on a daily basis, and how it contrasts with the Apple Watch Ultra is almost amusing. The Ultra is rugged and sporty, which is great for casual and athletic use. But for work or a nice event, the regular Apple Watch looks more minimalistic, plus it matches with nicer Apple Watch bands.
Speaking of watch bands, I didn’t come to prefer any of the included Ultra bands over the regular Apple Sport Loop or Sport Band.
I’m a big Action Button fan, but there’s something missing
The Action Button is an exclusive Apple Watch Ultra feature, offering an extra launcher for certain tools or functions with just one press. All in all, I think the Action Button is a brilliant addition for the Apple Watch. I’ve alternated between having it launch a workout and having it open my flashlight. The flashlight is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated Apple Watch features that I use on a regular basis.
There is something missing for me in the Action Button’s current functionality, though. I wish you could set the button to open any app or tool directly in the settings menu, and not with a Shortcut. I'd like to see a list of the best Apple Watch apps from third parties that I have downloaded alongside the current Action Button functionalities. I also think it would be handy to assign the button different functions based on your focus status. Perhaps these changes come in a future watchOS software update.
The safety features are essential, even if they’re under-used
When it comes to safety features, the Apple Watch Ultra has a lot to offer. The best safety feature is its siren — I’m truly so glad to have it on my wrist. I haven’t actually had to use it, but living in the city where I often walk alone at night, it’s really reassuring to me. Not too long ago, I challenged myself to replace my iPhone with the Apple Watch Ultra, and I don’t think I would’ve felt comfortable embarking on the experiment if not for the siren (and emergency calling) on my wrist.
Now, I’ll be honest, I haven’t taken the Apple Watch Ultra out camping or hiking or in any situation where other safety features would come in handy, such as the track-back function. Similarly, I haven’t needed to leverage the advanced GPS system packed inside the watch. I feel kind of guilty, in a way. I’m hoping to take an Ultra-worthy adventure sometime this summer.
Great battery life — for an Apple Watch
When it comes to the Apple Watch Ultra’s battery life, I’m glad to report the watch’s battery health is still at 100% after six months. I use the Apple Watch Ultra’s optimized charge limit feature that automatically stops charging your Apple Watch Ultra’s battery at an optimized point — not just pause it — even when you leave it on the charger for a while and forget about it.
As for how often I’m charging my Apple Watch Ultra, I ended up enabling LTE, so the battery life definitely doesn’t last as long as before. Without LTE, the watch would last about 2 full days, but with LTE, the watch needs a charge closer to the actual 36 hour estimate. After needing to charge my Apple Watch daily for several years, transitioning to every-other-day charging is a positive improvement.
I also forget to use low power mode most of the time. I’m surprised that I didn’t end up taking advantage of it as much as I thought I would over the last six months. I suppose that’s another sign that I haven’t used the Apple Watch Ultra in rugged situations. In fact, I pretty much always have a charger nearby, so I’m not worried about it dying.
It’s still very expensive
The Apple Watch Ultra’s price doesn’t have any less sticker shock six months later. At $799, the Apple Watch Ultra is quite expensive. I think the margin of people who actually will make use of the Apple Watch Ultra’s features is much narrower compared to people who would be just as suited by the Apple Watch Series 8, or even the Apple Watch SE (which at $249, is an absolute bargain.)
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been fun flashing the Apple Watch Ultra around, and also not having to be gentle with it thanks to the titanium casing. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, the Apple Watch Ultra comes as close to standing in for a smartphone as any Apple Watch before it, if not any smartwatch ever.
But it’s not perfect, and I think it’s important to remember that this is a first-gen device in a way, so there are some upgrades I want to see for the next version or in software updates. More options for the Action Button, some different included bands, and an even longer battery life are some of them. Emergency SOS via Satellite, which is available for the iPhone 14, would also be a game-changer from a safety perspective.
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Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.