Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: Biggest upgrades to know about

Apple Watch Ultra 2
(Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

If you want the best Apple Watch with the longest battery life and the most features, you need the Apple Watch Ultra. But despite being the best, it's a year old at this point and Apple has just announced the Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Alongside the launch of the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro, Apple took time out to detail several key upgrades to its rugged wearable that can be pre-ordered now with a release date set for September 22.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 packs a new S9 SiP (System in Package), an upgraded U2 ultrawide-band chip and a brand new double tap gesture that reminds us of navigation on the Apple Vision Pro. The Apple Watch Ultra 2's 49mm display goes up to 3,000 nits making it even brighter to use out and about in direct sunlight and the brightest display ever on an Apple Watch.

Last year's Apple Watch Ultra brought a suite of upgrades to the Apple Watch: a larger screen, titanium frame, built-in siren, added action button and, of course, longer battery life. And while both versions will benefit from watchOS 10, there's a few new tricks you'll only get with the latest generation.

And, if you decide the Ultra 2 (or the original Ultra) isn't the way to go, there's always the Apple Watch Series 9 which is likewise launching on September 22.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs Apple Watch Ultra: specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Apple Watch Ultra Apple Watch Ultra 2 (rumored and assumed)
Display49mm OLED50mm OLED
SensorsSpO2/ECG/Optical heart/Ambient light/Water temperatureSpO2/ECG/Optical heart/Ambient light/Water temperature
ChipS8 SiP / W3 / U1S9 SiP / W3 / U2
Battery lifeUp to 36 hoursUp to 36 hours
ConnectivityL1/L5 GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDouL1/L5 GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: price and release date

Apple Watch Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is unashamedly the best Apple Watch experience you can get, and comes with a price tag to match. Unlike other Apple Watch models, the Ultra 2 has only one 49mm, GPS + Cellular configuration that costs $799/£849/AU$1,299. 

Apple hasn't introduced any price fluctuations from one Ultra model to the next, which is good to see. But we will point out the Ultra's price is double the starting price of Apple's next best wearable, the Apple Watch 9 and the $799 is the same starting price as the iPhone 15, so it's not exactly a cheap wearable.

As for the release date, Apple has confirmed the Ultra 2 will be released on September 22.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: design and display

The overall look of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 isn't radically different from the current Apple Watch Ultra. After all, the Ultra was the first real shake-up of the Apple Watch design since the Series 1 debuted in 2015. The new version continues the rugged, outdoorsy appeal that Apple is targeting. 

While the outward look of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 remains the same as last year's version, Apple has made a few design tweaks on the software side. New display architecture means the Apple Watch Ultra 2 now boasts a screen brightness of 3,000 nits, which is both 50% brighter than the first Apple Watch Ultra and apparently the brightest display Apple has ever made.

Apple has also introduced a new Modular Ultra watch face exclusive to the Apple Watch Ultra 2 that uses the outside edge of the display to show even more information at a glance. This includes real-time data like passing seconds, altitude or depth while diving. Like the Wayfinder watch face on the original Ultra, it can be turned to night mode that makes it red-and-black for better visibility in the dark.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Apple | youTube)

Some of the rumors that were initially touted for the Ultra 2 failed to appear. For example, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 won't make use of a microLED display nor does it change the screen size. 

Similarly, there's no mention of an all-black version that was heavily rumored in the run up to the launch. If it's more colors you're after, you're going to need to look at the Apple Watch Series 9.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: features

The Apple Watch Ultra brought in several new features that helped set it aside from the Apple Watch Series 8 as a rugged adventure watch. The titanium frame and 2,000 nits peak brightness mean it's well-suited to surviving the knocks and dings of outdoor pursuits while remaining legible.

It also offers the longest battery life of any Apple Watch and, of course, the added functionality of an Action Button to start a workout instantly or manually record laps if you want to use it to, for example, run a marathon.

All of those areas have been improved for the sequel.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 uses new screen architecture to reach a brightness of 3,000 nits, which is both 50% brighter than the first Apple Watch Ultra and apparently the brightest display Apple has ever made.

Although the battery life on the Apple Watch Ultra is stated at 36 hours  —  and can be pushed to 60 hours by limiting functionality, that's still far behind some of the competition. 

The Apple Watch Ultra keeps the same 36 hour battery life but Apple says it can now be pushed to 72 hours by using the Low Power Mode.Unfortunately, if you want more battery life on your wearable you should be looking at some of the best Garmin watches or the impressive Coros Vertix 2.

The biggest new feature for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the double tap gesture that allows you to "tap" your thumb and index finger together twice in quick succession while wearing the watch to control the function you are currently in. You can answer and hang up calls, launch widgets, control workout settings, and more.

Double tap will also open the Smart Stack from the watch face, and another double tap will scroll through widgets in the stack.

The feature takes advantage of the new S9 chip inside the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and lets you interact with the watch when you've only got one hand available. If you're regularly hanging off rock faces and need to take a quick phone call, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has you covered.

Apple Watch double tap gesture

(Image credit: Apple)

The new double tap gesture is enabled by the faster Neural Engine in Apple Watch Ultra 2, which processes data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and optical heart sensor with a new machine learning algorithm. Apple says the algorithm detects the unique signature of tiny wrist movements and changes in blood flow when the index finger and thumb perform a double tap. 

However, the feature won't be available immediately. Instead, it will come as a software update in October.

Both the first generation Apple Watch Ultra and the Ultra 2 have a skin temperature reader, SpO2 reader, ECG sensor, and heart rate monitor. So regardless of which one you go for, you'll get the same health tech bundled inside.

When it comes to connectivity, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and orginal Apple Watch Ultra both have the the same dual-frequency GPS as well as support for the GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS and BeiDou satellite systems.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra 2: specs

a photo of the heart rate zones on apple watch ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Inside the current Apple Watch Ultra are a trio of chips providing the beating heart of the device: the S8 system-on-a-chip, W3 wireless chip and Apple U1 chip.

However, these three chips are exactly the same as those inside the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE (2022) and even the aging Apple Watch Series 6. 

Like the Apple Watch Series 9, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 packs a new S9 processor chip as well as the second generation U2 chip that will allow Precision Finding for the iPhone 15 family of devices.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 also has a new 4-core Neural Engine that can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast as the original Apple Watch Ultra. So whether that comes to flicking between multiple apps or installing brand new ones, we expect the Apple Watch Ultra 2 to be much faster and more responsive.

But if its just specs you're after, then you're almost better off saving your money and opting for the Apple Watch Series 9 (or even the Series 8) than the Ultra 2 or original Ultra. Since the core processor is the same, you won't see much performance boost between models so it's better to opt for the Ultra 2 if you're after a rugged design and better battery life.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: outlook

Apple Watch

(Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

Trying to decide between the Apple Watch Ultra or Apple Watch Ultra 2 is difficult. While the next generation certainly builds on the original, its arrival means the first version will likely appear at a discounted price if retailers are looking to get rid of their inventory.

Ultimately, if you want the very best Apple Watch experience you won't go wrong with either the Apple Watch Ultra or the Apple Watch Ultra 2 as both are excellent smartwatches.

The key differentiator is the future-proofing enabled by the new S9 chip as well as the added convenience of the double-tap gesture and the extra brightness. Since there's been no difference in the price point, I'd argue that going for the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the best strategy unless you can find the first version at a much, much cheaper price.

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Jeff Parsons
UK Editor In Chief

Jeff is UK Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide looking after the day-to-day output of the site’s British contingent. Rising early and heading straight for the coffee machine, Jeff loves nothing more than dialling into the zeitgeist of the day’s tech news.

A tech journalist for over a decade, he’s travelled the world testing any gadget he can get his hands on. Jeff has a keen interest in fitness and wearables as well as the latest tablets and laptops. A lapsed gamer, he fondly remembers the days when problems were solved by taking out the cartridge and blowing away the dust.