Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: It’s the ultimate Apple Watch

Pros and cons of the $799 smartwatch

Apple Watch Ultra 2
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a modest update over the original, but a brighter display, support for the double-tap gestures and future-proof processor are welcome improvements. While we still crave a longer battery life, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is one of the best smartwatches you can get now.

Pros

  • +

    Made of 95% recycled titanium

  • +

    Brighter display than before

  • +

    Faster S9 processor

  • +

    Easier to find iPhone with watch

  • +

    Supports the double tap gesture

  • +

    Great new Modular Ultra watch face

Cons

  • -

    Must have iPhone 15 for UWB features

  • -

    Battery life could be better

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Most of what you know about the Apple Watch Ultra can be said for the Apple Watch Ultra 2. It’s still Apple’s biggest and longest-lasting smartwatch targeting outdoor sports enthusiasts with a rugged design and more advanced GPS technology than the flagship Apple Watch Series 9.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 specs

Price: $799
Size: 47mm
Processor: Apple S9
Connectivity: Cellular (optional,) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, U2, NFC, GPS (L1 + L5)
Dust-resistance: IPX6
Waterproof: Up to 100 meters
Health sensors: Skin temperature, heart rate, ECG, SpO2
Battery life: 36 hours (70 with low power mode)
Compatibility: iOS only

That's to say there aren't very many upgrades between the Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Ultra 2, and certainly not enough to make someone who has the original switch to the new one. Despite the Ultra's brighter display, new complication-packed watch face, and the introduction of a performance-boosting chip, it doesn’t deliver the quintessential smartwatch experience. Instead, the second-generation Apple Watch Ultra exists to target holdouts. But it’s not like that’s a bad thing. 

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has plenty to offer for those sporty iOS users with $799 to spend. In addition to the processor's enhancements, it gets a smarter ultra-wideband chip and proudly transitions from virgin titanium to a 95% recycled titanium frame. Like the Apple Watch Series 9, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is among Apple's debut offerings of carbon neutral-certified devices, too.

With three Apple Watch models to shop from — the Ultra, Series 9 and Apple Watch SE (2022) — how can you know if the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the best smartwatch for you? Read my full Apple Watch Ultra 2 review to find out. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 price and availability

You can preorder the Apple Watch Ultra 2 now, with full availability starting September 22. Our guide to Apple Watch 9 preorders guide gives relevant advice for getting the Apple Watch Ultra 2 as early as possible.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 maintains the same $799, which is double the starting price of the Appel Watch Series 9 ($399). I'll admit, I was worried the titanium-induced price hike for the iPhone 15 Pro could hit the Apple Watch Ultra. But for $799 you get your choice of Ultra-specific band, a braided charging cable and Cellular support.

There’s no telling the Apple Watch Ultra 2 vs. Apple Watch Ultra apart at a glance. The device maintains the same general design, featuring a flat 49mm display, protruding right-side button array, and orange action button on the left side. It doesn't so much as come in an alternative color. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that may continue to deter those with smaller wrists. The fit is an adjustment compared to the regular 45mm Apple Watch, but I happen to love the bold fit and big screen.

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

The screen is brighter than before, up to 3,000 nits from 2,000 nits. In direct sunlight the improvement is subtle, but I could see it more clearly than the Apple Watch Series 9. This might matter if you spend a lot of time in bright conditions for outdoor adventures, otherwise I’d consider it a small upgrade. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

Perhaps the more consequential design change is that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is made of 95% recycled aluminum, a major improvement from the virgin material used in the first-gen model. Apple has made a serious commitment to making all its devices carbon-neutral by 2030, with the 2023 Apple Watch family taking a major step in that direction. With the re-sourced Trail Loop and Alpine Loop, two of the best Apple Watch bands, the Apple Watch Ultra earns the carbon neutral certificate. I imagine there’s a high crossover of eco-conscious customers and outdoor sports enthusiasts who might be interested in Apple’s rugged watch, so the switch is an all-round smart move. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Performance

Performance-wise, the Apple Watch Series 9 vs. Apple Watch Ultra 2 have a lot in common. It packs the S9 processor, which promises the first true power upgrade since the Apple Watch Series 6. Apple claims it's 25% more efficient, built on 5.6 billion transistors with 30% faster GPU animations and 4-core neural engines that enable machine learning twice as fast. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

Not only does the processor make a 3,000-nit display possible without sacrificing battery life, it also improves the Siri experience. Siri computing now takes place all on-device, resulting in faster responses as well as some offline functionality. Say you don’t have Cellular enabled on your smartwatch, but want to leave your phone at home for a run — on the first Apple Watch Ultra, you couldn’t use Siri to launch the run workout with your voice. With the Apple Watch Ultra 2, now you can.

Last perk of the new processor? The algorithm that powers the double-tap gesture. I talk about double tap more in my Apple Watch Series 9 review, but the experience should be similar on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 when the feature rolls out in October. So, if you're hanging off a cliff (which is something I imagine some Apple Watch Ultra users do for fun) you could theoretically answer calls and open apps by tapping your index finger and thumb of your watch hand together. Users can conveniently double-tap to scroll through the Smart Stack, control music playback, use the camera remote app and more, too.  

And if you’ve misplaced your phone, the upgraded ultra-wideband (UWB) chip in the Apple Watch Ultra 2 can give you directions to its location. I use the ping feature to find my iPhone on a daily basis, so the visual cues are absolutely useful. Unfortunately, this only works for those with an iPhone 15.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Outdoor and safety features

Although I know for a fact that Apple Watch Ultra has been adopted by all sorts of users, the device at its core is a sports watch. In many ways, it's one of the best running watches with a Precision Start feature, action button that can pause workouts, and dual-frequency GPS that has proven as accurate as Garmin watches in our testing. All of the best Apple Watch running features suit the Apple Watch Ultra 2 as well. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

I used Apple Watch Ultra 2 testing as an opportunity to try some of the biking features released in watchOS 10. Now, you can connect your Apple Watch to a Bluetooth-connected power meter, speed sensor, or cadence sensor to see your cycling power and your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) score. What’s more, your phone can mirror your workout metrics. I attached my iPhone to a bike mount and successfully followed along with my ride data from my Apple Watch Ultra 2, but on an easier-to-read screen. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

The built-in Depth app gets an upgrade, too. Now it'll save a log of each dive so users can take a look back at their most recent sessions on their Apple Watch Ultra 2, or check out the complete history of all their dives in the Fitness app on iPhone.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has the same compass app with track-back features, but now it displays current elevation in real time and display waypoints in a 3D view based on relative elevation. For hiking workouts, there’s a more detailed topographic map that flags points of interest. Nearby trail information appears upon starting a hike, providing insights on the trail length, type, and difficulty. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

In terms of safety, the compass app will also detect two new waypoints: your Last Cellular Connection (or last reception location) and Last Emergency Call Waypoint, which will lead you to a place where an emergency call can be made on a carrier network. If you need help more immediately, the Siren app rings an 86-decibel alarm that can be heard up to 180 meters away. In my opinion, this is a reassuring feature to have no matter if you're traversing the wilderness as it is in a city late at night. As a result, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the best Apple Watch from a personal safety perspective.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: watchOS 10

In addition to the new sports features, watchOS 10 welcomes a slew of fresh Apple Watch features. Smart Stack is the most prominent update, changing the way you navigate your Apple Watch. Going forward, you’ll rotate the digital crown to open the Smart Stack and see a carousel of relevant information tiles. 

There’s some added health features, too. watchOS 10 grows the functionality of the Mindfulness app with prompts asking users to log momentary emotions and daily moods. The ambient light sensor in certain Apple Watch models will also be able to measure how much time you spend outside to help inform vision health. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

watchOS 10 offers three new watch faces for Apple Watch Ultra 2. Not only does it get the Palette and Snoopy faces available to all Apple Watch users, but it gets a special watch face called Modular Ultra. It’s among the most complication-rich Apple Watch faces, taking advantage of the large display by pushing a seconds count, depth gauge or elevation meter out to the bezel.

Of course, I recommend personalizing your Apple Watch experience (Ultra or not) with the best Apple Watch apps. If you want to try using your Apple Watch Ultra as a golf watch like I have, you might want to check out the app GolfShot. You can set up Strava on your Apple Watch, too. 

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Battery life

Apple Watch Ultra 2

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has the best battery life of any Apple Watch. Even with a brighter display, the watch gets 36 hours of battery life with normal use. With low power mode, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 gets up to 72 hours of battery, increased from 60 hours offered through the original.  I find Apple’s estimates align with my experience, though I appreciate how this Apple Watch setting can boost your battery life.

If you're comparing the Apple Watch Ultra to other sports watches, the battery life continues to pale by comparison. Our top pick, the Garmin Forerunner 265, lasts 15 days with mixed use while the Coros Vertix 2 lasts 120 hours in the demanding GPS mode. Athletes who care foremost about battery life probably won't be impressed by Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Verdict

While the battery life still doesn't keep up with the sportiest watches on the market, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 makes enough incremental upgrades to keep justifying the $799 price. The future-proofing enabled by the new S9 chip, added convenience of the double-tap gesture and extra brightness make for a strong — even if Iterative — second-generation attempt. I don't think the switch to recycled titanium should be understated, either. 

That said, I wouldn't be convinced as an Apple Watch Ultra user to change up for the new version, but the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a welcome pick-up for a first-time Ultra owner.  

Kate Kozuch

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. 


  • charlesnyc
    Fact check much? The Ultra 2's biggest design change is NOT a switch to "95% recycled aluminum" -- which, indeed, would have been a monumental design shift for a 100% titanium watch, which the Ultra 2 continues to be. Also: how do you throw out a statement like, "It fails to deliver on the quintessential smartwatch experience" without ever qualifying what you mean? Fails to deliver HOW?

    I don't disagree that the Ultra 2 is a very modest upgrade over the original--the rumor mill leading up to its release predicted as much and it even failed to deliver on modest rumor expectations: no black model, no real improvement in battery life, no "next gen" upgrade of the sensors. I don't understand Apple's strategy here: there's no compelling reason for existing Ultra owners to upgrade, and if you decided against buying an Ultra 1, the Ultra 2 isn't going to change your mind. Just a significant improvement in battery life would have meant a lot to the adventure watch market that the Ultra is targeting. I do appreciate that Apple made its new Ultra Modular face available to Gen 1 owners--honestly, that was the only thing I wanted out of the Ultra 2 presentation, and it wasn't made clear (perhaps intentionally) that this face would also be available for the Ultra 1.
    Reply