Activity Tracking
Comfort and ease of use
Battery life
Design and durability
Value for money
Sleek, yet tough & durable
Sooo much more than a GPS watch
Sooo much more than a smartwatch
You can find an app for almost anything
It’s expensive
Must have an iPhone
Battery life is short compared to others in its price range

For the last few months, the Apple Watch Ultra has been strapped to Jack’s wrist as he treks deeper into the Apple ecosystem. Will the tech giant’s foray into the adventure world navigate him out alive? There’s likely an app for that.


Over the last six months the Apple Watch Ultra, has been strapped to my wrist tracking me as I snorkel, surf, canoe, paddleboard, hike, run, sleep and everything thing in between.

Most GPS watches do that these days, but the Apple Watch Ultra is also a feature rich smartwatch, that allows you to check your calendar, set timers, tick off your to-do list, read you the weather and a whole lot more. Sounds impressive, right? But, is it a jack-of-all-trades master of none?

Apple need no introduction. After years of dominating the phone market and more recently allowing every Apple Watch wearer to fulfil their dream of being a spy-kid, they’ve dominated smartwatches too.

Yet when it came to the outdoors, they were nowhere to be found. The Apple Watches lacked the ruggedness, navigation tech and battery life that its adventurous competitors hung their hat on.

I’ve previously had a watch tan in the shape of an Apple Watch Series 3, so was especially curious to see how the more rugged and adventure-ready version compared. Let’s start with the nerdy stuff.


The Specs

Dimensions: 49mm x 44mm x 14.4mm

Weight: 61.3g (dependant on the strap used)

Materials: Aerospace-grade titanium case with saphire screen

Connectivity: LTE and UMTS, GPS + Cellular models, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3

Display: 49mm always-on retina LTPO OLED display

Power: Rechargeable lithium battery. Up to 36 hours (with ultra low power mode providing 60 hours)

Waterproof: 100 metres under ISO standard 22810.

Design & Durability


When the watch arrived, in classic Apple fashion, it took a couple of clicks and it was paired to my iPhone ready to go. Keyword: iPhone (if you’re using another device, it’s game over here).

I couldn’t help but notice how big and bright the screen was compared to my Apple Watch Series 3. It felt like I had a full computer on my wrist – spoiler: I did.


The Apple Watch Series 3 and Apple Watch Ultra compared  (left to right)


Despite the display being 30% larger, surprisingly, I quickly got used to the size and the watch didn’t majorly protrude from my small wrists.

But why so big? After running with the watch for a few months I went back to run with my Apple Watch Series 3 and noticed that the Ultra had significantly less glare and the larger display made it much, much easier to read. I was able to glance at it mid-stride and see what I needed to see quickly with much less concentration.

Surely, this big flat hunk of glass swinging on my wrist in the outdoors was going to get thrashed though, right?

Wrong! Six months on and the scratch-resistant sapphire crystal display looks brand new, not a scratch. The aerospace-grade titanium case that surrounds it has a few slight scuffs, but that means it’s doing its job as there’s a slight lip designed to protect the beautiful screen.


Watch Bands

Along with the watch, Apple have released three new bands, an Alpine band, an Ocean band, and a Trail band. Each with a different locking mechanism, dependant on the adventure.

The interchangeable bands are compatible with older models, which meant that I could simply put an older model, black band on for everyday wear – (a lot more subtle than the orange and yellow provided for the review). While swapping over to the Ocean band, to ensure I didn’t leave it on the sea floor.


Watch Faces

To complement it’s different hardware accessories, Apple has a series of different watch faces that you can choose from and these do a whole heap more than tell the time.

New to the Apple Watch is the Wayfinder face which displays, a compass, your current coordinates, elevation, incline, and the weather forecast. You can also customise it with different configurations to display items like your heart rate and step count, or a shortcuts to open an app with one tap.


An Action Button

One of the biggest design upgrades from the other Apple watches, is the addition of the action button – a second button on the opposite side to the crown. This could be customised to open specific apps, mark workout segments, or change workout modes in a triathlon.

Together with a larger crown, it also gives you tactile control of certain watch settings, which I found most helpful when pausing runs and hikes.

Previously, I’d swiped across on the touchscreen only for my fat digits to hit the small  ‘end workout’ button instead of the one directly next to it: ‘pause workout’. It’s also much quicker making your workouts more accurate.


Navigation, Mapping and Safety

The built-in compass and direction tracking is where Apple have levelled up. The dual-frequency GPS allows the compass and positioning to be accurate and responsive. The compass never seemed to need time to settle.

Within the Compass app you can quickly pre-load or drop waypoints along with assigning labels and icons to identify and select for direction.

On an overnight hike, along the marked Heysen Trail, without a pre-loaded map I was able to quickly load the campsite’s coordinates, see how far I was away and determine how long it would take me to get to camp.



Enabling the compass app’s backtracking would allow me to retrace my footsteps if I was heading off track, or got lost along the trail.

However, the only downside is this must be started from within the compass app. It may be more useful if it was a feature that begins with any hiking workout. It’s a feature you don’t need, until you do.

To pre-load a route and follow it on map like many other GPS watches, you have to use a third-party app.

The All Trails app with a paid subscription would allow me to save a route on my phone, open it on my watch, and follow the navigation along the map, like the iPhone app.

You can also pre-load routes into apps like WorkOutdoors, TopoMaps+ and GaiaGPS for navigation at the flick of a wrist.

For safety there’s an 80 decibel emergency siren, along with fall detection and crash detection that will automatically alert emergency services and your emergency contacts.

A press and hold of the side button will also alert emergency services. Important stuff to have within arms – or wrists – reach.

Activity and Health Tracking

Activity Tracking

For years now Apple has turned activity tracking into a game, encouraging users to close their three ‘rings’. It turns your exercise time, calories burned and the number of hours in which you managed to stand up, into colourful dials of encouragement… or disappoint, depending on your goals.

The Apple Fitness app measures all this data, along with a bunch of other metrics in the Apple Health app on your iPhone. But it really gets into the nitty gritty in the workout modes.

Workout Modes

Like its predecessors, the Apple Watch workouts app has a slew of workout options to choose from. Think hiking, dancing, tai chi, paddlesports, the list goes on.

Within these you can set specific goals – time, distance, and calories – while a scroll of the crown will bring up new workout metrics.

When I ran I could flick through the basics, like average pace, distance travelled and heart rate but also more in-depth metrics like: Stride Length, Ground Contact Time, and Vertical Oscillation.

I most commonly use the running and hiking modes, during which the watch’s haptics (a buzz on the wrist), or AirPods if connected, would notify of each kilometre covered and my  pace.

Further I could set up custom workouts – think 4 x 800m with 1min rest in between – and the watch will manage this for you notifying each time.

The same applied with heart rate zone training, I was able to plug in a desired zone and without having to glance at my watch, it would buzz me when I was below, within or above the HR zone.

From here the data would be saved directly into Apple Health app, and I could set up a manual or auto-import into Strava, along with a map, and all the other data captured.

There’s also a stack third-party activity tracking apps, like Dawn Patrol which will track your time in the surf, the number of waves you’ve caught, calories burnt and the amount of time you spent on each wave – which for me could be quite demoralising.

You could even call your boss from the lineup to tell him you’ll be running late for work – gross! It does make you wonder if we need all of this.

Although, I was able to see the time I caught waves and go back and rewatch them very quickly on the surfcam.

A dive computer on your wrist?!

Have I mentioned I’ve been getting around with a EN13319-certified dive computer on my wrist? While I don’t scuba the watch did join me on a few summer snorkels.



Activating as soon as I hit the water, the built-in depth gauge triggers the Depth app displaying, time, current depth, water temperature, duration under water, and the maximum depth you’ve reached.

You can also jump into the Oceanic+ app which provides a dive computer up to 40 metres, providing a heap of critical info.

While I didn’t have anything to gauge its accuracy for an amateur snorkeller like me, this mostly provided trivial info, like how cold the water was or how long I can hold my breath for.


Health and Sleep Tracking

All from my puny little wrist, the Apple Watch can tell me my heart rate, heart rate variability, blood oxygen levels, and my wrist temperature.

It also compiles this into Watch OS 9’s Sleep tracking data, which reports on your core, REM and deep sleep in a fancy graph – also found in the Apple Watch Series 8.

It does mean you have to wear your watch to bed. Something I was cool with, but others may not find comfortable. I know Tim had some reservations sleeping in his review of the Coros Vertix 2.

As for the Apple Ultra, will it have enough charge to get through the night? If you have a sleep schedule setup on your iPhone, you’ll get a nudge half an hour before, telling you to chuck it on charge so that it can make it through the night – smart (watch).



This was something I hadn’t tracked before and found it super interesting. Although, I can generally tell when I’ve slept well. But if you’re a training athlete, together with the other health data it could be beneficial to analyse.

Unlike other fitness wearables, like Whoop and the Oura Ring, it doesn’t interpret this data into simple recovery scores for you.

A paid third-party app like Athlytic will, but I’m sure Apple is capable of a user-friendly version like its fitness rings. Maybe it’s something we see in a future software update?

There’s an App for Everything

Think of all the apps sitting on your phone, the ones you use the most likely have a WatchOS app. The Apple Watch App Store has over 20,000 apps that can add functionality to your watch.

It means you can tick off your habits, send an email, view your calendar, play Spotify, receive Apple Maps directions via wrist vibrations or track a menstrual cycle all from your wrist. This is what separates the Apple Watch Ultra from the other GPS watches. But, it comes at a cost…

Battery Life and Charging

While the watch’s battery life is significantly longer than its predecessors, this is where it doesn’t match many of the other GPS watches in it’s price range.

The Apple Watch Ultra lasts for 36 hours of normal use, with up to 12 hours of use in the outdoor run workout mode. There’s the option to switch to low power mode, which will provide up to 60 hours of battery life, by switching off the always-on display and some background features. However, if you’re tracking adventures in low power mode you’ll have to dive into the settings and select ‘Fewer GPS and heart rate readings’ (one every two minutes, instead of every second in its normal workout mode) to see this longevity. 



For me this still lasted on overnight hikes, but a multi-day canoe trip meant I had to charge it with a powerbank. As a smartwatch that encourages me to wear it to bed, it’s an annoying amount of time.

I know that my phone needs charging every night to last the day, so I habitually charge it. I never found a regular schedule, so got caught out a couple of times wanting to track a run or hike, only to have to wait to charge the watch – mostly user error.

Luckily it charges up quick, a full charge in 1.5 hours, and if you have your sleep schedule in your iPhone, it will notify you with enough time to charge it before hopping into bed so that you can track your sleep – smart.

Communication and Connectivity

The ecosystem. The word on the tip of every Apple fanboys lips. And for a moment, I may be said fanboy. Not once has the watch disconnected from my phone since I connected it, nor any data not synced between the two.

At the glance of my wrist I could read or respond to each message – or screen the editor’s calls to hurry up with this review. The microphone meant I could take calls too, but I’m not exactly rushing to be that guy that takes a phone call on his watch. Even if there is dual speakers and a three-mic array.

Further, it unlocks my phone, laptop and I have Siri at my wrist at all times – most useful for timers in the kitchen, but I digress.

The only gripe I had, was with using Spotify offline. I loved the idea of heading out for a walk or run without my watch, but often had trouble with Spotify playing offline.

If you have cellular connectivity through your mobile carrier I’m sure it’s fine. I could run with my phone in my pocket, and still control it via the watch though. Given the rest of the connectivity I have no doubt that if it was Apple Music there’d be no problem.

On said phoneless run, I could also stop and grab a coffee, and pay with Apple Pay at the double-click of a button, although this always felt like a weird flex.



The Apple Watch Ultra comes in at a hefty $1,299 but considering all of the features crammed into this thing, it makes sense. If you’re just wanting a watch for running and trail hiking, you’ll be able to find a GPS watch with less bells and whistles – or should I say apps and sirens?


Is the Apple Watch Ultra for you?

The Apple Watch Ultra is something that integrates seamlessly into your life. From unlocking your phone, paying at checkout, reading messages to all the advanced adventure features like a stack of workout modes, compass and a dive computer. It really is a jack of all trades.

While I could argue that you don’t need a lot of these features and wax lyrical about the beauty of disconnecting. The fact is, I miss it when I don’t wear it.

You could compare it to a Coros like the Coros Vertix 2 Tim reviewed, or something like the Garmin Fenix, but the bottom line is they’re very different.

This is a watch for those that want a unique combination. A sleek, everyday-wearing app-loaded smartwatch within a GPS Watch that’ll handle – and navigate – you through a myriad of rugged adventures. All as long as you remember to charge it…


Editor’s note: Want more? Read, How To Choose A GPS Watch For You?

Apple loaned Jack the watch for this review and while he isn’t too keen on returning it, he wasn’t paid to say anything nice about it. Read about our editorial standards and the sanctity of our objective gear reviews.