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Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Still the best smartwatch around, despite lack of new features

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review

Apple Watch Ultra 2

4.5 / 5

If you're looking for the best Apple Watch with the longest battery life need to look no further than the Apple Watch Ultra 2, as long as you aren't expecting any design changes from the first one.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 was unveiled on stage at Apple's Wonderlust event alongside the Apple Watch Series 9. As the premium offering in Apple's lineup, there weren't too many changes for Apple to highlight.

Many new features arrived via software through watchOS 10 and came to the original model, too.

The improvements do add up, though, and the iPhone maker has once more released a compelling smartwatch for those in the market, even if it likely isn't enough to tempt yearly upgraders.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Hardware changes are on the inside

If we showed you the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and sat it side-by-side with the original Ultra, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. Not only do they look identical, the etching on the back is the same.

Underside of second-generation Apple Watch Ultra
Underside of second-generation Apple Watch Ultra

Both models are labeled simply as "Apple Watch Ultra." The only way to confidently discern the pair is by venturing into the Settings app and Googling the model number.

The Apple Watch Series 9 has an updated, brighter display and a new 1nit minimum, but Apple Watch Ultra already had a superior screen. It remains unchanged.

Digital Crown on Apple Watch Ultra 2
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Digital Crown

For the unfamiliar, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a 49mm sapphire crystal display encased in a titanium body. The left-hand side is home to the Ultra Orange Action Button and the speaker capable of producing a loud siren.

The right-hand side juts out to protect the extra-textured Digital Crown and the side button. It supports all 42mm, 44mm, and 45mm bands.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 with Indigo Loop Band

Apple Watch Ultra 2

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 has a 49mm corrosion-resistant titanium case, large digital crown and customizable action button.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: S9 SiP is more than just a faster CPU

Apple uses its self-designed system in package, or SiP, to power the Apple Watch. It bakes in everything from the wireless chips, to the CPU, to the Neural Engine.

Apple credits the Neural Engine with several of the key enhancements of this generation. Dictation is 25% more accurate, as one example.

Dictation is faster on Apple Watch Ultra 2
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Faster dictation

Collecting enough data to confirm that 25% figure is tough to pull off, but we can attest that dictation is highly accurate and very fast on the Apple Watch Ultra 2. It easily kept up with us as we spoke our messages aloud.

Siri is also quicker and can is processed locally on device for many tasks. When you ask Siri to start a workout, set a timer, or what time it is, she will answer almost instantaneously.

It's a remarkable change and something that had been a longstanding issue with Apple Watch. We can't tell you how frequently we've pulled our iPhones out because asking Siri on the Apple Watch would take too long.

That said, when Siri does go out and search for an answer, there is still some lag. It's overall a big improvement, though.

The second-generation Ultra Wideband chip brings precision finding to your Apple Watch Ultra 2. When you open Control Center and tap the iPhone button, your phone will chime and its distance away will appear on screen.

As you move, it will provide directional support alongside haptic feedback as your approach. Your iPhone will simultaneously chime and flash the rear torch.

Demoing precision finding of iPhone on Apple Watch Series 9
Demoing precision finding of iPhone on Apple Watch Series 9

It's annoying that you can't find your phone without the tones. We have a one-year-old and sometiems we need to search for our phone but don't want to make such a loud noise.

It would be preferable to have the distance and directional guidance with the option to make it ring if we choose to. Apple — there's still time to sneak that into watchOS 10.1.

The second-gen Ultra Wideband chip provides some new ecosystem enhancements, too. When you enter a room with a HomePod playing music, the now-playing controls appear on the Apple Watch.

If nothing is playing, suggestions will show atop the Smart Stack. It's just a cool little touch that we've been using a surprising number of times in the past several days.

Of course, you need to have bought into Apple's ecosystem for this feature to be of any help.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Upcoming new features

Some of the best new features of Apple Watch Ultra 2 we haven't gotten to try yet.

Soon, Apple Watch Ultra 2 will be controllable with just a tap of your fingers, Siri will be able to answer questions about your health data, and NameDrop will be supported.

Double tap your fingers to control your watch
Double tap your fingers to control your watch

So far, Apple has released the initial 10.1 beta to developers, giving us an early glimpse at these features. Code snippets point to Double Tap arriving in this update and NameDrop is also supported.

NameDrop arrived with iOS 17 and lets you easily share your Contact Poster and information with someone just by bringing two phones together. Once watchOS 10.1 is released, Apple Watch Ultra 2 will support it too.

As with iOS, when you transfer your information with NameDrop, your Apple Watch Ultra 2 will vibrate while an orb will start going on screen before "popping" and bringing up that Contact Poster.

Double Tap is even better, allowing you to mimic the effect of tapping the primarily on-screen button by tapping your first finger and thumb together twice.

Apple makes this happen by combining data from several different sensors. It uses the accelerometer and gyroscope to measure minuscule movements in the watch combined with the heart rate sensor that detects changes in blood flow when your fingers tap.

Apple Watch Ultra and Apple Watch Ultra 2
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Which is the Ultra, and which is the Ultra 2?

Something is curious about Double Tap being unavailable at launch, as it seems like just a modified version of the Quick Action accessibility feature. Why wouldn't it be ready when a version of it has been around for years?

The best we can tell without testing Double Tap is that it should — in theory — be more accurate and responsive than Quick Action. Quick Action would occasionally fail for us, sometimes not reacting to our taps.

Apple also has added extra features to Double Tap, like opening the Smart Stack. Smart Stack and the new widgets are some of the best watchOS 10 features, so accessing them more readily with Double Tap is welcomed.

Finally, Siri now has access to health data, or at least, it will. There is no Health app on the Apple Watch despite the ridiculous amount of data the Apple Watch collects.

With this update, you can inquire about your sleep from the night before, check on your activity rings, record your weight, or log your medicine with just your voice and your Apple Watch.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Diving. and water sports

As with the first-generation, there are lots of activity-specific features.

Like the powerful compass app with backtrack that will log where you've been so you can find your way back out of your hike. It also uses more accurate dual-frequency satellites, especially in large cities.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 charging in nightstand mode
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Charging in nightstand mode

The built-in siren is helpful in emergencies with a dedicated app and battery-saving functionality.

None of that has changed with the second-generation model at all ,and since launch, we haven't had the opportunity to wander through Death Valley to re-test this.

That said, one area that did get a boost, no thanks to Apple, is the diving functionality. The Oceanic+ app just got a major update with a slew of new features for divers.

Huish Outdoors just released the update ahead of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 launch, headlined by support for freediving. Another new feature is Stealth mode which dims the display by 90 percent and disables haptics.

Stealth mode will allow users to dive without gear and not scare the fish as they swim by.

Dive with Apple Watch Ultra 2
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Dive with Apple Watch Ultra 2

The one diving feature we've been waiting for though is air integration. There isn't currently a way to integrate your air tanks into the Apple Watch to monitor your remaining pressure.

Bluetooth doesn't travel well underwater so Apple would need to include some form of new radio receiver and partner with an air transmitter manufacturer to pull this off, so we aren't holding our breath we'll see this any time soon.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: watchOS 10

Perhaps the biggest part of the Apple Watch experience is watchOS, and watchOS 10 was quite the update.

This milestone piece of software changed — yet again — how we interact with the Apple Watch while also redesigning many first-party apps and delivering new features like widgets and the Smart Stack.

We've been testing watchOS 10 since June on our first-generation Apple Watch Ultra and largely welcome all the new paradigm changes it introduces.

If you haven't tried watchOS 10 yet, it may feel a little jarring as you now have to double-press the Digital Crown to open the app switcher and the side button opens Control Center.

Swiping up from the bottom — or scrolling with the Digital Crown — opens the new Smart Stack. Smart Stack houses a series of user-chosen widgets that can give you small bits of information.

See music that is playing on your iPhone, see how your activity rings are progressing, check the hour-by-hour weather forecast, or monitor your flight status.

Many third-party apps have yet to be updated for the Smart Stack, but we're hoping more updates will be rolling out here soon.

The new Snoopy face
The new Snoopy face

There are many new watch faces in watchOS 10, including Palette and Snoopy. Snoopy is shockingly well developed with it able to interact with many real-world elements.

If you are in bright sunlight, Snoopy will wear sunglasses. This is monitored via the ambient light sensor, which also can track your time in the sun.

When the forecast says it is raining, Snoopy will pull out an umbrella when you glance at your wrist. Get in the water? Snoopy will be sporting a snorkel underwater.

The new Apple Watch Modular Ultra face
The new Apple Watch Modular Ultra face

For Apple Watch Ultra users, there is a new Modular Ultra face. This comes to the original Apple Watch Ultra as well and incorporates a new metric around the bezel.

You can opt to display depth, elevation, or the seconds around the edge of the display. It would be neat if this was a new complication type third-party apps could tie into — perhaps your water intake for the day or distance towards your step goal.

While not exclusive to the Apple Watch Ultra 2, watchOS 10 has been a sizable and experience-improving update for users.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Bands

To pair with the new Apple Watch Ultra 2, Apple also dropped a refresh of its three model-specific bands. We got new colors for the Alpine Loop, Trail Loop, and Ocean Band.

Olive Alpine loop
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Olive Alpine loop

The Alpine Loop is currently available in Indigo, blue, and Olive. The Trail Loop can be purchased in blue/black, green/grey, and orange/beige. Finally, the Ocean band is blue, orange, and white.

We've been huge fans of these three bands and picked up all three with the original Apple Watch Ultra. They're all tailor-made for different activities, from SCUBA diving to running, to hiking.

Apple's stainless steel link band
Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Apple's stainless steel link band

There are no new Apple Watch Ultra-specific bands, but we did get new versions of the FineWoven link band that are compatible. We tried the new FineWoven link bands out in store and they're much better than the poorly-received FineWoven iPhone cases.

One band that we still wish we'd see is a titanium version of Apple's link band. The stainless steel version looks phenomenal with the Apple Watch Ultra and a titanium version would be even better as it would match the exact finish.

Nomad's titanium band (left) and Sandmarc's titanium band (right)
Nomad's titanium band (left) and Sandmarc's titanium band (right)

There are third-party Apple Watch Ultra metal link bands that are crafted from titanium, such as the ones from Nomad with its magnetic clasp or Sandmarc.

Neither have the incredibly cool easy-remove links that Apple's has though.

Should you buy the Apple Watch Ultra 2?

There's no arguing about it. the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the most capable smartwatch on the market. Apple has packed quite a few under-the-hood changes this time around, even if they aren't overly visible or flashy.

Apple is still owning the wearable market and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the most capable Apple Watch with the same S9 chip as the Series 9 but with longer battery life and more adventure-minded features.

Nike's new watch face
Nike's new watch face

If you are rocking the first-generation Apple Watch Ultra though, there's little reason to make the jump to the second-generation. The new features are nice to have and certainly make it better to use, but if you've made it a year so far, you may as well wait for the rumored 2024 refresh.

For those who want something new, you can always consider picking up one of those newly-released bands instead.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Pros

  • New S9 SiP enables a lot more features than just a faster CPU
  • Double Tap looks great, but we can't test yet
  • Still great battery life
  • Siri is remarkably more useful

Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: Cons

  • Many new features are still unavailable
  • No new color options
  • You can't tell externally that the new model is the second generation

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy the Apple Watch Ultra 2

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 retails for $799 and can be ordered at Amazon, and Best Buy.

You can also find a roundup of the best Apple Watch deals that's updated regularly.