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Apple Watch Series 8 vs. Apple Watch Ultra: Should you spend $399 or $799?

Apple unveiled the iPhone 14 series earlier at its Far Out event, along with a handful of other products. The company updated its wearable lineup with the latest Apple Watch Series 8 and also launched the new Apple Watch Ultra — its biggest and most rugged smartwatch yet.

The Apple Watch Series 8 offers a handful of new features over the Watch Series 7, like crash detection, better menstrual cycle tracking, and skin temperature tracking while you sleep. The Watch Ultra, on the other hand, brings a new design, better battery life, and ruggedness that we’ve not seen on any other Apple Watch before.

If you’re eyeing a new Apple Watch or thinking of upgrading from one of the previous models, the Watch Series 8 and the Watch Ultra are the best smartwatches the company offers. In case you’re wondering which one you should go for, we’ve compared these wearables head to head to help you choose the watch that suits you better.

Specs

Apple Watch Series 8
Apple Watch Ultra
Display size 41mm: 1.53 inches

45mm: 1.78 inches

49mm: 1.92 inches
Body size 41mm

45mm

49mm
Resolution in pixels 41mm: 352 x 430

45mm: 396 x 484

49mm: 502 x 410
Touchscreen 41mm: LTPO OLED Retina

Always-on display

45mm: LTPO OLED Retina

Always-on display

49mm: LTPO OLED Retina

Always-on display

Storage 32GB 32GB
Wireless interface Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, LTE Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC, LTE
Case materials Aluminum, stainless steel Titanium
Blood oxygen sensor
Yes Yes
Accelerometer Yes Yes
Gyroscope Yes Yes
Ambient light sensor Yes Yes
Heart rate sensor Yes Yes
Barometer Yes Yes
GPS Yes Yes
Compass Yes Yes
Water/dust resistant IP6X IP6X
Battery life Up to 18 hours (36 hours in Low Power mode) Up to 36 hours (60 hours in Low Power mode)
Price From $399 From $799
Availability Apple Apple
DT review 4.5 out of 5 stars 5 out of 5 stars

Design and display

Apple Watches, over the years, have rocked a very similar design. The Apple Watch Series 8 carries the trend forward, featuring aesthetics reminiscent of its previous iterations. You get a rectangular dial with a rotating Digital Crown on the right. The Apple Watch Ultra, however, tries to be a little different with minor changes here and there.

Talking about the sizes, the Apple Watch Series 8 gets 41mm and 45mm case options, similar to the Series 7. It’s available in aluminum and stainless steel variants. The cheaper aluminum variants come in Midnight, Starlight, silver, and Product Red colorways; the stainless steel versions offer gold, Graphite, silver, and Space Black color options.

The Apple Watch Ultra's Action button.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

In contrast, the Watch Ultra is both bigger and thicker, having a size of 49mm. It only comes in a titanium casing with a silver shade. It even gets an additional programmable button on the left side. However, if you have slim wrists, getting one of the Series 8 models would make more sense, as the Watch Ultra would look pretty big.

The 41mm sized Series 8 watch gets a 1.53-inch display, while the 45mm version has a bigger 1.78-inch screen. The Watch Ultra, in comparison, is Apple’s biggest smartwatch yet, with a 1.92-inch display. It gets more screen real estate, and the brightness goes all the way up to 2,000 nits — twice that of the Series 8. The display on the Watch Ultra is flat, unlike curved screens on all Watch Series 8 variants. Always-on display support is also available on them both.

The Apple Watch Ultra gets a bigger and brighter display, an extra programmable button, and is much more durable. It wins this round with ease.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Fitness and health tracking features

An Apple Watch Series 8 running the Activity app.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Apple smartwatches offer excellent fitness and health-tracking features. The new Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch Ultra are no exception. Both these watches have a host of sensors. You get an electrical heart rate sensor to record an electrocardiogram, a SpO2 sensor to measure blood oxygen levels, a heart rate sensor to track pulse rate, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer.

Moreover, you get a new temperature sensor this time. It tracks even the slightest of temperature changes through your wrist every five seconds overnight. This would help with better ovulation tracking, as body temperature changes during a menstrual cycle. The watches also notify users of irregular, infrequent, or prolonged periods.

Using the Depth Gauge on the Apple Watch Ultra.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Ultra has some more features to offer. It comes with dual-frequency GPS to track your location precisely. There’s also a Depth app that opens automatically when the watch is submerged to a depth of 1 meter or more, allowing you to measure data like water temperature, underwater duration, etc. In addition, another exclusive app, Oceanic +, lets you use the Watch Ultra as a dive computer.

Overall, both the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Watch Ultra offer plenty of health-tracking features. But the winner here is the latter, thanks to the extra features it comes with.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Performance, battery life, and charging

Apple Watch Series 8 showing how much battery is remaining.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

Both watches feature Apple’s newest S8 chipset and perform similarly. From opening apps and starting workouts to managing notifications and more, both the Series 8 and Ultra have all the power you need.

There’s a big difference in the battery life of the Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra. While the former delivers the same 18 hours of battery life as the Series 7, the latter doubles it to 36 hours — the best on any Apple smartwatch so far. A new Low Power mode helps the battery last even longer by disabling some features like the always-on display, background heart rate, SpO2 monitoring, etc.

To juice up the battery, Apple uses its own proprietary charging tech and misses out on Qi wireless charging support. Thankfully, there is support for fast charging, and filling up the battery from zero to 100% should take about an hour or so.

The Apple Watch Series 8 and the Apple Watch Ultra perform almost equally in this round. But, owing to better battery life, the latter secures a win.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Software and special features

Night mode on the Apple Watch Ultra's Wayfinder watch face.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Both smartwatches run Apple’s latest watchOS 9 software. Four new watch faces, improved sleep tracking and running mode, medication tracking, and a revamped compass app make for some notable changes to the operating system.

Talking about special features, there are quite some of them on offer this time, especially on the Watch Ultra. The Watch Series 8 is water-resistant up to 50 meters, whereas the Watch Ultra can be submerged up to 100 meters. For dust resistance, they’re both IP6X certified.

Two major features debuting with these wearables are car crash detection and a temperature sensor. They use gyroscopes and accelerometers to detect a crash when you’re inside a vehicle. If a crash is detected and you don’t respond to a notification in 10 seconds, your watch will call 911 and notify selected emergency contacts with your location.

Ovulation alert on Apple Watch Series 8.
Apple

The Apple Watch Ultra is a rugged smartwatch aimed at athletes and sports persons and has certain features for the same. You get a more precise dual-frequency GPS that should give you a more accurate signal when running, cycling, hiking, etc.

There’s also an Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra, which works with some apps and can be programmed to perform a specific action. It can also be used to play an 86-decibel siren on the watch in case of an emergency. According to Apple, the high-pitched siren can be heard up to 600 feet away.

The Watch Ultra has three built-in microphones to capture clearer sound with lesser background noise. It has grabbed MIL-STD 810H certification as well and can withstand harsh climates and temperatures. With plenty of additional features to offer, the Watch Ultra triumphs in this round.

Winner: Apple Watch Ultra

Price and availability

The Apple Watch Series 8 is available for purchase in the U.S. and other countries. The 41mm variant with GPS connectivity starts at $399, and the 45mm variant is priced at $429. Models with LTE connectivity start at $499 for the 41mm variant and $529 for the 45mm. The rugged Watch Ultra costs almost double at $799.

Overall winner: Apple Watch Ultra

The Apple Watch Ultra on a man's wrist in a pocket.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Series 8 is an excellent smartwatch and has a lot to offer. For most users, it should be the best choice, as it checks all the right boxes with no major drawbacks. Certainly, the Watch Ultra is a lot better, but all those extra features come with double the price. And, if you have small wrists, it’s going to look humongous.

Having said that, if you’re a sports enthusiast or an athlete, or you just want the best Apple smartwatch regardless of its price, pick the Apple Watch Ultra. From the rugged design and outstanding battery life to the helpful Action button and more, it’s the most impressive Apple Watch to date.

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