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Apple Watch Ultra 2 review: why I think you’ll love it

Someone wearing an Apple Watch Ultra 2, showing the Modular Ultra watch face.
Apple Watch Ultra 2
MSRP $799.00
“With an outstanding design, great software, and some very welcome upgrades, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is tough to beat.”
Pros
  • Titanium design is still gorgeous
  • Stunning, super bright display
  • Unmatched performance
  • Siri is better than ever
  • Twice as much storage
  • Excellent battery life
  • WatchOS 10 is fantastic
Cons
  • Double Tap is underutilized
  • Virtually identical to last year's model

I’ll say it right now: the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the best, most premium Apple Watch you can buy today. That’s it; the review is over. Thanks for stopping by!

I jest, but it really is that simple. The first Apple Watch Ultra was a big risk for Apple and one that paid off in spades. The new model keeps everything that was so excellent about its predecessor, and because of that, it has an outstanding foundation to work on. Combine that with a handful of new upgrades, and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the first Apple Watch Ultra again, just a little bit better than before.

If you’re already wearing an Apple Watch Ultra, you almost certainly don’t need this new one. But if you aren’t, and you’re ready to jump aboard the Ultra bandwagon, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is the real deal.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: what’s new this year?

Looking at the Apple Watch Ultra 2 with the original Apple Watch Ultra, it’s impossible to tell any difference between them. I mean it! Even the underside of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 still says “Apple Watch Ultra.” If it wasn’t for the new green/gray Trail Loop on the Ultra 2, I couldn’t tell the two apart.

Although the design is unchanged, there are a few new things with the Apple Watch Ultra 2 — you just can’t see them right away.

One of the biggest upgrades this year is the display. It’s still the same size OLED display as the previous model, but the brightness has now increased from a 2,000-nit maximum all the way up to 3,000 nits. It’s the brightest display Apple’s ever included on an Apple Watch, and it really does look fantastic.

The watchOS 10 Weather app on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Everything on the screen is easy to read, the colors are incredible, and I’ve never had a problem with its legibility — even during the last few sunny days of October in the Midwest. I also appreciate that the screen can go all the down to just one nit, which has been helpful when using the Apple Watch at night or in a dark room.

It’s the brightest display Apple’s ever included on an Apple Watch, and it really does look fantastic.

The other big upgrade is the new S9 chipset. It’s based on the same A15 Bionic chip used in the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus, with Apple claiming it to be 30% faster than last year’s Apple Watch Ultra. And yes, I can indeed confirm that it’s very fast. From opening apps, starting workouts, or replying to notifications, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 handles it all without breaking a sweat. Although I can’t say I’ve noticed a significant performance difference between it and my previous-gen Ultra, the added horsepower should come in handy after years of use and software updates down the road.

One area where I have noticed a big upgrade is Siri. The S9 chip now allows Siri to process requests (that don’t require an internet connection) entirely on-device without having to relay them to your iPhone and back. From using Siri to set alarms, dictate text messages, and other requests, the assistant is noticeably faster than it is on older Apple Watches.

If I ask Siri on my Apple Watch Ultra to set a timer, there’s frequently a delay where it requires a couple of seconds to process my request before the timer is actually enabled. But on the Apple Watch Ultra 2, it happens instantaneously with virtually no delay. It’s a seemingly small change, but it’s been one of the most impactful throughout my testing.

There are other new goodies, too. If you have an iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro, the new Precision Finding feature (powered by Apple’s second-gen Ultra Wideband chip) allows you to see the distance and direction of your lost iPhone right on your Apple Watch display. It actually works really well the times I’ve tried it, and I can see this being a big selling point for people who have a tendency to misplace their iPhones (including yours truly). You also now have 64GB of internal storage (up from 32GB), so there’s more room to store your apps, offline music, podcasts, etc.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: Double Tap

A photo of someone gesturing with their hand to use Double Tap on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There’s one other big new feature for the Apple Watch Ultra 2, and that’s Double Tap. It’s the feature that caught my eye the most during Apple’s big fall event in September, and on paper, it should be the most impressive aspect of the Apple Watch Ultra 2. To control various aspects of your Apple Watch, all you have to do is tap your index finger and thumb together.

Depending on what you’re doing on the Apple Watch Ultra 2, using the Double Tap gesture can do a few different things. You can pause/play music if you’re in the Music app, answer incoming phone calls, start a voice reply to a text message, stop a timer or alarm, or scroll through any widgets you have in your watchOS 10 Smart Stack. These are all good ideas and any time I’ve used Double Tap, it works reliably.

Using Double Tap on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
When you use Double Tap, you get a blue indicator at the top of the screen Joe Maring / Digital Trends

My issue with Double Tap is that it just doesn’t do very much. I’ve used it a handful of times to scroll through my Smart Stack widgets, but beyond that, I’ve not had any real use for it. And even when I do use it, I need to remind myself it’s there.

I wish I could use Double Tap to scroll through my notifications, pause/resume workouts, switch between recent apps, etc. Apple doesn’t make it clear in the UI where Double Tap does and doesn’t work, which often leads me to assume it just won’t do anything. I also wish it supported other types of hand gestures, like a single tap, clenching your fist, etc. You know, gestures you can already use on older Apple Watches with the AssistiveTouch feature.

Could Apple add more features to Double Tap with future software updates? It certainly could, and I hope the company does. But as it stands right now, it’s a cool party trick that isn’t as useful as I had hoped it would be.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: design, hardware, and health features

A side view of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 on someone's wrist.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Thankfully, even with Double Tap being a disappointment, that’s quickly made up by the Apple Watch Ultra 2’s hardware. Virtually nothing has changed from the first Apple Watch Ultra, which is to say the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is one of the nicest-designed smartwatches you can buy.

You once again get a 49mm case size that’s made out of titanium — making it a perfect pairing for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. There were rumors that Apple would release a new color for the second-gen Ultra, but there’s still just the natural titanium finish available. I personally think this is fine, as the natural titanium looks gorgeous. It gives the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a refined, almost rugged appearance that I really love.

The side of the Apple Watch Ultra 2, showing the Digital Crown and side button.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

There also aren’t any new sizes available, meaning the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is still a very big smartwatch. I was initially apprehensive about the size, but even as someone with teeny tiny wrists, I’ve found the Apple Watch Ultra 2 to be shockingly comfortable. Despite the hefty 61.4-gram weight (over 22 grams heavier than the 45mm aluminum Apple Watch Series 9), I’ve never found the Ultra 2 to be too heavy. It sits atop my wrist with ease, and it doesn’t get in the way of daily life.

There are other smaller details about the Apple Watch Ultra design that remain outstanding a year after it was first introduced. The larger Digital Crown is phenomenal, the side button feels better than it does on other Apple Watches, and I love the look of the guard they sit in. It’s a small touch, but it really does give the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a unique identity compared to the Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch SE 2.

A close-up view of the Action button on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Also returning is the Action button, and once again, it’s a very welcome addition to the Apple Watch formula. I love using the Action button to launch the Workout app, and the ability to pause/resume runs by pressing the Action button and the side button together — instead of fiddling with touchscreen controls — is a game changer when trying to set PRs while out running. I do wish Apple would expand the button’s functionality with additional actions or gestures (such as double and triple-press options), but it’s still a huge convenience in its current form — and something I miss desperately whenever I go back to other Apple Watch models.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is one of the nicest-designed smartwatches you can buy.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 doesn’t have any health or fitness tracking upgrades, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You still get Apple’s excellent all-day activity tracking, 24/7 heart rate monitoring, SpO2 tracking, an ECG app, cycle tracking, custom heart rate zones during workouts, and more. It’s one of the most robust health-tracking suites on any wearable, and it all works just as well on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 as you’d expect it to.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: battery life

Battery life page on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Battery life was one of the main highlights of the original Apple Watch Ultra, and the Apple Watch Ultra 2 ensures that remains true for another year to come. I typically get a little over two days out of the Apple Watch Ultra 2 on a single charge. That includes using the Apple Watch Ultra 2 for a handful of workouts throughout the week (Apple Fitness+ treadmill and strength workouts, plus outdoor walks with GPS tracking), a steady stream of notifications each day, the always-on display enabled, occasional timers, and no sleep tracking.

Low Power Mode setting on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Although this still doesn’t match the endurance you’ll find with wearables like the Garmin Forerunner 265 or the Fitbit Charge 6, it is the best you can get for an Apple Watch. And keep in mind I’ve been getting over two days of battery life without using Apple’s Low Power Mode. If you enable that — and don’t mind some of the feature sacrifices that come with it — our testing of Low Power Mode last year proved it can stretch the Apple Watch Ultra’s battery to five days.

When it finally comes time to charge the Apple Watch Ultra 2, it uses the same magnetic charging puck Apple’s been using for years (take note, Google Pixel Watch 2). It’s simple and convenient, and charging the watch from 0-100% typically takes around an hour and a half.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: watchOS 10

watchOS 10 Smart Stack widgets on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The next big software update for the Apple Watch is watchOS 10, and it’s what you get on the Apple Watch Ultra 2 right out of the box. WatchOS 10 doesn’t completely reinvent the watchOS formula, but there are some pretty substantial changes that I think you’ll really like.

I already mentioned one of the biggest new features, and that’s Smart Stack. From the watch face on the Apple Watch Ultra 2, spinning the Digital Crown up reveals a series of widgets that you can move and organize to your heart’s content. I have my Smart Stack arranged to show me a five-hour weather forecast, my upcoming calendar events, my Activity rings, and a graph of my heart rate.

watchOS 10 Smart Stack widgets on the Apple Watch Ultra 2.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Smart Stack can also automatically add additional widgets based on what you’re doing — like a media widget if you’re playing audio, any active timers, and passes from Apple Wallet if you’re near a location where one can be used. The widgets look fantastic, and I love having quick access to so much information without needing to litter my watch faces with endless complications.

You’ll also notice that a lot of apps in watchOS 10 look way better than they did before. The Weather app, for example, is now filled with gorgeous animations, has a more logical interface, and offers easier access to things like the UV index, humidity, and other details. Similar redesigns also apply to the Activity, World Clock, and Stocks apps. Not every Apple Watch app has been given a dramatic facelift, but in the ones that have, they look amazing.

There are other small changes in watchOS 10 that I like. Pressing the side button now brings up the Control Center instead of your recently-used apps, which I’ve found much more useful. The new watch faces are also excellent, with the Snoopy watch face being a particular highlight. It’s just too cute.

I’ve really enjoyed using watchOS 10 on the Apple Watch Ultra 2, and it absolutely shines on the wearable. But it’s important to remember that watchOS 10 is now available for other Apple Watches — going all the way back to the Apple Watch Series 4. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is one of the best ways to experience Apple’s newest smartwatch software, but you certainly don’t need to buy the Ultra 2 in order to get it.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: price and availability

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 laying on the ground, showing the Modular Ultra watch face.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is available for purchase now from Apple’s website and third-party retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and others. It costs $799 no matter which band you buy it with — including the Alpine Loop (pictured throughout this review), Trail Loop, and Ocean Band.

All Apple Watch Ultra 2 models come with support for LTE connectivity by default, so unlike the Apple Watch Series 9, there’s no upcharge for it. You’ll still need to pay your carrier a monthly fee to use their LTE service on the watch, but the hardware is there should you want to use it.

Apple Watch Ultra 2: verdict

Someone wearing an Apple Watch Ultra 2, showing the Modular Ultra watch face.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Is the Apple Watch Ultra 2 a boring smartwatch? Is it a sign of Apple playing things too safely? If you’re looking at it as a direct upgrade to the Apple Watch Ultra, sure. But as Apple has done for years with its main Apple Watch Series releases, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 isn’t for people who bought an Apple Watch Ultra last year. It’s for everyone else.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a first-class smartwatch in just about every regard, just like its older sibling. The brighter display is a nice touch, the added horsepower is great, Siri is better than ever, and I’m looking forward to Double Tap growing into its own. If you have $799 to spend and want the best Apple Watch experience money can buy, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is it.

I can’t recommend the Apple Watch Ultra 2 enough.

There’s still a part of me that wishes Apple had done more with the Apple Watch Ultra 2, whether that be a new size, extra health features, or something else. The Ultra 2 is far from a bad product because it’s not a complete overhaul, and you certainly shouldn’t look at it as such. But considering how revolutionary the first Apple Watch Ultra was, compared to the very minute upgrade we have this year, I understand feeling a bit let down.

Regardless of all that, the simple fact remains that the Apple Watch Ultra 2 is a joy. If you don’t need it, wait and see what Apple does with the Apple Watch Ultra 3 or the Ultra 4. But if this is your year to buy a new Apple Watch, I can’t recommend the Apple Watch Ultra 2 enough.

Joe Maring
Joe Maring is the Section Editor for Digital Trends' Mobile team, leading the site's coverage for all things smartphones…
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