Do you want 90% of the Apple Watch Ultra’s looks, ability, and software features without spending $800? Maybe you think it’s impossible, and to get everything the Watch Ultra offers, you have no choice but to wear Apple’s biggest, most feature-packed smartwatch yet. Well, that’s not quite true.
We built an Apple Watch Ultra-style Frankenwatch for $352 — less than half the price of the Ultra. And this is how we did it.
Best of all, it’s still an Apple Watch
We know what you’re thinking — we are going to link to a no-name rugged smartwatch available through Amazon and be done with it, right? No, not at all. We’re starting out with the excellent and highly recommended Apple Watch SE 2. At its heart, the Apple Watch Ultra isn’t all that different from the Apple Watch SE 2, as crucially, it uses the same S8 dual-core 64-bit processor and Apple’s WatchOS 9 software. In other words, you have a practically identical platform to build your
The Apple Watch SE 2022 has Crash Detection and Fall Detection, irregular heart rate notifications, sleep and cycle tracking, GPS (but only L1, not L1 and L5 like the Watch Ultra), and the option of a cellular connection. You also get a compass, an altimeter, and the same accelerometer and gyroscope. There are a great many similarities between the two, but it’s not a carbon copy of the Watch Ultra.
What are the big differences? The Watch SE 2 is made of aluminum instead of titanium. The Watch Ultra has a brighter screen set under sapphire crystal, plus a larger 49mm case compared to 40mm or 44mm. The Watch SE 2 doesn’t have an IP6X or MIL-STD toughness rating, and there’s no Action Button either. The SE 2 is water resistant to 50 meters, not 100, and it doesn’t have any of the dive features (including the depth gauge). The
Hardware differences aside, it’s actually Watch OS 9 that’s the key here. Do you want the Backtrack feature and Compass waypoints, Low Power Mode, heart rate zones and running power, and a host of workouts to track? These are all WatchOS 9 features, and therefore available on all Apple Watch models that support it, including the Watch SE 2. WatchOS is the best smartwatch software out there, with rock-solid reliability, masses of helpful features, and comprehensive notification support. You’ll have to raise your wrist every time you want to see the time as the Watch SE 2 doesn’t have an always-on screen though.
Making the Frankenwatch
None of these differences should put you off. If you want all those features above, then you should just get the
So, what do we have? The Frankenwatch is a 44mm
The Alpine Loop strap is one option for the
To save you breaking out the calculator, the Frankenwatch you see here cost a grand total of $352, a substantial $497 savings over the
A rugged and powerful Apple Watch for a whole lot less
Because watchOS 9 is so capable and provides all of the Apple Watch Ultra’s software prowess, creating a similar experience for the more casual weekend explorer with the Apple Watch SE 2022 really is about toughening it up. If you want to have fun hiking for the weekend once in a while, spending so much on the
But is it worth creating your own Frankenwatch? The cheap strap is actually far better than I expected it to be, and I love the bright orange color and the tough metal hardware. It’s comfortable on my wrist, hasn’t got sweaty, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to break any time soon. For the ridiculously low price, it’s surprising how close it looks to the real thing from a distance.
The case is definitely going to protect the Apple Watch SE 2022 from immediate harm. It covers the sides of the watch and guards the Digital Crown, while still leaving it free to press and rotate. The orange button is pure plastic tat, and I wish I’d chosen the silver rather than Starlight finish, so it wasn’t quite so gold-looking. It’s also really quite ugly. But to protect the Watch SE 2 from harm on the one weekend a year I go near a long hiking trail, it doesn’t really matter.
Our Frankenwatch creation genuinely will protect the
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