Apple Watch Ultra review: Longer battery life, but not as extreme

Devices are all about trade-offs, and the Apple Watch is a perfect example.

To stay slim, it typically has a small battery that requires frequent charging. Many people don’t mind the daily charging ritual as a concession to a handy wrist computer laden with motion sensors. fitness that can call, send text messages and run applications. The Apple Watch is the world’s best-selling smartwatch, according to Counterpoint Research.

However, the Apple Watch isn’t popular with a certain subgroup: those who push themselves, and their gear, to their physical limits. The new $799 Apple Watch Ultra was designed for them.

I’m not a professional athlete, but I enjoy backpacking at night, swimming long distances in open water, biking all day, and backcountry skiing. And I often wear an Apple Watch, despite its shortcomings. Ever since the first model hit the market in 2015, longer battery life has been my top demand.

The Ultra, which went on sale this week, is the first Apple Watch with a multi-day battery life, and in my tests, it delivers on that promise. However, this first model leaves something to be desired for those who are used to high-quality GPS watches focused on athletes. And several of the announced features, like the optimized battery saving mode, won’t be available until later this year.

Apple has designed new straps for the Ultra, like the secure-locking Alpine Loop, on the left, and the flexible, tubular Ocean Band, center, for water sports. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Ultra has all the new features from this year’s Apple Watch Series 8, including temperature sensors for fertility tracking and motion sensors for traffic accident detection. I’m not going to talk about them here. The important thing is the battery.

Apple advertised the Ultra’s battery life as 36 hours with typical use, above the Apple Watch’s standard of 18 hours.

While recording a workout using constant GPS, the Ultra has enough power to track the equivalent of an average Ironman triathlon in low power mode, about 13.5 hours, according to the company. Apple is adding even more power savings with a tweak due later this year, which it says reduces GPS and heart rate readings to provide up to 15 hours of activity tracking and 60 hours of total battery life. .

For an Apple Watch, that’s impressive. But other multisport watches are capable of tracking multiple Ironman races. For example, the $899-plus Garmin Epix can last up to six days if it doesn’t track GPS activity and up to 30 hours if it does.

To put battery claims to the test, I took a small army of smartwatches on a weekend trip to the mountains — with no cell service, nowhere to charge overnight.

On Saturday morning, I lined up my fully charged test subjects: the Apple Watch Ultra and Series 8; a Garmin Epix, which matches the Ultra with a titanium case and touch screen; and a Garmin Forerunner 945, with a battery saving mode that records sensor data less often.

I put the Apple Watches in low power mode, which turns off the always-on display and other features, but doesn’t affect heart rate monitoring or GPS. I wore one on each wrist, while my husband, Will, wore both Garmins.

At the trailhead, we started logging our hike on all four clocks. The planned route was about 6 kilometers with a drop of about 2,100 feet. The destination was a mid-mountain refuge, where we would have a hot meal and sleep for the night.

I spent the first few hours enduring the size of the Ultra. It’s basically the width of my wrist and about as thick as two iPhones. I have small wrists, but still.

The Garmin is also great. In fact, the Epix is ​​even slightly thicker than the Ultra. I guess that’s the thing with adventure watches. They need more space for larger batteries and additional sensors.

On the Ultra, I swapped the bulky Alpine strap for the thinner, more flexible Trail Loop strap. Although I quickly stained the light beige fabric of the strap, accidentally running over a dirty branch, but that strap made the watch feel more comfortable on my wrist.

The thin and light Trail Loop is Nicole’s favorite band. But beware: it is not stain resistant. PHOTO: NICOLE NGUYEN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Three hours later, we arrived at the shelter.

On the Apple Watch compass map, I’ve set a waypoint with my current coordinates. Another function, called back track, allows you to retrace your steps if you get lost. (Both are available on the SE and Series 6, as well as newer Apple Watch models.)

However, finding the way forward is always a challenge, and Garmin won here.

Before heading out on the hike, I downloaded the planned route to the Garmin watches. When we reached an intersection, instead of pulling out my cell phone to check our position, I checked the Epix on Will’s wrist. A purple line on the map told us to go to the right, while a blue arrow showed the direction we were facing.

The Apple Watch does not have a native mapping experience. After the trip I researched apps that work with it, and Wikiloc has potential. You can import map files and download them for offline use. Its Apple Watch app has a great map view, though it doesn’t offer directions for every turn you make.

On the Apple Watch, apps can fill in the missing features, but you have to look for them.

Garmin watches, like the Epix, can display planned routes on topographic maps. Apple Watch can display similar maps if third-party apps are downloaded. PHOTO: NICOLE NGUYEN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

After a night’s sleep (and the watch’s sleep tracking), we headed out on a longer hike, over 11 miles with an ascent of 3,200 feet.

As we climbed, it got colder. Not as cold as the -4 degrees Fahrenheit the Ultra endures, but I did need gloves. The Ultra’s raised dial and side buttons were glove-friendly, just as advertised.

I didn’t need to save yet, but I briefly turned on the Ultra’s emergency siren. Instead of making a single loud noise, it changes pitch from quick screeches to other ambulance-style wavy sounds to help people find you. It’s a safety feature, along with emergency call and traffic accident detection, that I hope I never have to use.

You can program the Ultra’s new action button, above, to start an activity or perform other actions. The other controls on the Ultra are larger, so you can use them while wearing gloves. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The end. After a total of 13 hours and 20 minutes of GPS tracking over two days, the Ultra still had some battery life.

The Series 8 ran out of battery that same day, at 16:23. The Epix’s battery went from “6 days” to “22 hours,” while the Forerunner 945 had 65% left.

The Forerunner’s super battery saver did its job well, but with a major accuracy compromise: Garmin’s tracking was a long way off. Garmin is clear about the downside of this feature. Now, let’s hope the Ultra’s upcoming power saver, which also reduces GPS readings, works better.

While the Ultra can survive submersion underwater to 100 meters for short periods, it is also rated to withstand recreational diving to depths of 40 meters. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/ THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In addition to the Ultra’s optimized battery mode, the Oceanic+ app for divers, optimized for the Ultra by developer Huish, also isn’t coming until later this year. And while I didn’t swim with the Ultra, I did run it through a full dishwasher to check the temperature of the water (64 degrees Fahrenheit, straight from the tap).

So should you buy an Ultra? It’s an interesting upgrade for current Apple Watch users who need more, especially battery life. But it’s not the Garmin killer. In addition to navigation, Garmin watches support other important features for serious athletes that are missing from the Apple Watch, such as recovery metrics and the ability to transmit heart rate to training equipment via Bluetooth.

The Apple Watch interface continues to be much easier to use. Additionally, Apple plans to allow third-party developers to take advantage of the Ultra’s sensors, so there could be Ultra-optimized apps on the horizon.

Marketing indicates that the Apple Watch Ultra is for people who compete in desert marathons, summit mountains and dive regularly. I think it’s great for active athletes, but not the most extreme. Sure it’s nice on a long hike, but it can also unlock your Mac. The Ultra is for the person who wants a smartwatch that does both. And big wrists are a bonus.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.