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Apple Watch Ultra review: City dwellers, maybe it’s time to upgrade your watch

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Rs. 89,900

The Apple Watch Ultra is the most premium watch from the company till date, designed for those who love the great outdoors. But is this the right choice for everyone? Here's our review.

Apple Watch Ultra review: The most premium smartwatch from Apple, designed to taken on Garmin and Casio. (Image credit: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

Apple has been tightening its grip on the watch segment over the past few years and eating away the market share of even analogue watchmakers. Now, it seems to have its eyes set on the one segment which was beyond it so far: the endurance watches catering to those who are more active that regular Apple Watch users. This segment has for long been the stronghold of companies like Garmin and Casio. Now, they will have to compete with the Apple Watch Ultra, a rugged smartwatch that can go anywhere and do everything and that too while being connected to your smartphone or having a network of its own.

Apple Watch Ultra review: What’s new

The Apple Watch Ultra looks like something that has evolved from the Apple Watch family, but maybe on a very different diet. It is built to take the rough and tumble of outdoor life, but the titanium chassis makes it feel much lighter than you would expect given its size. As an Apple Watch user for many years, I was expecting this to be much heavier when I picked it up the first time at the demo area after the launch in Apple Park last month. But the weight is perfect and belies the fact that it has much more hardware features than the Apple Watch Series 8.

The Apple Watch Ultra has a larger chassis compared to the Series 8, but it is not that heavy. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

For instance, along with the larger chassis, this has a bigger crown that stems from a block that houses the power button. There is also a bright orange action button to the left which can be customised. There is a speaker grille on the side of this button to use as a siren in case you get lost in the wild.

Given that this is going to be used high in the mountains and deep in the ocean, Apple has reimagined the straps like the Alpine Loop and Ocean Band which stay where they should whatever you are doing. But in my experience, it’s not really very comfortable to wear the Alpine Loop during your regular day. One, the bright orange gets you too much attention and as I took a Sunday flight to Mumbai the CISF personnel were more interested in the Watch than the person wearing it. Also, it is not as easy to either wear the strap or take it off. So I quietly swapped to a regular, much more sober, Nike band for daily use and stowed away the Alpine Loop for my next trek to the Himalayas.

What you get when you open the box of the Apple Watch Ultra with the orange Alpine Loop. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

This is also a design that can take on the extremes with IPX6 dust resistance, water resistance up to 100 metres and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures from -20 degrees to 55 degrees Celsius. The titanium body also houses dual-band GPS.

Apple Watch Ultra review: Is it different to use?

For me, the best thing about the Apple Watch Ultra is how it just adds on top of all the capabilities of the Apple Watch. So it has everything that I am used to as an Apple Watch user from ECG to heart rate tracking and is there on your wrist as a regular watch when you are doing regular stuff.

A Low Cardio fitness warning on the Apple Watch Ultra is seen. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

I used the Apple Watch Ultra first on a trip to Mumbai and except for the usual stares — I was still on the Alpine Loop — everything worked as I am used to with my Apple Watch. Then things got better.

Battery life on the Apple Watch Ultra is impressive. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

A day into the trip, I realised the Watch had used up only 30 per cent of its battery. No, I had not yet switched on mobile data but I had used it as a full-fledged device with my early morning workouts and even answered some quick calls on it. Then I realised I had forgotten my wall charger somewhere on the first day and did not have a way to charge the device till I was back in Delhi unless I purchased a new one.

I decided to stretch it to see how it goes and the Watch Ultra stayed alive the entire trip — starting Sunday afternoon and coming back Tuesday late at night. It was only in the last two hours that I had to switch to low power mode. As someone who has used the Apple Watch since its first version, I would switch to the Ultra just for this. And remember, you can extend this up to 60 hours on low power mode.

The workout mode on Apple Watch Ultra during one of my walks. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The Apple Watch Ultra features new watch faces including the Wayfinder which has become my favourite with the sheer amount of details it packs in. Yes, it doesn’t help much to know the coordinates when I am walking along the Marine Drive in Nariman Point or the riverfront in Sabarmati, but for those stepping out a little bit more than me, these are great features to have, especially the one-tap access to the compass.

The compass shows the change in altitude as my flight to Mumbai begins its descent. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The compass also lets me see the altitude and bearing which worked well even inside flights. My pastime over the few flights I have taken this week has been to see the altitude go down at a steady clip after the pilot announces descent.

Then there is trackback. As you go about a hike or explore a new city, you can drop pins on the way and find your way back to where you started. This works so well, I used it to find my way back from the office to the hotel in Ahmedabad which is still unfamiliar territory for me. Interestingly, a very good urban use case I found was to drop a pin where you have parked your car in a mall so that you don’t get confused on the way back.

The track back feature can also be used to know where you parked your car. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The beauty of this product is how well the ability to retrace your steps has been incorporated into the watch face making it so easy to use everywhere. You can easily rotate the crown to get a zoomed-out view of where you are in relation to the pins too. This worked for me even inside my apartment basement, a testament to how effective the dual-band GPS is on the Ultra.

You can also get a zoomed-out view of where you are in relation to the pins you’ve marked as well.(Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The Watch recognises immediately if you are underwater and can be used as a full diving computer. I could not test this for obvious reasons, but I tested in a pool how the switch worked when underwater.

There is also a wonderful dark mode which is a spectacle to view in low-light conditions. All one needs to do is turn the crown all the way when using the Wayfinder watch face to get to this orange and black screen.

The Dark Mode on the Apple Watch Ultra looks stunning with the black and orange contrast. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

The larger 49-mm screen comes with its own benefits. For instance, I can easily tap in a location address in the Maps app and get a clear view of how to get there by foot or by car.

I can easily tap in a location address in the Maps app. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

Apple Watch Ultra review: Are there any issues?

There isn’t much more I could ask in a smartwatch that I would use outdoors more. But I think the ability to download and run offline maps from the watch will be a good problem for developers to solve now. Apple Maps right now needs a network while the GPS location does not let you see hiking tracks etc. But I would expect these to come as apps soon enough.

The active bands, as I mentioned before, are not great for regular use. So you will need to invest in straps that make this passable in your boardroom meetings unless you will wear a regular watch to work.

A podcast is playing on the Apple Watch Ultra. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

Apple Watch Ultra review: Should you buy it?

Frankly, I have used the Apple Watch Ultra in a purely urban setting so far, though I know of people who call Noida the Wild West. Since the Ultra part has been added on top of the familiar Apple Watch, this new watch gels well into your routine and old use cases. But I think you should spend the extra bucks — this is almost double the price of the Series 8 — only if you have a very active outdoor life too, one that takes you on lonely hikes to snow-capped peaks and even lonelier depths of the ocean.

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The yellow Ocean band of the Apple Watch Ultra. (Image source: Nandagopal Rajan/Indian Express)

That said, this is a flagship Apple Watch and I have a feeling a lot of users who have been using regular Apple Watches for years might this of this as a worthy upgrade, one that maybe pushes them to discover the real outdoors away from the concrete jungles they habitat.

First published on: 05-10-2022 at 11:40:53 am
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