Apple Watch Ultra IRL: Should you buy one?

Apple Watch Ultra is big, bright, smart, capable, dynamic and new. But do you have to drop $800 to get one?

It can.

But whatever you do, stay away from the new Alpine Loop strap.

I’ve used an Apple Watch since the third generation, even though I initially hated it so much that I called it “ugly and boring” in 2014. I was mostly wrong — though I still get goosebumps when I see great circular Android watches, including the sleek new Pixel Watch that Google just released for half the price of an Apple Watch Ultra. The Apple Watch has become an integral part of my fitness routine, and I’m currently on a 646-day streak hitting all the movement, posture, and exercise rings, with a fairly high daily line of 900 calories above basal metabolic rate. I make my Apple Watch congratulate me on being a not-so-horrible guy.

I recently purchased the new Apple Watch Ultra and have been using it for about a week now, including a 5 mile (8.5 km) hike up Mount Baker in Washington State today, and here are my thoughts.

Why I bought it in the first place:

  • Bigger, brighter screen so small details are more visible (I use Apple Watch faces with lots of detail)
  • Longer battery life (easy to drain in the evenings if you do a lot of physical activity
  • Action button for more one-touch usability
  • Temperature sensing (my Apple Watch, along with the Oura smart ring, were essential to getting proper telemedicine advice earlier this year when I had Covid, and temperature just adds another layer of usefulness)
  • Siren (I do a lot of hiking, sometimes by myself, and this could help with getting help if I ever need it)

So how is it going so far?

I’m happy with the purchase so far, except for the Alpine Loop strap, which is proof that even Apple with its die-hard focus on quality, user experience and usability can get it wrong. Here’s what I found:

Bigger, brighter screen

I don’t have the best eyesight in the world, and seeing the finer details on my Activity screens can be difficult on my previous Apple Watch, the sixth-generation device. The Ultra’s bigger and brighter screen makes it easier, and that in itself is a huge win.

Longer battery life

As I write this, it’s around 7pm. Peaceful. This morning after getting up at 6am to do some work. We left for Mt Baker around 8:30, arrived around 9:30 and proceeded to spend most of the day on a variety of short hikes that I tracked in a workout on the Apple Watch Ultra, stopping the workout when we stopped for a bite to eat to eat, or to drive to the next hike.

All in all, it was about 3 hours of training compared to the 4:21 of my elapsed time, burning 779 active calories at an average pace of 21:53 per kilometer (super-slow as we stopped for photos every few minutes on the incredibly scenic course) and running with average heart rate of 107 beats per minute.

When you’re in workout mode, your Apple Watch is active. It tracks heart rate, steps, location, elevation change, splits and I’m sure a lot more than I know. All of these require power, and long hikes or workouts tend to burn through older-generation Apple Watch batteries pretty quickly. You always have to charge your Apple Watch at night anyway, but sometimes I’ve had to top it off with mini-charges during the day.

As of 7:12 p.m., Apple Watch Ultra battery life is still at a very healthy 60%. This is not bad at all. And it’s critical to using your Apple Watch, especially if you’re tracking sleep with it.

(Note: this is a bad idea: it’s a big, heavy, hard object on your wrist at night. Your husband will thank you for not using a smartwatch to track sleep. Use a smart ring like the Oura instead. .. which Apple, by the way, should buy. But that’s another story for another day.)

Action button

Honestly, for me this is a bit of a gimmick.

I get it: if you’re on the side of Everest and you’re wearing big, heavy gloves, it’s great to be able to step on it instead of taking them off in the middle of a blizzard. But with the right watch, starting a workout is only a tap away, so in most situations that don’t involve life or death or debilitating cold, the action button is a little overkill.

However, if you ever need to sound the siren while you’re broken at the bottom of a cliff, it could be a big help. So I’m willing to give the Action button a pass for now.

Other characteristics

I didn’t do anything that required special features of the Apple Watch Ultra, like temperature detection or — of course — the siren, but overall, it’s a good package with better waterproofing and a better display.

There is only one part of my purchase that I regret…

Do not take the Alpine Loop

Look, your mileage may vary, but I appreciate wearing my watch quickly in the morning in the dark, and the Alpine Loop’s funky G-hook can ensure it doesn’t fall off, but it’s hard to slip into the right loop on the Loop.

The biggest problem: the G-hook is a piece of metal that, because of the construction of the Alpine Loop strap, folds right into the vicinity of the glass screen of the brand new $800 Apple Watch Ultra while you’re wearing it and taking it off. . No cool.

Additionally, you have to lengthen the Alpine Loop strap when you put it on or take it off, and because the Alpine Loop has 10 or 15 loops that the G-hook can fit into, depending on the size of your wrist, many of those fabric loops it must be pulled through the small opening in the metal part of the loop that connects to the body of the Apple Watch itself. That’s a little tight and challenging, and while you’re doing it, that metal G-hook folds up a little more right next to your glass screen.

In my very humble opinion, this is not a great design, not an easy strap to put on or take off, not a long-term safe thing to use with an expensive piece of glass. Result: I will exchange this loop with another one.

In summary: should you buy the Apple Watch Ultra?

Should you buy the Apple Watch Ultra?

If you love your Apple Watch experience and it’s an integral part of your fitness and wellness routine, the Ultra is an upgrade. If you’re willing to part with the cash, go for it.

But… if you love your Apple Watch but don’t need the extra battery life and 25-year-old eyes that see everything perfectly, you might be fine with what you have. And if you’re an ultramarathoner or extreme sports enthusiast who needs even more battery life than the Ultra provides — say a week or so — stick with your Garmin for a year or two.

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