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Apple Watch Ultra In-Depth Review: It’s a Start!

The Apple Watch Ultra is Apple’s real first foray into a watch suited for endurance sports, and other sporty adventures. Sure, Apple’s WatchOS 9 update for many of their other watches, including the recent Apple Watch Series 8, has brought a massive slate of new features aimed at that crowd – such as running power, triathlon support, and more.

But historically, one of the biggest blockers to many athletes using an Apple Watch was lack of battery life, combined with lack of buttons. The Ultra aims to solve both of those concerns, while adding in a number of other features along the way, such as the emergency siren.

I’ve been testing the Apple Watch Ultra, and in particular, yesterday I put it to the ultimate test: Could it survive a 14+ hour non-stop trail run/hike through the Alps? And if it could, how well would it handle such a mission. In this review, I’ll cover that, plus plenty more in terms of day-to-day use, as well as other new features like the new emergency siren and the action button.

Finally, note that Apple sent me out a media loaner Apple Watch Ultra edition, which as always will head back to them shortly once I’ve wrapped up with a few other tests. If you found this review useful, feel free to hit up the links at the end of the site, or consider becoming a DCR Supporter. With that – let’s begin!

What’s New & Where It Differs:

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The Apple Watch Ultra is basically an Apple Watch Series 8 at its core, and then has an added slate of hardware and software features/differences above that. In other words, when comparing an Apple Watch Ultra to a Series 7 (prior year), you basically first need to consolidate all the new Series 8/WatchOS9 changes, then once you’ve got those identified, you can add in the differences from Series 8 to Ultra. Got it? Good.

So, to start, here’s the more general hardware changes first from Series 7 to Series 8:

– Improved gyroscope
– New high-g accelerometer (for vehicle crashes)
– Wrist temperature sensor

And then here’s the Ultra-specific hardware differences:

– Increased case size to 49mm
– New titanium case with sapphire glass display
– Added a new button, called the Action button, designed for glove usage
– Increased size of the rotating digital crown for glove usage
– Increased water resistance to WR100 (100m) for dive usage
– Added an extra speaker for louder outside volume
– Now has three microphones for wind-cancellation audio
– Added an 80db alarm siren, for emergency usage/attention
– Added dual-frequency/multi-band GNSS for higher accuracy GPS tracks
– Increased standby battery life to 36 hours, or up to 60 hours in Low Power Mode
– Added Low Power Workout Mode, which Apple says can handle an Ironman race (with GPS).
– Increased Display Brightness to 2,000 Nits
– Cellular is built into every Apple Watch Ultra
– Changed to new braided charging cable with standard Apple Watch charging puck
– Now three different Apple Watch Ultra bands (more on that later).

And while the software side has a massive slate of changes, including fitness and non-fitness, here’s a look at the sports/fitness changes first, all except the end ones go to Series 8 units too, but the end ones marked ‘Ultra’ are specific to Ultra mode:

– Compass App: Revamped user interface
– Compass App: Added new waypoints option (saving, navigating to)
– Compass App: Added Backtrack capability to save a track without starting a workout
– Compass App: Added Backtrack to track back following your route
– Workout App: Adding three new running form metrics for efficiency: Vertical Oscillation, Stride Length, and Ground Contact Time
– Workout App: Can now see heart rate zones during the workout zones
– Workout App: Can now create new custom workouts, including repeats based on distance or time intervals
– Workout App: New alerts for heart rate zones, cadence, and other metrics (not shown yet)
– Workout App: New Running Power support, now natively tracks running power
– Workout App: Revamped data pages with more data per page
– Workout App: Will race against past workouts, which are saved to the workout app
– Workout App: Triathletes get triathlon support including auto-switching between swim/bike/run and triathlete tracking time
– Workout App: Adding kickboard swim detection
– Workout App (coming later this year to the US): Track mode for running tracks
– [Ultra] Added Dive app (called ‘Depth’) for diving, supports dives up to 40m (140ft)
– [Ultra] Added Workout App Precision start option, means you can avoid the 3…2…1 countdown sequence and start exactly when you want with known GPS lock
– [Ultra] Workout App now supports up to 7 data fields on a data page (6 customizable + time)
– [Ultra] Added New Way Finder watch face (day use), plus a night use version

Finally, we get to pricing. Here’s where we see the biggest jump. While the Apple Watch SE price decreased slightly, and the Apple Watch Series 8 pricing remained the same as the prior year, the Ultra introduced itself at a far higher price point. Here are the basics of the lineup:

Apple Watch SE (2022): $249
Apple Watch Series 8: $399+/$499+ with LTE
Apple Watch Ultra: $799

Note that if you’re in Europe, it’s even more pricey. It’s 999€, which is btw what I paid when I ordered mine (this loaner unit will go back to them once mine comes in). And the bands? Those are an eye-watering 99€ each.

Got all that? Good. Let’s dive into it.

The Bands/Straps:

I’ve got an entirely separate and dedicated post to selecting which band/strap you want, complete with comparisons on both my wrist and my wife’s wrist. Further, I’ve done workouts, daily usage, and slept with each of these straps – so I’ve included thoughts within that. Check that post out here (or, the video above).

The Basics:

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This first section is all about the basics of the watch itself, primarily from a fitness/health standpoint. So things like usability of the touchscreen, buttons, and then all the fitness/health bits around activity tracking, sleep, and more. For more general non-fitness aspects like calendaring or watch faces, I’ll be skipping over that. There’s already a million sites/articles that cover that, and despite the Ultra getting an extra button – none of that changes.

To begin, let’s talk about the buttons and controls – since those are somewhat new here, specifically the new ‘Action Button’. While that button adds specific functions, it also actually adds functions when used in conjunction with the other buttons. As you can see below, the Apple Watch Ultra has three dedicated buttons. On the right side there’s the digital crown, which is both a button and a rotating dial. That’s protected on the Ultra edition by a so-called ‘button guard’, making it tougher to accidentally press under jackets or long sleeves. And with the larger size, it’s viable to use the digital crown with gloves – even underwater. Below that is a secondary button, which acts as an app switch of sorts. It too has a button guard around it.

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Then, there’s the new Action button, hanging out on the other side of the watch. This button can be programmed to perform a specific action when pressed. The first press is to open a given app (such as opening the Workout App in Running mode). Then within an app it performs a specific action (like starting a workout, or changing sports in triathlon mode). Additionally, Action + Bottom Right button will Pause the workout.

Ironically, this button doesn’t have a button guard around it. And I can confirm I’ve accidentally pressed it a number of times since I started testing it. Usually it’s if I’m relaxing on a couch or some other position where my arms/hands might be crossed. It seems to find the perfect way to press the button, which in my case opens up to start a run workout. I guess it’s always trying to get me to run.

Meanwhile, the screen itself is an always-on touchscreen, which is rated for 36 hours of usage. The only exception to this is if you put it in Low Power mode (which gets up to 60 hours of standby watch time). Still, even in that mode, once you raise your wrist the watch turns the display on. Apple’s gesture-based algorithm is pretty good, so it’s usually responsive. That said, I’d recommend you leave it in regular mode as it otherwise reduces some functions (turns down LTE to once per hour checking, turns off some heart rate related notifications, and turns off background HR recording for non-workout usage).

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While the Ultra battery life means you’ll probably be charging every other day, many ask ‘when’ is the best time to quick charge it. I find the best time is just after I get to my desk and start doing e-mails and such first thing in the morning. That’s a good block of time where it can charge and I’m not missing out on any activity tracking.

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Now, before we get to activity tracking, note that we can change the watch face displayed on the unit. Apple provides a handful of watch faces, on which you can customize the so-called ‘complications’. These are basically the tidbits of data on them. I ebb and flow with the season as to which watch face I like, sometimes just some more technical stuff, and sometimes the one that automatically pulls photos from my phone so that each time I glance at it, I get a new favorited photo. In this case, it’s just the new compass watch face:

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I’ve often talked about the subtle integration bits that Apple has on the Apple Watch that seals the deal for a lot of people, and this is one of those. There’s no complex setup, it just works, and every time (literally) I look at my wrist there’s a new photo, typically of my family or a memorable moment. Contrast that with other watches where you set the watch face photo and it’ll likely stay that way for years. And of course, plenty of them have sports/fitness metrics that can be displayed on the watch face, or customized as well. Even 3rd party apps have the ability to provide data which can be selected from complications.

So let’s turn our attention to the activity tracking pieces. In the Apple fitness realm, everything revolves around the ‘rings’. Apple uses a three-color ringed approach to monitoring your daily activity levels. These rings have daily goals, and complete a circle (ring) each time you achieve that goal. For example, the blue standing ring is goaled by default at 12 hours of standing. Which means you need to stand once every hour, ideally 12 hours of the day. The pinkish-red is for ‘Moving’, and the green is for ‘Exercise’.

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If you swipe down from the rings, you’ll see how you’re doing in each category, as well as a bit of a timeline on the day. This was a relatively busy day for me, but it’s not over yet – so the rings aren’t fully complete. You can also see total steps, total distance, and floors climbed listed one swipe lower.

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Also, DesFit is always at a solid disadvantage to me from a photographic standpoint, given I’m 7 hours ahead of him.

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Of course, like any activity tracking platform, all of this is synced to the companion app on your phone, called ‘Fitness’. This app is only available on iOS (that’s the phone platform, so it’s not available on iPad or any other device type). In turn, the app technically pulls data from Apple Health, which is the health/fitness repository that Apple has on iOS (and, since it’s not on iPad, it’s why the Fitness app isn’t on iPad and why the Apple Watch isn’t supported on iPads).

In any case, within the Fitness app, you can see your daily totals as well as longer-term trending bits.

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There’s also the ability to display trends over time. However, this takes 180 days of data before it starts (it used to take “just” 90 days). As I said in my Apple Watch Series 8 review, and for years prior, seems like an absurdly long time for basic trends like whether or not you’re standing/walking more this week compared to last week. Every other fitness platform on the planet (and my 4-year-old daughter with her activity tracker) can tell you that if you walked more steps this week than last week, your trend is upwards. I know I’ve harped on this before, but I’m hoping that with Apple’s new focus on sports/fitness, they’ll look at some of these legacy silliness items, and consider it as low-hanging fruit to address in hopes of pulling in other sportier users.

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Though, as you can see above for the running pace one, it’s actually interesting in that it’s pulling from Apple Health, and not Apple Watch specifically. At least, best I can tell. Thus, my average is skewed upwards (slower), likely because of non-GPS-based data sources contributing to my Apple Health data set that aren’t as accurate.

In any case, let’s look at some other data bits, one of those is sleep. Apple has increased its sleep focus on WatchOS 9, namely via adding sleep stage data. When sleeping, your watch goes into a sleep mode, where the display dims substantially and shows just the time. You can change the exact times this occurs, which Apple calls your ‘Sleep Schedule’. This doesn’t dictate when you can sleep or the tracking of it, but just when the display dims.

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Once you wake up the following morning, you’ll get your sleep data displayed in the sleep app on the watch:

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You can see its estimated sleep stages/phases, as well as the sleep times. I generally don’t rate/judge sleep stage accuracy for a few reasons, instead focusing on the exact sleep times as a better proxy. The reason I don’t look at sleep stage/phase accuracy is that the comparative technologies that are available to do so aren’t all that accurate to begin with (about 80% accurate in most cases), and thus, we’d never judge a heart rate sensor or GPS track against something that was wrong 1/5th the time. It does seem like companies are at least getting more consistent here (Apple included), but I wouldn’t focus on this a ton at this time.

Your sleep data is then sent to your iPhone, where you can view it within the Apple Health app. As noted earlier, this is Apple’s giant repository for health/fitness data. You can see details about not just that night’s sleep, but previous data at the week/monthly/6-month level.

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As with my Apple Watch Series 8 and SE 2nd gen reviews, I’m continuing to see quirks/inaccuracies with WatchOS 9 sleep tracking, specifically around waking times. For example this past Saturday I woke up at 8AM for less than 5 minutes as the kids awoke, and then went back to sleep for nearly 2.5 hours (till around 10:30AM). Yet, the Apple Watch ended my sleep tracking at 8AM. Whereas Garmin, Whoop, and Oura all properly nailed my actual waking time at 10:27AM. And again, this is hardly the first sleep-related accuracy issue I’ve seen on WatchOS 9.

You can also get some sleep-related trends in the Health app, such as respiratory rate (aka breathing rate), and sleep time. It even thinks I’m doing better this year than last year, clearly it hasn’t yet accounted for this week and next week in those calculations…

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A new feature for Apple WatchOS 9 is more detailed HRV values (heart rate variability). HRV is an area that has exploded in interest in the last couple of years, with various fitness/sports companies leaning heavily on it to try and estimate how your body is recovering. While that can be tricky (at best) to do from HRV values, Apple isn’t quite going into that realm (yet). Instead, it’s just (slightly) increased the data provided by the watch to Apple Health. Previously, it gave only one data point per night (which is useless). Now, it provides more data (about once every 5-15 mins it seems), though it only does so if you specify that you have an Afib condition as diagnosed by a doctor. Once that’s toggled to yes, then you get a bunch more HRV data. This appears to be a random side effect, and I suspect one that Apple should easily be able to solve by just tracking that HRV data more frequently no matter the Afib toggle.

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Of course, the most notable Apple Watch Series 8 & Ultra watch’s data point is the new wrist temperature tracking. This metric won’t show your exact body/skin/wrist temperature, but rather change relative to the baseline (e.g. + 1°F). This is similar to how other companies do it, as it’s a bit more useful and easier to consume. There are two ways you can use this data. The first is that women can use this data to get historical cycle tracking data, including (historical) ovulation estimates. The second is that you could use this data to find trends between nights where your body/skin temperature is higher or lower and you’ve got better or worse sleep. For example, a hot room might lead to poor sleep, so you could potentially figure that out and adjust accordingly.

This starts showing in the app after 5 nights of data, and then also shows more female cycle tracking data once you get far deeper historical data. Here’s a shot I took of someone’s phone at Apple with much more historical data to exemplify this:

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Somewhat notably, if you have two capable temperature tracking devices (e.g. an Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra), you reset your 5-day waiting period when you switch devices. I realize this is 100% a reviewer-only problem, but hey, I figured I’d mention it.

You can see the estimated ovulation dates on the calendar, again looking retrospectively, as well as on the watch:

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I’m going to take a guess that Apple is probably starting with the retrospective ovulation dates because honestly, nobody is going to get super upset if Apple mistakenly identifies historical data. However, forward-looking ovulation data is an entirely different matter. We see both Oura and Whoop doing work/features in this area today, and with reasonably good accuracy (even for irregular cycles, with enough data). I’m guessing by this time next year we’ll probably see Apple do the same, having leveraged a year’s worth of temperature data within their internal testing. For most women, having forward-looking estimates is really where the value is (especially for those with irregular cycles as well as ovulation estimates).

With that, let’s dive into the sports features in more depth.

Sports Usage:

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The vast majority of new sports features in the Apple Watch Ultra come from WatchOS 9, and are shared with not just the new Apple Watch Series 8, but also the Apple Watch SE. So that includes everything from heart rate zones, to backtrack functionality, to custom workouts, running power support, to triathlon support. It’s a massive leap forward for Apple in terms of sports functionality, enabling them to immediately be more competitive in the sports arena, especially in running.

First up, we’ll start by getting a workout set up. To do so, you’ll crack open the watch’s Workout app, which is the app with the little runner person on it. From there you’ll see a slate of sport modes to choose from. If you look at the upper right corner of each one you’ll see three dots, this allows you to set a specific goal, or a custom workout.

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For example, in running the default would be just to track a run. But you can also now create structured workouts, or just simple workouts with a defined end goal (like distance or time).

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Here, for example, you can create a 6x800m structured workout (though obviously, creating Yasso 800’s at 8x would have been a ‘proper’ example). When you create these workouts you can add warm-up/work/recovery/cooldown segments, as well as repeat sections.

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You can give this workout a title, as well as specify unit views for the workout itself. And within these workout views, is where you’ll see the ability to toggle fields/pages, like the new heart rate zones, as well as running efficiency metrics, including running power.

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Heart rate zones can be set up on your phone, however oddly, at this time data pages/fields cannot be. Up through WatchOS 8/iOS15, you could actually modify workout data pages on your phone (Watch App > Workout > Workout View). However, with WatchOS 9/iOS 16, that feature/section is gone. All configuration must take place on the watch itself, which can be fairly tedious. It sounds like this will return, but didn’t quite make the cut for launch. You can still modify other things from the phone, like Auto Pause, and the new Workout Low Power Mode (more on that in a moment).

Assuming you’re ready to go, then you’ve got two choices with Apple Watch Ultra. You could go the ‘normal’ route for all Apple Watches up till now, and wait for the 3-second countdown. Once that countdown completes, it’s at that point that the watch goes off and gets GPS signal and HR acquisition – not before. However, the Ultra edition includes a new ‘Precision Start’ feature, that lets you first open the workout up, then see the signal status before you begin:

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This might sound like a trivial thing, but for Apple it’s a moderately big deal. Though, that said, it’s also something that *SHOULD ABSOLUTELY* be on all their watches, standard. You know, like every other GPS/sport watch since the beginning of time. Starting a run without GPS signal or HR signal makes no sense. So while I’ll give credit to Apple for adding it to Ultra, there’s no reason for it not to be on their other watches.

There’s also another change that’s notable. For all the new 2022 year watches, including the Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch Series 8, and Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen, Apple has changed how it does GPS lock. Specifically, it no longer depends on the phone like it used to (if the phone was within range). Now, it’s entirely self-standing in all scenarios. That has its pros and cons, depending on how you look at things. If you didn’t want it to drain your phone’s battery, it’s great (that’s me). But if you wanted longer battery life on your watch instead, it’s less ideal. Perhaps the best solution would be a simple toggle. I know I use the term ‘simple’ when in reality very little is simple in real life, but, given Apple previously had the feature – I’ve gotta imagine the ability to choose the GPS source can’t be that difficult.

In any case, once you’ve got Precision Start enabled, you’ll see the GPS status indicator at the top left, along with HR lock shown.

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After you’re ready, you can press the action button to actually start your workout. You’ll see your data pages as you’ve configured them. With the Apple Watch Ultra, you actually get an even more extended data page, with up to 7 data fields (albeit one is the clock):

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And you’ll get the new WatchOS 9 heart rate zone features. Note there’s only one set of zones though, so you can’t customize these per sport (which would be normal for most sport watches, as HR zones vary drastically between sports).

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We’ll also get the new running power and running efficiency metrics. For these, you’ll need to be actively running, as running power won’t display while walking or hiking. I know this sounds obvious, but in reality, most other running power competitors do actually display running power while walking/hiking. The reason is that energy is still expended, and should be accounted for. This is especially notable if you look at trail/ultra running, where competitors will often power walk steeper hills. In this case, their power output might be no different than ‘running’, but isn’t accounted for here.

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I suspect this is more of an algorithm accuracy issue, in part based on the possibility that the underlying wrist-based running efficiency metrics that drive the calculations for running power may lack the ability to gather this data accurately. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes over time. It wouldn’t surprise me, especially as they expand the footprint into the harder-core running crowd with the Ultra edition.

There’s also a new WatchOS 9 elevation page. This generally worked for me, but I stumbled into an odd bug where if the Auto End Workout reminder popped up (which doesn’t end the workout, but offers to), it stops tracking the elevation on this page in the background. The data is still good in the files afterwards. This triggered for me because I had set my hike to run, and in some steep near-summit sections, I was apparently going too slow on 15% gradient for the watch, so it offered to end the workout. You can see the gaps of green in this image – even though I never stopped hiking here. Also note the elevation field at the bottom is null, meaning it’s not showing live elevation anymore. This field caught-up about 15-20 seconds later, but the graph did not.

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If doing a structured workout, you’ll see whether you’re in a Work or Recovery interval in the upper left side, as well as distance/time remaining in that interval. The structured workout piece is good here, though there isn’t any API for 3rd parties to access it like there is on other platforms. Meaning, a company like TrainingPeaks or such can’t simply export a workout to the device like most other sports watches can. Of course, Apple Watch itself is a platform where apps can be built and someone can build an entire app dedicated to that (and they do). But, I think the one thing Apple knows is that if they want to be true competitors in the endurance sports realm, they have to have these seemingly niche things. It’s the combination of a boatload of niche things for why someone chooses a Garmin watch over an Apple watch when it comes to sports tracking.

Now, many of you have asked about sensor support. The Apple Watch Ultra can natively pair to Bluetooth Smart heart rate straps. You can do this via the Bluetooth menu on the watch:

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It cannot natively pair to any other sensor type, nor can it natively broadcast HR to 3rd party apps. However, 3rd party apps can fill both of the sensor pairing/broadcasting gaps. Take for example power meters, there are a few apps (and I’m sure more than I know) that can pair to Bluetooth power meters, such as WorkOutDoors. It can also pair to other sensor types as well. The native Strava Apple Watch app cannot pair to power meters (a seemingly obvious subscriber-only opportunity going forward).

However, WorkOutDoors doesn’t support the triathlon/multisport workout type, so for triathletes, you’re kinda out of luck. Realistically, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it’s key that Apple dive into supporting cycling power meters and cycling cadence sensors natively. Given the promotion of the Apple Watch as being viable for an iron-distance triathlon, the majority of Ironman triathletes are using power meters these days (and have been for years).

The good news for Apple is that while the BLE power meter spec is a moderate dumpster fire, it’s a contained dumpster fire. There’s really only a handful of power meter companies out there, and if I can have one of every one of these devices in the DCR Cave, then so can Apple. And for the most part, each manufacturer’s individual quirks carry across their entire product line. So once you solve for the 6-10 companies, you’ve solved for all the products.

As we wrap up this section, once your workout is complete you’ll get a basic summary displayed on the watch. However, it’s better to turn towards the Fitness app to see more data from your run, including all of that new running power/efficiency data. Apple’s actually done a pretty good job in expanding out this section a fair bit. Here’s another set for a different WatchOS 9 run I did with more complexity:

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And then when it comes to getting your workout up to various platforms, you’ve got a few options. Some platforms like Strava & TrainingPeaks have their own apps that can pull in your workout data easily through the settings menus. While other platforms lack integrated connectivity and require a 3rd party app. In my case, I primarily use HealthFit to do all my workout syncing. It supports all the new running power and efficiency metrics, and is generally my go-to for data export to 3rd party platforms (and also, for most reviewers).

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There are other options of course, RunGap being another popular one. Given Apple Watch and iOS are vast platforms with tons of apps on them, there are undoubtedly countless other options out there. In my case, I just use what has worked for me over the years reliably.

Compass, Backtrack & Navigation:

Apple WatchOS 9 includes a revamped compass app, which also includes the ability to create/save waypoints, create tracking, and then backtrack along a breadcrumb trail. These waypoints persist across sessions (e.g. they stay forever until deleted). There’s also basic compass navigation towards these waypoints. But that’s kinda it. At its core, using just the native apps, it’s entirely useless for any ultra-like navigation activity. Instead, its singular purpose today is mostly getting you back out of trouble.

Here, let me show you how it works. First, you crack open the compass. Sure, you’ll see a compass, but really it’s the other three buttons that the good stuff is within. At the lower left there’s a new button for saving waypoints.

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You can give your location a name, icon, and color. These persist across sessions, and thus are accessible months – or even years later.

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You can then see these waypoints in a list from the main compass menu, or on the little mini-radar-like-map instead (within the compass). When you select a given waypoint it’ll show a compass heading to that particular waypoint.

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Note that there is no ‘map’ per se, it’s just a breadcrumb trail and compass heading.

However, that gets to the next feature, which is Backtrack. That feature records a breadcrumb trail of where you’ve been, and displays nearby waypoints you’ve previously saved. This doesn’t actually start automatically when you start a workout. Instead, you can manually start it, or it’ll automatically start when it detects a lower density of nearby WiFi signals (not just yours) and loss of cellular signal. Meaning, it thinks you’re going somewhere you might need help getting out of later.

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Once started, it’ll plot data points approximately every 2 minutes, loosely connecting them with straight lines. This isn’t quite as high fidelity of data as their competitors, but in terms of getting yourself out of trouble, it’s likely good enough in most cases (crazy white-out snowstorms aside). You can then tap on a given historical waypoint to see the compass heading towards it, as well as navigate back to your start.

And this is where I ran into a pretty serious bug. Midway through my hike – when I was at the most remote location on my route with zero cell phone coverage and nobody for miles, the backtrack map/track went blank. It was as if nothing was recorded the entire time. Here’s (roughly) what it should look like:

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Yet here’s what it looked like (taken again the next morning when I could reproduce the issue):

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However, a few hours later in the hike, it showed back up again (with my full route). In discussing this with Apple late last night, they were able to quickly validate this is a bug. Specifically, it’s an enumeration bug. In my case, I could wait as long as 25 seconds before it enumerated. Of course, people like me certainly aren’t that patient, and I assumed it had died (a logical assumption). In reality, the data is/was always still there – it’s just the watch was taking its sweet time rendering it. The good news is that this bug will be fixed shortly in a firmware update. Still, I think there’s opportunity here for Apple to just have this feature enabled in the background anytime you start a run/hike/walk (or even any workout). There’s no downside to doing so, since you can’t always predict when you’re going to get lost (even if Apple thinks it can with an algorithm).

Finally, we get to the elephant in the room: Navigation.

Simply put, there is none. There is no built-in navigation/route loading on the Apple Watch (Ultra or otherwise). Thus, in the case of yesterday’s hike, I had to depend on a Garmin Epix watch for my route navigation. Obviously, for a watch focused on Ultra things, that’s not terribly ideal.

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Of course, there are 3rd party solutions here. The most popular one is an app called WorkOutDoors (same app I mentioned for sensor pairing in the workout section). It’s been around forever, and has more features than a Toys R Us. In the context of this section, the main feature it has is the ability to import a route in, download map tiles, and then navigate across that route. And in that context, it works great.

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And it has a gazillion more features beyond that. Customizable data pages, uploading to 3rd party platforms, connecting to 3rd party sensors, and on, and on, and on. Which, is also its downfall. Look, let me be super clear: WorkOutDoors is an awesome app, and a geek’s paradise. It’s amazing, especially given it’s just by a small independent developer.

However, being the product reviewer I am, it’s also overwhelmingly complicated (especially to configure), with a user interface that never said “no” to any user suggestion or new option. And while evaluating user features is key to any company/app, it’s such a heavy ship that it just turns off a lot of people. I think a ‘simple’ mode could go a long way here towards attracting new users.

But that gets to the core of it, and perhaps, to the core of the Ultra watch. Apple has laid the groundwork for an impressive watch down the road, but right now the navigational aspects on the Apple Watch are non-existent. Apple needs to heavily prioritize adding in basic routing/navigation, and basic Apple Maps offline tile downloads with map data for said routes. They should have an easy-to-use API that 3rd parties can latch into (akin to Garmin’s Connect Routes API), yet also support simple .GPX style imports.

I know someone at Apple is probably rolling their eyes, concerned that this is too geeky or whatnot. And that’s fine, but the simple reality is that doing endurance sports and long treks *IS GEEKY*. The navigation of those routes is a fundamental part of this sport, and today, those are done via very standardized file types that really need to be supported, before any trail/etc adventurer considers this watch for navigation purposes.

As I’ll say a lot: The foundation is laid, but it’s still just a foundation. The house isn’t there yet.

Ultra Features & Battery:

AppleWatchUltra

Within the Ultra-specific features realm, there’s a few core areas to look at that aren’t on the Apple Watch Series 8, they are:

– Action Button Features/Nuances
– Emergency Siren
– Battery Life

There’s also of course the dual-frequency/multi-band GNSS, but I cover that in the next section. Further, there’s the bands themselves, but those too I cover in other sections.

First up, let’s look at the Action Button. In reality, it’s more like a shortcut button. Specifically, it opens up a given app of your choosing when pressed. And then within that, it can be configured for a certain action. For example, you can configure it to open up not just the Workout app, but to do a specific workout type within it.

P1077045

Once inside the workout app, the role of the button is more specific, such as starting/stopping a workout.  Note, that for some reason I get a lot of these Action button failures. I’m not really sure what it’s trying to tell me, or what I’ve done wrong.

P1077051

Finally, you can long-hold it to access the siren and other emergency functions.

In this respect, it works as intended. However, it feels like it’s not quite baked yet. For example, yes, it stops a workout. But that can also accidentally happen via your wet coat touching the screen (as happened yesterday to me, four hours into my hike). So as useful as a dedicated button is, it’s not stopping the touchscreen from doing bad things (like when I caught it almost clearing my entire backtrack history, also yesterday).

In short, having the button is a good first step, but Apple really needs to dig a bit deeper into the use cases for it. Saving me one extra tap to open up the workout app isn’t really high on my priority list. But ensuring solid and reliable operation out in the elements is.

Next, there’s the emergency siren. This feature is an added speaker on the left side of the watch that screams at 86dB in a specific siren pattern, for upwards of 8 hours at a time. The pattern has specific portions in it (seen in my video), including an SOS in Morse Code.

clip_image001[19]

It’s one of those features that if you see a demo of it indoors or outside just standing next to it, you’re like ‘Shrug, that’s not that loud’. But those 86dBs have a specific tone and pitch and an unusualness about them that really carry the distance. I went out this morning, placed it on a log, and then walked some 300 meters away – where I could very clearly still hear it. And this was in an area with tons of background noise.

I suspect in the right calm night scenario, the sound would easily travel 1KM, perhaps even 1 mile. One only need to spend the night in the wilderness to know just how well sound sometimes travels, and this unique tone/pitch works exceptionally well in that regard.

Finally, what about battery life? Well, in this case there’s a slate of different levels. First, the official claims:

Daily Smartwatch Mode: 36 hours
GPS Workout Mode (dual-frequency/multiband): 12 hours
Low Power Smartwatch Mode: 60 hours
Low Power Workout Mode: No specific claim, but implied 15 hours

So, looking at each of these. First, is the daily smartwatch mode. In my case, I got an easy 48 hours, which had the watch charged to 92%, and then went down to 1% at exactly 48 hours (it ended up around 48hrs 20mins when it died). This is inclusive of two 1hr GPS workouts, and one 45ish minute indoor workout, plus sleep tracking, etc… So, in this case, it overachieved, though, it was not leveraging LTE.

Next, I went and tested the low power workout mode, to see how many hours I’d get there. As noted, Apple is a bit thin on the exact number here, but their official claim is that the average iron-distance triathlete can complete a race in it. Thus, if you look to Ironman for what that stat is, it’s 12.5 hours for men, and 13.5 hours for women. Therefore, I’m going to assume 14-15 hours.

Yesterday I went out for a long trail run/hike, starting with the battery at exactly 100% – hot off the charger and right into pressing start. In this scenario, I enabled low-power mode. That mode turns off the always-on display, so it becomes gesture-based only (which I was fine with). It doesn’t reduce any GPS or HR sampling, which remains at 1-second intervals (the same as everyone else).

For the first 8 hours or so, I was averaging a very consistent 5-6%/hour. However, around the 8-hour marker, it suddenly dropped 13%/hour for no apparent reason. Thankfully, after that it resumed its 4-6%/hour. I have no idea why the random drop occurred. At the end of 14 hours of trekking, I had 15% battery remaining.

clip_image001[21]

So, that’d put me on target for about 17 hours of time, or a bit more if I didn’t have that random-giant battery drop. In other words, all within spec.

Finally, later this year Apple will be adding a secondary low-power mode for workouts specifically. In this mode it *will* reduce the GPS & heart rate sampling rates (the number isn’t quite finalized, but sounded like once per 2 minutes). They haven’t announced what that battery life will be, but I suspect it’ll be quite significant. Of course, that’s a pretty massive gap between 1-second recordings and 2-minute recordings. It’d be hard to see use in trail running/hiking/cycling adventures at 2-minute gaps. Though, other types of scenarios make a bit more sense I suppose.

Still, for the vast majority of people, having the 17-20 hours of today’s low-power workout mode is likely enough.

GPS & Heart Rate Accuracy:

P1077075

In this section I’ll compare the Apple Watch Ultra’s GPS (GNSS) capabilities to other units on the market, both multi-band and non-multi-band. Additionally, I’ll compare the HR sensor to a slate of other sensors, including chest straps, optical HR armbands, and other watches.

Note that in my case, my Apple Watch Ultra has LTE (of course, like all units), but that LTE is not activated. As such, it has no opportunity to ‘correct’ itself against known map data. It must figure it out by itself. Further, I didn’t bring my phone with me on these runs. The only exception is the hike, except in that case the phone was in airplane mode the entire time (no access to LTE data).

We’re just gonna dive right into the deep end here, with a combo dish involving a challenging GPS run into the tall buildings, as well as an interval workout. Why not do a twofer? First up, for this route I start off in relatively easy conditions with light tree cover. Then it gets more complex as I pass under some massive highway/train overpasses, which last over 100m in length of coverage.  A bit later I then do sweeps up and down the streets of the business district, with tall buildings (20-30 stories) separated only by either a single or two-lane road. In this case it’s comparing the Apple Watch Ultra (multi-band) on one wrist, to the Apple Watch SE (2nd gen) on the other, and then also with each hand I’ve got a Garmin Forerunner 955 (multi-band) and the other a COROS Vertix 2 (multi-band). Here’s the data set, and the overview:

City-GPS1

First, starting off with the ‘easy’ section, this is a tree-lined path, in general most modern GPS units almost seem to snap to the track. Here we see it does that – all is well.

City-GPS2

And going around a sharp 90° turn I didn’t see any Apple Watch Mario Karting, instead, a nice crispy track.

City-GPS3

So, let’s kick it up a notch and head to the downtown building district. This has three sweeps that I do, or rather, three streets worth.

City-GPS4

Zooming in, if we see the two lower passes, the lowest pass below all units do OK-enough. Some issues, but nothing crazy. However, the middle pass (upper pass on the below image), you can see the Apple Watch Ultra easily outperforms the others. Not to say it’s perfect (it isn’t), but it’s the best of the bunch in this situation.

City-GPS6

Then we’ve got the last – and most difficult – pass. This section threw everyone for a loop. You can see the road in between the two sets of tracks. In this case the two Apple Watch units (Ultra and SE) plotted surprisingly similar tracks (despite being on opposite wrists). While the Garmin and COROS units plotted entirely different tracks. None of the watches were correct.

City-GPS5

The rest of the run was pretty uneventful. So, let’s quickly look at the heart rate from it. In this case, I did intervals the entire run…just for fun:

City-Run-HR1

It’s spot-on. Super happy there.

Now, let’s look at an openwater swim instead – note the color of the Ultra has changed here to purple (it was green in the previous one). Here you can see the Apple Watch Ultra on one wrist, and the Garmin Epix on another. I’ve also got a GPS unit on the swim-buoy as reference. You’ll immediately notice the Apple Watch has some serious issues here. The Garmin Epix throws down a scary-accurate track.

Swim-GPS1

However, what’s notable is that the Apple Watch isn’t failing 100% of the time, rather only at certain points it goes crazy. Those points? The exact same points I’d pause to fix my leaky goggles. Meaning, I was briefly treading water. When I’d so so, the Apple Watch doesn’t correctly reconcile its GPS location before it begins, resulting in ‘things gone bad’.

Swim-GPS2

Mind you, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen to companies. In fact, it seems to almost always happen when companies switch GPS chipsets. It happened to Suunto a few years ago when they went to Sony, then it happened to Garmin for a summer, and then it happened to COROS when they first launched the Vertix 2. All were fixed within a few months. Given Apple has historically had industry-leading openwater swim accuracy, I’m going to take a guess this will get resolved soon.

Next, let’s dip inside quickly for a look at an interval indoor cycling ride:

UltraAccuracy-IndoorBikeHR1

As you can see above, it’s very accurate. Spot-on with the chest strap. Well, except for that moment when it crashes and you see the blue line. This was when I had taken a second screenshot (first was fine), and it immediately crashed the unit. In doing some digging, I think it’s actually a bug in their manual restart option. Specifically, you should be able to take a screenshot with a couple of double-presses of the right buttons. But, it didn’t take, so I held it down for a few seconds. Normally, it takes 10 seconds (per Apple Support documentation) to restart the watch, but in this case it actually reboots at 5 seconds. Thus, my ‘crash’.

In any case, the optical HR sensor here nails the peaks of this sprint in this workout, perfectly matching the chest strap.

UltraAccuracy-IndoorBikeHR2

So, let’s look at a few tidbits from my hike. Having skimmed through the entire track, frankly, it’s virtually identical. All the units are – the Garmin Epix, the Apple Watch Ultra, and then the Fenix 7 base & COROS Vertix 2 that I had strapped to my backpack. This section towards one of the summits is right up against some rock cliffs. Super close between all of them.

Hike1-GPS

And then this section, which looks like a barren landscape (it kinda is), but it’s in the shadow of a huge bowl/cliff/whatever, so it’s got somewhat limited GPS signal opportunities. Also solid.  But again, so was everything from this near-70KM journey in the mountains.

Hike2-GPS

Here’s the elevation chart, in meters. Skimming across it, the widest gap I could find between the four units was 10 meters. Most of the time they were a mere 2-4 meters apart. I don’t know what’s up with the COROS Vertix 2’s recorded altitude data and all the dropouts. That’s the data in the file.

Hike-Elevatio

Next, I’ve talked a lot about running power in various posts. First, was my complete Apple Watch running power deep-dive and comparison post this past summer, where I compared numerous runs to a slate of devices from all the major running power companies (Stryd, Polar, Garmin, and COROS). Then again last week with the Apple Watch Series 8 in-depth review, as well as the Apple Watch SE in-depth review. And the TLDR version is that as a reminder, there is no standard for running power, and how it’s calculated.

So, what each company includes or doesn’t include in their algorithm, which in turn will make the values higher or lower. While all these companies tend to trend pretty much the same, they do so at different ‘levels’. And the same is true of the Apple Watch Ultra edition, since that’s sharing the same algorithm as all other WatchOS 9 watches. You can see that below from my interval run against both Garmin and COROS (Polar, while not on this run, tends to sit in the middle usually).

CityRun-RunningPower

While I think it’d be ideal for the running power industry to go shack up in a mansion Eye’s Wide Shut style and come together with regards to their powers, the main challenge for Apple today is simply that it doesn’t calculate running power while “walking”. The challenge with that is that walking still exerts energy, and the entire point of running power is stabilization of output (energy). This is even more important in trail/Ultra running, where many competitors will power-walk the steeper inclines, because it’s most efficient. However, Apple won’t calculate that, which negates the benefit of Apple’s power metric.

In any event, running power aside, I’m seeing strong results from Apple’s multi-band capabilities in the new Apple Watch Ultra, at least aside from swimming. On dry land activities, it seems to be performing about the same as other multi-band watches, and slightly better than the Apple Watch Series 8 and Apple Watch SE. For optical HR, that too seems to be solid, also performing at the upper end of optical HR sensors in the market today (the same place Apple has historically been).

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks, and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Going Forward:

P1077108

Whether or not the Apple Watch Ultra is for you, depends largely on what you plan to use it for. If you had or wanted an Apple Watch, but were held back by battery life, and perhaps button usability – then the Ultra largely solves that. Similarly, if you wanted more advanced running/workout metrics, then WatchOS 9 on the Apple Watch Ultra also solves that too. And, if you never knew you wanted an emergency siren on your wrist for when you fall off an embankment, then the Ultra is for you too (but seriously, that feature is surprisingly well executed).

However, as good as Ultra is for most existing Apple Watch users (or more mainstream prospective users), it falls short when it comes to features that you would need to complete an actual ‘ultra’ – that is, a long distance running race, or trek, or really any adventure in the backcountry. These gaps fall into a couple of different camps. Sure, there’s the bugs like the openwater swim one, or the disappearing compass backtrack one. I’m less concerned about those at the moment. Instead, it’s the navigational feature gaps, and sensor pairing/broadcasting gaps that are more key for Apple.

Despite taking the Apple Watch Ultra on this grand 14-hour Alps adventure yesterday, it didn’t actually serve much of a purpose. Meaning, it wasn’t the one navigating me to the finish line, pacing me up 3-hour climbs, or helping me find my way in the pitch-black dark. My Garmin Epix watch was. The Apple Watch was (mostly) dutifully recording that trek, but it wasn’t providing much actionable information. Apple needs to find a way to have the Ultra be the *key* to successfully completing these sorts of adventures, and the primary path to that is a robust navigation component.

The last bucket is usability. When it comes to a daily smartwatch for 24×7 usage, I’d argue Apple easily wins that competition – and has for years. No watch is as polished, app-deep, or well thought through as the Apple Watch for daily usage. And in theory, the new Action button on the Ultra aims to close that gap for the sports scene. The challenge is, it just doesn’t. Too many scenarios on the watch still require touch inputs – something that’s often impossible in rain, snow, cold weather conditions, and more. I shouldn’t ever have a situation on the Ultra where my run/hike/adventure gets ended simply due to a wet jacket briefly touching the display for a second. That should be a button, and a confirmation via another button.

At this point, it’d be easy for endurance athletes to dismiss the Apple Watch Ultra. And for the moment, yes, that probably makes sense. However, I sure as hell wouldn’t bet against Apple closing these gaps – and likely closing them quickly. They are keenly aware of these gaps, and also keenly aware that this is their first foray into this segment. And they seem more committed than I’ve ever seen them to vastly expanding their capabilities. If I was their competitors, I wouldn’t be concerned about this fall, I’d be concerned about next fall. I’d be concerned about what happens when Apple takes all of the feedback they’re getting today from the endurance sports reviewers, along with what will soon be months’ worth of feedback from regular consumers – and putting that to work.

And the good news is, that Apple tends to make such feature/software updates available to watches made years in the past. And every single shortcoming I’ve found is fixable in software, not hardware.

With that, thanks for reading!

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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

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Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

Found This Post Useful? Support The Site!

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

If you're shopping for the Apple Watch Ultra (Alpine Loop Orange) or any other accessory items, please consider using the affiliate links below! As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but your purchases help support this website a lot. Even more, if you use Backcountry.com or Competitive Cyclist with coupon code DCRAINMAKER, first time users save 15% on applicable products!

Here's a few other variants or sibling products that are worth considering:

And of course – you can always sign-up to be a DCR Supporter! That gets you an ad-free DCR, access to the DCR Quarantine Corner video series packed with behind the scenes tidbits...and it also makes you awesome. And being awesome is what it’s all about!

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible. And lastly, if you felt this review was useful – I always appreciate feedback in the comments below. Thanks!

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233 Comments

  1. Larry Schwartz

    Any comments or recommendations on the Ultra band choices? I’m trying to choose between the Alpine Loop or the Trail Loop band?

    • Yup, I’ll add in a more detailed band-choosing section here shortly.

      However, till then…on launch day I tried a bunch of bands out at Apple, and came away loving the Alpine Loop in terms of looks, but found it frustrating to get on/off. But, what I didn’t realize at the time (since the keynote had just ended moments earlier), was that there were multiple size bands, and I’m pretty sure I had tried a small band, not the larger band I have now.

      So, I really like it, and while it’s still a little bit finicky to remove/put on, it’s definitely far easier with the correct size. Plus, you’re likely only taking it off every other day, so it’s not as bad as daily (or, a gazillion times at a hands-on area).

      The trail loop is great too. It’s what I have on my wrist right now. It’s much quicker to get off than the Alpine, and you get a bit more specificity when it comes to exactly how you adjust it, since there’s no ‘preset’ spots like the Alpine loop. But I wouldn’t overthink that part as much.

      I ordered the Trail Loop on launch day, but, I might end up ordering a second Alpine Loop band at some point. Though, I’ll cry softly into a pillow afterwards on behalf of my wallet for doing so…

      If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably go Alpine Loop instead.

  2. Steve B

    Does it struggle to capture heart rate early into the run? I’ve had this issue with recent series of Apple Watch on literally every single run. See the attached file.

    Separately, how does one pair a heart rate monitor to the watch and then have the monitor HR data broadcast over the watch while completing a run and also have that HR data be the data that Strava picks up? This question is inherently tied to my first question so I guess if there an answer / solution to the first question, this question is irrelevant.

    • John B

      I use a Garmin HRM-Pro with my Apple Watch Series 7; it’s paired via Bluetooth. I put it on before my workouts, go into Bluetooth on the AW to connect it (it doesn’t appear to be automatic, sadly), and then do my workout. Data is pulled into Strava/TP/GC without issue (either with direct sync or something like HealthFit).

    • 1) No initial struggles – but that’s actually what the Precision Start aims to fix. Meaning, now it waits and acquires HR/GPS first, and then you press start to go – thus, you’ve got proper lock. Otherwise, with the 3-2-1 countdown, it doesn’t start lock till after you’ve started running/whatever, which is the worst possible way to get HR/GPS lock (and gets you the chart you have above).

      2) Connecting to a HR strap is easy via the Bluetooth menu – I think I show a picture of it up above in the Sports section. As John noted, with the Strava app itself, it’ll pull the data in automatically.

    • Noel

      I experience the same cadence lock at the start of my runs on my S6 for about 10 – 20secs but that seems to have dramatically improved with watchOS9. Some of my runs lately have zero cadence lock at the start as of OS9. I also find that the cadence lock is less likely when I run later in the day where my resting rate isn’t as low and it never happens at races where my resting rate is way higher due to being hyped up about the start. It’s like Apple thinks, “no way can this guy’s HR be 50bpm while running, I’m going with this other light pattern I see that is running at 170bpm (your cadence)”. Then once your rate is around 100bpm it makes the shift over to the correct light pattern. It’s still a lot better than any other OHR sensors I’ve had which would lock on and off throughout the entire run.

  3. Howard

    Is it feasible that Apple could add mapping support in a firmware upgrade? My gut feels me this might be something they are reserving for v. 2.0 but curious all the same.

  4. Kyle

    Any chance the multisport workout upload to Strava well be fixed so it can show three disciplines instead of a single generic workout? Is that on the Apple side or the Strava side? I never noticed an issue with my Garmin.

    • John B

      I’m curious if using HealthFit for import to Strava/TP rather than the native Strava import process will resolve this issue, considering that HealthFit to Strava pulls in running dynamics where native sync does not.

      I might try a dummy multisport activity on my AW7 later and see how that works now that WatchOS 9 is out in the wild.

    • Hmm, that’s a good question. When I tried it this summer, I used HealthFit, and it pulled it in cleanly. I don’t typically use the native Strava import option.

    • Kyle Pellet

      Just downloaded HealthFit and re-uploaded my Tri. Everything but the swim imported properly. The swim is missing. I’ll have to try it again with another multisport workout (maybe a swim-run) and see if I have the same issue.

  5. Stephen Thomas

    I wouldn’t complain at all if Apple added support for BT power meters, but like probably everyone that has a power meter I also have a cycling computer. So I fail to understand why it’s a big deal.

    TBH, I’d much rather see support for Varia radars. I’m confident that Apple could make haptic notifications work really well for radar alerts. They already do that for turn by turn directions from Maps.

    • For pure cyclists, I largely agree that most (well, virtually all) with power meters would have bike computers.

      However, for triathlon, you really want one cohesive record in the triathlon file – even if you also use a separate bike computer during the race and training (as many do).

    • vicent

      I agree 100%.
      I’m a triathlete and use my ambit3 for swimming/running and a wahoo for the bike.
      I have not replaced my ambit3 because it still works and i feel bad when replacing something still usable.
      This watch is the first one that made me think about a new watch being able to import training peaks workouts to the native app would be an amazing addition.

    • David Krumw

      Would adding BL/BLE sensors be a FW/SW upgrade or would it require new hardware? Trying to decide if I should wait for Ultra v2 or just hope for inclusion in a WatchOS patch?

    • Stephen Thomas

      There are already third-party apps that support BT sensors, so no hardware changes are required.

    • chris benten

      If the Fenix 6 or 7 incorporated ECG…I would agree with you. But they do not AFAIK. I would like only one watch and if the 8Ultra incorporates the power meter…I only have to use one device.

  6. Dave

    I’m really looking forward to getting mine. While it lacks routable topo maps and the insane battery life of my Fenix 7X, it has cellular, a far better daily use experience for music and life in general, and will, I suspect, be a lot more comfortable to sleep with. I’ll keep the Fenix for a while, and although I’m aiming for a 100km run that the Ultra *might* just about last through, I suspect I’ll eventually offload it and stick with Apple. It’s just easier.

    • John B

      This. I’ll be selling my Forerunner 955 to make way for the Ultra in a couple weeks. The longest activity I do (once a year) is a backcountry day hike in Yellowstone that tops out at eight hours round trip. This should easily handle that. Otherwise, my longest run is a marathon (four hours) and my longest multisport event is a sprint (1.5 hours if I’m tired).

      Excited to have my “it just works” functionality and Apple Health data collate seamlessly.

    • skyrun

      yep. i’d rather have a better overall user experience than 30 days of battery life..

    • Thanks for being a DCR Supporter, Dave!

    • MaDMaLKaV

      Hi Dave,

      I have been reading your comments here for a long time as you look a very reasonable user that makes very good points on all discussions you take part in, so I eagerly expect your opinions on how good this watch with a third party app is for activities linked to routable maps.

  7. Paul S.

    “And the bands? Those are an eye-watering 99€ each.” But older bands for previous Apple Watches still work, right?

    • John B

      Yes, per the Apple site the 45mm bands work with the Ultra:

      “You can match most bands with any Apple Watch Series 3 or newer case of the same size. The 41mm bands work with 38mm and 40mm cases; the 45mm bands work with 42mm, 44mm and 49mm cases.”

  8. Doug

    Navigation is critical. I am constantly creating new routes to add variety to my workouts, and I use navigation on my Garmin to follow route.

    Apple? Are you listening?

  9. Husain

    The Ultra looks amazing but choosing it for workouts over its competitors means:

    1. Not able to do structured workouts from TrainingPeaks
    2. Limited sensor support and connections. Its either connecting AW with Stryd or Zwift with Stryd. That’s a deal breaker when doing workouts indoors as you have to choose either accuracy (by connecting Stryd to AW) or a perfectly prescribed workout (connecting Stryd to Zwift).
    3. Unintentional pausing of a workout on the AW as the touchscreen is sensitive to sweat. Locking and unlocking the screen is a faff especially if using multiple apps or listening to music or podcasts.
    4. Third party app stability especially when it comes to syncing workouts or running in parallel with other apps. Ive had plenty of mid-workout reboots from Peloton, Zwift and Stryd AW apps.

    I was hoping the Ultra would address the above issues I’ve had with other AWs. It remains a really good smart watch. Personally, I can’t make the most of my workouts using the Ultra.

    • Chris

      Imagine if TrainingPeaks made a high-quality app for the watch that took their workouts, connected to power meters etc. They would get a lot more people too.

    • Chris L

      Number 3: I’ve even managed to end a workout on more than one occasion peeling back a wet sleeve in the rain, and there’s (still) no resume button so that’s that.

    • Husain

      To Ray’s point, a lot of the ‘gaps’ can be closed by software updates or more capable 3rd party apps to your point. But I feel Apple should do more natively especially through broader sensor support and re-broadcasting sensor inputs if they insist on shying away from Ant+. Apple should aim to reduce the need to shuffle between apps especially while running downhill on a trail (I cracked more than the screen).

    • skyrun

      this. training peaks looks ancient in terms of UI and honestly, too much useless data. they can turn things around, but i doubt they will.

    • Noel

      1. If TrainingPeaks has some sort of API then a 3rd party app like WorkOutDoors could probably import the workouts which would be a really cool feature.
      3. I’ve have this issue in the winter when I’m wearing long sleeves but I configured a quad tap gesture in WorkOutDoors which enables water lock which solves that. For music I typically use my headphones to change tracks. WOD can also be configured to prompt for confirmation when ending a workout which helps.

      I wouldn’t hold my breath on Apple every natively addressing all the issues. Like Ray said, it’s a geeky crowd which will requires lots of features, sometimes not intuitive and requires lots of options. This isn’t Apple’s style. They are all about minimalism and ultimate intuitiveness. I hope I’m wrong though.

  10. JimC

    Hey Ray, you seem to have the same picture twice when showing the new Action button – both pictures are of the crown + button on the right hand side of the watch.

  11. Dino Sclavounos

    Hey Ray,
    Long time follower here. Thanks again for all your reviews to help guide us with new devices and technology.
    Just want to clarify if the new action button can start and stop the timer swimming laps in the pool as past Apple watches we’re horrible at this.
    Thank you!
    Dino

    • Yup, in a Pool Swim, the action button by itself, once started, acts as a stop-timer (pause). However, somewhat oddly, it doesn’t (by itself) resume the timer. For that, you have to press both Action + Lower right button.

      You can also pause the timer by pressing the two right buttons together, as previous.

    • Dino Sclavounos

      Great. Thanks. Would this be the same action you would have to take to pause a run? Push both buttons?

    • In run, pressing the Action + Bottom right button will pause the run, whereas just pressing Action only, will mark a lap.

      Cheers!

  12. BartMan

    I’m long time Garmin watches user (10+ years), now on Epix 2. I would switch to Apple Watch Ultra immediately, what stops me from it is that I do not want to prison myself in Apple “walled garden” ecosystem. Sadly – there is no equivalent in Android world to Apple Watch Ultra (I do not think Samsung Watch 5 Pro is). I’m having high hopes that maybe Sunnto will release successor to Sunnto 7, presumably based on Snapdragon W5+, that will be solid smartwatch and solid adventure/sports watch at the same time.

    • Chris

      What part of the ecosystem are you afraid will be walled? Lots of friends have iPhones and use none of the apple apps. They sold their androids and kept all their google type accounts (mail, photos, docs, spotify, etc)
      I genuinely think the days of the walled garden are mostly behind us. Unless you are referring to google cal syncing web links…

    • TomTom

      Apple’s strength lies in its ecosystem. If you don’t use their other devices, then there’s no need to buy an iPhone. There are better phones out there but Android does not offer coherent experience across different devices.

    • BartMan

      Well, if I switch to iPhone, and acquire Apple Watch Ultra as well, for any future phone upgrade my choices will narrow to only one vendor – which is Apple.
      With other watches – I can choose basically any vendor/model I want. Also – iPhones are deliberately made to work well with Apple computers (and other part of ecosystem) only. Currently I’m on Windows when it comes for personal and business machines.
      I like my Epix 2 a lot, but as smartwatch it sucks. As said above – switching to Apple Watch Ultra is very tempting – but given the fact that it basically forces you to enter the walled garden – I will not go there (hey, I know that this garden is really nice, I just hate the high walls that separates this from outside world 🙂
      I gave up my hopes that Garmin will improve in “smartwatch side” – looking (from a distance) at their software development process – it is not going to happen.

    • TomTom

      Actually Apple Watch Ultra may force Garmin to make Epix/Fenix a better smartwatch with LTE connectivity microphones and speakers. But they would do it with Android in mind because Apple doesn’t let them use its full potential. And from what I heard, the majority of Garmin clients are iPhone users.

    • BartMan

      Well, the competition is always good thing for customers 🙂

    • Stephen Thomas

      You might still be able to find one of the Garmin smartphones

      link to garmin.com

      🙂

    • Paul S.

      How l long ago was the Garmin phone? I don’t think I ever heard of them. (What, no quarter turn mount?)

    • Alan Wynn

      What it seems you are saying is that you would rather have an inferior experience because you are afraid that you will like the Apple experience too much. Apple does not hold your data hostage, nor does it do anything to lock you in to their ecosystem, other than provide a great experience. There are certainly people who switch back and forth between the ecosystems, but there are fewer and fewer of them, not because Apple has raised barriers, but because many people feel there is no competitor ecosystem that offers as much.

      One can take all one’s data out of HealthKit, but I do not know of a system that synchronizes with as many Electronic Medical Records systems in the U.S., so switching would mean giving that up. It would not be Apple locking you in, but competitors not offering the same level of functionality.

      Many third party apps and services work on both platforms, but work much better on iOS/iPadOS/macOS/tvOS/watchOS, moving would decrease the quality of the app. Again, not Apple’s fault, just that Apple provides an easier developer experience (fewer variants and more customers willing to pay for apps and services).

      Of what exactly are you afraid? That you will have too good an experience and then not want to leave? That does not seem like a rational fear. 🙂

    • BartMan

      This is re: Alan Wynn. I do not want to go into lengthy discussion on Apple vs non-Apple consumer/IT product – in the end of the day – this article is on Apple Watch Ultra – not Apple ecosystems. Anyway – contrary to yourself I actually consider that Apple does a lot to keep you in their eco-system of products – not just by doing quality products. Nevertheless – I need to be honest and admit – I’m tempted, however it does kind of feel like being tempted by The Dark Side 😉
      One other factor is that Apple iPhones (so something mandatory to have to use Apple Watch) is obviously extremely expensive. I do not live in US, I live in country with way lower average income, still the Apple products are more expensive here than in US.

    • TomTom

      Couple of years ago I was tempted myself but after using my sister’s AW for a one day I ran back to Garmin. So many things that are obvious here just aren’t there or work awkwardly (no Continue Later option, no default Backtrack, no constant HR measurement, no button navigation, 10 different apps for different things etc). Then again I’m not a person who likes to use smartwatch features. Even my Fenix has Bluetooth mostly off and I sync via WiFi after an activity. The only thing I would like to have is LTE connectivity to stay connected during a run without a phone. Other than that I don’t need my watch to constantly vibrate, light up and drain battery. My dream watch would be an analog Garmin Fenix with AMOLED display that lights up only when I need it. Most of the time I would actually prefer to glance at analog watch face with mechanical hands. But I’m almost 40 and slowly getting tired off screens all over the place. I even had to look for a car with analog speed indicator 😉

    • okrunner

      This. I have to believe we will see an Epix 3 with LTE, microphone, speakers, and basic dive app in very short order and all for $799. Garmin had to see this coming. They better up their game quickly which means eliminating half their watches that simply overlap, quit crippling watches with the same hardware for a price point, and lower their prices on their top tiers. Garmin has been told to do many of these things for years from Ray and others. I have to assume they’ll listen now that Apple has forced them to.

    • Alan Wynn

      I am only asking about your concerns of lock in with an Apple Watch and iPhone, not about other Apple products. What do you think Apple does for an Apple Watch/iPhone combination that you feel would prevent you from leaving for an Android phone and watch pair down the road?

    • Alan Wynn

      How long do you think the battery on that watch would last? How useful would it be as a general smart watch?

    • Ted P

      Look at what they did with auto nav units;

      many different models, all twice as expensive as they should’ve been and that went on for years. Once app based nav became more ubiquitous and capable, Garmin slashed prices and condensed models.

    • wayne

      I felt the same way as a runner using Garmin connect since it started and Garmin training centre before that, however, I’m currently using an Apple watch series 8 for my steady straight runs and intervals, and so far I’ve managed to sync all activities to Garmin connect using RunGap app. (I have no association whatsoever with RunGap but seems to work well.

  13. Axel

    Hi Ray, wonderful review, thank you!

    Do you think it will last a day alpine skiing and tracking with the Skitracking feature? I tried that with my Watch 5 and this was not possible. I mean starting 9 am to about 4 pm?

    Thanks!

  14. MaDMaLKaV

    As I said on the Youtube video, the only thing preventing me right now to migrate to Apple Watch Ultra is the mandatory use of an iPhone, if they allowed to pair it to an iPad I would bought both devices.

    • Dave

      I agree with you. I’d really like to have the Watch app available on iPad as well as the iPhone. Perhaps we’ll see it at some point down the line.

  15. Alex

    Can Zwift “see” Apple Watch pace info, like it can with Garmin? I do all my treadmill runs with Zwift, and this is the main reason why I use a Garmin.

  16. Neil Jones

    I think Apple have got to consider making their Health App available on other platforms, even if in a reduced version. I understand that the AW and some of the first-party Health metrics are tied to an iPhone, but Apple’s more and more taking aim at an audience of fitness data-junkies who want to analyse that data. Whilst the Health data (or its presentation) might not yet be as rich as that provided by the likes of Garmin Connect, I’d still want the option to be able to view it on my computer screen or iPad rather than have to flick through it on a 6″ phone screen.

    • John B

      The reason Health app data isn’t available on other platforms is the security/encryption. As maddening as it is to have to view it on our phones, it ensures that it’s secure and can’t be accessed anywhere else. I was hoping a web UI or even a desktop app would come with the next MacOS update, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

    • Anonymous2324

      I’d accept it being usable on even an iPad with a better interface. I hate looking for stuff in the health app.

    • Alan Wynn

      I would not be surprised to see an iPadOS version of the Health app and possibly a macOS version, with syncing among them. A web version and/or a version on another platform built by Apple seems very unlikely. Apple does not want to have access to your health data, as it means they cannot share it with third parties (such as governments), even under subpoena. On top of all the other marketing benefits it offers them, it saves them a lot of money, not having to handle those requests.

      It would not be hard for someone to build a synchronization platform and/or a web analysis tool, if there is enough interest, especially since all the APIs are open and available.

    • Andreas T

      Apple is working actively with large US healthcare institutions to integrate EMR data with Apple Health. HIPAA compliance, device security etc are major issues. As Apple cannot control device security on non iOS devices, Health will never be available on other platforms. That is not even discussing Android security and upgrade problems.

    • Allan

      1. Are Stryd, ismooth run and Workoutdoors the only running apps that have full Stryd compatibility?

      2. Is there a better way to charge the AW than by letting it sit on a charger. I would like something that would grab the watch when I am charging it in the car. Right now it often falls off the charger.

  17. Frank

    Hi Ray

    Can you charge the watch during an activity?

    Thx

    • Bradley Olwin

      Don’t know for sure with the Ultra but with Series 5 on OS9, I can start a workout (Apple) and attach to the charger. The workout pauses but can be restarted with no issues and runs. If connected to BT HR strap everything is recorded. The only problem is if the watch slips off the charger and then reattaches the workout pauses again. So you need to be careful but in principle it works fine. I don’t see why the Ultra would be different.

    • Alan Wynn

      I would never has guessed that would be possible. Cool that you tried it.

  18. Guido

    How does the AW Ultra perform at intervals?
    Is it accurate enough to show me the speed changes min/km so quickly and accurately that I no longer need a stryd or does this also work with the Ultra like it did with the other AW, only very slowly and imprecisely because of the GPS inaccuracies?

  19. Dan S

    Yes, the lack of mapping, GPX import and navigation and athlete’s tools will be improved in future iterations.

    But making the Ultra a true adventure watch might conflict with Apple’s design ethos. Every touch command can also be executed with a button on Garmin’s watches. A Fenix doesn’t have a problem with rain or gloves!

    But there seem to be three things governed by physics: a beautiful display, power, and long battery life. You can’t have maximum scores in all three.

    For years, I have used Fenixes and Tactixes (Tactii?) in military and mountain environments. A battery that can last for weeks is essential when you don’t have access to charging or a cell signal. Even if future iterations of the Ultra improve, it’s unlikely Apple will make the compromises necessary to deliver multi-week performance.

    There’s lots of febrile chatter about how Apple will destroy Garmin. I don’t think it will. I suspect it’ll be more like smartphone cameras: smartphones killed off the casual use devices, but there’s a thriving market for pro and pro-am cameras. Garmin et al. might see a dent, but their watches will continue to have a place for people who want a different balance of functionality.

    • Henrik

      I agree that Apple or any other smart watch maker will not destroy Garmin. But the profit of both hardware production and software development is hugely linked to volume. Even if a small percentage of Garmins premium clock users move to Apple Watch it is going to hurt Garmin,

    • Alan Wynn

      Smartphone cameras have killed the low to medium digital camera market and have caused several of the higher end players to be sold or exit the market. What is likely to be Garmin’s biggest problem is Apple’s lead in silicon, and its ability to produce its own fully custom chips. Apple will be the first company to use TSMC’s 3nm process which should provide power reductions and performance improvements. It seems likely that Apple will have that process to itself for 6 – 18 months. The same is true for TSMC’s 2nm process.

      The second problem for Garmin will be the lower end of the market. Apple is likely to take a larger share of that market and at some point, Garmin’s share of the people that need multiple weeks can be 100%, but it will be hard to sustain the R&D needed to move that forward without the lower end volume.

    • TomTom

      I remember people saying the same thing about Spotify and Google Maps. ‘Apple will come and out them in their place’. We all know how it turned out. Lower end market is dominated by the likes of Xiaomi, Amazfit and other Chinese brands. And Garmin will always appeal to Android users because I wouldn’t count on Pixel Watch and Samsung to dominate.

  20. Leon

    Hey DC-Rainmaker,

    sounds like some fun adventures you are up to and thank you for these super nice reviews.

    Do you have a comparison of the HR sensors across the Apple Watch Editions at hand? Would love to see how it evolved over time since there are claims that its actually different hardware. My AW 5 does well at avg HR but typically misses or lags on spikes/dips.

    Best wishes,
    Leon

  21. Breck Brigham

    Please subscribe me to your newsletter

  22. TomTom

    Does Apple Watch have Continue Later option during activity?

  23. Simeon B

    Hi. Thank you for your work. This is incredibly useful.

    I’m going to switch from a Garmin Forerunner 245 to the AWU. I don’t go further than a marathon and now that we can structure workouts on the watch I don’t see why not. I’m sick of bringing my phone with me on runs with my Garmin so I don’t miss messages (have kids) and can play my music. Curious to see if the watch can track a full day of skiing in cold temps this winter.

    You seem to have Apple’s ear. Here is a field that could probably earn them a huge following quickly. GPS dog collars that seamlessly link with the Apple Watch. The offerings out there are terrible. Garmin of course has an epic satellite based system for serious hunting dogs (can track 20 dogs simultaneously via satellite for up to 10 miles on a topographical map interface) but costs 1k and doesn’t really even sync with the Fenix.

    I like to run/bike with my dog and would like to be able to track them either on my phone or ideally on an AWU…. How about a dog collar that offers this functionality in the maybe $300 range? Have you ever considered reviewing the universe of dog collars?

    • Alan Wynn

      I would love an Apple ecosystem integrated dog collar. I have been trying to train my dog to go to the store to pick up things, but if it integrated Apple Pay that would make it easier. 🙂

      Seriously, I am about to get the Fi Collar. It seems like the best option, but it doesn’t seem amazing.

  24. Maf

    Hi there, my sister, triathlete, and more than a dozen Ironman’s under her , sent me this web link….she’s a follower of your webpage so anyways she sent it to me because I’m considering purchasing the Apple ultra.

    I currently have the Apple Watch six. I am a moderate hiker and I say moderate because it’s not a race it’s the journey and enjoying it so she told me ask him about purchasing the ultra if it only has three things that separate it from the Apple Watch eight is it worth the extra money?

    So basically, I’m a hiker backpacker leisure person, so I do my hikes without any time limit heading down to South America one-way ticket doing the W then going over to the and some other stuff down there and that Sheila side and then going over to Argentinian Patagonia and doing some walking in Bariloche up in that you were so waterfall is also heading down to Ushuaia checking out the hikes there and then going to the Antarctic and doing some walking there so I do hope that you read me and give me your best suggestion . Thank you thank you thank you.

  25. gideon

    great review…thanks

  26. 1500k

    This was an excellent review because of its honesty. The key issue with the Apple Watch Ultra is WatchOS 9 which was not redesigned to be fully navigated using the new physical buttons or crown– it still relies upon touch or Siri. For sports applications (think: gloves, cold, rain, loud wind etc.) it doesn’t actually solve the very issue that prevented all other versions of the Apple Watch from being a viable option. And until there is a major evolution of WatchOS that allows it to be fully navigated with buttons, it’s little more than a rebodied Apple Watch 6/7/8 with the same limited compatibility/integrations and battery life. It’s a fine watch for the weekend Tough Mudder but not an “Ultra” adventure athlete.

  27. Nathan M.

    Hi Ray,

    A few things I wondered about before I get the watch. One, does the Ultra have something like a jacket mode? When I owned previous Apple Watches I always had to manually disable wrist detection to get the watch to stop locking itself if I wore it over top of a jacket. I also remember the watch occasionally having a problem with disabling a lock code or turning off wrist detection if you had a card loaded into the wallet app. In order to use Apple Pay you would always need to have a 4 digit lock code otherwise it would disable Apple Pay. I also wanted your preliminary thoughts on the raw titanium and if you are seeing any stretches that easily happen because of the raw titanium casing. Thanks as always for your review!

  28. Well. This Just makes me want a Garmin Epix 😂

  29. arnau rovira

    Hi, really useful review, thank you! I have a question: If I ride with a karo hammerhead 2 device and I bring my AWS Ultra (not starting any activity), when I finish my ride and I upload my activity with hammerhead to strava, will calories, rings etc be updated to AWS, replacing calories during the ride for karo data in the AWS? I will have duplicated calories data in my AWS?

    Thank you in advance from Catalunya!

  30. Lorne

    With regards to the Alpine Loop, how easy is it to wash after a sweaty run?! Currently using sports band on my AW7, just run under the tap and good as new! Interested in your thoughts, Cheers.

  31. Leticia Vega

    I’m of the same stature as The Girl. Did you hear whether they were considering developing a smaller version for petite people in a future iteration? Thanks so much!

  32. Brian

    Thanks for commenting on the touchscreen issue! In the rainy pacific nw, a touchscreen is pretty useless on long weekend runs. Garmin physical buttons are no-headache. Hopefully Apple can fix the touchscreen during workout issues with a software update.

  33. Jeff F

    Great review and Youtube post. Has there been any improvement to the touchscreen as far as being functional with wet or sweaty hands? I had hoped since this watch was targeting outdoor activity specifically, that it might do better than the previous models. Either I missed that somehow in the review or they haven’t improved it. Surely they would be bragging about any upgrades to that, and you would have tested it.

    I’m stuck in that I am not willing to give up my Apple Watch for general life use, but it becomes next to worthless for me on a swim, bike, or run (at least in Texas where every workout results in sweaty hands) so I have to double up and wear a Garmin for workouts.

    • John B

      This is what my wife and I do: AW for all-day wear, strap on a Garmin Forerunner 745 (her) and 955 (me) as well for workouts/racing. Seems silly to wear two watches, but I’m still not at the “one device to rule them all”. My Ultra comes in a couple weeks, and I’d like to go with one device…but I’ve been using Garmin watches since 2006 without issue. Change is hard! 😀

    • Todd Sparks

      This ise right now. I’ve been wearing a Garmin watch 24/7 for years but want the everyday benefits of the Apple watch. For now I’m going to use my F7SS for sleeping and working out to try to maintain my training readiness values but wear my Ultra the rest of the time (both while working out).

    • Rob B.

      I do the same with my 945 LTE: put it on the right wrist when I go out for activity with my AW on my left. I love my AW6 for daily “smart watch” functionality, but wear my FR945 LTE during runs and other outdoor activities because I have been using Garmin since WAY before I was using an Apple Watch to record and collect/consolodate my activity and stats. But now that I am in the Apple ecosystem, I’m addicted to closing my rings as well as making sure that actives are dumped into the Garmin history bucket as well. I also find looking at the Garmin easier during efforts than getting info off the Apple Watch. That said, with the introduction of the Ultra, I’m thinking of just going to it from my AW6 and using the RunGap or HealthFit App to just export into Garmin and leaving the FR945 LTE behind or selling it.

  34. Shaun Moran

    RE: GPS accuracy. If I understand this article correctly not all GPS satellites are L5 ready. So I assume L5 availability (and watch accuracy) would differ depending on what is above you head at any particular time of day? link to zdnet.com

  35. Shaun Moran

    Is there any way of showing the actual temperature of the external temp sensor? I know it shows the water temp in dive mode but would be great to see the temp for non-dive activities (eg: Norway in Winter).

    • Paul S.

      Where are you wearing it in Norway in winter? The problem with watches is that they’re near a heat source all the time if worn on the wrist. Even if you wear it outside clothing, there’s some effect. That’s why Garmin made the Tempe for the original Fenix. Maybe Apple can do something algorithmically with twin sensors to correct, but I doubt it.

  36. biobiker

    It’s really odd that they didn’t add a native offline maps / navigation app. I’d be interested in a comparison of all the leading 3rd party nav apps for the Ultra.

    My workflow is creating routes in komoot, which automatically syncs to garmin connect, which I can sync to my fenix watch. Finished activities then get automatically synced to Strava and imported in some other apps like statshunters.
    If I can find a good way to mimic that workflow I might get an Ultra.

  37. Sean K.

    Really thorough review considering the short amount of time you had before launch. You’ve done a lot of hiking this year for sure. Well done! I always appreciate your balanced reviews.

    Apple has reached a certain saturation level of iPhone sales in certain countries.. When you couple saturation with minor increments in each new generation of iPhone, you have to imagine that Apple is looking to grow other product lines.

    Apple sees up to $1K pricing for Garmin high end devices and imagines how that would scale for them with a customer base that is easily dropping $1k for Pro / Pro Max iPhones. So Apple is seeing the margins and pricing Garmin has hit and made some tentative steps. This is Apple’s way. Start with a few changes at a time. It’s a long term approach. But as you pointed out, Apple tends to update features over a long period of time. So as they make improvements, first generation Apple Watch Ultra owners will benefit too.

  38. Nico

    I sold my epix for the ultra. And it was the best decision I made. A heart rate sensor which is accurate. Crazy. The Garmin ones are crap. The gps is the best I’ve seen. And! I can finally leave my phone at home. Apple Pay (garmin one is more a joke). LTE is great 👍

  39. HughDietz

    Love your dedication to detail, Thanks for much clearer picture,

  40. Todd Sparks

    Great review, and I agree with your assessment that pretty much all the major shortcomings you pointed out can be fixed via a software update.

  41. Matthew

    Is there any chance of an Oreo / rolling pin comparison photo? It’s hard to tell how this sizes up compared to a ‘standard’ Garmin etc

  42. Hey folks! Just a quick note that I’ve dropped a giant detailed comparison of the different Apple Watch strap/band types here: link to dcrainmaker.com

    Go forth!

  43. Tim

    @Ray – the trick I use to lock my watch and avoid accidental input while doing long runs (or any exercise really) is to swipe over and turn on turn on the Water Lock feature. Then you have to hold the crown (in iOS 16) to do any further input. Note that you are still able to still scroll through the multiple screens of data though.

    Not a full fix to your ask for the confirmation to end a workout, but a temporary band aid at least.

    • Yeah, that’s what I used the entire time for the hike. The problem was that anytime I needed to interact with the watch beyond just changing workout screens, I had to unlock it.

      In my case, I apparently had the auto-end workout reminder thingy on, so I had to unlock to clear that, and then re-lock. And that showed up about 2-4 times an hour (times 14 hours). I’ve since disabled it, but I was also lucky in that I was out of cell phone range, so didn’t have to deal with dismissing/etc notifications too.

    • Tim

      Figured you’d be all over that already 🙂

      I hadn’t thought to also turn off the auto-end reminders. Going to have to do that myself. Thanks for the tip!

  44. Daniel

    Does the Apple Watch Ultra work with Zwift Running on a dumb Treadmill?

  45. DCHook

    You mention that having a regular AW and the ultra is 100% a reviewer problem but, actually, my question revolves around this. I have an existing AW (Series 7) and the Ultra just arrived. The Ultra seems pretty big but would be useful on my bigger adventures. I’m wondering if I can use both of them? I know that the iPhone supports multiple AWs but I’m not certain how the cellular plan works. Would I need two cellular plans? I’m assuming you had to set this up for the review process? How did it work? Did you have to add an additional cellular plan for your 2nd AW? Thanks.

    • Stephen Thomas

      I’m in the same boat. I don’t have the Ultra yet (arriving later today), but

      a) It is definitely possible to use two watches. I currently have a S7 for daily wear and an old SE for sleeping (and letting my S7 charge). Switching between them is seamless and automatic; literallly all you do is take one off and put the other on (and unlock it). But the SE has no cellular.

      b) It is also possible to have two cellular watches, provided your carrier supports it. I’ll find out this afternoon if T-Mobile does. Most carriers will require an additional device activation ($10/month in the case of T-Mobile) for the second watch.

      c) In the worst case, it is possible to use the Ultra without activating cellular. This obviously does result in loss of functionality, but I figure it’s no worse than running with a Garmin/Coros/Polar/Suunto/etc.

    • Alan Wynn

      There is still a benefit for an LTE watch even without service – emergency notifications still work. At one point I was playing with a beta version of the software (a long time ago) and when I was switching between devices, it gave me the option of switching the LTE service. I do not know if it ever got released, and I have no idea how many times one could switch before one got a call from someone at the carrier saying: “stop it!” (or if they would care).

      🙂

  46. Alan Wynn

    Now I have a real reason for having 36 hour battery life. Charged my watch this morning after I did my 4 mile/2 hour workout this morning. Usually, I would have put it on the charger when I was getting ready for bed, but instead I had fairly sharp chest paints and went to the ER (I am 58, so at that age… 🙂 )

    EKG matched my watch (Sinus Rythm/Bradycardia). None of the cardiac enzyme markers, but exercise related chest pain calls for admission, monitoring and a stress test in the morning. My watch is at 36%, so it would be nice if my watch had more battery so it would for sure make it through the night.

  47. Joerg

    Hey,
    so when I would turn on LTE at my Ultra the workout GPS accuracy would be better?

    Thank you and kind regards!

    • It’s complicated.

      It’ll leverage LTE for initial lock to speed it up. And then it’ll also leverage LTE for Apple Maps data correction. So yes, it does help, but I would say it’s going to be that meaningful for Ultra in most cases.

  48. Terry Scott

    Fantastic and thorough review as always.
    Have you had any issues regarding the watch losing your heart rate? Your graphs look really reflective if hr going up and down. Mine doesn’t look like that during my intervals and lost it altogether for long sections. Not sure if it’s a fault or whether this can happen. I don’t get this with my Fenix 5, which I’m hoping to get rid of

    • Stephen Thomas

      That’s typical for an Apple Watch if it can’t detect heart rate. Lots of possible reasons for that: wearing it too loose or too tigh; optical sensor situated over a bone or tattoo, cold temperature. If your Garmin worked fine, Apple’s readings can probably be improved by re-positioning the watch. DesFit had a YouTube video recently with tips for getting good heart rate readings from optical sensors.

      One thing to note is that Apple is (I think) unique in how it displays heart rate data. Specifically, it doesn’t show anything for time points during which it could not detect a heart rate. Thus the gaps. (Most) every other watch software interpolates missing data, essentially guessing what the values would have been by “connecting the dots” between the known values. So your Garmin might also have been missing values, but you may not have noticed because the data would appear to be there (thought it would look suspiciously like a straight line during those time periods.)

    • Terry Scott

      Thanks Stephen. I didn’t realise that. Useful to know.
      I do wear it tightly but I’ll check out that video.

  49. Janos KOZMA

    Congratulations for your review!
    I think you are totally right on the navigation feature. Creating a route, uploading it on the watch and having
    the device indicating on preloaded topo maps that you are on the path (i do not speak about turn-by-turn navigation)
    is absolutely a must.
    I could not imagine doing an extreme mountain trekking in winter without such a feature
    because when the weather suddenly changes and when the wind starts to become very strong and snowing
    at 3000 meters or more, you even see nothing around you in a perimeter of 10 meters!. And you
    loose also the sense of direction/orientation.
    It is so reassuring/comfortable when a watch keeps watching your path and indicates if you are on the path
    and in the right direction too, with all the metrics delivered in real time. I think basic topo maps preloaded are also
    necessary, they do not need to be detailed with the name of the road etc., but we need to see the trekking
    paths and where we are to avoid confusion deciding the path we need to choose (intersections).
    We need also to have an exact elevation profile (and all the metrics) so we can manage the effort to arrive at destination.
    I speak about my experience and how a manage this stuff when i go trekking in wild environments.
    I prepare them, always, no improvisations! I never go out and randomly go somewhere and then, when I am lost, use the backtrack feature.
    We need also to inverse the route. Telling the watch that from now we go back on the same route and
    all the metrics correctly recalculated based on the route we have store in the watch.
    Of course, we have Apps which have such a feature, but I think too, this one must be implemented
    in the watch by default and optimized to save precious battery live, like the siren, the alarms when we fall etc..
    So, I hope Apple will implement this very soon because it will be the only watch
    which will cover a 360 degrees vision based on a safety considering the ability to have LTE, Phone, Alarm, Siren etc..
    Sure, some watch has weeks of autonomy or months
    but regarding the added value based on safety features, I personally prefer to take eventually an additional light battery pack to have the best
    reliable, rugged device on which I can totally rely (do not reboot as some watch) when I go
    trekking in what could be a very, very hostile environments.
    So yes, I agree, and again hope Apple will implement this very soon.

  50. Well, if I switch to iPhone, and acquire Apple Watch Ultra as well, for any future phone upgrade my choices will narrow to only one vendor – which is Apple.
    With other watches – I can choose basically any vendor/model I want. Also – iPhones are deliberately made to work well with Apple computers (and other part of ecosystem) only. Currently I’m on Windows when it comes for personal and business machines.
    I like my Epix 2 a lot, but as smartwatch it sucks. As said above – switching to Apple Watch Ultra is very tempting – but given the fact that it basically forces you to enter the walled garden – I will not go there (hey, I know that this garden is really nice, I just hate the high walls that separates this from outside world 🙂
    I gave up my hopes that Garmin will improve in “smartwatch side” – looking (from a distance) at their software development process – it is not going to happen.

  51. chris

    Hi Dave, have you asked apple when they will make a cycling head unit, because its what we all want

  52. Søren Vægter

    Is it possible to turn off auto-lap/auto-segment/Auto-split on Apple Watch workout app?

  53. Adam Curpier

    Great review as always! Just testing my Ultra 8 against the Galaxy 5 pro. One question… any advice on how I could import my sleep data from Apple Health to Training Peaks? I do have the accounts linked, but it does not sync sleep. On Android I used FitnessSyncer … is there an easy way to do this on the Apple platform?

  54. S

    Ray,

    Do you know if there’s a way for normal users to easily report bugs to Apple? I don’t want to waste time with their customer support making me go through all the newbie stuff.

    FWIW, watchOS 9 introduced a bug in Pool Swim workouts. The watch only accumulates distance when you turn in the pool, so the distance reported will always be one length short. E.g. if I swim 10 lengths, I will only make 9 turns, so the watch reports a total distance of, e.g. 225 yards. My total distance is, of course, 250 yards. Interestingly, if I set a distance goal of 250 yards, the watch correctly generates the alert that congratulates me for completing my goal. But, when I look at the workout afterwards, the distance is still 25 yards short.

    This was not a problem with watchOS 8 and earlier; it’s new to watchOS 9.

  55. biobiker

    Ray,

    any plans to do a post on what current map/nav options are out there. I see WorkOutDoors a lot for navigation and offline maps, is that still the best there is for AWU?

  56. Jeffrey

    If I don’t have an Apple phone, does that limit the functionality significantly?

  57. Brett Blankner

    No power meter support = no go for us Ironman peeps. That’s crazy they don’t have that yet. And I had problems with HR while running with my Garmin Fenix 5 because it’s heavy and pulls away from the wrist. Looks like this one has the same problem. Sticking with Garmin 945 for sure.

    • I’m not entirely sure that Apple ever intended Watch Ultra for Ultra athletes; surprising given the name. It’s probably more of a marketing statement to convince the masses that they need this aspirational piece of kit.

      I suspect PM support will come at some point if Apple is serious about the cycling/tri markets, tho Apple seems paranoid about anything which might make a hit on battery life. I’m not sure how much extra battery a BLE connection to a PM costs and then how much extra processing is needed on the numbers from the PM (again hitting the battery)

  58. Chris Mort

    Thanks for a great review!
    I have had my Ultra for two days now and have done equal to 8km ocean swimming with it . I can confirm that the Open water GPS is Wiley inaccurate!
    A 1km race today was recorded as 2.1km !!!
    Hopefully a bug they will fix soon.

    • :-/ Bummer indeed.

      Yeah, I did another test on Friday, and while it handled better than my first test, there’s still oddities in it. Just haven’t had a chance to pull all the data together. I also noticed the distance quirks as well.

  59. JohanS

    Great review. Strava isn’t importing my power data from my Apple Watch, am I missing something?

  60. Florian

    Dear DCRainmker,

    I have another question regarding your 14 hours test run. Was the Apple Watch Ultra connected to your iPhone during the
    run or did you used only the Watch including the built-in GPS, Barometer etc. ?
    If the watch was NOT connected via BLE to your iPhone, the LTE on the watch activated or in standby?

    Best regards
    Florian

    • Noel

      As of the S8, SE2 and Ultra, they will never tether to the phone for GPS, even if they are within BT range. It should have been this way all along and this change should have been applied to older watches too.

  61. Roland

    Hi,

    Great review as always. Couple of quick questions/ comments. 1) the new structured workout feature only appears to support one target metric. I’ve been using WorkOutDoors on a series 6 Apple Watch and make extensive use of the interval schedule programming feature for training runs (setting, distance/ time against target pace with various training targets built into a training period). With WorkOutDoors, it creates an experience similar to running with a coach or pacer, with the app forcing you to keep to training targets (e.g, running multiple pace targets during a long run or adding a series of faster + recovery intervals during a extended training session). This flexibility doesn’t appear to be available with the Apple fitness app.

    2) more of a criticism of Apple…. and their “battery” data, from painful personal experience, the battery performance drops quite quickly after a year of use, throw in a few apps collecting data on the way to a race start and the watch battery life can become marginal for a whole race. This is probably my biggest issue with the std. Apple Watch range, that the usable life of the Watch is determined by the battery. The ultra should overcome this for marathon distance, but would likely be an issue for IronMan competitors.

    3) the action button is a great idea, but appears to be limited to starting and stopping Apple apps. Can it be programmed to stop the touch screen from working during a workout? Can it be programmed to work with third party apps?

    Thanks

  62. Paul Gavin

    Excellent helpful detailed review.

  63. Tomás

    I’ve been a Whoop user since the first version. Currently on the 4.0 version, and it’s… OK. With the new Ultra watch, it’s the first time that I’m considering jumping off and just using the Apple Watch (and replacing my old Suunto).

    Do you think that Ultra + Whoop is now overkill, or is there something worth considering to not drop the Whoop?

  64. RunningDenver

    Ray – thanks for the write-up, and as always all the time you spend on these devices we love…

    I’ve been testing the ultra v my epix 2. The main issue I’m having is under-reporting elevation gain / losses on the ultra. I’ve noticed a pattern. If you’re doing a run that is ‘straight up’ or ‘straight down’, then the ultra performs pretty well. However, if you’re on an undulating course – it doesn’t. What it appears to be doing is requiring at least 7 feet, so guess 2 meters, of change – before it’ll track it as a gain or loss. Whereas the garmin appears to register the change with a lesser amount. This means if you’re going up and down small undulations – the garmin is tracking more of it, then the ultra. As an example – a 20 feet rise – the garmin gets it, the ultra says 14 feet, because it needs me to get to 21 feet for it to capture. If I start down, now that 6 feet is lost.

    This may sound trivial, but over the course of an undulating 6 mile run today – it’s under-reporting the garmin by 25% and 100s of feet. I’ve tested the garmin previously v suunto, and they were similar, so this feels an apple issue. For a data junky, and living in Colorado with lots of ‘undulations’ this is the main thing that’s making me want to return it…

    I’m wondering if you have a technical support contact / help desk and not general apple support that you could either pass on for me to chase down, or pass this on to ?

    Perhaps they could come up with a different running outdoor activity – perhaps ‘trail run’ – where they make the change 1 meter / 3+ feet ?

    thanks !

  65. Matthew

    Ray,

    Do you know of anyway to log the skin temperature sensor as part of a workout that you could then analyze later? I’m wondering if the skin temperature sensor could be used sort of like the Core Body Temperature sensor.

    • Paul S.

      I don’t think that wrist temperature would be a good proxy for core temperature. Aren’t core temperature sensors worn on the chest?

      My Ultra arrived today, and there seems to be no way to even take your temperature at all. It’s mentioned in Sleep Tracking, but I have no interest in that. There’s no that I can find to just take your wrist temperature like you can your heart rate or blood oxygen or ECG. It may show up in Health on my phone eventually, but it hasn’t after about 7 hours with the watch. Maybe there’s a way for apps to get it, but I haven’t found one (I checked Workoutdoors) that said anything about it.

    • Stephen Thomas

      The watch only measures temperature during sleep, and it only reports sleeping temperature as a deviation from baseline, not an absolute value. It also needs several nights of data to establish a baseline in order to report anything at all.

      The watch is not a thermometer. I think Apple has been pretty clear about that.

    • Matthew

      Thanks. Too bad. Would be interesting if there is a Core like way to use the temperature sensor.

  66. Craig N

    Howzit Ray.
    How does this compare to Garmin Epix2 indoor swim features – 2 vital ones in my mind are the rest periods and drill functions. Does the ultra allow those ? Also can you customise a swim workout like you can a run on the watch. Thanks always …. Love your work 💪🏻💪🏻

  67. Sarah Grundy

    Can you design custom swim workouts that her sent to the watch?

  68. Tom Servo

    I have need for altitude acclimation stats like I get on my Fenix. Any chance the new AW Ultra has something like this?

  69. Tested the offline maps situation. Documented my test here: link to jooonas.medium.com

  70. Researched training metrics on Fenix/Epix vs Ultra/S8 and documented my conclusions here: link to jooonas.medium.com

    I hope it adds some more detail to this excellent article by DC Rainmaker

  71. Ray,

    I really enjoy following your product reviews. Yesterday, I tested the Apple Watch Ultra during a 1,600 meter indoor pool swim workout. Coming from a Garmin 6X Pro Solar, the Ultra performed better than expected. Although the Ultra was accurate and correctly displayed a total of 1,600 meters at the end of my workout, it often displayed a small variance in the total number of accumulated meters. For example, at 600 meters, the display provided a total lap count of 24 laps, and a distance of 605 meters. However, after a few more laps, the Ultra self-corrected and displayed the correct distance in meters. The Ultra counted flutter kicks and breast stroke kick laps. I did not test dolphin kicks. (Garmin does not count kicks, and must be added manually). All other strokes were recorded accurately.

    My rest periods between swim sets were automatically recorded and transferred to the iPhone app. During a few rests, I used a thumb for a pulse reading along the carotid artery, adjacent to the windpipe. My heart rate on the Ultra seemed to be accurate. I noticed only one heart rate drop on the Ultra for a few seconds. Tomorrow, I will swim with my Garmin 6X Solar Pro on my right wrist, and the Ultra on my left hand for comparison.

    Ray, I’m sure you know someone influential at Apple. Please pass along the following constructive comments to improve the Ultra:

    First, Apple must provide an option to INCREASE text size in the swim workout profile. When I am in the water with goggles on, and take a quick look at my progress metrics on my Ultra during flip turns, the display numbers are too small to read. I set the Ultra to the largest text size.

    Second, Apple should provide an option to set an alarm when a specific distance is achieved. For example, a 1,600 meter, or any desired swim goal. Suunto had this option a few years ago.

    Third, the Apple Health & Fitness iPhone apps severely lack comprehensive workout metrics. The Ultra hardware is probably the best in the industry; however, the Apple iPhone software is the weakest part of the Ultra experience. Ultra metrics should be calculated and grouped for easy access, and not be left to independent app developers. iPhone apps such as HealthFit and Athlytic provide work-arounds to gather and analyze comprehensive metrics. Athlytic provides recovery time, Apple Health app does not. Myswimpro provides excellent swim metrics and custom workouts. Apple needs to step-up and design an iPhone app to pull-together and analyze all metrics.

    Fourth, comparing my Apple Health and Fitness app to Garmin Connect, it is easy to see what is lacking. The Ultra does provide accurate HRV readings, and should use this data to provide a stress tool (similar to Garmin).
    Based on current iPhone Health and Fitness apps, it is difficult to evaluate the Ultra’s potential. In my experience, Garmin sport watches just work!

    Ray, I agree with your comprehensive Ultra evaluation – all items I have addressed are software related, and could be addressed by Apple. The Ultra hardware is excellent! Will Apple design a new software for athletes that can compete with Garmin Connect, or does Apple plan to remain within the consumer smart watch market?

    Thank you,

    Dean

    • Stephen Thomas

      > “First, Apple must provide an option to INCREASE text size in the swim workout profile.”

      So much this!

      > “Second, Apple should provide an option to set an alarm when a specific distance is achieved.”

      You can actually do that today. Instead of an “Open Goal” workout, change the type to “Distance.” You will get a haptic alert at half the specified distance and at the full distance.

      For me, though, it’s slightly problematic. In particular, the watch doesn’t seem to recognize a lap until after you’ve made a turn at the wall. And there’s a bit of delay from the time it reconizes the distance until it alerts. For example, if I set a goal of 1000 yards, I don’t get the alert until I’ve started on my 41st lap. It woud be more helpful if Apple generated an alert when you’re statring on your last lap rather than after you’ve finished it. My hack for this issue is to reduce my goal by one lap length, so, for example, I’d set the goal to 975 yards.

    • Joonas

      > Option to INCREASE text size

      Not only for swimming, but in ALL ACTIVITIES. I use reading glasses, but would not be running with them. It is very hard to see any activity metrics on the watch while running even with the largest font.

      Best would be to allow customizing activity screens to have just the metrics I want – with a large font. Maybe I should just give up with “Workout” app and go all in with “WorkOutDoors”…

    • Joonas,

      Your post on researched training metrics on Fenix/Epix vs Ultra/S8 was excellent! I talked with Apple support today. A work-around to increase text size: Select Accessibility on the Apple Watch iPhone app, and turn on Zoom. When Zoom is turned on, a slide scale appears to set the maximum zoom level on the Ultra. Double-tap the Ultra screen to zoom, and double-tap again to return to normal size text.

      Since the screen locks in swim workout mode, it does not allow larger text for swimmers. Try the Zoom feature for running or walking workouts, it may work for you to provide an intermediate solution to increase text size.

      The Apple support agent encouraged anyone with a similar text size issue to document a request at the following site: link to apple.com.

    • Joonas

      Thank you. Tried accessibility, but frankly two finger taps and zoom level sliding while running are a bit tedious. Probably need to start running with my progressive sunglasses instead.

    • Alan Wynn

      @Joonas Like your post. Fair summary. My BF uses the gestures with accessibility. I have never tried them, because although they look cool, they seem like more effort than I am ready to commit. 🙂

  72. Charles Gloor

    A note of warning to future Apple Watch Ultra or generally Apple Watch owners.

    I’ve got an Apple Watch Series 6 and was very tempted to upgrade to the Ultra but will wait for now. My battery life, after less than 2 years of use is now between 10-12 hours (from a rated 18). That implies 55-66% battery real life capacity . Apple diagnotistics, however, show 80% capacity remaining and some 548 cycles. We all know how poor AW battery life is so I’ll skip that rant, however, what follows may be important and explains why I noted the rating.

    1. Apple Watch battery replacement is only possible by sending the unit in either via the store or by sending it in directly (I think they’ll send in a box).
    – In store battery change is not possible!
    – In the UK this means 6-10 days without the Apple Watch.
    (Apple Support said it could be done in store and the Apple store in Brentcross, UK said they could possibly do it but not guarantee it, so wasted a good hour driving there and back).

    2. If the unit has more than 79% capacity, it will not be “eligible” for a battery change charge but a significantly higher price, almost the price of a new unit. Yes really.
    – So i went to the store, wasted my time, and was refused service on top of it (the chap was apologetic and over-riding the system above his paygrade plus I don’t want to be without a watch for 6-10 days right now).

    3. Wasted more time with Apple to register my annoyance with the above.

    Apple really needs to up their game around changing batteries. This should be possible in store, quick and easy including a quick check on seals and possible replacement of them (like old fashioned watch battery replacements).

    So before you buy the Ultra or any Apple Watch, note the above so that you are aware and don’t waste your time when you decide to change the battery.

  73. John

    Absolute POS. Seriously, whats the point of a ‘sports watch’ in this day and age when it doesn’t even support power meters, heart rate belts or Ant+ cadence sensors. lololololol……you would have to be a right mug to buy this.

    • Given it supports heart rate sensors, that would basically mean the only sport is cycling (power meter/cadence). Of course, there are other sports than cycling. And as discussed, there are 3rd party apps that support BLE power meters and cadence sensors.

      Don’t get me wrong, they should absolutely support BLE cycling sensors natively. And there’s plenty of other things they need to do to appeal to other sports groups, but the reality is, there’s more to sports than just cycling.

    • Alan Wynn

      @John, I use a heart rate belt with my Apple Watch and have for years (at least since the Series 3, maybe since the Series 0, so long ago I cannot remember). I do not have a power meter and do not own any Ant+ gear. Given that neither Polar nor Coros’s newest products support Ant+, I guess they aren’t “sports watches” either. Thanks for explaining that though.

    • Dave

      Nobody who rides seriously enough to use a PM is looking at their numbers on a watch. They’re using an Edge, a Wahoo, or similar.

  74. Sean Tyler

    I really like your review. Thank you.

    I went from a Fenix 5+ to an ultra.. the ultra’s short battery is making me wonder if I should have just went to the Fenix 7x solar…. I was going to write a watchOS app.. so I might just have to just suffer with the short battery life.

  75. Patrik

    Hi,
    I’m considering switching from fenix5 to an apple watch. During winter I usually do a lot of cross country skiing. Is it possible to create such an activity as fenix have and does anyone have any experience in battery life when it is cold?

    • Paul S.

      Both Workout (Apple’s app) and Workoutdoors (much better third party app) have cross country skiing. The Workoutdoors cross country skiing has the usual, speed, distance, time, map, heart rate and (ridiculously) steps. The Workout cross country skiing only has time, heart rate, active calories, total calories. No speed or distance. Both might allow you to choose fields to display, but I have no idea how to do that since I’ve never used either to record an activity. I’ll continue to use my Fenix 5+ to record cross country skiing, and will be leaving my Ultra at home.

      Instead of an Ultra, you might want to look at the newer Fenixes. 6 and above provide what they call “cross country skiing power” with the required Garmin HR belt (I think Pro and one of the others). How well it works or what it means I have no idea.

    • Therealscdc

      The colder weather won’t have much of an affect. The AW teardown reveals that this has a lot of metal surrounding the unit and battery. Your wrist will keep the watch and battery in a very comfortable place (temperature wise).

      link to ifixit.com

      The Ultra is built like like a tank.

    • Paul S.

      Except that when I’m skiing, I wear my watch on the outside of clothing so I can see it. Still, I’ve been very pleased with the battery life on my Ultra so far, no less than 70% when I put it on the charger for the night, so I’m sure that you’re right that cold won’t have much of an effect. Still going to use my 5+ for skiing, though.

  76. Shawn

    Great review—you may have covered this but what is your take on the variance in garmin vs Apple Watch ultra split times (I noticed the AW ultra has a new “split pace” that has not been part of the workout app—still can’t figure out apple’s “rolling mile”). I wore my garmin 945 on one wrist and my AW ultra on the other and the split times are off (AW ultra running about 10-12 seconds slower on their splits).

    • Therealscdc

      I don’t use the baked in apps. I use WorkOutdoors. I’ve found my AW has been pretty much spot on with the rolling mile Vs. my Epix 2 (which I rarely ever even look at anymore). Apple’s pause workout when stopped also works so much better.

    • Running Denver

      I tried switching wrists today, with the apple on the right, and epix on the left (updating settings on both, so both watches ‘knew’ what wrist they were on). Maybe just random – but the ultra was a lot closer to the epix for mile splits today. I’ve found it’s the pausing / re-starting that is where most of the issues occur with the ultra. If I can do a run with no stops, then it’s much closer.

  77. Colm Costelloe

    Hi,
    Thanks for the super review Ray.

    I’d like to add my €0.02 worth having just finished an Ironman (IM Barcelona on Sunday) using the Apple Watch Ultra as my primary device.

    Firstly Apple’s claims held solid, I charged the watch before leaving the hotel at 7am and it was ~96% battery at the swim start 2hrs later (I had low battery mode enabled).
    Then for the race I wore the Apple Watch Ultra on my left wrist and my Garmin Epix 2 on my right (wanted to make sure I had a backup).

    Overall the watch performed very well, I still had 14% battery left at 2am and since I barely made the cutoff – 15h44m (don’t ask long day!) I think we can agree Apple were making honest claims 😂

    The triathlon mode (manual switch between stages and precision start) also worked without issues.
    Overall the tracking for distance and heart rate (wrist on the watch, Garmin HRM Tri on my chest) were both very close. The Garmin slightly over measured and the Apple Watch slightly under.
    The Apple display is also excellent and the Summary page for Tri in particular is very good.

    Overall a happy customer and at least from the battery point of view that Ironman’s are certainly possible with an Apple Watch Ultra.
    In fact for any more typical finish time or a 70.3 etc I’d say you could probably even leave the display on.

    Some other observations:
    1. Using water lock (automatic in Tri mode) is a good way to disable the screen during an activity
    2. It would have been nice to have power on the watch but I have a bike computer that I use for the bike stage anyway (easier that looking at my wrist) so not a deal-breaker.
    3. Even after a ~16hr day Apple still asked me if I was starting a walk as I headed back to T2 to pick up my bike 🤣

  78. Patrik

    Hi,

    Ended up buying the ultra. Really happy so far. took it for a run and heart rate was working pretty good. One question though about pairing with a hrm strap. Once connected will the watch use that heart rate instead of wrist or how does it work. I´m using the built in work out app.

  79. Coy Kinsey

    What are the chances that Apple ever allows for manual treadmill calibration? This is one of the features that I really love about Garmin watches. While I try to get most of my runs in outside, it’s not always possible, and my stride on the treadmill is just not the same as it is outside.

  80. Rich H

    Hi Ray, thanks for this and your years of reviews – long time follower and now youtube subscriber!
    This REALLY caught my eye:
    “For all the new 2022 year watches, including the Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch Series 8, and Apple Watch SE 2nd Gen, Apple has changed how it does GPS lock. Specifically, it no longer depends on the phone like it used to (if the phone was within range). Now, it’s entirely self-standing in all scenarios.”
    Like you, I much prefer this behaviour. For a long bike ride or something I don’t want my phone battery being eaten up. Also I have had issues in the past with weird GPS data when tracking walks while carrying phone (which weren’t there when phoneless). So, I’m excited by this new independence…
    But, this mention by you is the only place on the entire internet I can see this info! Is it clear whether this behaviour is unique to 2022 hardware, or could be in WatchOS9 for older models? And is it definitively 100% certainly the case with all 2022 models (not just the AWU, with its better GPS chip and battery)?
    Many thanks, Rich

    • Yup, Apple is working on getting a support article updated to detail these bits. I checked about two weeks ago, and that was still in the works. I’ll poke again now though.

  81. John Hebda

    Amazing review! Which app on the watch do you use for the GPS tests? I’ve noticed that using the Strava App, my Ultra seems to undercount mileage by ~10% compared to my Garmin Fenix, and am trying to figure out if that’s an issue with Strava’s algorithm or the watch itself! (I’m guessing the former, but am curious what you use for these tests since it seems to compare fairly well to the FR.

    • runningdenver

      10% ? I’m finding the AWU is about 1% or so less. The main thing I’ve noticed, if you do a lot of pausing / re-starting – the AWU doesn’t seem to start ‘counting’ again as quickly as the garmin. So the more stop/starts, the further ‘behind’ the mileage is. I’d recommend getting the WorkOutdoors app for the AWU. It fills some of the holes in the native apple workout apps. It also syncs automatically to strava, which corrects the elevation issues I’ve seen on the AWU.

    • All my accuracy tests were with the native workout app.

      There is a reality that apps can and do impact accuracy, as they often apply their own “special sauce” atop from an algorithm standpoint. Not all, but some try and outsmart it. Sometimes that works, sometimes not so much.

  82. Ondrej Vranka

    Hello there.

    You wrote about a bug in the tracking app went “blank”. I wonder if you noticed an audio issue with the workout app as well.
    Scenario: Workout “Running where ever” or Hiking and music on over airpods. During Siri’s notifications about the e.g. time per km the audio is so low I can barely hear it. All notification’s sound settings are maxed out. I mean all. The music volume is not so high… under 50% actually.

    During the first notification after 1km the music volume goes down and Siri’s voice is kinda distinguishable. The second notification is not audible at all and the music volume does not change as well.

    I contacted apple support, which suggested I might turn the energy saving low power mode on and off. I did. Nothing changed.

    Is it just me, or can you reproduce this too?
    Kind regards.
    Ondrej

  83. Thomas Wriedt

    It strikes me odd for something promoted as an outdoor watch, it does not have any option to show barometric and temperature readings. My very old epic 1 gen could show the temp (which is useful when camping outside) and show barometric trends (storm alerts and weather development). Why have apple not made these options available when the hardware is present?

  84. Patrik

    Hi,

    Anyone more than me having trouble getting activity calories to update when importing a workout from garmin? I use a garmin computer when cycling but can not get that activity to update my fitness app for calories in motion. The summary does not include that workout but I can see it if I go into details for that day.

    • Stephen Thomas

      Long standing Garmin bug, though I don’t think they consider it a bug since they prefer to support as little as possible of Apple Health features.

      Workaround

      1. Disable Garmin Connect from writing workouts to Apple Health
      2. Manually export workouts from Garmin as FIT files.
      3. Import FIT file into Apple Health using app such as HealthFit or RunGap

  85. Paul

    I run 24 hours races sometimes. When the Apple Watch battery is low, can I charge my while still keeping my run activity recording?

  86. Patrik

    The Ultra review is not listed under Menu / Product reviews / Apple. I almost missed it. Anyway, I have one on order, will replace a Garmin 945, probably.

  87. Brad Basa

    While I was able to pair my Garmin HRM Pro chest strap, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to display it on my Ultra…same goes for my Stryd…any help out there?

  88. Patrik

    Really impressed by the battery so far. 34% left after 50h of general watch use, sleeping, activity, notifications, HRV. Probably good for 72h.

    • Patrik

      Except that the watch notified “Your Apple Watch battery needs to be at or above 30% to track your sleep”. Didn’t take long to get it from 17% to 50% though.

  89. Daniel

    I wasn’t able to find any more info about the watch not using the iPhone gps anymore. Do you have a link to the source for that?

  90. I have experienced a reoccurring issue with my Apple Watch Ultra while lap swimming. There are a number of heart rate drops during the first few minutes of my swim workout. After a few laps, I adjust the Ultra on my wrist, and it seems to consistently track my heart rate. My Garmin Epix 2 tracks my heart rate throughout the entire swim workout. I contacted Apple and told that water between sensors and skin may be an issue obtaining an accurate heart rate with the Ultra. They don’t offer a fix or any advice. If this is true, how can the Ultra calculate heart zones and recovery data accurately? The Ultra does many this well for many users; however, the Epix 2 provides custom swim workout capability and accurate metrics. Anyone experiencing similar issues with the Ultra?

  91. Sean K.

    Ended up returning the watch. A 5 day hike was the clincher. Need offline maps, routing, and accuracy plus battery life. But in general, many gaps highlighted here matched my experience as well. It won’t replace a 955 Solar or a 7X for my uses. Worthwhile learning about the device. Did get a survey from Apple and highly encourage folks to give some detailed feedback. Always helps. Thanks again for the review.

  92. John H

    Made the switch from Fenix 5 to Ultra – it’s nice to tie fitness life together with personal/professional life, having a phone, siri, calendars, reminders, etc is awesome. However, the workout apps are taking some getting used to and some major frustration in getting them to work properly.

    My biggest frustration – and for the love of God – how do you set up lap time and distance for pool swimming??? I searched online, in these comments and nobody has really mentioned it. Could it be I’m missing something? I have tried other swim apps and nothing. I have gotten really used to Garmin keeping track of that and can’t believe I spent this much $ for a smart fitness watch that makes me count my laps again like it’s 2002 again- PLEASE HELP!!

    Thanks

    • John,

      I do have answers on how to set up the Ultra for lap swimming. It does accurately count laps and distance. Here is the setup method:
      – Go to your Apple Watch iPhone app. Make sure you update to software version (9.1).
      – Go to General > Watch orientation and set watch to left or right wrist
      – Go to Workout > Make sure Lower Power Model & Fewer GPS Heart Rate Readings are both unchecked
      – While in Workout > Select Precision Start, and Auto Pause. Then go to Units of Measure and select Pool Lengths (meters or yards)

      You can set your Action button to start on a specific pool workout. When you go into a swim workout, make sure you select the pool size (25 meter…ect). Then, tap the three dots within the swim workout to set your screen views. You can set up a swim workout on this swim workout watch screen for distance, time or calories.

      Hope this helps. Please let me know if you get a heart rate reading on the Ultra while you swim.

    • Stephen Thomas

      It’s not clear what you’re trying to do. If you select a Pool Swim in the Workout app, you’ll be asked to enter (or confirm, if previously entered) the pool length (e.g. 25 yd, 50 m, etc). Then start your workout and begin swimming. The watch detects turns, stroke type, kick sets, rests, etc. automatically. I can’t remember if the default workout screen shows laps, but, if not, edit the screen to add it. Note that distance goals for the workout are set based on actual distance (e.g. 2500 yds) instead of laps (e.g. 100 laps).

      My only complaint is the watch doesn’t recognize a lap until you make a turn. So it can miss the last lap of your workout; the lap where you simply stop instead of turning. That also means you don’t get the distance goal alert until *after* you’ve made a turn following your final lap and started on a new, and now superfluous, lap. I can’t remember if it’s Garmin or Polar, but I prefer their approach of giving you an alert when you *start* your final lap.

    • Stephen Thomas

      > Please let me know if you get a heart rate reading on the Ultra while you swim.

      Not reliably.

      But I pretty much treat swim workouts as mobility exercises rather than cardio, so I don’t care.

    • Stephen,

      There is a method to create a custom swim workout.
      – Select Pool Swim
      – Press the three dots on the upper right corner (…)
      – Then press the pencil icon on the upper right part of the watch screen, and you can edit a current workout or build a new one.
      – Scroll to bottom and select “Create Workout”. You can then select open, calories, distance or time swim workouts

      Garmin also does not count a lap until you flip turn, or push off of the wall and then glide.

    • John H

      Appreciate that but I think I wasn’t really clear on my issue. So, on my Garmin I hit finish a set and I hit the lap button – it tells me my interval time, interval pace, interval distance, current rest time. When I do my next set, I hit the lap button again and it tells me my current interval time and interval distance. With Apple, I see no interval fields. Distance is always total distance of the swim and not the interval. I’m guessing Apple does not have that and everyone waits to see interval information after the swim on your phone??
      Don’t tell me I’m the only one that wants my smartwatch to track intervals??
      Thanks again!

    • John h

      Here is a pic of the interval screen from my Garmin – is Apple not capable??

    • The most you will get from the Ultra is pace (average/100m) until the workout is complete. To put my experience into perspective, I loved my Garmin 6X Pro Solar for swimming, walking, hiking, meditating, and sleep tracking. Although I am not an elite athlete, I used it daily for stress tracking and counted on the Garmin Connect metrics. Although sleep tracking seems much better on the Ultra than Garmin, I have been consistently disappointed with drops in heart rate tracking while lap swimming with the Ultra. I also discovered that the Lifetime Fitness exercise app interferes with my swim workout, so I deleted the Lifetime app from the Ultra. But all other Apple features are nice to have.

      I also purchased a Garmin Epix 2. Swim metrics on the Epix 2 are excellent! The screen is large, bright, and can be viewed easily through swim goggles.

      I had several conversations with Apple Sr. Health Advisors, and told that Apple Engineers are tracking feedback, but no response if Apple plans to continue to develop pool swim workout features, or make adjustments to the algorithm.

      I may return my Ultra and stick with the Epix 2. I’m finding it really difficult to leave the Garmin functionality and Garmin Connect data behind. If continuing with both Garmin and Apple Watch Ultra, you can use the Apple HealthFit app on the iPhone and Ultra. The .fit files are stored in iCloud. You can copy your swim workout .fit files, and upload them into Garmin Connect web app. This will allow an integration of your swim workout records (or any other workouts) while rotating the Ultra with the Garmin.

      If anyone knows of another method to maintain accurate sync between Garmin and the Ultra, please let me know.

      Also, wondering if Ray has continued to test-out the Ultra and can provide any new insights.

  93. Patrik

    Just finished a phone call using the watch only, hand 30cm below mouth, worked beautifully, love it

  94. Alan Robinson

    I’m a big Apple fan as I am a garmin fan. I currently have an Apple Watch 5 and I wear it after work because I’m afraid it will break at my job as I’m a mechanic. I’m torn between garmin epix and the ultra. Which one do you think would hold up better getting whacked around and hold up if maybe oil or anything else covers the watch by accident. I would like to upgrade my watch but also wear it at work thanks any help would be appreciated. Do you think the epix will go on sale Black Friday.

  95. Laurent M

    Is it possible while doing GPS workout in low power workout mode to recharge the Apple watch Ultra without stopping the GPS recording? (Like doing on other sport watch while running ultra long trail)

    • Eero P

      You can charge the Ultra during an outdoor (or indoor) workout, I’ve tested this.

      And the GPS-track is recorded as normal, although whilst on the charger, the distance on the watch screen was not updating in my case. But once the watch was off the charger and back on my wrist, the distance was correctly updated. Naturally you will lose the HR data for the charging time, unless you’re using an external HR sensor (I had the Polar Verity Sense on, and it worked perfectly.)

      Couple of important notes:
      -you need to disable wrist detection from the settings under Passcode, otherwise the watch will lock itself and pause the workout, once you take it off your wrist
      -using a standard charging puck with an USB-A power bank is a slow charge, I think I got 2 % per 10 minutes. I was streaming music through LTE, so that naturally did affect the charge time via larger battery drain. I will order an USB-C PD powerbank and try this with the new fast charging puck, I figure that it will be somewhat faster charging.

  96. Vassilios

    Do you think that it’s worth the upgrade from 6? Given the fact that it shares the same SoC that’s already 3 years old. That makes me think that they will be switching to a new chipset with the next version of AWU.

  97. pcunite

    I use an external bluetooth GPS receiver (Garmin GLO 2) and place it in an optimal location. This is better than phone, better than watch. So, I would like to continue to do so. With the new watches not using the phones’ exteranl bluetooth GPS receiver is a net loss for me.

  98. David E.

    Hey, Ray. I’ve had my AWU for about six weeks now and generally am very happy with it. Not, however, thrilled with how the watch handles swimming. Any insight on why Apple seems to have implemented a different approach to swimming than Garmin? What I mean is that on my Garmin I get real-time swim metrics–pace, cadence, etc. On my AWU, I finish, say, a 200m interval, and it takes a bit for it to catch up (i.e., I’ll be at the wall and it’ll still say 175m for a while until it finally clicks over to 200m). And, as a consequence of this, it’s very hard to differentiate interval times from rest times. One of the best apps for swimming, MySwimPro, basically has to combine actually swimming time with the rest time into a single interval to make it work. All of this makes the experience not as smooth as it could be and is on my Garmin.

    Is this just Apple not expending energy on this? Something else? Is there hope that this could get better?

    • John B

      This is one of my issues with my Apple Watch Series 7: I finish my workout with a last 500yd set, and it drops the last 50yds (25yd pool) upon completion. Maybe I’m not waiting long enough, but that would bugger up the timing (although not worse than dropping 50yds off the end).

      I’m still struggling with trying to figure out how to resolve this issue…

  99. Patrik Jakobsson

    I’ve been using my ultra now for a while. I noticed that it has problem registering my heart rate during my workout. The hearth rate is greyed out for seconds and sometimes even minutes. Really annoying. Any way to improve this?

    • Paul S.

      Are you using the watch to record the workout with Workout or a third party app?

    • Patrik Jakobsson

      Only tried the regular workout app from Apple.

    • An Apple senior advisor recommended attaching the Ultra two thumb widths above the wrist bone for swim workouts. I followed her recommendation and my heart rate is now very consistent without drops. Similar advice was recommended in a Wall Street Journal article regarding how to obtain the most accurate heart rate on wrist based devices.

      In contrast, I can place my Epix 2 anywhere on my wrist and obtain a consistent heart rate.

    • Paul S.

      Then probably this is something that I’ve noticed with several generations of Apple Watch. When recording a workout using something else (in my case, usually my Edge 830 or Fenix 5+) the watch seems to notice somehow and stop taking heart rate regularly using its own sensor. I don’t know why it does that, but Health will use an external source (in my case Garmin Connect) to fill in the heart rate. For example, Friday I took my e-MTB up into the mountains and here’s what Health has to say for a small part of the ride. As you can see, most of the data is from Garmin Connect (HRM-Pro via Edge 830 to Garmin Connect) but occasionally the watch will take a reading on its own. I don’t know why Apple does it that way, but it’s been that way for several of versions of Apple Watch (I went 0->3->5->7->Ultra).

  100. Joonas

    Wow, and this nearly 1000€ device doesn’t even track distance when selecting cross country skiing.

  101. Nicole

    Will the AW Ultra cellular battery last when exposed to freezing temperatures- 5F + as the series 5 does?

  102. Konrad

    Is there a chance to charge watch during activity? Or activity will be done when we will start charging??

  103. Ilan

    Thanks, always nice to read your device deep dives! I have come back to this one a few times already.

    I’m still using my AW4 for running, gym, etc, and my Edge 830 for cycling. Neither Garmin (smart features, Apple music) nor Apple (sports features) has a product that does it all for me.

    Regarding the AWUltra, the battery life is acceptable to me (though not great). I guess support for sensors (power, etc) will be improved in time. My biggest 2 wishes for the Apple Watch to win the battle are:

    a) A comprehensive sports app that has plenty workout features (power meter support, navigation, smart trainer control, etc) with training/recovery metrics (ATL, CTL, HRV, sleep, training readiness, etc), including long term trends, etc. Now you need multiple apps, some paid, some subscription based, etc. I’ve been trying WorkOutDoors, Athlytic, TrainingToday, wHealth, HealthFit, iSmoothRun, etc. They all miss something (most a lot). And one is more user friendly than the other. It’s just getting messy, whichever combo I try.

    I think an app developer that can give us such an app would hit the jackpot!!!

    b) External display support (like Garmin’s extended display). It would be great if my phone or an old bike computer on my handlebar could mirror what the watch is recording/showing, preferably supporting navigation simultaneously. Nice when cycling, important for multi-sport events. Maybe using the watch for recording it all and using a bike computer stand alone during biking (and dismissing its workout at the end) is the closest solution for (b) now.

  104. Matthew

    Does anyone know how to fix the following issue with the Action Button, where instead of starting the selected workout, it is “marking a segment”?

    Up until yesterday / this morning, once I’d selected a workout, when I hit the Action Button the workout would start (I have precision start enabled). But now hitting the Action Button marks a segment. I cannot find any setting I changed, nor a way to revert back to having the Action Button start the selected workout.

  105. Robert Z

    It might already be covered in another post or comment but my first few runs with the Ultra have all had completely wrong running distance and pace metrics. But oddly enough when it uploads into strava it is completely different and looks accurate. This is my first apple watch so not sure what this is about. My fenix 5 plus was always consistent with my strava. Why isn’t the Ultra accurate out of the box once it’s synced with GPS (like all of my Garmin experience has been)? I read an apple support post about calibration and requiring at least 20 min of workout time for it to calibrate on a workout with your phone. Would appreciate any tips thank you!!

    • RunningDenver

      Mine is as accurate distance wise as my Garmin Epix 2, both here in the city (Denver) as it has been up in the mountains. I’d recommend you get the ‘workoutdoors’ app. It’s far better than the generic run app, and you can tailor the screens. There are some settings in there you can override too, which I found helped altitude calculations. It also allows you to use the action button to start and pause a run. The developer is also very responsive. Strava does it’s own ‘magic’ on your run data, so that’s why it’s different there. It ignores the summaries from apple and calculates its own distances / elevation changes.

    • Robert Z

      Thanks for the rec and info! I’ll give workoutdoors a shot.

  106. Allan

    I have a question on hrv, though not specific to Apple. I know how different brands hrv will not be the same, but my AW data seems too different. My Garmin hrv has been between 44 and 54 the last 7 nights. My AW records 280, 312, 257,202,144, 307, and 262. Some values are more than twice others. Besides being so inconsistent the values are so high compared to ones Ray posted in his Series 8 and Ultra reviews. His were 60 and 55 on the nights he showed for the AW 8 and 58 on the nght he shows using the Ultra.
    I do have tachycardia – if this is causing that I wonder if the AW will not work to show my a true HRV and perhaps the Garmin just reads more consistenly than it should (not mateer what I do it is never than differnt during the next sleep.)

    Any opinions would be much appreciated.

  107. The amazon links are US. Im in Aussie. amazon.com.au happy to support you in purchases but not sure how.

  108. Honza Sneba

    Hi Ray!

    Is out there any mention about that touchsreen inconveniences in sport mode? As you said…touchscreen just doing bad things, especially in wet and cold weather. Would be great to have a choice. Please Apple, give us “no touchsreen” sport mode🙏…Ultra has enough hardware buttons to control everthing, not? For me thats only one important thing to almost perfect device.

    • Stephen Thomas

      Apple calls it Water Lock. Touchscreen is disabled but buttons work as normal, so you can pause/resume, mark laps (segments), scroll the display, etc. Music control via EarPods (or other headphones).

    • Realistically, nothing has changed there. It’s still mostly unusable as a watch with gloves in an athletic setting, if you want to do any sort of app navigation. If you’re just starting/stopping/labs, that’s easy – but anything beyond that is impossible.