Again, this watch is large—so large that it invited several unprovoked comments while I was testing it. Among them: “It’s like you’ve got a mini computer strapped to your wrist” or “The watch is now part of your personality, it’s so big.”
So, yes, it’s noticeably bigger and heavier than the Series 7 (which is what I had been wearing previous to testing this one, seen in the above photo). Having said that, I like large watches and I didn’t find the weight of this watch to be distracting after a few minutes of getting used to it. The Ultra also comes loaded with an exclusive Wayfinder watch face that allows you to have roughly eight complications (customized apps you can access directly from the watch face) on the screen at once. At first, I thought it was way too much, but then I found myself gravitating toward this watch face because it made navigating to my most frequently used apps so easy. I also love the night mode feature on this face, which switches the screen to a deep red with a simple twist of the digital crown.
I tested two bands: the Alpine Loop (which came in vibrant orange woven textile) and the Ocean Band (which is a traditional notched watch band that came in a lemon yellow). Both bands were equally comfortable, but I found myself using the Ocean Band because it’s made from a thick, soft silicone that was easy to towel off after a workout and didn’t stay sweaty or absorb moisture like other fabric bands do. The Alpine Loop band gives a nod to mountaineering carabiners with its G-hook and loop closure, which also made size adjustments easy. (I did not test the third band style, the Trail Loop, which uses a velcro closure.)
In terms of style, I found this watch to be on par with other smartwatches. It is not—in my opinion—as elegant as most analog watches, but it serves a completely different purpose. I know plenty of people who wear their Apple watches 24/7—whether they’re in black tie attire or a bathing suit. That’s not me. But for day-to-day wear, workouts, and a huge variety of sports—this watch looks great and will fit right in with any sporty chic or casual looks.
The Apple Watch has been proofed for shallow water activities since the Series 2 and users have had the option for swimming workouts within the watch OS for several years.
But with the Ultra, there are some serious depth improvements. The Ultra is water resistant up to 100 meters, and when used in conjunction with the Oceanic+ app, it becomes a fully capable dive computer—tracking time spent underwater, water temperature, and providing warnings for things like a rapid ascent or when a maximum target depth has been reached. Even for casual snorkeling, the Depth app will still provide several helpful stats, and can automatically start when the watch is submerged.
Also new with the OS9: the kickboard feature. With little to no wrist movement while using a kickboard, previously, the watch wasn’t great at detecting a workout—but now it can. Though I didn’t have the chance to test out these dive features, I have used the watch in the pool for casual swim workouts (and, as I mentioned, I wore it 24/7 which included bath time for my daughter), and it all worked exactly as expected.
Other Features: Sleep, Advanced Cycle Tracking, Backtrack, and Compass Waypoints
With previous Apple watches, nighttime meant charging. Now, with the improved battery life, sleep tracking feels obvious. My level of end-of-day exhaustion outweighed any mild annoyance of the bulky watch and I easily fell asleep wearing it. With the latest OS 9, you can view sleep stages, meaning your watch takes in a variety of data points to detect if you’re awake, or in REM, core, or deep sleep stages.