Apple Watch Ultra 2 Review – Outdoor Gear Lab

The Apple Ultra Watch 2 is the perfect smartwatch for athletes and those looking for longer battery runtimes in an Apple watch. If you appreciate connectivity and phone-like features on your wrist, we continue to recommend this model. Apple’s Health app is also our favorite for viewing data and metrics associated with our runs, sleep, and daily HR tracking. We think it offers the cleanest design without feeling cluttered like the competition. The physical design is elegant and high quality, offering a super bright display and 49mm case size. This updated model has little to offer over the previous version, but we expect this hardware to be more utilized in the future. We would not recommend upgrading if you already have a first-generation Apple Watch Ultra.

Performance Comparison

The Ultra 2 features an unchanged body but contains a wide range of hardware upgrades. Extensively tested in the canyons of Utah.Credit: Matthew Richardson


We used testing results from our GPS and heart rate sensor testing to determine our accuracy score. To test the GPS chipset, we took each watch on a pre-measured 2.8-mile course. The recorded distance was compared to this exact length. We ran a 0.5-mile course wearing a watch on each wrist for heart rate evaluation, and the readings were compared against the scientifically validated Polar H10 chest strap. The scores from these tests were averaged to calculate the overall accuracy score. To be sure our GPS readings were consistent, we tested all watches on the same day for similar weather conditions. The watches were tightened uniformly for heart rate tests to maintain a controlled fit.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 demonstrated nearly perfect accuracy, closely matching our control device, the H10 Polar chest strap. The heart rate readings were within +/-0.02 BPM, and the GPS measurements were similarly precise, deviating by only +/-0.07 miles over a 2.8-mile distance. This model features multi-dual frequency GPS with the ability to connect to many satellite types simultaneously, ensuring the best GPS track possible.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 proved itself to have a quite accurate GPS. As with all of the tested units, it performed best on a straight, flat track.Credit: Matthew Richardson

It’s important to note that many factors can influence heart rate readings, such as skin color, tattoos, and watch fit. You should aim to keep the watch snug enough to limit movement, especially during bouncy activities like running or biking. One benefit of indexed style straps is you can achieve the same tightness day after day, whereas velcro straps are more ambiguous. Most of the data and insights gathered from your watch revolve around the heart rate monitor, so you must achieve a comfortable but snug fit. For watch bands with sizing such as the Ultra 2, we’d highly recommend using their size guides.

Heart rate analysis between the Apple Watch Ultra 2 and the Polar H10 chest strap.Credit: Matthew Richardson

Activity Use

The Apple Watch Ultra 2‘s screen is excellent for activities and is easily one of the brightest and most defined. We tested various training plans and sport modes, each tailored for the activity. Interaction is well thought out, and even while on the move, the optional touchscreen or scrolling crown both respond accurately and without hassle. Most activity settings can be controlled via the watch IOS app, which offers the easiest configuration of the brands we tested. The Ultra 2 is easily one of the best city GPS smartwatches. It offers impressive usability and interaction for things you need most out on a local run. While marketed as a serious outdoors watch, we found it to feel more like a smartwatch than a rugged GPS watch.

As mountain athletes, our feature priority continues to be based on the functionality of activity tracking. The Ultra 2, in our opinion, falls flat in technical terrain, with the greatest oversight being the lack of a decent elevation data field. We also prefer data fields that adjust based on the amount of available screen real estate. If you have a data screen with one field, that data should be oversized to fit the additional room, but the Ultra 2 keeps the field the same size regardless. The mapping/compass function is one of the better on-watch options, but we’d be hard-pressed to use this over our phone, especially considering the maps lack a lot of topographic terrain detail in most locations. The second timing data also doesn’t fully display unless you rotate your wrist. This is far from a big deal, but it’s another instance where the device prioritizes aesthetics over performance. The Apple Watch Ultra 2 won’t let you down, but if you truly are a serious athlete, we still think there are better options out there that put less emphasis on smartwatch features and more on performance during activity.

Apple’s UI on the Ultra 2 is incredibly easy to use with a lot of the features mimicking those found on other Apple devices.Credit: Matthew Richardson

Everyday Use

With so many features, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the Ultra 2, but rest assured, Apple has created a watch that is incredibly easy to use once you get the hang of it. iPhone users will be familiar with many applications as they seamlessly transfer between devices. If you can work an iPhone, you can easily understand the functions and UI elements on your wrist due to the many shared characteristics. We appreciate that many customizations and settings can be managed on your iPhone using the Watch app, which comes on all Apple phones.

One of our favorite aspects of this device group is the Apple Health app, which we find to be the most elegant and useful. Apple seems to put the most emphasis on daily health tracking, and they exceed the competition’s apps and stats by doing so.

Coros, Garmin Connect, and Suunto can import into Apple Health, allowing you to use the app without using an Apple Watch.

New software updates have changed some of the button actions — now, the side button opens up the quick action menu instead of having to swipe down on the screen. The orange action button continues to do a host of items that you can customize; we keep ours to open the flashlight easily. One benefit of more buttons is the ability to have multiple hotkeys. Refinements continue to be made with the new hardware, and we are confident that Apple will continue to offer benefits in the future with new watchOS updates.

We appreciate the clean and easy-to-read layout of the Apple Health app.Credit: Matthew Richardson

Extra Features

Receiving an impressive rating for its feature set, there is little offered on the GPS watch market that you don’t have access to with the Ultra 2. With an extensive set of both native and third-party apps, you can customize your experience to your liking. It’s these features that make it possible to leave your phone behind, especially if you pay for a cellular data connection that will keep you connected. Regardless of your data connection, you can still access features like Apple Pay, downloadable music, SOS, and maps. The main change for this model over the first iteration is its updated chipset, which allows for new features like precision watch finding, on-device Siri, and a double tap gesture that activates the main function of any app you are in.

Red mode was previously one of our favorite additions to this watch, and now it automatically adjusts to changing light conditions. Recently, flashlights have been making their way onto GPS watches, which have quickly become one of our favorite features. While the Ultra 2 doesn’t have an actual flashlight, the screen gets super bright and is one of the best screen-style flashlights we’ve tested, thanks to its peak 3000-nit brightness.

If you’re an iPhone user and desire a fully featured smartwatch but still need durability and GPS tracking for the outdoors, consider the Ultra.Credit: Matthew Richardson


While physical design is largely personal preference, it does play an essential role in how a watch feels on your wrist. At 49mm, the Ultra 2 is one of the larger screens, and its rectangular shape is unique among our test lineup. We’ve found this shape is less susceptible to moving when in rough terrain mountain biking, allowing us to wear it less tight than other watches. As a result, this watch feels very comfortable on our wrist, providing the most secure fit for both daily use and activity. Skinny wrists or protruding ulna bumps can be particularly tricky for larger watches, and we find that this causes very little issue due to the rectangular design.

The full titanium bezel looks great and holds up to abuse; we’ve noticed no visible signs of wear from backpacking, running, and mountain biking. The glass has held up well to use, and we still have no visible scratches on the main face. Dedicated buttons and the larger scroll wheel allow for interaction even with gloved hands. The various strap designs allow for personalization, our favorite being the Alpine loop band. These bands are unchanged from the previous version and are easily changed without a tool. We found this band to be comfortable and durable, and we appreciate the subtle stretch and patina that the fabric takes on, becoming even more comfortable with use.

Apple continues to provide fantastic UI and screen resolution, offering an extremely bright 3000 nits of peak brightness. This is one of the most impressive screens of any watch we’ve tested, and it works great in a wide variety of conditions due to the contrast. Colors easily rival any other model in our lineup, and its always-on display provides a great aesthetic. While expensive, we think you could argue this is one of the best-looking watches on the market, and its premium materials provide confidence in both its performance and durability. We are excited to see what Apple offers for the Ultra lineup in the future.

The rectangular 49mmm case fits our team’s wrist great offering readability in direct sunlight thanks to the super bright display. The auto-red mode is also a favorite of ours for sleeping indoors or outdoors.Credit: Matthew Richardson

Battery Life

This metric and its importance to you should make or break your decision surrounding the Apple Watch Ultra 2. With only roughly 12 hours of GPS tracking, ultra-endurance athletes may want to look elsewhere. Luckily, you can extend the life by turning on Low Power Mode, but still expect it to be limited over the competition. Pretty much every GPS watch we’ve tested has increased battery performance with a new generation, but not with this Ultra 2 upgrade. Users of other GPS watches will be surprised by the amount of charging that is needed to keep this watch alive.

Other watches, even cheap ones, can last weeks without charging, whereas the Ultra 2 can’t even make it two full days without low-power mode. Compared to the premium models at this price point, the battery life found on this model is almost annoyingly short, and it seemingly requires constant attention to make sure the watch isn’t going to die on you. Users who have Apple Watches won’t see the problem as they are accustomed to low battery times, but if you are looking to upgrade your GPS watch and haven’t used an Apple Watch before, be sure to consider this. While low power mode is an option, don’t let it influence your decision-making; if you decide this watch is for you, expect to charge the watch almost every day, especially if you plan on using GPS tracking in addition to all-day health tracking.

One downside to the numerous features and phone integration is a short battery life. You should expect to charge your device roughly every 24 hours if you plan on using GPS tracking.Credit: Matthew Richardson

Should You Buy the Apple Ultra Watch 2?

If you’re in the market for a GPS watch but also want phone-like features on your wrist, there is simply no better smartwatch than the Apple Watch. Serious athletes can still benefit from the Ultra 2, but we’d analyze your battery needs and purchase based on those. Urban athletes or users who don’t need all-day GPS tracking would benefit most from a product like this. We’d recommend mountain and endurance athletes continue to look at the options from Coros and Garmin.

What Other GPS Watches Should You Consider?

One of our favorite GPS watches is the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar. It’s best for serious athletes who prioritize performance over smartwatch features like phone calls, messaging, and an extensive app store. If you’re hoping to spend a bit less but still want a watch packed with performance, check out the Coros Pace 3, which is ultralight and offers great battery life and a screen that looks amazing even in direct sunlight.

If you had to narrow it down to three we’d recommend the Garmin Fenix 7 Pro Solar, Apple Watch Ultra 2, or the Coros Pace 3.Credit: Matthew Richardson

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